Epidemiological Rhetoric as a Precursor of Genocide in Hitler’s Germany, Term Paper Example
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Rhetoric has long been used to persuade the public to join political causes. Words have important implications since they have the ability to allow for the communication of ideas (Minsker, 1998). When people come to believe in these ideas, they are able to promote their preferred cause. In the case of epidemiological rhetoric, it is possible to persuade the public by creating fear (Jensen, 1990). As such, when the body in charge uses this process, it is possible to characterize the enemy as a common threat or danger. In this manner, fear is what causes people to follow the influences of the rhetoric. Similarly, such rhetoric could be used to reinforce political ideas and actions that are being taken by the government (Minsker, 1998). Epidemiological rhetoric played a significant role in European history leading up to World War II, and it is advantageous to determine how Adolf Hitler used this method to reinforce the goals of his mass media propaganda (Trevor-Roper, 2000.
While it is difficult to rationalize the use of genocide as a political strategy in the past and present, this method was used famously by Adolf Hitler in the events leading up to World War II (Hamann, 1999). He had gained political support by arguing to the public and persuading them that the political problems of Germany were largely due to the Jewish communities as well as the suppression of the victors of World War I (Jensen, 1990). As a result of the postwar agreement, Germany was fined heavily for its actions and it was difficult for the economy to recover from this event (Hamann, 1999). Thus, Adolf Hitler used this opportunity to argue that the economic concerns were the faults of the Jewish people living in Germany, as well as the European powers that required restrictions on the German economy following the previous world war (Hamann, 1999).
Given the need to persuade the German public of the detriment that the Jewish people and those who were deemed unsuitable in his society, including gypsies, homosexuals, and the sick, there was a need for Hitler to create a sense of fear in the public (Hamann, 1999). When people fear these groups and believe that they are present to cause them harm, it is easier to psychologically permit the type of gathering and slaughter that was common in the concentration camps and on the streets of the ghettos (Hamann, 1999). To reinforce the sense that people were the problem, Hitler used epidemiological language to convey this point (Hamann, 1999). When comparing people to diseases or animals, it is possible to view them in a manner that makes them seem not human, and it is therefore easier to carry out the acts that lead towards a mass genocide.
As a result of the use of epidemiological rhetoric, the victims of genocide are viruses, bacteria, pathogens, rats, cockroaches, plagues, etc (Trevor-Roper, 2000. The purpose of this approach is to invoke a sense of dread, fear, and dislike surrounding the people that are being described in this manner (Robinson & Topping, 2012). Thus, it is more likely that people will change their opinions of those who are being described, and to agree with the points of view of those who are using these descriptions (Robinson & Topping, 2012). By using this terminology to demonstrate that there is a problem that needs to be solved, and by nothing that it is possible to solve the problem through the use of isolating target groups in ghettos and exterminating them in concentration camps, the Holocaust seemed like a reasonable solution to a problem rather than the mass deaths of vulnerable members of the German population as well as across Europe.
The Historical Context
Ultimately, Hitler was not responsible for creating the notion that Jewish people were like a disease (Grabowski, 2009). There were growing tensions between the Jewish people and the German community because many of those who deemed themselves to be traditional Germans believed that the Jewish people lived in an exclusionary manner and were not really a part of mainstream society (Grabowski, 2009). For instance, Jewish culture is often such that people tend to live in groups close to one another because this enables them to walk to their religious services.
In addition, Jewish people were allowed to work as money lenders according to their religious principles, while members of other religions were prohibited (Grabowski, 2009). As such, they provided much-needed banking services and were able to benefit from the wealth associated with lending and similar products. Society therefore saw the wealth of some members of the Jewish population compared to the overall economic struggle of the general population, so it was easy for many members of the public to come to believe that somehow the Jewish population contributed to their suffering (Grabowski, 2009).
The Role of National Identity
The extent to which the epidemiological vocabulary was applied also extended to the description that Hitler used to compare the Jewish people with the German Aryan’s, who he labeled the “master race” (Mostert, 2002). In doing so, he was able to create a sense of national identity among the Germans, labeling individuals who fall under his definition as German (Trevor-Roper, 2000. He was similarly claiming that the Jewish members of the population should not be considered Germans and that it is necessary to remove them in order to make the country perfect (Mostert, 2002). Broadly, it was Hitler’s goal to create a perfect society, and this meant that he was able to inspire many young people to follow his orders for the cause. These individuals similarly believed that they were doing what was right to help their country.
