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@Read E-pub õ Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil » Originally appearing as a series of articles in The New Yorker, Hannah Arendt s authoritative and stunning report on the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann sparked a flurry of debate upon its publication This revised edition includes material that came to light after the trial, as well as Arendt s postscript directly addressing the controversy that arose over her account A major journalistic triumph by an intellectual of singular influence, Eichmann in Jerusalem is as shocking as it is informative an unflinching look at one of the most unsettling and unsettled issues of the twentieth century that remains hotly debated to this day This book is a great mix of investigative journalism and historical analysis If you don t have a detailed knowledge of the history of the Holocaust, this is a good place to start Even though Arendt didn t want to make it a philosophical or legal treatise, it makes a few bold philosophical and legal claims, the most controversial of which is the banality of evil.Eichmann was in charge of transporting the Jews, first for forced emigration, and after the implementation of the Final Solution, to t This book is a great mix of investigative journalism and historical analysis If you don t have a detailed knowledge of the history of the Holocaust, this is a good place to start Even though Arendt didn t want to make it a philosophical or legal treatise, it makes a few bold philosophical and legal claims, the most controversial of which is the banality of evil.Eichmann was in charge of transporting the Jews, first for forced emigration, and after the implementation of the Final Solution, to the death camps He didn t run the death camps, or command firing squads, or operate the gas chambers He wasn t in charge of finding and rounding up the Jews either He was a mid level S.S officer who was just good enough to arrange for trains and take care of the logistics of the transportation He put millions on those trains, knowing fully well where they were heading and what fate was awaiting them.Without trying to lessen the magnitude of his crimes and this is a very important point what Arendt wants to add to our understanding of Eichmann and our understanding of the nature of evil is how utterly banal he was Here s a guy who couldn t even finish high school He s a bit dim even though he tries to quote Kant during his trial He has a limited vocabulary and can t help using clich s He s constantly complaining about how he didn t get promoted as high as he wanted He s adamant that he didn t hate the Jews He was just doing a job nothing personal He admits that the Nazis were committing genocide, and he theatrically and obviously disingenuously offers to hang himself in public to teach a lesson to all the anti Semites But when it comes to the question of his own personal guilt, he insists that he was just unlucky to be at the wrong time and place and working a particular job for a state that had its apparatus set upon genocide Anybody else would have done the same That s the really scary part Many others would have done the same.People who refuse to believe how banal evil can be, who think that murderous evil can only come from a monstrous and sadistic psychopath who s a freak of nature in the worst imaginable way, should look at any civil war Pick your choice of the recent ones Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq, Syria Look at all the good, normal people who were living happily with one another, but one day decide that it s a good idea to hack their neighbors to death because ideology and a totalitarian state can cause what Arendt calls a total moral collapse Is banality of evil hard to accept because it makes us uncomfortable about ourselves, because it means that, if by the twist of fate, we re put in a similar position, we ll also be the one killing our neighbors or being an accessory to it or simply looking the other way In order to pronounce judgment on this book, on Arendt, on the idea of the banality of evil, you can t simply read reviews, summaries, excerpts, chunks, sentences You have to read the entire book You have to Only by reading the entire book will you acclimate yourself to Arendt s tone, her idiosyncratic writing style, the way a word on p 252 seems like an odd choice until you recall how she used the same word on p 53.In the wake of the book came a flood of criticism in both senses that c In order to pronounce judgment on this book, on Arendt, on the idea of the banality of evil, you can t simply read reviews, summaries, excerpts, chunks, sentences You have to read the entire book You have to Only by reading the entire book will you acclimate yourself to Arendt s tone, her idiosyncratic writing style, the way a word on p 252 seems like an odd choice until you recall how she used the same word on p 53.In the wake of the book came a flood of criticism in both senses that continues still Here s an example of what I consider a misleading statement about the book the misleading part is bold , from Michael Massing s October 17, 2004 article in the New York Times Eichmann rose to become the senior Nazi official in charge of deporting and transporting Europe s Jews to the death camps Yet Arendt seems always to find a mitigating circumstance He did not enter the party out of conviction, nor was he ever convinced by it, she writes It was not any