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The 20th century has been considered a very dark historical time because of so many atrocities happening throughout that period. It contained some of the bloodiest and most gruesome events ever recorded in history. But what does seem to be more dangerous : the availability of technologies for mass killing or the fading away of a widely accepted moral law ? How is this explained throughout the book ‘Humanity’ by Jonathan Glover and ‘Survival in Auschwitz’ by Primo Levi. In his book, Glover states that even though people do commit terrible acts of rape, genocide, murder etc, there are two main moral resources that can stop humans from committing those crimes.
It is sympathy, empathy and respect. For instance, ‘’when George Orwell was fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists, he saw a man running out half dressed, holding his pants in one hand. At the moment, Orwell refrained from shooting at him partly because of the pants themselves. He had gone to war to shoot “Fascists”, but a man holding up his trousers is not a “Fascist”; he is just a human being.
’’ (Glover 53).
Moral identity is the other moral resource that humans can use to stop themselves from committing horrific crimes against humanity. Moral identity can be such an ambiguous subject and so easy to manipulate therefore it is more complicated. A person is never born with the thought of being a part of a mass murder, but it is during life and how affected is he by governmental view.
For example no Nazi soldier was born with the thought of killing the Jews. In fact they retained themselves as good and moral people. ‘’However, once they were fed extreme anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda which dehumanizing European Jews, they began to have the idea that maybe killing Jews is not against their moral code because after all, Jews are not humans in the eyes of the government.’’ (Glover xix).
In my opinion technology has a real impact in people’s lives and as a result they take advantage for the bad and cause harm to humanity. But even though technology is being developed every day and more people should get the best part of it and not the negative side causing mass murders or any harm of that type. But I also think that fading away the moral laws is more dangerous . Why humans allow themselves to commit acts of horrific genocides and mass murders? Jonathan Glover poses the following questions, “How can people take part in these mass outbreaks of mutual killing?… Why do people fight in battle? Why do they join the army? Why do governments go to war?Why do populations support them?” (Glover 47). Glover answers that war and especially close combat occur when moral resources are intently or even accidentally removed usually by dehumanizing the victims. Further in the book Glover states “…I firmly believe that the ends justify the means…
With the others, I emptied out the old folks’ storage chests, stopping my ears to the children’s crying and women’s wails” (Glover 259). We can see this kind of elimination of moral resources wherever we look throughout the history of the 20th century. The propaganda against the Jews in Germany, in the American generals’ words before the My Lai Massacre and even in today’s media’s erosion of the humanity of the people living in The Middle East. In order to stop genocides and mass-killings from happening, Glover states that humanity must always be aware of the moral resources it has at its disposal to stop its sometimes unavoidable nature. Relation of the Jew ‘hate’ we find in ‘Survival in Auschwitz ‘ by Primo levi. In his book , Levi writes about his experience as an Italian Jew in the holocaust. Levi was arrested in Italy and eventually taken to the concentration camp, Auschwitz. He was a young Jewish chemist, participating in the anti fascist movement. Throughout the book he explains all the difficulties he faced during his staying in the camp. He begins the novel with the phrase “It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average lifespan of the prisoners destined for elimi- nation” (Levi 9). Levi himself is aware of the capacity that luck plays in his life. Morality is subordinate in heavy conditions.
As a result the barbed wires of the concentration camps ‘covered in blood’ the morality itself. Hitler first dehumanized the prisoners in the camps. He took away their names, their clothes, their possessions, and even their ability to communicate. Levi explains, “Nothing belongs to us anymore; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name…” (27). They were deprived of their identity , their morals. Further Levi states : “Imagine now a man who is deprived of everyone he loves…he will be a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint, for he who loses all often easily loses himself. He will be a man whose life or death can be lightly decided with no sense of human affinity, in the most fortunate of cases, on the basis of a pure judgment of utility” (27). These lines are very powerful because here we see another method of extermination, the annihilation of the soul, because without your soul, what are you? I wonder how people survived in that camp maybe it was simply good fortune .
Hitler’s main goal was to create a racial state, one consisting purely of the ‘superior’ Aryan race.
There’s a passage in the text “We were ninety-six when we arrived , we, the Italians of convoy 174,000; only twenty-nine of us survived until October, and of these, eight went in the selection. We are now twenty-one and the winter has hardly begun. How many of us will be alive at the new year ? How many when spring begins”. (Levi 136). Here we can see how insecure about his life and the others Levi was . There was no hope, no certainty . It was only luck nothing else.
Another interesting passage is : “ I know that I am not made of the stuff of those who resist, I am too civilized , I still think too much , I use myself up at work . And now I also know that I can save myself if I become a Specialist, and that I will become a specialist if i pass a chemistry examination. “ (Levi 103). According to Levi the only way to escape or to reach his freedom is through his intelligence. He illustrates that being a specialist could be a possibility to save himself.
In my opinion ‘Humanity’ by Glover and ‘Survival in Auschwitz ‘ by Levi are two powerful books which brought back to our memory the brutal events happened in the past. Both the authors illustrate strong ideas , moments and living experiences that one cannot imagine. Glover , in his book explains how to prevent the atrocities in the future humanity. Technology is developing things more easy nowadays. We hear mass shootings and different killings occurring in our country and yet we can’t find a way to prevent it. Technology has an addicted impact in people’s lives. Sometimes social media is influencing in a bad way the youth . They don’t take the good part of it but the bad part and some of them focus on how to harm humanity , how to create confusion , how to create mass killings etc. A sense of fear is within anybody these days because you’re not safe anymore in the street , in the bar or whenever you are and this is so sad. One should learn from the things happened in the past in order to create a better future. Creating confusion or harming the society it’s not going to solve one’s problems.
I must say that I really loved reading the two books and hoping the society will never ever be harmed again like that but just live in peace and serenity always.
Glover, Jonathan. Humanity; A moral history of the 20th century. 2nd edition
Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz; The Nazi Assault on Humanity. 1st edition.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
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