Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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application of administrative techniques,”121 the Auschwitz killing system could be described by Dr. B. as “perfect.”

In the process of being improved, the technology itself comes increasingly to dominate the perpetrators’ field of attention. Thus, the Nazis could reach a state of function in which (again in Dr. B.’s term) “ethics played no part — the word does not exist.” The technology helps create a hermetic world in which everyone is motivated to help make things “work.” And that preoccupation takes on a sense of everydayness, of normality.

Albert Speer wrote of having “exploited the phenomenon of the technician’s often blind devotion to his task. … These people were … without any scruples about their activities.” Speer considered himself to have been the top representative of a technocracy which had without compunction used all its knowledge in an assault on humanity.122 While Speer to some degree tried to hide behind technology in minimizing his own ideological passion, he rightly stressed the Nazis’ success in rendering their most murderous actions into technological problems. The term, “reactionary modernism” is appropriate for the regime’s combination of technocracy and pre-modern visions and structures.* The “reactionary” part of the regime’s psyche was anti-technological; and precisely that contradiction toward technology and modernism — not so much a contradiction as the most extreme ambivalence — is likely to characterize genocidal regimes.

The rationalized search for a “final solution of the Jewish question” involved the idea of solving a problem in the most conclusive or “final” manner. From top to bottom, each perpetrator’s part in solving the problem can thus be looked upon as essentially technical. And the pattern can be insidious: for technology does not require the conceptual level of scientific thought, but tends instead to create a focus on maintenance and function. Those closely related to it — especially when embracing it to avoid perceiving themselves as killers — are likely to model themselves after it. More than that, the very creation of the technology of murder is made possible by those same “manacles” (expressions of the technological mind-set)† increasingly transmitted by modern industrial society. Because it works — or so long as it does — technology can quickly be perceived as part of the natural order of things, an aspect of nature.

Technological distancing and altering of the moral mind-set was illuminatingly demonstrated by the striking correlation between attitude and altitude among American pilots and air crews in Vietnam and Cambodia. B-52 pilots and crews, who bombed at such high altitudes that they
* The term is Jeffrey Herf’s. He sees Ernst Jünger (see page 127) as a key forerunner of reactionary modernism, and draws upon Klaus Theweleit’s study of fascist male fantasy to identify Jünger as the prototypical “martial man” who needs such dichotomies as man/woman, dam/flood, purity/filth, height/depth in order to achieve domination over the feminine both inside and outside himself.123

† The phrase “mind-forged manacles” is William Blake’s, quoted by William Barrett to suggest our own mental responsibility for these attitudes toward technology.124  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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