Barbarossa, and Radical Violence
War is horror. There is no way to change the fundamental nature of combat, which is a competition of attrition, against a foe who has avowed to extinguish the life of his opponent. When survival is at stake, the normative laws of fairness seem always less important. There is a question of whether or not it is just to risk the life of fellow soldiers in order to avoid cruel or excessive harm to an adversarial population, even in rare situations when such circumstances could be proven. However it could also be argued that more expedient and brutal killing, will prevent drawn out conflict, and by utilitarian principle prevent more suffering in the long term. Short-term brutality in favor of long term mercy is an often used rationality, whether or not it is proven sound.
In States Of Exception(Edele and Geyer, 2009),” barbarization/radicalization”(356), essentially stems from a military leadership ideology, in which the circumstances of the impending combat that soldiers are about to face is against an enemy that is subhuman, and who’s existence will lead to the destruction of the soldiers civilization. When placed in these circumstances, either by initiative, or guidance, restraint of violence becomes less expected.
In some cases in the German army during operation Barbarossa, preventative immunity was extended to those soldiers conducting themselves in a criminal manner, as long as it accomplished the objective, it was considered justifiable. “The enemy” was to be described as immoral, and often racially inferior, a creature not to be ashamed of killing(353-354). The effect of these beliefs had escalated to systematic extermination of entire communities in Russia, because of their “Jewish-Bolshevik” nature and the threat their competing ideology purportedly posed(358). (Edele and Geyer 2009,).
Similarly, the reaction of the Soviets to the Brutal decimation was to exterminate the German enemy. The atrocities of the German invaders was proof enough that there was no alternative but to fight to the death, and that the Germans also were monsters undeserving of mercy(360 & 365). If Germans were entrenched in a village, they were to burn down the village(Edele and Geyer 2009, 369).
Edele and Geyer(2009) points out “soldiers entered a space of combat, in which they had only themselves, and their value judgements to depend on. In this situation, it mattered immensely that the only ‘virtue’ drilled into them and repeatedly by propaganda was unrestrained ruthlessness in pursuit of victory – or utter defeat.”(372-375). When provided with such an ultimatum, it gives the appearance that the soldiers only option is to preserve his own life by extinguishing the enemy, or sacrificing himself through leniency.
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer “States of Exception The Nazi-Soviet War as a System of Violence 1939-1945,” in Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick, Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, (Cambridge, 2009)
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