The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law, and Genocide in the Twentieth Century

The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law, and Genocide in the Twentieth Century

by Christopher Simpson, Mark Crispin Miller

NOOK Book(eBook)

$10.99 $17.99 Save 39% Current price is $10.99, Original price is $17.99. You Save 39%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now
LEND ME® See Details

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504043496
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 04/18/2017
Series: Forbidden Bookshelf , #24
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 399
Sales rank: 369,801
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Christopher Simpson is a veteran reporter, historian, and analyst who teaches at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, DC. His work has won national awards for investigative journalism, history, and literature, and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Current study includes technology, democracy, revolution, and peer learning.

Read an Excerpt

The Splendid Blond Beast

Money, Law, and Genocide in the Twentieth Century

By Christopher Simpson


Copyright © 1995 Christopher Simpson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4349-6


The Splendid Blond Beast

Friedrich Nietzsche called the aristocratic predators who write society's laws "the splendid blond beast" precisely because they so often behave as though they are beyond the reach of elementary morality. As he saw things, these elites have cut a path toward a certain sort of excellence consisting mainly of the exercise of power at the expense of others. When dealing with ordinary people, he said, they "revert to the innocence of wild animals. ... We can imagine them returning from an orgy of murder, arson, rape and torture, jubilant and at peace with themselves as though they had committed a fraternity prank — convinced, moreover, that the poets for a long time to come will have something to sing about and to praise." Their brutality was true courage, Nietzsche thought, and the foundation of social order.

Today genocide — the deliberate destruction of a racial, cultural, or political group — is the paramount example of the institutionalized and sanctioned violence of which Nietzsche spoke. Genocide has been a basic mechanism of empire and the national state since their inception and remains widely practiced in "advanced" and "civilized" areas. Most genocides in this century have been perpetrated by nation-states upon ethnic minorities living within the state's own borders; most of the victims have been children. The people responsible for mass murder have by and large gotten away with what they have done. Most have succeeded in keeping wealth that they looted from their victims; most have never faced trial. Genocide is still difficult to eradicate because it is usually tolerated, at least by those who benefit from it.

The Splendid Blond Beast examines how the social mechanisms of genocide often encourage tacit international cooperation in the escape from justice of those who perpetrated the crime. It looks at the social underpinnings and day-today dynamics of two mass crimes, the Armenian Genocide of 1915–18 and Hitler's Holocaust of the Jews, as well as the U.S. government's response to those tragedies.

According to psychologist Ervin Staub, who has studied dozens of mass crimes, genocidal societies usually go through an evolution during which the different strata of society literally learn how to carry out group murder. In his book The Roots of Evil, Staub contends that genocidal atrocities most often take place in countries under great political, economic, and often military stress. They are usually led by authoritarian parties that wield great power yet are insecure in their rule, such as the Nazis in Germany or the Ittihad (Committee of Union and Progress) in Turkey. The ideologies of such parties can vary in important respects, but they are nonetheless often similar in that they create unity among "in-group" members through dehumanization of outsiders. Genocidal societies also show a marked tendency toward what psychologists call "just-world" thinking: Victims are believed to have brought their suffering upon themselves and, thus, to deserve what they get.

But the ideology of these authoritarian parties and even their seizure of state power are not necessarily enough to trigger a genocide. The leading perpetrators need mass mobilizations to actually implement their agenda. For example, the real spearheads of genocide in Germany — the Nazi party, SS, and similar groups — by themselves lacked the resources to disenfranchise and eventually murder millions of Jews. They succeeded in unleashing the Holocaust, however, by harnessing many of the otherwise ordinary elements of German life — of commerce, the courts, university scholarship, religious observance, routine government administration, and so on — to the specialized tasks necessary for mass murder. Not surprisingly, many of the leaders of these "ordinary" institutions were the existing notables in German society. The Nazi genocide probably would not have been possible without the active or tacit cooperation of many collaborators who did not consider themselves Nazis and, in some cases, even opposed aspects of Hitler's policies, yet nonetheless cooperated in mass murder. Put bluntly, the Nazis succeeded in genocide in part through offering bystanders money, property, status, and other rewards for their active or tacit complicity in the crime.

The actions of Nazi Germany's business elite illustrate how this works. Prior to 1933, German business leaders did not show a marked impulse toward genocide. Anti-Semitism was present in German commercial life, of course, but was often less pronounced there than in other European cultures of the day. Among the Nazis' first acts in power, however, was the introduction of incentives to encourage persecution of Jews. New Aryanization laws created a profitable business for banks, corporations, and merchants willing to enforce Nazi racial preferences. Tens of thousands of Germans seized businesses or real estate owned by Jews, paying a fraction of the property's true value, or drove Jewish competitors out of business. Jewish wealth, and later Jewish blood, provided an essential lubricant that kept Germany's ruling coalition intact throughout its first decade in power. By 1944 and 1945, leaders of major German companies such as automaker Daimler Benz, electrical manufacturers AEG and Siemens, and most of Germany's large mining, steelmaking, chemical, and construction companies found themselves deeply compromised by their exploitation of concentration camp labor, theft, and in some cases complicity in mass murder. They committed these crimes not so much out of ideological conviction but more often as a means of preserving their influence within Germany's economy and society. For much of the German economic elite, their cooperation in atrocities was offered to Hitler's government in exchange for its aid in maintaining their status.