The use of propaganda speech in this manner aids this process because it decreases the likelihood that those who are carrying out the orders to kill are questioning their orders in terms of morality or objectivity (Mostert, 2002). Furthermore, when propaganda is more widespread, the opinions that people in the community develop have the potential to influence others who may not immediately follow the propaganda itself (Mostert, 2002). Since Germany had been exposed to these anti-Semitic ideas for a period of time, the population became more accepting of them when they acquired a charismatic leader who was able to effectively use rhetoric to achieve his political goals (Mostert, 2002).
During World War II, Hitler used a variety of phrases and terms to describe the Jewish people. For example, he referred to them as ‘rats’ (Talk of the Nation, 2011). When depicted as rats in propaganda posters or referred to in this manner, Hitler is suggesting that members of the Jewish population carry disease or are a disease and should be exterminated. These descriptions are used to make it psychologically easier for people to kill one another.
In particular, dehumanization is often meant to create a game in a sense; when people are motivated against a certain group, they could be made to see hurting them or killing them as winning (Talk of the Nation, 2011). When people are focused on these actions and the outcomes that they are likely to have less time to question what they are doing, since they instead focus on achieving their aims. The moral community often aims to demonstrate the irresponsibility of such claims, due to the argument that human life is valuable (Talk of the Nation, 2011). In the case of Hitler, care was taken to also remove academics from places of power so that there would be a reduced likelihood of people rebelling against his ideas. Since no one was able to start a sufficient movement internally to counteract the harmful actions of the German government under Hitler’s rule, it was possible for the Holocaust to occur.
The Role of Indoctrination
In order to achieve success as a part of his psychological strategy, it was important for Hitler to immerse suggestions of Jewish people as inferior and Germans as superior as a regular part of life (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). This was done in part by influencing classrooms, since a significant majority of classroom teachers had joined the National Socialist Teachers’ Union by 1937. Since the educators were members of Hitler’s party, they were expected to teach goals that were reflective of national aims (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). As such, this meant that children were taught to hate Jewish people from a young age.
Beyond the population’s initial acceptance of Hitler as the leader of Germany, Hitler placed a significant focus on indoctrination so that it would be possible for him to maintain control over the population (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). As a part of this process, this meant that children were taught to think of Jewish people as subhuman, carriers of disease, and to generally fear and hate them (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). The propaganda was able to increase in efficacy across these generations, since younger individuals were particularly vulnerable, and this encouraged many young adults into action fighting for Germany in the war effort, as well as to locally regulate the population.
School instructions were required to teach courses about racial theory, which meant that there was a focus on the role of the Aryan people as a dominant race as well as the role of the Jewish people as a lower race. According to a German educator from the 1930s, “”Aryan spiritual property; .. an expression of the nordic fighting spirit, of the nordic struggle for the supremacy of the world…” (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). These words reflect the ideas of Hitler because it is thought that mathematics is Aryan in nature and that they were designed to be used as a tool for supremacy. However, this is apparent propaganda because the development of many key mathematical features, such as the existence of zero, can be traced back to the Middle East and were likely created by a people that would be considered un-Aryan (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). Ultimately, mathematics was valued by the Germans under Hitler’s rule because it could be used as a tool to track the elimination of the Jewish population and of other groups that were unwanted.
In some textbooks, the Jewish people may be depicted as money grubbing individuals or the advocates of murderous communism. There was an effort to associate the Jewish people with extremes. In a picture book entitled “Der Pudelmopsdachelpinscher (The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pincher)” by Ernst Hiemer, the word seeks to describe the traits of insects and animals to help children better understand classifications (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). However, he indicates that the “Jews are the drones of society because do not work but rather live from the labor of others” and in this manner compares them to insects (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020).
In the same story, he also notes that the Jewish people are responsible to transmitting undesirable human characteristics to the world, and this reflects the belief taught to children that Germans should never have children with those who are Jewish (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). As such, by targeting the need to persuade the public of Hitler’s ideas, propaganda appeared in school as well as among children’s games and other sources of entertainment (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020). Similarly, adults were exposed to propaganda that was meant to more specifically appeal to them (Jewish Virtual Library, 2020).
