A few years ago one afternoon on a bus travelling from the Derry I opened the pages of a book, Germany’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. I was immediately drawn into it. Its erudition, detail, breadth, depth, seemed unrelenting; its depiction of slaughter and suffering poignant. Although there would later be serious questions posed about its methodology and the extent to which the author attributed “eliminationist antisemitism," to the civilian population of Nazi Germany, it was gripping reading. It is a book I have had cause to think about many times over the years since coming to the conclusion that a people easily led is a people that will easily commit atrocity.
One reviewer summed up the ostensible purpose behind the book, which was explicit in the subtitle Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust:
That the government of a civilized nation could not only undertake but successfully conclude such a nightmarish policy without encountering significant domestic social opposition, particularly in a country as politically literate as was Germany, is one of the great puzzles of twentieth century European history … the slaughter is said to have expressed the will of a small circle of lunatic Nazi and not the will of the German people, who were antisemetic but not murderously so. It is said that the killing was conducted out of the sight of the nation and with industrial efficiency by a relatively small number of people insane with ideology. The effect of these premises is to make the Holocaust a political and not a social event, with the happy consequence that responsibility for it rests squarely on a small number of identifiable political and military operatives and not on the German nation as a whole.Goldhagen’s open purpose was to place the blame where he felt it clearly belonged: on German society as a whole. There were certain similarities between the perspective of Goldhagen and the work of Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.
Browning sought o show that it was not the committed Nazi ideologues of the SS who made up the ranks of Reserve Police Battalion 101, but rather to borrow a phrase, 'tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief, butcher, baker, candlestick maker.' The odd pastor was also involved to give spiritual guidance to the killers. Men of god work in mysterious ways, particularly if they are devotees of the old genocidal monster from the bible.
Norman Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn in separate essays that were brought together in book form, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth have taken Goldhagen to task for his weak metholdology and over- generalisation. The basic thrust of their critique is that the evidence does not support a contention that German anti-Semitism was sufficient cause for the Holocaust.
It would take a more focused eye than my own to disentangle the arguments and properly weigh the evidence. All the participants to the debate know their field. But the matter has swirled around in my mind since reading that:
A survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University on three separate occasions between 14 and 23 July, and published this week, found that only 3-4% agreed with a statement that the Israel Defence Forces had used excessive firepower in the conflict.
Much the same as it was in 2012, even higher. There is a pattern which suggests that support for terrorism is pervasive within Israeli society. Although this time the slaughter is more brutal, more cruel, a cause of rejoicing within sections of the Israeli population who pull couches up to the border to get a ringside seat to view the slaughter of Gazan children.
This is a deeply dismaying finding: 94% of the public surveyed see nothing wrong with state terrorist attacks on children and non-combatants. The bloodthirsty Israeli public should not be allowed to salve its conscience by hiding behind the fictitious shield that Hamas are using human shields. That guff was served up before and found to be lacking in substance. In the wake of the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza Amnesty International issued a report which when distilled down by the New York Times amounted to an explicit rejection of:
Israeli claims that Hamas used civilians as human shields but said that in several cases, Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians, including children, as “human shields, endangering their lives by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions.I still don’t know if Goldhagen was right in his characterisation of German society and his designation of complicity to it. But looking at the overwhelming endorsement from Israeli society for what Piers Morgan called a 'monstrous child murdering military strategy' against the defenceless citizens of Gaza I can easily see why he might be right.