Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

By James Waller | Go to book overview
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3
The “Mad Nazi”
Psychopathology, Personality, and
Extraordinary Evil

One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. I do not doubt it at all, and that is precisely why I find it disturbing. If all the Nazis had been psychotics their appalling cruelty would have been in some sense easier to understand.

Thomas Merton, Reflections

FOLLOWING THEIR IDEOLOGY OF pan-Turkism, Enver, Talaat, and Djemal set in motion the systematic destruction of the Armenian population. These genocidal plans of the Young Turks were implemented by thousands of commanders, leaders, officers, and rank-and-file soldiers in Ottoman and Turkish military and paramilitary forces. Can the participation of individuals who planned and implemented these atrocities best be explained by equally extraordinary origins? Specifically, can we find the origins of their extraordinary evil in psychopathology (that is, mental illness) or in an extraordinary personality?


Psychopathology

The “Mad Nazi” Thesis

On November 20, 1945, “the greatest trial in history”—the indictment of alleged Nazi war criminals—opened. The Nuremberg Trials, held at the site of annual Nazi Party rallies and one of the few German cities that did not lie in almost total ruins (even after eleven Allied air raids), were the first trials in history for “crimes against the peace of the world.” Never before had leaders of a regime been held legally accountable for crimes committed

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