The Role of Victim Blaming
It is also common practice to blame those who are vulnerable for the disease and sickness that befalls them (Allen, 2014). This is the case for the Jewish people who were isolated in ghettos. These individuals were less likely than other members of the population to be able to access medial care (Allen, 2014). In addition, since these individuals were living in close quarters in the ghettos, there was an increased likelihood that disease would spread from person to person. Lice and typhus were particular concerns because access to needed supplies, including those for hygiene, were limited (Allen, 2014).
A lack of food and other considerations were also problematic (Allen, 2014). While these conditions were not the fault of the people who were suffering, this concept was used to prove the idea that Jewish people were diseased and increased fear about their presence in communities that were governed by the Nazis. It was shown by a scientist living in the ghettos at the time that while the Germans were killing the Jewish people for the sake of cleanliness and cleansing their community, the Jewish people tend to become integrated into the population that they are present in, and this was confirmed through an examination of blood samples (Allen, 2014). Thus, epidemiological rhetoric can be used as a strong tool to persuade the public and to even cover up the truth when it has become influential.
The Influence of von Schönerer and Lueger
While Hitler was able to take advantage of the use of epidemiological rhetoric, he was not the first person to attempt this. Instead, he was able to learn from the examples of history as well as philosophy (Anne Frank House, 2020). In particular, he drew from the beliefs of Georg Ritter von Schönerer who was a strong nationalist and believed that Jews should not be considered full citizens of Germany (Anne Frank House, 2020). In addition, he believed that primarily German speaking regions of Austria and Hungry should be added to the German empire (Anne Frank House, 2020). As such, Hitler did not develop his plan for the conquest of Europe and the world on his own; he drew from historical and contemporary inspiration.
Hitler’s actions could be considered unique in terms of his geopolitical influence because he was ultimately able to use rhetoric to create tools to encourage others to share these beliefs and in doing so, exert a greater governmental control over the population (Anne Frank House, 2020). By expanding the borders of Germany according to von Schönerer’s proposal, it would also be possible to increase the geopolitical strength of Germany. Adhering to these general principles and enforcing them through the use of propaganda allowed Hitler to become successful in his mission (Anne Frank House, 2020).
A second inspiration for Hitler was the Viennese mayor Karl Lueger, who tended to pass policies that were considered to be anti-Semitic in nature (Anne Frank House, 2020). He also used observations about Lueger’s experiences to enact social reforms successfully, which included the application of rhetoric as a part of the persuasive process (Anne Frank House, 2020). Generally, Hitler adhered to the recommendations put forth by Leurger because he considered him to be an inspiration (Anne Frank House, 2020). The ideas of von Schönerer and Lueger combined contributed to his inspiration to use epidemiological rhetoric as a part of the social transformation that Hitler was seeking to achieve.
Ultimately, Hitler’s use of epidemiological rhetoric was drawn from the knowledge that it is effective to paint a single group as an enemy to achieve a political advantage. The words that are used to describe a group of people, especially when immersed in a culture and national government over time, will ultimately influence the beliefs and actions of those who are under this influence. As such, a greater number of Germans were able to bring themselves to shoot, torture, and otherwise abuse members of the Jewish community and those who fit the narrative of “other” or non-Aryan. By describing the Jewish people as a disease, like rats, like the plague, or in any other negative way, it is possible to persuade the public that the Jewish people are really the source of the problems that they are encountering. In this manner, events like the Holocaust are justified in the minds of those who participate in such events.
While the people who commit actions in the name of Hitler are not necessarily innocent, it is important to consider that they were psychologically coerced to act in the manner that they did. In part due to the use of the epidemiological rhetoric given in speeches, as well as taught in schools and used as a part of political and recreational activities, children grew up believing that Jews were lesser people and that Aryans were the supreme race. Creating this contrast enabled Hitler to gain control over those who believed in the new nationalist vision that he had for Germany, and following his election, he was able to gain and maintain increased political control through the use of this propaganda material. Thus, this demonstrates that the use of epidemiological terminology about a group could be used to influence the attitude and perception of this group, and this can therefore have a negative impact on the social outcomes of these individuals as well as a potential misbalance of power in society.
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