Milgram and the Nazis
From the point of view of David who was unable to see the various available texts attempting to explain the atrocities of the holocaust, it may truly appear to him as if Germans had developed sadistic, twisted, abnormal personalities. He was an uninformed boy, if we would discuss to him the experiment of Milgram on obedience, perhaps it could open his mind a bit about the different factors that could have influenced the Germans to act in compliance the way they did in WWII.
It is the case that Milgram conducted his research on obedience as a result of his own attempt to try and answer the cause of mayhem during the holocaust, at least to the extent that people complied to participate in such acts as merely following their orders. It appears that through the controversial Milgram experiments, Germans would have a warranted defense of merely being compliant to instructions being given out by an authority. Milgram himself did not want to make it look as if the Nazis, including Germans who aided in execution of Jews in World War Two were merely being obedient; he accepts the fact that there was an anti-Semite ideological indoctrination in play as well.
Milgram’s experiment included an accomplice participant in the form of the learner, a typically Norman person randomly invited and always gets to become the teacher, and Milgram’s assistant as the experimenter. The teacher is tasked to teach the learner and whenever the latter makes a mistake he is to be administered with an electric shock that ranged from low to dangerous levels.
Every time the learner commits an error, the voltage would be increased, during such increase, the learner would demonstrate suffering from pain, on later forms of the experiment, even mentioning a heart condition, pleading for the whole thing to stop (all pretend). One would think that the teachers would refuse at the onset of hearing the learner being harmed and wanting to quit. However, with the right amount of push, and command of the experimenter, 65% of the participants continued with the experiment up to the very last voltage range.
Milgram’s study though was seen to be somewhat unethical, proved to be a legitimate way of explaining the pressure and high degree of compliance to a perceived higher authority. This would easily debunk the answer of David, in such a way that we could not simply assume that Germans have become or were evil people who complied because they were sadistic. Rather it is the better explanation to see that participants from everyday walks of life can act to commit evil things under certain conditions as a way of complying to orders. In a sense that what happened during the Holocaust was not committed by monsters in the form of Germans, but rather by people who were ordered to act out the wishes of a monstrous authority in form of Hitler. (Milgram, 1974)
Hitler was considered a legitimate source of power and thus obedience was perceived to be the necessary response to his orders; despite these people possibly feeling stressed and personally not desiring to act in such ways. They were led to believe that it is what it is, a following of a command that was given to them as an imperative form of compliance.
The participation of Germans in the execution of innocent Jews is indeed brutal to say the least, but Milgram offers through his research an explanation, in which we are able to see that these people acted as a result of situational pressure not because they had an evil character per se. They are ordinary people led to commit evil acts, although a choice was always present, it showed that the probability of defiance begin to deteriorate after adhering to a command during the initial phase. Yes, some German soldiers refused to follow the orders, but it was a significantly low percentage and prior to the actual atrocities. Non-compliance also meant being punished, thus most of Germans had to act in the way they did.
David’s answer is weak. Hitler used his position to manipulate ordinary men and women to act on evil, he’s the twisted fellow, there’s no need to generalize.
Milgram, S. (1974), Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, New York: Harper and Row.