Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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[symboliza…] tion of an individual organism — as experienced by a particular person and (in related but by no means identical ways) by other people.134* To emphasize activity, shift, and change, we may speak of “self-process.”

Extreme numbing can, as we have seen, lead to amoral self-process; and numbing and doubling to evil self-process, sometimes with the self losing its capacity to distinguish between good and evil. Yet evil self-process can include struggles of conscience that propel one in the direction of principled mass killing. Precisely when the principle called upon takes on a strongly therapeutic tone can self-process move readily toward genocide.

The self’s capacity for such action is always influenced by ideological currents in the environment. Again, in terms of self-process, the sequence from ordinary doctor to Nazi doctor to ordinary doctor suggests the extraordinary power of an environment to issue a “call” to genocide. Everything said here about the self’s response to that call depends importantly upon idea structures of a collective nature, upon shared mentality rather than any isolated self.

Yet people have differing vulnerabilities to amoral or evil action. Studies of the “authoritarian personality” were inspired by German behavior under the Nazis.136 And I have suggested the relevance for genocide of certain features of self-process in German culture: tendencies toward guilt and self-condemnation; toward inner divisions of the “torn condition” as inclinations toward doubling and Faustlike behavior; toward all or none commitments or ideological totalism; and toward death-haunted immortality hunger. But Germans have no monopoly on any of these traits or upon evil self-process of the potentially genocidal self. One need only consider the situation in which idealistic young Americans, working in a mental hospital as conscientious objectors to war and violence, reached the point where they “helped to kill”137 deteriorated mental patients. While their actions were hardly genocidal, these people of notably developed ethical sensitivity were led by their environment to collude in killing.

An Auschwitz survivor went further: On seeing Eichmann and his lsraeli prosecutor together on television during the trial, this woman developed the uncomfortable feeling that the two men “had something similar … [in] their looks.” And although she “reproached” herself and was “very shocked,” she could not rid herself of that impression. She was clear about Eichmann’s guilt, and made no particular criticism of the prosecutor. Rather, her troubling perception of apparent similarity reflected her inner struggle with the idea that others, her own people, she herself, could, under certain conditions, also be capable of evil behavior.

The self’s movement toward genocide is likely to be impelled by a powerful sense of survivor mission, which can include a therapeutic need of its own. One lives through actual or symbolic death immersion of war
* Michael Basch speaks of the self as “the symbolic transformation of experience into an overall goal-directed construct.”135   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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