Masters of Death

Masters of Death by Richard Rhodes Read Free Book Online

Book: Masters of Death by Richard Rhodes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Rhodes
Tags: nonfiction, History, Holocaust
since it already encompasses the majority of the violent experiences necessary to become fully, malefically violent. All that is missing is social reinforcement of a violent identity and a widening resolution to use violence.
    Those final components of violent socialization constitute stage four, virulency. However personally satisfied a violent performer may be with his defensive victories, they will not change his fundamental view of himself—his self-conception, his identity—unless other people acknowledge them and demonstrate their full significance to him by their actions. When people learn of a successful violent performance by someone whom they previously judged not to be violent, they act differently toward him: they begin treating him as if he were dangerous. “They act toward him much more cautiously,” Athens writes, “taking particular pains not to offend or provoke him in any way. . . . For the first time, the subject keenly senses genuine trepidation when he approaches people.” These heady experiences of violent notoriety, especially when combined with his painful memories of feeling powerless and inadequate during brutalization and belligerency, encourage the subject to believe that violence works, that he has discovered a way not only to reliably protect himself from the violent oppression of others but also to dominate other people just as he was once dominated. At which point, Athens found, “the subject makes a new violence resolution which far surpasses the one [he] made before. . . . He now firmly resolves to attack people physically with the serious intention of gravely harming or even killing them for the slightest or no provocation whatsoever. . . . In making this later violent resolution, the subject has completely switched his stance from a more or less defensive posture to a decidedly offensive one.”
    With this final resolution to use violence offensively, the subject’s violent socialization is complete. Someone who is prepared to use serious physical violence against victims who provoke him minimally or not at all is clearly a dangerous person; such acts are felonious in modern societies regardless of their perpetrator’s official status.
    Athens’s evidence that violent socialization was the common denominator among the violent criminals he studied strongly supports his contention that it is the cause of violent criminality. The clear parallels between violent socialization, which Athens discovered in the common past of violent criminals, and military combat training, which has evolved by trial and error across the centuries, demonstrate prima facie that a truncated form of violent socialization has been adapted by military institutions to convert recruits into capable violent professionals.
    Militaries limit violence in much the same way entire societies limit violence: by instituting and maintaining both formal and informal social controls. Military law, for example, distinguishes legal and acceptable killing of enemy combatants from illegal and unacceptable killing of enemy prisoners, mutilating enemy dead, torturing prisoners or raping, battering or killing noncombatants. Unacceptable violence is punishable under military law much as unacceptable violence is punishable under civilian law.
    Social trepidation and violent notoriety in military organizations are organized, constrained and parceled out in mandated rituals of rank deference—speaking when spoken to, standing at attention, saluting, calling officers “sir,” giving or receiving obligatory orders — which not only recall the hierarchical chain of command but also formalize the different degrees of military (by implication, violent) experience. Badges and medals, which civilians sometimes find mysterious or even quaint, are potent and awe-inspiring emblems of honorable violent performance. Formal and informal evocations of military honor and pride delimit the boundaries of acceptable violent behavior. Social

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