Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Bearing Witness  
The form of witness too is unusual in that it concerns perpetrators and stems largely from their words, and yet differs radically from the witness most of them wished me to bear. What made it possible for me to bear a different witness were the contributions of victims and survivors. Physician survivors, in the observations and perspective they provided, lent support to my own sense of self and to my way of bearing witness.

What I have tried to chart is a particular sequence of human actions involved in a particular form of mass murder and genocide — that of medicalized killing. My witness is to the fact that doctors killed and did so in the name. of healing, and includes questions of how, in what way, and why.

But my witness does not end with the Nazis. I want to extract from what they did whatever can be psychologically useful for us to know now. Nazi doctors doubled in murderous ways; so can others. Doubling provides a connecting principle between the murderous behavior of Nazi doctors and the universal potential for just such behavior. The same is true of the capacity to murder endlessly in the name of national-racial cure. Under certain conditions, just about anyone can join a collective call to eliminate every last one of the alleged group of carriers of the “germ of death.”

Yet my conclusion is by no means that “we are all Nazis.” We are not all Nazis. That accusation eliminates precisely the kind of moral distinctions we need to make. One of these distinctions concerns how, with our universal potential for murder and genocide, we for the most part hold back from such evil. A sensitive healer aghast at discovering her own impulses to slap a patient who had become unruly wrote to me of this “problem of our daily humanity.” But we learn from the Nazis not only the crucial distinction between impulse and act, but the critical importance of larger ideological currents in connecting the two in ways that result in mass evil. Those connections and steps are my witness — not the undifferentiated moral condemnation of everybody.

But there is an additional witness I cannot avoid making: the bearing of this study on the nuclear technology of genocide which now haunts us all. The Holocaust we have been examining can help us avoid the next one. We need consider only the possible transfer to the nuclear-weapons threat not only of individual doubling but of all of these genocidal principles: the fear of the “germ of death,” of a contagious illness (Soviet communism or American capitalism) threatening the life of the group (the United States or the Soviet Union); a promise of revitalizing cure via an absolutized vision (of American virtue and Soviet evil, or the reverse) that justifies “killing them all” and excludes the suicidal dimension of that vision; the mobilization of claims of spiritual altruism and scientific. truth, and of opportunities for transcendence, as one presses toward mass killing in the name of healing; the designation of killing professionals and professional killers for the task, along with increasingly perfected technology and high bureaucratic organization that radically deamplify the genocidal actions; and finally, the creation of a widely embraced  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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