The Dangerously Good
Alex Coe, writer for the Los Angeles Times, raises an age-old question without quite answering it. She reviews Wendy Lower's book Hitler's Furies, in which we are told to prepare ourselves for the thunderous news that many of the most brutal killers of the Holocaust were women; creatively cruel and sedulously murderous women -- and most of them got away. Coe writes:
genocide is usually considered the business of men, and thus, when it came time to call Nazis to account for their crimes, prosecutors were less interested in these women than in their male colleagues and husbands, people of position and ascertainable power. German defense lawyers convinced courts that women lacked the authority to enact atrocities. Despite the international community’s acute taste for war crime trials, only the rare, flagrantly sadistic woman, like Ilse Koch, the “Bitch of Buchenwald,” captured public attention.
But no one who has read Kipling should have surprised that women could be cruel. His lines in the poem, the Young British Soldier are unforgettable. A Queen had sent him to die, and a tribeswoman would dismember him alive.
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!
But to return to the question, why are women cruel? The answers offered in the review appear to be cast in the standard framework of sexual politics and male domination. "Violence, as Lower points out, was often entangled with both intimacy and recreation for women in the Nazi East. It was not uncommon to pass mass graves while taking a lover’s stroll in the forest, or picnic near a concentration camp within visible range of smoke rising from a crematorium." It was all kinky sex control of some sort we are told.
But I have another theory. The Nazi women were so apt to cruelty because they were "good and obedient" citizens. It wasn't that they were all sex slaves of some sort. They were just good farm girls who would go and slaughter the chicken while the men sat around and yarned. Of course it's not that simple, but the link between what is regarded as exemplary behavior and cruelty has been known for a long time.
My first glimpse into the connection between the qualities of earnestness and cruelty was during the anti-Marcos underground years. I observed that the communist ideology took deepest root in people I had heretofore regarded as clean-living and pious people, the seminarians and religious, the properly brought up, college educated, hard-studying youth. Fanaticism seemed to have a special appeal to them. By contrast it took less of a grip on petty thieves, crooks and rogues precisely because they were incurably sly, undisciplined and weak.
I asked someone once why the hard core communists were so humorless. The answer was memorable and succinct. "They take themselves too seriously."
For there is nothing so lethal as a young man -- or woman -- who is completely convinced that he or she is engaged in saving the world. It is probably no coincidence that some of the worst and most pitiless men in the world are either academics or consider themselves religious. Abimael Guzman, for example, is a great favorite of that other revolutionary academic Jose Maria Sison, and is almost mind-bogglingly cruel. Sison's other favorite is Kim Jong-un a man who will machine-gun his girlfriend or execute his uncle if it serves the cause of the party.
Theodore Dalrymple has written that "the worst brutality I ever saw was that committed by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru, in the days when it seemed possible that it might come to power. If it had, I think its massacres would have dwarfed those of the Khmer Rouge. As a doctor, I am accustomed to unpleasant sights, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Ayacucho, where Sendero first developed under the sway of a professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzmán."
It takes a while to see it, but like one of those optical illusions where the image of the tiger is hidden in the pattern once you see it, you can't get it out of your mind. "I did my best," an old Marcos era friend told me, "to get myself transferred from political prison to ordinary criminal jail. It wasn't that the criminals were better people. Hell, no. It's that they were people." When you read Coe's book review you get the distinct impression that the Nazi women were efficient at murdering the Jews precisely for the same reason that they were so efficient at sweeping up dust. It had become a "good task" to do and they went about doing it.
There are no greater hotbeds of leftist fanaticism today that the academe. That the academe has become increasingly the province of women is not coincidental.
There may have been more cruel women than men because girls are more serious than boys. Every tyrant knows this and makes a special effort to recruit the intellectuals, the women and the earnest. The people who dot their i's, make sure the faucet is turned off and always tie their shoelaces. Dictators don't do very well by and large, among weepy, "unreliable" and lumpen who are irredeemably riddled with human vice.
Don't take my word for it, taken Lenin's.
The low-life are so absolutely cynical that no amount of brainwashing can turn them into true believers. None of them can accept another human being as a messiah with a straight face. You need an educated, pajama wearing, chocolate sipping demi-man to get a true believer. Flawed people might sporadically be useful to the party, but only perfect people can really do the apparatchik job really well.
There's nothing so dangerous as the scrupulously obedient, especially in a revolution. All the demagogue must do is switch their gods around and they will follow one as well as the other.
To Kipling's great credit that he never confused humanity with social virtue. One of his most famous poetic stories is about the steamship Birkenhead, upon which a company of Royal Marines was embarked when it struck a rock on its way to the colonies. And as only a few lifeboats were provided, the commander of the Royal Marines kept his armed body of strong young men by marching them up and down the deck of the sinking ship while the women and children boarded the lifeboats. They died to a man.
Kipling understands that they sacrificed themselves, not because they were good, but because they were brothers, even brothers in blackguardry, which is not quite the same thing as obedient virtue. And any men who is convinced of something so irrational as the honor of dying beside his putrid, lying friend is the least apt of tyranny's instruments. So Kipling's lines.
But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An’ they done it, the Jollies—’Er Majesty’s Jollies—soldier an’ sailor too!
Their work was done when it ’adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an’ you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin’ in ’eaps an’ bein’ mopped by the screw,
So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, soldier an’ sailor too!
We’re most of us liars, we’re ’arf of us thieves, an’ the rest are as rank as can be,
But once in a while we can finish in style (which I ’ope it won’t ’appen to me).
For a man to wish, not to remake the world, but escape from his debt at cards, and not to have to face holystoning the deck one more time; "to go to his God" or to "finish in style" -- such a man is saved forever. But I hope it won't happen to me.
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