Bradley Manning and Adolf Eichmann

220px-Eichmann,_AdolfElliot Sperber writes at Counterpunch:

The year 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Hannah Arendt’s controversial critique of the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, and her work remains unambiguously pertinent. Indeed, not only do the ghosts of the past continue to haunt Eichmann in Jerusalem; another ghost – a ghost from the future – is also detectable among her words. As one reads her text, Eichmann’s polar opposite, Bradley Manning, arises from Arendt’s pages like a photographic negative. Presently on trial for charges that include “communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source,” and “aiding the enemy,” Manning succeeded in accomplishing what Eichmann was tried and executed for failing to do; Manning refused to participate in the commission of crimes against humanity.

The reader must refrain from inferring that an equivalence is being drawn between the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime and those committed by the US. However shocking the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis may be, one must recognize that those crimes are not at all inconsistent with the genocidal aims that that regime repeatedly and explicitly espoused. To be sure, the US – which is also guilty of launching a war of aggression – never professed any genocidal intentions; However much it fell short, and however disingenuous it may have been, the rhetoric invoked by the US was that of the enlightenment ideal of human freedom. In this light, it should not be too contentious to maintain that the US ought to be held to a standard higher than that reserved for Nazis. No war crimes are acceptable, and the systematic denial of procedural justice, as well as outright torture, and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Yemen, Pakistan, and other places over the past decade are beyond reasonable dispute.

Acts such as those recorded in the video Collateral Murder (titled and released to the public via Wikileaks), for example, which depict US soldiers killing innocent civilians in clear violation of International Law, not to mention such war crimes as the unabating drone attacks on civilian targets, are among those that Manning intended to stop. That Manning is facing life in prison for his actions is nothing short of a perversion of justice – as perverse as the fact that had Manning meticulously followed the rules, like Eichmann had, Manning would have been more likely to be awarded a medal than a court martial. It is this injustice – the injustice that arises from the collective adherence to unjust laws, acceding to the inertia of injustice – that Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.

Arguably Arendt’s most familiar argument – and that which provides the subtitle for her piece on Eichmann – the banality of evil arose from her observation that Eichmann, rather than being some demonic, terrifying creature, one so instrumental in perpetrating monumental acts of horror, was just, as she put it, a “nobody.” Describing Eichmann as a habitual “follower,” in distinguishing his character from that of the stereotypical evildoer, Arendt wrote that Eichmann “not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law.” This was, in fact, Eichmann’s main defense – the same discredited defense invoked by the Nazi war criminals in 1945 at Nuremberg. Among Arendt’s observations regarding Eichmann’s “banal evil” was that, rather than scheming and plotting and intending to commit evil, Eichmann didn’t really think at all. “His inability to speak” she writes, “was closely connected with an inability to think.”

The proverbial cog in the machine, a tool more than a human being, Eichmann did not resist the inertial flow of the Nazi war effort. To the extent that this applies to Eichmann, though, the opposite may be said of Manning. In spite of the claims of the prosecution, Manning consistently demonstrated an ability to act according to clearly articulated reasons. Rather than thoughtlessly obeying unjust laws, as Eichmann did, as Manning put it in his testimony before a military court earlier this year, “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” Manning may have violated unjust laws. However, as Martin Luther King Jr., citing Augustine of Hippo, put it in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “an unjust law is no law at all.” To be sure, should a conflict arise between justice and law, justice ought to prevail.

This is not simply rhetoric. The Law itself recognizes that to the degree that it furthers injustice, a law is invalid. The precedents established by the Nuremberg Trials – now firmly entrenched in such pillars of International Law as Article 85 and Article 17 of the Geneva Convention, not to mention the US Army’s very own Field Manual – include the very principle that merely following orders does not exculpate someone from responsibility for war crimes. As Nuremberg Principle VII states, “Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI [which includes the murder of civilians, something which Manning repeatedly witnessed and attempted to obstruct] is a crime under international law.” That is, in addition to his conscientious resistance, Manning had a positive legal duty to resist collaborating with war crimes. That the enemy was not at all aided by Manning’s disclosure (unlike Bob Woodward’s repeated and uncensured disclosures of sensitive national security information) and that no harm came to anyone because of Manning’s acts is, though completely relevant, dismissed from consideration by the prosecution.

Read more here.

