Amidst a wave of anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses, many have asked themselves “why has it happened?” Potential answers abound, but among the top contenders are the hypotheses that these students—harassing their Jewish classmates and parroting genocidal chants—have simply been indoctrinated by the “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) regime or are shielded from contrary points of view due to the increasingly leftist bias among university faculty members. Either hypothesis has its merits, but to better explain how otherwise ordinary students so quickly became pogrom promoters, it would behoove us to explore historic parallels.
One such parallel rests with Reserve Police Battalion 101 (RPB-101), the story of which was documented in the book Ordinary Men by historian Christopher Browning. Those familiar with the book may well scoff at the thesis that these two groups are parallels in any regard, and they have their reasons: The students shouting antisemitic statements have not killed anyone—yet—and are much younger and more educated on average than the typically middle-aged, vocationally-trained volunteers of RPB-101, who killed tens-of-thousands of Jewish civilians—mostly women, children, and the elderly—in Poland during the Holocaust.
Yet, there are two notable parallels we see between these groups.
The first is conformity—the simple desire to fit into your social surroundings. The second, and perhaps predominant parallel in this case, is careerism—the simple desire to advance in one’s occupation. Of those dozen or so men in RPB-101 (500 in total) who refused to participate in the mass shootings of Jews, two of them, as Browing explains, “emphasized the fact that they were freer to act as they did because they had no careerist ambitions.” Upon being asked why he refused to participate, one of the “policemen” of RPB-101 simply explained: “because I was not a career policeman and also did not want to become one, but rather an independent skilled craftsman, and I had my business back home … thus it was of no consequence that my police career would not prosper.”
One of the officers of RPB-101, Lieutenant Buchmann, gave his reason for refusal on ethical grounds, saying that he simply could not shoot defenseless women and children. However, he also emphasized his economic reality as a reason for refusal, saying, “I was somewhat older then and moreover a reserve officer, so it was not particularly important to me to be promoted or otherwise to advance, because I had my prosperous business back home. The company chiefs [Non-Commissioned Officers] … on the other hand were young men and career policemen who wanted to become something.”
Even those who refused on ideological rather than ethical grounds, such as Buchmann, could not help but emphasize the economic realities and lack of careerism that assisted in their decision to refuse to participate in the slaughter. For example, one member of RPB-101, who worked as a landscaper back home in Hamburg, said that he refused because he disagreed with the National Socialists’ anti-Semitic ideology entirely. As he explained: “[t]his attitude [aversion to anti-Semitism] I already had earlier in Hamburg, because due to the [anti-]Jewish measures already carried out in Hamburg I had lost the greater part of my business customers.”
There is something to be said about these economic realities that helped to catalyze refusals. Looking past mere peer pressure—which will always be a problem—one must wonder if, had the reality and career consequences of these horrific acts been made clear to RPB-101’s members by outsiders, would more men have refused or desisted? It seems self-evident that they would have, and herein we find a direct parallel to the anti-Semitism on college campuses today.
Consider, for example, the letter signed by 34 student organizations at Harvard University in October 2023, which blamed and condemned Israel, rather than the terrorist organization Hamas, for the attacks that Hamas perpetrated against Israel. The student signatories were, presumably, blinded by the barriers of the ideological incubator that Harvard has become, not unlike the men of RPB-101 who were blinded by the ideological indoctrination of the National Socialists. And each group was, likewise, certainly conditioned by conformity to their respective social groups.
Yet, in this modern case at Harvard, the careerist consequences also played a considerable role. Within days, CEOs and executives of major law firms pledged not to hire student signatories of the aforementioned letter. In some cases, job offers were rescinded. And, almost immediately, several student signatories tried—just as the men of RPB-101 did—to shift the blame to others, claiming that they themselves were unaware of the letter that they signed.
Thus, there is an evident parallel between the anti-Semitism of ordinary students and the anti-Semitism of RPB-101’s ordinary men. There is also an important lesson to be learned: Arguments against anti-Semitism—and presumably also against DEI, as well as the butchering of children under the guise of “gender affirming care”—will likely prove largely ineffective if those arguments are predicated on anti-ideological or ethical grounds. Rather, the career consequences of partaking in such activities must be made clear to those involved, so that they will refuse outright or desist as quickly as possible.
While ideological or ethical arguments may sway some, they are unlikely to sway the majority. To recognize that humans generally care little for intellectual or moral considerations and to conclude that the best course of action is to forego anti-ideological and ethical arguments in favor of devising economic incentives, is saddening. The consequences of failing to do so, however, may be much more severe.
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals,
because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out.
Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything,
I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
—Anne Frank (1929-1945)
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