A somewhat similar pattern of rewards for those who cooperate in persecution can be seen in other genocides. During the Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Ittihad government extended economic incentives to Turks willing to participate in the deportation and murder of Armenians. During the nineteenth century, the U.S. government offered bounties for murdering Native Americans and, perhaps more fundamentally, provided free farmland and other business opportunities to settlers willing to encroach on Native American territories. A similar process continues today, particularly in Central and South America.

Thus, in genocidal situations, mass violence can become entwined with the very institutions that give a society coherency. This has important implications for how perpetrators and their collaborators are treated once most of the killing is over. By the time the genocide has ended, it is usually clear that the ordinary, integrative institutions of society remained centers of power during the killing and shared responsibility for it.

These institutions usually hold on to some measure of authority in the wake of any economic or political crisis of legitimacy created by their actions. Even if the regime is brought down by a military defeat, as was the case in Turkey and in Nazi Germany, the residual power of these institutions means that there are likely to be factions among the victors, and even among the victims, who perceive an interest in allying themselves with the old power centers. Such cliques will conceal the old guard's complicity in crime and exploit their relationship with the old power centers for political or economic advantage.

During the two genocides examined in this book, international law obstructed bystanders from rescuing victims of mass crimes and, in some cases, from punishing the perpetrators. The biases in international law that favored the powerful and prosperous also tended to protect and encourage persecutors, especially when these groups intertwined or overlapped. In fact, the social mechanisms of genocide — that is, how it works, how it is actually carried out — aborted the development of international laws and precedents that might otherwise have restricted genocides, particularly after World War I. Thus, the law and the crime became caught in a cycle in which the law facilitated the crime and the crime, in turn, helped institutionalize a form of law with which it could coexist. The losers in this vicious circle were the ordinary people, children, and rebels who have always borne the brunt of tyranny.

This symbiotic evolution of world order, on the one hand, and the destruction of innocent people, on the other, can be seen in the international treaties and legal precedents prior to World War II concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity. The body of war crimes law in effect during those years was written mainly by the United States and the major powers of Europe to favor themselves and to stigmatize rebellions by indigenous peoples or colonized countries. Understanding the complex and sometimes contradictory effects of these precedents is often difficult, however, because the very concept of war crime may seem paradoxical. The object and method of war would seem at first glance to be the destruction of other societies through murder, pillage, or any other means at hand. "War consists largely of acts that would be criminal if performed in time of peace — killing, wounding, kidnapping, destroying or carrying off other people's property," said Telford Taylor, the chief U.S. prosecutor at the second round of the Nuremberg trials. Often such conduct is not regarded as criminal if it takes place in the course of war, Taylor continued, "because the state of war lays a blanket of immunity over the warriors."

But under international treaties this immunity for warriors is not absolute. Its boundaries are marked by what are known as the laws of war. The widely accepted Hague conventions on war crimes and the Geneva conventions on treatment of prisoners of war set limits on the conduct of commanders and soldiers during war, for example. Legally speaking, "enemy soldiers who surrender must not be killed, and are to be taken prisoner," Taylor noted. "Captured cities and towns must not be pillaged, nor 'undefended' places bombarded; poisoned weapons and other arms 'calculated to cause unnecessary suffering' are forbidden." Further, "When an army occupies enemy territory, it must endeavor to restore public order, and respect family honor and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practices."

For most of this century, the protection of these treaties has extended almost exclusively to members of professional armies, fighting in uniform, with the authorization of their nation's leaders. Insurgents who resisted official armies were only rarely protected by these treaties — in fact, they were often considered to have committed a war crime when they rebelled against prevailing authorities. Nazi leaders used that legal precedent to enlist German military support for the extraordinarily brutal antipartisan campaigns integral to the Holocaust. Allied forces meanwhile took advantage of a similar loophole to authorize bombing campaigns against German cities that even Franklin Roosevelt had condemned as a war crime as recently as 1939. Thus international law typically provided protection for the powerful and ruthless rather than for their victims.

