What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties
I mentioned in a comment yesterday that the way bishops and theologians pride themselves on not letting compassion or empathy trump their mindless Absolute Rules reminded me of something Hannah Arendt said in Eichmann in Jerusalem –
The Nazis prided themselves on exactly that – to the point that they got maudlin about it. “Nobody knows how difficult it is for us” sort of thing. Seriously. They did a lot of quiet boasting about their ability to rise above their sympathies.
I found the passage I was thinking of – pp 105-6 in the Penguin edition.
The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German army…Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler – who apparently was rather strongly afflicted with these instinctive reactions himself – was very simple and probably very effective: it consisted in turning these reactions around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!
Ronald Conte, with his “no matter the cost, no matter the cost, no matter the cost,” reminds me of that kind of thinking.