fanatical hatred for the Jews but a desire to advance his career that drove his work as a Nazi, she maintains Although Eichmann had repeatedly visited Auschwitz and seen the killing apparatus there, Arendt, noting he did not personally participate in the slaughter, insists that his role in the Final Solution had been wildly exaggerated She even has the occasional kind word for Eichmann, citing evidence, for instance, that he was rather decent toward his subordinates Over all, Arendt concludes, Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all I would hardly describe those things as mitigating circumstance s After each one I ask, So And Are we all such simpletons that we require mass murderers to be 100% uncompromising monsters, in every aspect of their lives and motives Why do we require this of Eichmann that he be a perfervid, sadistic Jew hater who would have liked to beat every one of his victims to death with a club, if only he d had the time Further, what would these circumstances be mitigating Arendt believes Eichmann is guilty of genocide and should be put to death where s the mitigation, again Massing writes Arendt s solicitous treatment of Eichmann seems all theunaccountable when compared to her relentlessly harsh portrayal of Europe s Jewish leaders In a book dripping with sarcasm and scorn, Arendt reserves some of her bitterest comments for the Jewish leaders who cooperated with the Nazis Had these leaders not so obligingly provided lists of Jewish residents, had they not so diligently compiled accounts of Jewish possessions, had they not so uniformly counseled submission to German deportation orders, many of the millions who perished during the war could have been saved, Arendt contends To a Jew, she writes, this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story First, Arendt s treatment of Eichmann is hardly solicitous, a strange word indeed, making me wonder if Massing and I read the same book Her treatment is relentlessly scornful I found nearly every word she wrote about him dripping with sarcasm and scorn Arendt clearly finds Eichmann beneath contempt in every respect, utterly guilty of crimes against humanity, and deserving of his death sentence On the subject of the Jewish Councils to which Massing refers, Arendt does indeed blame them to a degree As Amos Elon notes in his excellent introduction to this edition, her criticism of them went over better in Israel than America, because Zionism, after all, had been a movement of Jewish self criticism Massing goes on to pretend that Arendt is establishing a moral equivalency between the Nazi authorities and the Jewish authorities, which is a ridiculous assertion and belied by everything in the book Isn t it at least conceivable that Jews might find the role of their Jewish leaders in their destruction the darkest chapter the same way a parent who accidentally causes the death of her child would grieve in a darker,profound way than if the child had been killed by someone else Michael A Musmanno s review of the book in the May 19, 1963 New York Times is also full of groaners Musmanno was a presiding judge at the Nuremberg Tribunal and also testified against Eichmann at his trial I ll just pick one He quotes Arendt no punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes Seems about right to meall around us we see punishments, yet fresh crimes blossom anew every morning But Musmanno concludes This, in effect, says it was a terrible mistake to punish Eichmann at all Except, her book says the opposite, over and over He lifts this from a section in which Arendt is writing about the necessity and protection of international law in dealing with genocide and crimes against humanity.What Does She Mean By the Banality of Evil Most of us have some of idea of what she must mean by the banality of evil before we pick up the book But she only uses the phrase twice in the subtitle, and in the last sentence of text before the Epilogue She uses it in the context of Eichmann s last words as he goes to the gallows I ll quote at length He was in complete command of himself, nay, he washe was completely himself Nothing could have demonstrated thisconvincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgl ubiger, to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death He then proceeded After a short while, gentlemen, we shall meet again Such is the fate of all men Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria I shall not forget them In the face of death, he had found the clich used in funeral oratory Under the gallows, his memory played him the last trick he was elated and he forgot that this was his own funeral It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us the lesson of the fearsome, word and thought defying banality of evil.So here she is making no mention of the paper pushing bureaucrat, just following orders aspect that everyone commonly associates with the phrase she does touch on these things elsewhere in the book Rather, she is writing about the grotesque silliness, the clich d quality, of his words Elsewhere she notes that Eichmann would come up with stock phrases, slogans, nonsensical and meaningless particularly to an intellectual like Arendt , such as his claim to the court that he would like to find peace with his former enemies i.e., this director of administrative massacres Arendt s term wished to make nice with Holocaust victims Eichmann s vocabulary was so limited and inelastic that sometimes the Israeli authorities