The fact is that no clear international ban against crimes against humanity existed prior to 1945, due in large part to U.S. opposition. Unlike war crimes, crimes against humanity* are usually something a government does to its own people, such as genocide, slavery, or other forms of mass violence against civilians. Although such crimes were defined in detail at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and in later United Nations action, even today they remain a relatively new concept in international law and often run counter to more established legal custom. Crimes against humanity remain considerably harder to prosecute than war crimes, narrowly defined, in part because criminal nation-states are unlikely to prosecute themselves, and because international diplomatic practice — particularly by the United States — has blocked the creation of an international criminal court that would have jurisdiction to try perpetrators of these atrocities. Even the most horrific cases of human rights abuses are often protected from international justice.

Can different genocides and episodes of mass political violence be compared with one another or even jointly discussed within the covers of a single book? This question becomes particularly acute when studying the Nazi Holocaust side by side with other mass crimes. At least four legitimate concerns are sometimes raised when authors identify common elements among the Holocaust and other crimes. The first and most basic of these concerns is that the Holocaust may be denigrated, cheapened, or exploited by comparison to other events. The second concern is that the events of the Holocaust were factually so different from the events of any other suffering — in the scope of the Nazi crime, its sophistication, and its absolute determination to exterminate Jews as such — that for strictly scientific reasons it may be impossible or inappropriate to compare the Holocaust with other genocides. Third, there is a belief that the positivist scientific method used by most historians and authors is not adequate for understanding the Holocaust, that the limits of this method will inevitably reduce attempts at understanding to banalities. Finally, some people are convinced on religious or philosophical grounds that the Holocaust was unique, separate from all other human history, and that it cannot be rationally understood, but instead must be contemplated on a spiritual or even mystical plane. These concerns are realistic and are sometimes based on bitter experience.

But to claim that study of the Holocaust must be separate from all other inquiries "romanticize[s] evil and gives it mythic proportions," contends Ervin Staub, who is himself a survivor of the Jewish ghetto at Budapest. "It discourage[s] the realistic understanding that is necessary if we are to work effectively for a world without genocides and mass killings and torture. Only by understanding the roots of evil do we gain the possibility of shaping the future so that it will not happen again."

Extreme evil such as genocide defies comparisons of magnitude. The Holocaust is clearly not the same as the Armenian Genocide, nor are these atrocities equal in some hackneyed sense. Each has terrible, distinctive features that set it apart.

The tendency in some quarters to mystify the Holocaust can actually rob it of significance, according to Yehuda Bauer, head of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University. If the Holocaust is reduced to an event outside of any historical context, the world can then neither understand it in itself nor learn from it as a warning for the future. Discussion of the Holocaust with other atrocities does not mean they are simplistically equivalent, Bauer insisted. Instead, it is appropriate to compare events accurately, including instances of genocide, and to discern the differences among them on the basis of facts.

Sociologist Helen Fein, author of Accounting for Genocide and the director of the Institute for the Study of Genocide in New York, made a similar point in a recent discussion of the various understandings of the uniqueness of the Holocaust. For Fein, comparative studies should probe not only the singular features of the Holocaust, but also those elements that it had in common with other, crimes. Other noted scholars contend that historically based, scientific studies of the Holocaust and other instances of genocide are not only appropriate, but are also morally imperative.

The Turkish murders of Armenians and the Nazi Holocaust are more deeply linked than simply being two examples of genocide. The international failure to halt the Armenian Genocide or to bring its perpetrators to justice was in part a product of the then-existing structure of international law and international relations. That failure was not inevitable, but it was in a certain terrible sense the logical result of a mass murder committed within the context of international law as it then stood.

That tragedy in turn helped shape Hitler's ambition to exterminate Jews. Hitler repeatedly pointed to the Turkish race-murder of Armenians as an example for his own thinking. Meanwhile, the reasons of state that had obstructed international efforts to rescue Armenians carried through to World War II largely intact, so that by the 1940s the Allied refusal to rescue Jews also seemed to key U.S. officials of the day to be reasonable and "appropriate," even in situations where rescue would have been relatively simple and inexpensive.


Excerpted from The Splendid Blond Beast by Christopher Simpson. Copyright © 1995 Christopher Simpson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Series Introduction,
1. The Splendid Blond Beast,
2. "The Immediate Demands of Justice",
3. Young Turks,
4. Bankers, Lawyers, and Linkage Groups,
5. The Profits of Persecution,
6. "Who Still Talks of the Armenians?",
7. No Action Required,
8. Katyn,
9. Silk Stocking Rebel,
10. "The Present Ruling Class of Germany",
11. The Trials Begin,
12. Morgenthau's Plan,
13. "This Needs to Be Dragged Out Into the Open",
14. Sunrise,
15. White Lists,
16. Prisoner Transfers,
17. Double-Think on Denazification,
18. "It Would Be Undesirable if This Became Publicly Known",
19. The End of the War Crimes Commission,
20. Money, Law, and Genocide,
Notes and Sources,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews