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Evil, Banality, and the Little Man on the Podium
September 17, 2002
By Mike McArdle

"Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining and reflecting upon whatever happens to come to pass, regardless of specific content and quite independent of results, could this activity be of such a nature that it 'conditions' men against evildoing?" - Hannah Arendt on Adolph Eichmann, The Banality of Evil

Eichmann was a bureaucrat whose job it was to move political prisoners, mostly Jews to the deaths camps of Europe during World war II. He did his job with cold, detached efficiency. But what had startled political scientist Hannah Arendt as she covered his war crimes trial for the New Yorker in 1961 was Eichmann's stunning ordinariness. He had been a file clerk, a vacuum salesman and a man who had facilitated mass murder. But he could never understand, even at his trial why he had been singled out. He had simply followed the established procedures, everyone had done it. He had never considered - before, during, or after the fact - the implications of what he had done. In a different time and a different place he would have still been selling vacuums.

Another truly ordinary man walked to a podium in New York this week to address the nations and leaders of the world. He would have sold sound systems or been a convenience store manager if his name had been other than what it is. Well, maybe he would have been an assistant manager. But an accident of birth dictated higher things for him. He didn't feel the need to work hard for these things, he expected them. When he couldn't get things on his own there were always people there to give them to him. He did what they said and never asked questions. Dump the stock, take the money, it'll be okay. Wešll take care of it.

The people who handle him want to have a war so they needed him to go in and have a diplomatic temper tantrum at the UN. He had to show those multilateral globalists who's boss. The one-worlders were going to find out that we're going to have our war and there's not a damn thing they can do about it. He surely hadn't thought about the possible implications. The rest of the world sees possible tragedy and political upheaval. But there aren't any shades of gray in the eyes of this most simplistic of men. It's only right and wrong, good and evil. There's really nothing else to think about, is there ?

He quit drinking when he hit forty. Pretty soon after that he had latched onto Jesus Christ whom he once described in a debate as his favorite political philosopher. But he didn't think about Christ any more than he had pondered Jack Daniels. His religion is as empty as his college degrees, just another bit of credentialing that he never dwelt much upon. Christ wasn't a political philosopher but it's clear that he hadn't thought enough about his middle-aged discovery to discern that, and of course his demeanor after making the statement made it clear that he never realized how preposterous his words were. He just never thought about it. Why should he? He just needed a stock answer to get him through the quiz.

So there was going to be war. That's what they had told him and he wasn't going to ask any questions or provide any justifications . It didn't matter that in his lust to remove an evil he could murder thousands of innocents ­ or tens of thousands or more. It's us and them, white hats and black hats. No further concentration will be required.

Last year they had told him he had to protect stem cells and frozen embryos and so he did. But, of course it would never occur to him to look at the obscene contradiction between the supposed sacredness of cells and the moral depravity of his role killing Afghan wedding guests and now Iraqi children and grandmothers and shopkeepers. You have to think to see the contradiction. And it was all just too much trouble.

The ugly, bullying, blackmailing spectacle at the UN should have shown the assembled nations of the world something that Hannah Arendt saw so vividly at Eichmanns trial 40 years ago. Sometimes the greatest threats to the world can be perpetrated not by the two-bit dictator in the ill-fitting military suit who schemed and cheated his way to power. He had to think to get and stay there and has to know the limits of his power lest he be destroyed by transgressing them. Sometimes the far greater evil is the small, simplistic person who has enormous power land in his lap and will never think about the morality or implications of its use.

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