couldn t understand him, and he couldn t find another way to express the same idea He apologized to the court, saying, Officialese Amtssprache is my only language Arendt thought he had a mild case of aphasia, and adds But the point here is that officialese became his language because he was genuinely incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a clich And, The longer one listened to him, theobvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such Over and over, Eichmann s nonsensical rhetorical idiocies transformed him from monster into clown this, for Arendt, was what made him the face of the banality of evil The horror and enigma surrounding the Holocaust trials is probably best exhibited in Peter Weiss s play The Investigation Based on the actual testimonies given during the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials reading it is an experience that is cold, brutal and almost physical in ways unexpected Witnesses try to communicate the incommunicable suffering of victims and survivors Defendants try to deny or extenuate their respective roles in the heinous crimes and Judges try to measure up an appropriate se The horror and enigma surrounding the Holocaust trials is probably best exhibited in Peter Weiss s play The Investigation Based on the actual testimonies given during the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials reading it is an experience that is cold, brutal and almost physical in ways unexpected Witnesses try to communicate the incommunicable suffering of victims and survivors Defendants try to deny or extenuate their respective roles in the heinous crimes and Judges try to measure up an appropriate sentence against the evil involved that keeps on getting bigger, hideous and unbearable In the course of brief dialogues, Weiss deftly manages to raise some inconvenient questions and leaves the tough task of contemplation for the readers In that sense, where this play ends, Eichmann in Jerusalem beginsOne last question, the most disturbing of all, was asked by the judges, and especially by the presiding judge, over and over again Had the killing of Jews gone against his conscience But this was a moral question, and the answer to it may not have been legally relevant.I am tempted to say that Hannah Arendt followed Eichmann s trial as an impartial third party whose aim was to view things in the light of a relevant objectivity but it would be too bold a claim given my superficial knowledge about the concerned subject matter Still I can say that she definitely strives to penetrate the colossal intricacy of Nazi machinery along with the challenges faced by a wary legal system It s not a coin we are talking about but a demonic labyrinth of crimes against humanity and the difficulty in analyzing its structure must have been enormous From the outset only, Arendt s lucid and assured writing conveys the much needed message that whatever shall follow will not complicate the already complicated events but rather deconstruct the methods and consequences of venomous indoctrinationWhat stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique, which must therefore be difficult to bear This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did And in the centre of all this is a man sitting in the bullet proof glass cage, recounting the whys and hows and wheres of the gross injustice he perpetrated while Arendt carefully observes his various stances actuated by a thorough research and presents a report that is worth reading for the sheer amount of information and new perspectives it offers for our perusal Although all her arguments bear a force that warrants some sort of reaction even from the unaffected, there are instances where things appears to be stretched a little too far on her part especially when it comes to pass judgments on Eichmann s character And no, I m not referring to the banality which is most likely a foregone conclusion and Arendt herself regretted the use of that word but certain extraneous assumptions The banality however, whether that of a person or some invisible evil force can t be dismissed in its entirety when one reads the following words Just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody Thou shalt not kill, even though man s natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody Thou shalt kill, although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it the quality of temptation Maybe there are many philosophies at play here that I didn t able to differentiate or even recognize but one thing that is apparent against the tragic backdrop of wars is the dwelling place of truth that usually gets blurred or wiped out under the layers of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil Arendt has explored those very places in a manner that is admirable and brave T hese defendants now ask this Tribunal to say they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs They stand before the record of this Tribunal as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain king He begged of the widow, as they beg of you Say I slew them not And the Queen replied Then say they are not slain But dead they are from Robert Jackson s closing argument at the Nuremberg Tribunal In my opinion, one of the c T hese defendants now ask this Tribunal to say they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs They stand before the record of this Tribunal as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain king He begged of the