01 October, 2007

Just Doing Our Job

On September 18th, the NY Times featured an article and audio slide show about a recently discovered photo album showing the members of the Nazi officer corps during their off-hours at Auschwitz. This is important, Rebecca Erbelding from the US Holocaust Museum tells us, because so little is known about the daily lives of those who managed the death camps; it provides "great insight into the banality of evil." What is more chilling, she continues, is that these images--photos of parties, romps in the woods, and sing-a-longs--were taking place within miles of the daily murder of thousands of Jews and other victims.

One of the lines from Ms. Erbelding that most struck me was the following: "the album reminds us that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were human beings--men and women with families, children and pets--who celebrated holidays and took vacations." In other words, these were people like you and me. People who were just doing their jobs--as unspeakable as those jobs were. People trying to live as normal a life as they could under their particular circumstances.

During the composition of my piece Soldier Songs, as I've mentioned, I interviewed a number of veterans. During these interviews, each soldier made statements to the effect that they were "just doing their jobs." One even said that his daily goal was "do (his) job, look out for (his) friends, get through the day." In this, there is little room for analysis. There is little room to ask questions about what is right or wrong. The goal is to survive.

So my question is this: By "just doing one's job", can one be held accountable in some way for actions that one did not directly commit? Does the doing of one's job in this context support, by default, the entire apparatus in operation? In the end, who should be held accountable, and does it depend on who wins or loses?

Going a step further: Within a democracy, how does this effect the average civilian/consumer/citizen? Are citizens complicit, through the support of their national apparatus, in the actions of that nation's government and/or military? And if not, at what point does this complicity take effect? At what point, if ever, is a population truly responsible for the actions of it's national politico-military-industrial complex?

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