Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bureaucracy and the machinery of murder


Bureaucracy and the machinery of murder

The Nazis' mass murder of the European Jews was not only the technological achievement of an industrial society, but also the organizational achievement
[at least up until then!] of a bureaucratic society.”
 
Introduction: According to Zygmunt Bauman, The Holocaust was “the culmination point of European-Christian antisemitism,” which is true so far as it goes. But what made the Holocaust possible, that which represents an even greater threat into the future, was not just the secular inheritance of 2,000 years of Jewish persecution in Christendom. Although that history provided the ideology, stereotypes and precedentjustifying persecution, what made a final solution to the west’s Jewish Problem possible was the convergence of two more recent developments. The Industrial Revolution provided the machinery for large-scale murder, streamlined by the industrial assembly line. The second was modern bureaucracy able to rationalize extermination, depersonalize the victims, then transform them into objects/data to feed that assembly line of murder.
 
Hollerith card puncher used by the United States Census Bureau (Wikipedia)
 
What could better represent the pinnacle of bureaucratic management than the information loop between computer and person? All pertinent information regarding a single person with Jewish lineage back to a single grandparent, whether Christian or Jew, observant or atheist: all information conveniently stored on a single IBM punch card. IBM’s decades of experience in computing, collating and analysis; if the company did not physically fire the rifle or drop the Zyklon pellets into the gas chamber, yet is it safe to say that even the most dedicated and professional collection of German bureaucrats could never have achieved the six millionJews murdered in IBM’s computer-generated Final Solution.
 
And finally, it would be mistaken to identify the bureaucracy of the Holocaust as a creation of the Nazis. Rather than purge the existing bureaucracy as did Stalin, Hitler made use of that which he inherited from Weimar and earlier, from Bismarck. Bureaucracy is malleable, adaptive to tasks consistent with its history and culture. And nothing in that history was inconsistent with antisemitism and a German Final Solution.
 
The frictionless operation of the machinery of destruction required that the victims be dehumanized in the eyes of the perpetrators. This was achieved… by a bureaucratic mode of operation, in which depersonalized and dispassionate behavior unprejudiced by human emotions was a fundamental and positive value of the civil service.'
 
"Desk murderers" could shuffle papers, set rations, draft telegrams, schedule trains, and dispatch personnel, resulting in the deaths of millions, without once seeing their victims or perceiving themselves as involved in the taking of human lives.
 
 
 
How guilty the clerk who compiles lists of names of faceless people, the engineer driving a train from Paris to Auschwitz? Does the Boeing engineer, the machinist involved in producing today’s MV-22 Osprey vertical takeoff combat aircraft; do they see themselves instruments of murder?
 
Reduce the task to small and discrete units and people involved are kept distant from the result of their contribution, and, as with Eichmann, freed of “responsibility” and guilt.
 
 
Bureaucracy and anti-Jewish legislation:
 
“[T]he first major anti-Jewish legislation of the Third Reich, the Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, enacted in April, 1933, was not forced upon a reluctant Interior Ministry by the triumphant Nazis but represented a convergence of their interests. This law, with its "Aryan paragraph" excluding Jews from the civil service” became the model for a continuing flow of legislation restricting Jewish participation in other professions and organizations.
 
A bureaucracy is a social collective with memory. Once an assigned task is learned it is integrated into, streamlines future applications. In 1933 the bureaucracy enacted legislation that first deprived the Jews of protection under the law (civic death). In 1935 the Nuremburg Laws forbade intercourse between Jews and Aryans (social death). In 1938 the Reich confiscated Jewish businesses (economic death). And finally, the January, 1942 Wannsee Conference set rules and tasks for the agencies of the governmental bureaucracy for the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem (physicaldeath).
 
“The German bureaucracy adapted to the evolution of Nazi Jewish policy from legislative discrimination and expropriation to deportation and extermination. In fact, the bureaucracy proved itself capable not only of ‘systematic legal opposition’ but also of mass murder… ‘The Nazis' mass murder of the European Jews was not only the technological achievement of an industrial society, but also the organizational achievement of a bureaucratic society.” (Christopher Browning, The German Bureaucracy and the Holocaust)
 
 
In summary, as we move forward in our discussion of Antisemitism and Jewish Survival it is important remember the implications of those two modern contributors to the Holocaust (centuries of traditional Christian anti-Jewish animus providing precedent and rationale): Twentieth century industrial technology finally made an efficient mass murder program feasible. And data collection, collation and analysis assisted by computer made possible the identification of each and every individual in the Final Solution’s target population.
 
Jews on selection ramp, Auschwitz (Wikipedia)
 
In today’s twenty-first century world both technological streams have made quantum leaps since the Holocaust. We hardly even notice the digital trail we daily leave by use of our credit card transactions; our history from birth stored in today’s supercomputer circuitry. How much more efficient and complete might the Holocaust have been had Germany then had available today’s industrial and computational capabilities? How much more efficient and complete might a future Holocaust in a “liberal democracy” gone populist?
 
"Desk murderers" could shuffle papers, set rations, draft telegrams, schedule trains, and dispatch personnel, resulting in the deaths of millions, without once seeing their victims or perceiving themselves as involved in the taking of human lives.
 
“It also revealed the potential for depersonalized violence inherent in modern, bureaucratically organized society.” As are all modern societies today.

http://blogs.jpost.com/content/bureaucracy-and-machinery-murder