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Human responsibility is ultimately an individual matter.

At the same time, however, the collective behavior of Reserve Police Battalion 101 has deeply disturbing implications. There are many societies afflicted by traditions of racism and caught in the siege mentality of war or threat of war. Everywhere society conditions people to respect and defer to authority, and indeed could scarcely function otherwise. Everywhere people seek career advancement. In every modern society, the complexity of life and the resulting bureaucratization and specialization attenuate the sense of personal responsibility of those implementing official policy. Within virtually every social collective, the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?

– Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution In Poland. p. 188-189

As I read the about the horrors that men committed against each other in WWII Poland, I realize that I am just as prone as those “ordinary men” who systematically shot, butchered, and gassed Jews. Although most men were disgusted by the butchery of their vocation, and a few managed to drop out, by the end they all resembled butchers in the assembly line of a ranch. They forgot their humanity, pressured to conform, tantalized by career advancement, and committed above all to uphold German ideals of manhood, courage, and strength. Even today, do we, too, blindly uphold these values in our selfish pursuit to fashion our dreams into reality? Christopher Browning insists that responsibility ultimately lies in the individual, and I agree with him. But how much of us is formed by the collective desire of a group?

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