The Genocidal Killer In The Mirror” By Crispin Sartwell And Erich Fromm’s Disobedience As A Psychological And Moral Problem

1586 words - 6 pages

In the pursuit of safety, acceptance, and the public good, many atrocities have been committed in places such as Abu Ghraib and My Lai, where simple, generally harmless people became the wiling torturers and murderers of innocent people. Many claim to have just been following orders, which illustrates a disturbing trend in both the modern military and modern societies as a whole; when forced into an obedient mindset, many normal and everyday people can become tools of destruction and sorrow, uncaringly inflicting pain and death upon the innocent.
Two articles, in particular, help clarify and explain this trend. The first is “The Genocidal Killer in the Mirror” by Crispin Sartwell, who explains how so many average people can be turned into hordes of willing and eager killers. In the case of Rwandan, Sartwell notes how the Hutu government ordered the mass-killings of the Tutsis for the “greater good” of it’s people, forcing the people to see the Tutsis as schemers and assassins to prevent personal injury to themselves and their loved ones. The other article, was Erich Fromm’s “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”, in which Fromm illustrates how many can be forced into becoming an automatized man, who simply does as he is told by his superiors, allowing him to become a killer without conscience. Fromm also discusses the importance of group mentality upon morality, and how when subjects are viewed as a group, they can be demonized and easily passed off as subhuman. Though both Crispin Sartwell’s article “The Genocidal Killer in the Mirror” and Erich Fromm’ piece “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem” are from two vastly different time periods, the Cold War era with its apocalyptic fears and the post- Cold War age of terrorism and insurgency, they both show how men, when led to believe that they serve the greater good and their own personal interests, will commit any crime or injustice in order to remain safe and comfortable in their society. This similarity reveals a disturbing trend in modern society; that those who become completely obedient can easily become willing murderers in the name of keeping themselves and their communities safe.
Men are drawn to authority as they are drawn to the light of a fire. Indeed, those who appear to hold power provide much the same type of comfort to men; safety and warmth, along with a place to rest. Governing powers can take many forms, that of a deity, of a person, of a concept or ideal. When authority is given to a higher authority, men immediately believed they are absolved of responsibility and guilt, allowing them to commit acts that would be condemned under other circumstances. Fromm sates “As long as I am obedient to the power of the State, the Church, or public opinion…I cannot commit a sin” (262). He goes on to further explain how the case of Adolf Eichmann, the man who signed orders to send millions to death during the Holocaust, illustrates this concept. Eichmann was...

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