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  • BuzzCoastin

    Manning and Eichmann also have the distinction of working for the Nazis
    before they came to their senses

    • Rhoid Rager

      Until we die to protect the weak, we are all complicit. I live everyday in veiled shame.

      • BuzzCoastin

        first, secure yourself as best as possible
        then help others who ask for help
        there is nothing to be ashamed about that

        most don’t think they need help and don’t want help
        help those who ask
        keep a low profile from the rest

        • Rhoid Rager

          Trying to manage the first part, but the damned 銀行 thwarts me at every turn.

          The low profile part I agree with wholeheartedly. I should probably start using a pseudonym at some point. :S

          • BuzzCoastin

            security isn’t digital
            that’s not really possible
            pseudonyms are generally a waste of time
            unless yer uber-stealth
            if they wanna track you down it won’t help
            but
            securing as best as possible
            your food/water supply & shelter is an important first step

          • Rhoid Rager

            Perhaps it’s a premature judgment on my part, but society here seems to be more socially stable than where I was in Canada. Mutual aid seems to be more entrenched in the culture here than North America. The same for the Middle Kingdom, I wonder? We’re looking for a little farmhouse and adjacent field in the mountains at the moment. Starting over takes time, but the in-law family network here is vast. Oh how I’ve missed this place!

          • BuzzCoastin

            Kingdoms come & go
            but family is forever.
            Old Chinese proverb

            the Chinese have extensive family & friends networks
            they regularly invest time, money & energy
            into keeping the contacts current
            just in case they need some help or some one needs help

            help & support travel in that order
            family, friends, kingdom

            the level of involvement & commitment in general
            exceeds anything I’ve seen in the West
            I would assume Japan would have a similar milieu

            maybe you could get the old Fukuoka place

        • Rhoid Rager

          Since coming to Japan last week under duress of bank debt, my understanding of the culture here has come flooding back to me all at once. The role of 犠牲 (sacrifice) is quite strong here.

  • Tchoutoye

    “the US – which is also guilty of launching a war of aggression – never professed any genocidal intentions”

    More Native Americans were killed than Jews by the Nazis. But I guess the writer is correct in the sense that there was no American equivalent of the Wannsee conference. Simply because there was no need for one.

  • Rhoid Rager

    “The reader must refrain from inferring that an equivalence is being
    drawn between the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime and those
    committed by the US….those crimes are not at all inconsistent with the genocidal aims that that regime repeatedly and explicitly espoused.”

    It has been my interpretation that the implication of the ‘banality of evil’ is ‘evil’ is so banal that one doesn’t even recognize it under one’s own nose. Therefore, it seems gratuitous to me to write a disclaimer at the beginning of the article that no equivalency can be drawn between Nazi Germany and Imperial America. This is especially salient when, as Ward Churchill has written, little Eichmann’s have been busy perpetuating an economic system that has robbed billions of the opportunity of living a prosperous life and driven millions into utter misery and early graves through such innocuous terms as ‘free trade’ and ‘structural adjustment programs’.

    ‘Genocide’ (itself, a politically-loaded term, because, after all race is a myth convenient for social control) has continued unabated everyday since WWII ended. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that interest-bearing debt and ecological destruction are any less dangerous to humanity than ghettos and gas chambers. I would argue they are even more dangerous because of their banality. God help us.

    • BuzzCoastin

      whenever a Homelander criticizes their gruberment
      they have to add that disclaimer
      because it’s a necessary disclaimer
      with so many now noticing the Emperor has no cloths

  • rtb61

    In the case of Bradley Manning of course, nothing has been done to prosecute those whose crimes Bradley Manning has exposed, let alone all those who lied about those crimes and the countless thousands who helped hide them.
    So the US military continues with the court room charade in order to sweep it’s crimes under the rug and pretend they never happened even when they have been exposed.
    Is this the greatest crime of all. The US government and the US military are using the threat of violence and criminality to silence the rest of the world, the violence and criminality that has been exposed, in order to maintain an illusion legality that is an affront to true justice.
    The US military is not just prosecuting Bradley Manning, they are persecuting the rest of the world with threats of unmitigated violence, unwarranted random missile attacks, out of control gunship crews with an insane thirst for blood, troops on the ground murdering citizens, if you do not support them, then you are against them and become a target.

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