Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Batallion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as roundups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever.
While this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit actions they would never do of their own volition. Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.
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- night owl
Distancing as a prelude to dehumanization
A sort of Manichaeism is common to humans when wishfully thinking that one is always on the “good” side. Perhaps that is what makes #Ordinarymen so poignant. Personally, part of me wishes Christopher Browning had left-out the details of the horrors perpetuated, not only by the hateful-organized-groups, but also by “ordinary men”. What a dark time in human history! At the same time, Browning’s regard for the historic records is admirable. If I had known the details of each chapter I would have probably skipped to the very last chapters. What happened to the ReservePolice Batallion 101 in Poland goes on to illustrate how “ordinary men” are not safe from indoctrination into authoritarianism, from habituation after the burden of choice has been removed, from role adaptation and conformity to peer pressure. What made this book so relevant to me, after reading the news on Charlottesville, and a multitude of ignorant comments about DACA students and other undocumented persons, is that “distancing” from the “other” as a prelude to dehumanization is a serious-soul- illness that can only be stopped through large doses of love.
- CSamafalda Dugan