CHY 4U: The Banality of Evil

Paper via Flickr, by Keone

The term Banality of Evil was first used by writer Hannah Arendt to describe a new kind of horror epitomized by the Holocaust: the actions of men who were part of a bureaucratic mechanism responsible for horrible atrocities. These desk murderers, or Schreibtischtäter, killed through paperwork; they signed documents that authorized the deaths of thousands (or millions), but without dirtying their own hands.

Today, you will watch the first 43 minutes of an incredible documentary called the Fog of War, a film that focuses on the career of Robert McNamara. McNamara held numerous positions of importance in the United States, but we are most interested in his role in the fire bombing of Japan. As you watch, I want you to watch for the following:

  • how emotional McNamara becomes when he discusses the loss of American airmen
  • how “distant” he becomes when he discusses his role in the firebombing (“I was part of a mechanism that, in a sense, recommended it.”)

Here is the link.


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