One question that puzzles many people around the world is how was it possible that a sophisticated nation like Germany could be responsible for something is horrific as the Holocaust?
The scary and the brutal reality is that is was extremely easy. Another reality is that this could have happened anywhere else.
Someone once told me that it must have taken decades to turn people from law abiding citizens to either monsters or bystanders. I told her that it doesn’t take decades to condition people to commit evil, it only takes a few days.
Prime examples are the third wave experiment ,conducted by California high school history teacher Ron Jones to explain Nazi Germany. Another example is the Stanford prison experiment, conducted by a psychology study group led by Dr.Philip Zimbardo, at Stanford University. The experiment attempted to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers.
Both experiments had to be abandoned after less then a week because they basically had become to successful. The key was the aforementioned law abiding citizens, fact is that people follow authority do what they are told and when this happens without any critical thinking or asking questions it is extremely easy to create a genocide.
The 2 experiments mentioned above both had students mistreating other students and even though it created groups that perceived themselves superior to their fellow students which led to some skirmishes , there was relatively little violence.
The Milgram experiment however went a step further.
Inspired by defense testimonies during the Nuremberg trials and especially the Adolf Eichmann trial, where it was claimed that ‘they were merely following orders” Stanley Milgram wanted to see how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person, and he was was interested to see how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities.
Three men took part in each session of the experiment:
- The “experimenter”
- The “teacher”
- The “learner”,
At the start of the experiment, they were introduced to another participant, who was a confederate of the experimenter (Milgram).
They drew straws to determine their roles – learner or teacher – however this was fixed and the confederate was always the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a gray lab coat, played by an actor (not Milgram).
In total there were 40 male participants , aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional, from the New Haven area.They would all be paid $4 an hour + 50 cents car fare.
Two participants (one actor) were separated in two rooms where they could only hear each other.
The test subject then read a series of questions to the actor. Each time the actor would answer a question incorrectly, the test subject would push a button that administered an electric shock to the actor(In reality, there were no shocks)with shock levels starting at 30 volts and increasing in 15-volt increments all the way up to 450 volts.
Although many of the test subjects expressed a desire to stop the experiment at the first signs of screams, nearly every single one continued to push the button when they were told they would not personally be held responsible for any consequences.
65% of the participants (i.e., teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.
The experiment did show that tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or as legally based.
Killing human beings though has a complete different mindset, however these experiments do show how easy it is for people to become complacent and even complicit in unspeakable crimes if it is ordered by an authoritative body whose morals motives aren’t questioned but just assumed to be right.
The inconvenient truth is that despite all historical evidence,genocides still happen, not to the same scale as the Holocaust, but genocides are still a reality in the 21st century.
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