widow, as they beg of you Say I slew them not And the Queen replied Then say they are not slain But dead they are from Robert Jackson s closing argument at the Nuremberg Tribunal In my opinion, one of the central failings of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was its list of defendants Leave aside all questions of international law, victor s justice, and tu quoque arguments, and this is what you notice that the Nuremberg dock was filled with the lesser lights of the Nazi Party Absent was Hitler, Goebbels, and Himmler, dead by their own hands Absent was the troll Bormann, who never escaped Berlin Absent was Heydrich the hangman, killed by Czech partisans long before the tide turned The most in famous Nazi in the dock was the suave and corpulent Goering, but even he was not destined for the noose He escaped with the aid of smuggled cyanide This left the victorious Allies punishing halfwits and lackeys and avatars of evil the Jew baiter Streicher, so foul and vile even Hitler despised him the lapdog Keitel, without a brain in his head the incompetent von Ribbentrop the furiously backpedaling Doenitz the quite possibly insane Hess Destroying this grab bag of thugs and louts was a cold comfort Today, aside from Goering and the unctuous and self serving Speer, the Nuremberg defendants are mostly forgotten We don t think of Nazism extinguished at the end of a rope instead, we think of Hitler and his goofy mustache and wild gesticulations and struggle with the notion he somehow escaped justice Thus, it is quite possible that the mantel of most in famous Nazi war criminal falls upon the thin shoulders of balding, bespectacled Adolf Eichmann There are a few reasons for this First of all, he was captured by the Mossad during a brazen raid in Argentina Next, he was at the center of a widely publicized show trial in Jerusalem Mainly, though, we remember Eichmann while we forget Frick, Funk, Sauckel and Schirach because of three words Banality of evil Coined by political theorist Hannah Arendt, the phrase has stood the test of time It has a pseudo intellectual patina that has become a kind of shorthand in discussions of the Nazi regime If you want to sound smart without knowing much at all, just spit it out just make sure you pronounce banal correctly As such, it is ripe for misuse see, e.g., From a marketing standpoint, banality of evil is solid gold, the politico historical equivalent of show me the money It has kept Arendt s Eichmann in Jerusalem relevant and in print since the 60s, and there is no indication the book or the phrase is going anywhere Interestingly, though, the phrase only appears once in the text as the book s last lines It is only explained by Arendt in a postscript And that s fine, really There are plenty of people around willing to argue about what those words mean and whether they are correct Eichmann in Jerusalem is, in Arendt s words, a trial report The book version is cobbled together from her reporting for The New Yorker, as well as some later research I don t like to disagree with an author over her own creation, but Eichmann in Jerusalem doesn t really feel like a trial report, or at least not as I conceive such a thing This book doesn t concern itself with the nuts and bolts of the trial it does not analyze opening and closing statements, witness credibility, or the incisiveness of cross examination To be sure, some of these things are touched on, but if you want the story of the trial itself, how it went down, day by day or week by week, you ll have to look elsewhere By my rough count, there are about seven chapters devoted mainly to Eichmann s activities during the Holocaust, while there are only two chapters devoted solely to the trial.Instead, Arendt has written Eichmann s story as based upon what she learned at the trial Indeed, the bulk of Eichmann in Jerusalem reads like any other nonfiction book about the Nazis It covers the Wannsee Conference, forced emigrations, deportations, and finally the rail lines to the death camps The only unique angle is that Eichmann is at the center of this narrative And this is saying something, I suppose Despite his infamy, and despite the fact I ve readthan my share of Nazi centric books my wife would say farthan my fair share , I ve never really learned a lot about Adolf Eichmann He is almost always mentioned, but never explored This is due to the fact that however involved he was in the Holocaust, he was, at the end of the day, a functionary.Accordingly, I don t mind Arendt s decision to focus on the man at the center of the trial, rather than the mechanics of the trial itself The problem I had, however, is with Arendt s writing style For the last few minutes, I ve struggled to find the best way to express what I mean The words clunky and inelegant spring to mind, as does the phrase dense prose I would also venture to say she displays curious sentence structure Whatever the actual diagnosis I m a lawyer, not a grammarian the result forces the reader to grapple with the material, rather than absorb it This is a book I had to force my way through Sometimes I d read entire pages before realizing I had no idea what d just been said Despite being only 300 odd pages, it felt like a long, plodding slog None of this is helped by the massively long paragraphs and Arendt s curious hesitation about indentations This makes for aesthetically displeasing pages Eichmann in Jerusalem carries a lot of baggage with it, which I suppose is the reason people continue