Tag Archive for: Hitler

It Could Never Happen Today or Could It?


I got a strange birthday present this year
from my daughter Abigail; a book called Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell
Bartoletti. Abigail has been fascinated by what took place around World War II,
particularly the Holocaust, so couple that with her youth pastor recommending the
book along with my interest in psychology, and that’s how she came up with the idea.
The book details how Adolph Hitler and the
Nazis used the young German population to strengthen their cause and implement
their gruesome plans. The indoctrination of the German youth began in the early
1930s and went all the way up through the end of the war.
The children were so brainwashed between
school, the Hitler Youth organization and summer work camps that many had more
loyalty to Hitler and the state than to their own parents. Some children even
turned their parents in to Nazi authorities when they heard them say derogatory
things about Hitler or the Nazis!
For decades people have wondered how any human
being could have witnessed what was going on and not done something. Even
worse, how could anyone have willingly participated in such evil?
It’s easy for us to think the atrocities that
occurred under Hitler could never happen in this day and age because we have social
media and people would take action immediately. Sadly, that’s not the case. The
world was aware of genocide in Rwanda with the nightly news and did little to
stop it until hundred of thousands were slaughtered. More recently we only
need to look at the North Korean regime.
Five decades ago Stanley Milgram, a social
psychologist from Yale, wondered how people could have willingly participated
with the Nazis, so he set out find an answer.
Milgram conducted a series of experiments in
the early 1960s to find out how subjects would respond to an authority figure. The principle of authority tells us people defer to those with expertise and those in positions of power. As you might imagine, most people predicted the average American wouldn’t harm another person, but during a “learning experiment” Milgram found
that two-thirds of his subjects willingly administered a series of 30
progressively stronger shocks to a learning partner. The final shock was 450
volts, enough voltage to kill a person!
During the experiment no threats were used, there
was no prior history with the experimenter to consider, nor was anyone’s career
on the line. What turned these normal people into willing participants in
torture? Believe it or not, all it took was a man in a white lab coat – a
perceived authority – insisting that participants continue with the experiment.
Many protested, some to the point of near emotional breakdown, but two out of
three participants administered all 30 shocks.
Are we much different today than we were in
the early ‘60s? In a much milder form, the Milgram experiment and many other
interesting scenarios such as bullying have been replicated in recent years on the
NBC television show What Would You Do?
Various studies show most people believe
themselves to be better looking than the average person, and smarter, kinder
and, I bet, more heroic. You probably believe you are and I’ll be honest, I
believe I’m all those things too. Because of our high self-esteem we’d like to
believe we would have immediately done the right thing if we’d been in Nazi
Germany or someplace else where we witnessed something horrific. But the odds
are against us, because human nature hasn’t changed much during the past
It’s become commonly documented that all too
often people don’t help one another when they see someone in need and the more
people there are around, the less any one person feels the need to help. This
is sometimes called the “bystander effect” or “diffusion of
responsibility.” If you doubt this consider, Catherine Susan “Kitty”Genovese, the woman who was stabbed to death in New York City in 1964 in full
view, or within earshot, of many people who did nothing to help her.
So what can you and I do? On a personal level,
having just read this you’re probably thinking, “I’d never do that” and that’s
a good first step. The principle of consistency tells us people want their
words and deeds to match. By telling ourselves we wouldn’t do such a thing
we’re raising our awareness that should something like that occur we’re more
likely to recognize it and take appropriate action.
Something that strengthens our resolve when it
comes to consistency is to make a public commitment. The more public we are
about our views on right and wrong, good and bad, and what we’d do, the more
likely we are to follow through on those actions.
Here’s the good news – quite often other
people know the right thing to do but are afraid to act. However, when one
courageous person takes a stand it emboldens others and before you know it you
can have a movement of good against evil. And the sooner we act, the easier it
will be to stamp out something before it seems too big, too imposing to deal
Brian, CMCT®
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.