Читать онлайн "Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying" автора Neitzel Sonke - RuLit - Страница 6


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A total institution initially attempts to rob initiates of all forms of self-control. Only after the “initiation” or “apprenticeship” has been completed does a measure of freedom and a spectrum for possible behavior open up. This phenomenon is extreme even in peacetime, and it is the more so during war, when acts of battle are no longer simulation, but everyday reality, and one’s own survival may well depend on the smooth functioning of one’s unit. At that point, the total institution becomes a total group, allowing only specific spectrums of action precisely defined by rank and command structure.19 In comparison with civilian roles of every sort, the frame of reference of soldiers at war is characterized by the lack of alternatives. One of the soldiers, whose conversations with a comrade were secretly recorded, put it so: “We’re like a machine gun. A weapon for waging war.”20

In decisions of what, when, and with whom, a soldier’s behavior is not subject to his own perception, interpretation, and decision making. The leeway with which a command can be interpreted according to one’s own estimation and abilities is extremely small. Depending on the circumstances, the significance of roles within frames of reference varies considerably. Under the pluralistic conditions of civilian life, it can be quite negligible. Under the conditions of war or other extreme situations, though, the significance can be total.

Parts of various civilian roles can also be transferred to the military context, where they become matters of life or death. A harmless action like transferring files can suddenly become murderous, if the context changes. As early as 1962, in his seminal work The Destruction of the European Jews, Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg underscored the negative potential of people employing civilian skills for homicidal purposes:

Every policeman charged with keeping order could become a guard in a ghetto or for a rail transport. Every lawyer at the Main Office for Imperial Security was a candidate for taking over a task force; every finance specialist at the Department of Economic Administration was seen as a natural choice for serving in a concentration camp. In other words, all necessary operations were carried out using the personnel that was available at the time. Wherever one chooses to draw the border with active participation, the machinery of annihilation represented an impressive cross-section of the German populace.21

Applied to war, that would mean: every mechanic could repair bombers whose deadly payloads killed thousands of people; every butcher could, as a member of a procurement enterprise, be complicit in the plundering of occupied areas. During World War II, Lufthansa pilots flew long-range sorties in their Fw 200s not to transport passengers, but to sink British merchant ships in the Atlantic. Yet because their activity in and of itself didn’t change, those who played these roles rarely saw reason to engage in moral reflection or to refuse to do their jobs. Their basic activity remained the same.


Specific interpretive paradigms are tightly connected with the sets of demands that accompany every role. Doctors see an illness differently than do patients, just as perpetrators view a crime differently than do victims. The paradigms that direct these interpretations are, in a sense, mini frames of reference. Every interpretive paradigm, of course, includes an entire universe of alternative interpretations and implies nonknowledge. That is disadvantageous in situations so new that previous experience does more to hinder than to help our ability to deal with them.22 Paradigms are effective in familiar contexts since they remove the need to engage in complex considerations and calculations. One knows what one is dealing with and what the right recipe is for solving a problem. As predetermined, routinized frames for ordering what is happening at a given moment, interpretive paradigms structure our lives to an extraordinarily high degree. They range from stereotypes (“Jews are all…”) to entire cosmologies (“God will not permit Germany’s demise”), and are both historically and culturally very specific. German soldiers in World War II typecast their enemies according to different criteria and characteristics than soldiers in the Vietnam War did, but the procedure and function of the typecasting are identical.

Interpretive paradigms are especially central to how soldiers in World War II experienced others, their own mission, their “race,” Hitler, and Jews. Paradigms equip frames of reference with prefabricated interpretations according to which experiences can be sorted. They also include interpretations from different social contexts that are imported into the experience of war. This is especially significant for the notion of “war as a job,” which in turn is extremely important for soldiers’ interpretations of what they do. This central role can be gleaned from phrases like the “dirty work” or the “fine job” done by the Luftwaffe that recur in the soldiers’ conversations. The interpretive paradigm from industrial society for how soldiers experienced and dealt with war also informs philosopher Ernst Jünger’s famous description of soldiers as “workers of war.” In Jünger’s words, war appears as a “rational work process equally far removed from feelings of horror and romanticism” and the use of weapons as “the extension of a customary activity at the workbench.”23

In fact, commercial work and the work of war are indeed related in a number of respects. Both are subject to division of labor, both depend on technical, specialist qualifications, and both are hierarchically structured. In both cases, the majority of those involved have nothing to do with the finished product and carry out orders without asking questions about whether commands are sensible. Responsibility is either delegated or confined to the particular area on which one directly works. Routine plays a major role. Workers and soldiers carry out recurring physical movements and follow standing instructions. For instance, in a bomber, pilots, bombardiers, and gunners with varying qualifications work together to achieve a finished product: the destruction of a target, whether that target might be a city, a bridge, or a group of soldiers in the open field. Mass executions such as those perpetrated against Eastern European Jews were not carried out only by those who fired the guns, but by the truck drivers, the cooks, the weapons maintenance personnel, and by the “guides” and “carriers,” those who brought the victims to their graves and who piled up the corpses. The mass executions were the result of a precise division of labor.

Against this backdrop, it is clear that interpretive paradigms give war a deeper meaning. If I interpret the killing of human beings as work, I do not categorize it as a crime and, thereby, normalize what I am doing. The role played by interpretive paradigms in the reference frame of war emerges clearly from examples like the ones above. Actions that would be considered deviant and in need of explanation and justification in the normal circumstances of everyday civilian life become normal, conformist forms of behavior. The interpretive paradigm, in a sense, automatizes moral self-examination and prevents soldiers from feeling guilt.


Part of an orienting frame of reference is very simple: it is a universe of regulations and a position within a hierarchy that determines what sort of orders an individual can be told to carry out and which orders he himself can issue to subordinates. Civilian life, too, has a spectrum ranging from total dependence to total freedom, depending on the roles one has to play. A business tycoon may enjoy immense freedom of action and be beyond the command of anything but the law in his business. But the situation might be very different in his family life, where he may be bossed around by a dominant father or an imperious wife.



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