August 24, 2013
When I was a boy, we took it for granted that the Nazis were supremely evil people; that they were different from us; that the German people were guilty because they had not overthrown their rulers but had followed orders. Their very explanation – “we were good Germans,” meaning they followed the rules as they had always done – became a taunt that seemed to show that a whole people were evil.
But now are getting a good look at what that Nazi mentality and that “good German” mentality looks like from the inside. Our rulers (hardly our representatives!), reacting out of fear and self-righteousness and whatever other emotions, do what they please, and there is damned little anybody who doesn’t have his hands on the levers of power can do about it.
Perhaps if we had troubled to get inside the heads of the Nazis and the German people when it was still safe to do so, we would have realized the psychic danger we were in. A couple of true and appropriate psychological sayings: “You become like the worst in those you fight,” and “Condemnation isolates. Only understanding liberates.”
We can pretend that one side is all evil and the other all good, but it doesn’t lead anywhere we want to go.