to read it, despite its literary shortcomings Some of the recent controversy involves Arendt s relationship with crypto Nazi cum philosopher Martin Heidegger Frankly, I don t have much to say on that score, and it feels a little too insider academics to me Still, there is plenty of controversy right there on the page, in black and white, without delving into Arendt s sex life While reading, I picked out three major areas of potential criticism The first critique, which I agree with, is in Arendt s treatment of Jewish leaders during the war It is a matter of historical fact that Jewish leaders were utilized by the Nazis in order to expedite the Holocaust The trouble with Arendt s interpretation, though, is that she essentially accuses them of collaboration This just isn t the case Yes, the Judenrat assisted the Nazis, but they did so with a knife at their throats, and that s an important piece of the puzzle that Arendt ignores Had the Judenrat resisted, Spartacus style, as she clearly wished they had, they would ve been liquidated and replaced, and nothing would ve changed Instead, the Judenrat, for the most part, did what they could to ease the situation for their people And in return, they are blamed in hindsight for lacking complete knowledge of all the Nazis contemporary machinations On this topic the idea of Jewish resistance, or lack thereof, is farcomplicated than Arendt makes it out to be First of all, most of these people had no formal military training Unlike in the movies, where one can learn all the arts of war during a brief montage, in the real world, one must be taught to be a soldier Second of all, the Jews of Europe were not a monolithic group they came from Germany and France and Austria and Poland and on and on Who s going to coordinate this resistance And how Finally, the Germans had a certain tendency to respond unfavorably to partisan action Indeed, Hitler s Partisan Order spelled out mathematically how many enemy were to be killed for each lost German life After Heydrich s assassination, 1,300 Czechs were murdered, 13,000 were deported And these were non Jews that Hitler needed as labor With all these disadvantages, Judah Maccabee himself, risen from the grave, couldn t have fomented serious resistance.The second major criticism leveled at Arendt has to do with her portrayal of Eichmann, and her choice of those three magic words to sum him up The Eichmann that Arendt presents is indelible a high school dropout and intellectual dud a bureaucratic ladder climber an unoriginal man who spoke in catchphrases and slogans like some kind of evil Abed from Community His banality, as Arendt explains, is in his lack of imagination He never would have murdered someone with his own hands, but he was perfectly willing operating within the Nazi framework, in which his actions were lawful to facilitate the deaths of millions It s impossible to say whether Arendt s portrait is entirely correct It is, after all, impossible to know the human heart However, she has come under criticism for taking Eichmann too much at his word, and failing to realize Eichmann was minimizing his role To be honest, I m not sure that Eichmann was shrewd enough to reframe himself in that way Anyway, one has to ask, even if he was, what end he was hoping to achieve He was damned either way, and whether he came off as an unquestioning bureaucrat or a mustache twirling villain, he was going to stretch In other words, Eichmann didn t really have all that much motive to lie On that point, however, I must admit that I m predisposed to Arendt s conception of Eichmann in particular, and Nazi era Germans in general which places me contra anything Daniel Jonah Goldhagen writes I m no expert on human nature, but I just can t believe that somehow, for some reason, the Germany of 1933 1945 had an astronomically high percentage of psychopaths and sociopaths and sadists operating outside the realm of fundamental human morality Instead, to use Christopher Browning s phrase, I think most Nazis were ordinary men That is, they were men and women subject to national political pressures, social pressures, and group pressures that coerced them follow Hitler s will Some of them undoubtedly believed in the mission, wholeheartedly, but this was the result of their complex existence within a paradigm that effectively convinced people that up was down, left was right, and evil was good The farther away from the killing, the easier this became A third and final criticism of Arendt is in her vigorous attacks on the fairness of the Jerusalem trial Like the first controversy, discussed above, I don t think this one carries much weight There is nothing groundbreaking in her critique of the process and procedures of the Eichmann Trial indeed, the items she cites are in line with what other legal scholars such as Nuremberg prosecutor Telford Taylor have written Importantly, at the end of the day, she acknowledges Eichmann s guilt, and states flatly that he deserved to die And just as you Eichmann supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang It would ve beensatisfying were Eichmann a monster So too with Hitler, Himmler, Goering and the rest Monsters can be recognized monsters can be destroyed But these men weren t monsters They were of this earth When Hitler put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, it turned out that he was flesh and bone and soft tissue, just like the rest of us.That, I suppose, is why Arendt s Eichmann is so discomforting