Israel hanged Adolph Eichmann in 1962, thirteen months after they caught him Argentina. Co-incidentally, the Oscar-winning film Judgement at Nuremberg hit movie theaters in 1961. I was in the Seventh Grade when Eichman died, and I was appalled that anybody would hang anybody.
Eichmann's crime was to be the logistical genius who designed and ran the system that transported Eastern European Jews to their deaths. His defense was that he was a cog in the machine, only doing what his superiors ordered. In fact, Eichmann may have been an enthusiastic executioner, an anti-semite, and an ambitious opportunist. The joke among the junior high set at the time of Eichman's death was "Can't you Jews take a joke?"
In Judgement, the sympathetic Judge, played by Spencer Tracy, is kind and attentive to the Germans he meets, witnesses, the accused, a young woman at a sausage vendor's, the servants at the mansion where he's lodged, the widow (Marlene Dietrich) of a general hanged for war crimes. They are all "little people," small cogs in a great machine.
Much is made, by defense counsel, Maximillian Schell, of the fact that the defendants, particularly one learned and revered jurist, were caught up in the system, and that convicting them convicted the entire German population. The story takes place during the Soviet Berlin blockade, and the judge experiences considerable pressure to slap the defendants wrists, and let them go on their ways. The Allies need the Germans on their side to meet the Soviet threat. The judge does the right thing, if not theexpeditious one.
I was kind of an oblivious kid.
For instance, I have no recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis. That happened in the fall of my Eighth Grade year, when you'd think I was old enough to notice.
But somehow I took Eichmann's hand-washing defense, that he was following orders, as the epitome of evil. I remember a cartoon of Moishe Dayan -- maybe by Edward Sorel -- at the time of the Six Day War, in which Dayan says, "I was only following marauders."
I couldn't help but oppose the Vietnam War, and the contradictions and compromises of work, particularly post-Limits to Growth -- were a handicap to the career of one of the best minds of my generation, namely me.
I've mellowed in early senescence.
Howard T. Odum pointed out that a system is limited by what its sub-systems support and what the larger system in which it's embedded will allow.
What's a little feller to do as the world crashes around him?