Violence

Violence in Warfare.  Mark Edele and Michael Geyers chapter focused on the type of warfare that occurred on the Eastern front in World War II.  They discussed how both of these sides introduced a type of warfare that did not involve “virtue and honor” but rather it involved such ideas as radicalization and barbarization.1   These two authors look at how this front evolved from a simple war into an all out struggle for domination.

Radicalization and Barbarization are two terms that really struck me in this chapter.  Radicalization, to these authors meant that the two countries amped up the war by getting either the government or the people more involved in the conflict.  For the Nazis, it was promote the fundamental idea that the opposing side presented a threat to their country and had to be stopped through warfare.   For the Soviet Union, it was to mobilize its population to oppose the threat presented by the Nazis.  This radicalization, as stated by the two authors was the escalation of the war through “hate propaganda, word of mouth, and experience.” ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009.  350)) The state would use tools to mobilize its own population to fight more aggressively against the other side.  The authors would argue that as a result of these tools used on the population, the radicalization, or amping up of war would result in Barbarization.   Edele and Geyer believed that Barbarization meant that the opposing side had to be destroyed completely.  In other words, “each side fights until one side is utterly and completely subjugated, incapable of renewing itself on its own devices.” 2

The fundamental ideas of radicalization and barbarization to describe the Eastern front made sense to me because of how the Nazis and Hitler had justified invading the Soviet Union and likewise with the Soviet Union mobilizing to defend the homeland.   In the nature of warfare, if one side escalates a conflict, the other side would be in its nature to respond to that escalation.   In the Nazis and Soviet cases, each side believed that they were fighting for something, which in turn would have created more motivation .  For the Nazis, they felt that the Soviet Union was valuable and easily conquerable. They wanted “control of the Russian space and its resources” which they felt would have  “made Germany invulnerable.”3  For Germany, this was the radicalization of the war.  On the Soviet side, the radicalization of the war was to defend their homeland from a threat who wanted to stop at nothing to crush the socialist society and capture their resources.   In a sense, the radicalization of two polarizing countries led to a barbarization of a war, a war in which two countries used all means necessary to try and conquer the other.

Do you agree with the authors use of Radicalization and Barbarization?  Do you think there is a relationship between the two based off the interpretations of the authors?  Finally, although I am no fan of the term “inevitability”, do you think the scale of violence used on the eastern front was inevitable considering the polarizing differences between the two sides?

  1. Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009.  345 []
  2. Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009.  350 []
  3. Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009. 352 []

2 thoughts on “Violence

  1. The escalation of violence, even within the Edele and Geyer article, never appeared inevitable. While some aspects of the violence related to state directives, other situations of personal revenge theoretically might have been avoided with more control from the commanding officers.

  2. Edele and Geyer say that both sides calculated the “war of destruction” by “deliberately removing checks on violence”. (p. 349) Therefore I believe that from the top down, the commanding officers at the Eastern Front were forced to promote this attitude of kill or be killed that dehumanized the enemy soldiers and civilians, even though many fighting soldiers realized how “counterproductive.” (p. 355) and counter-intuitive brutal violence and total murder was. Although Edele and Geyer make it clear that the German and Soviets were polarized societies and governments, they were both willing to use the same ideology of deliberate, extreme violence. Hitler and Stalin purposefully disregarded previous military traditions and normally upheld respect for human life in order to achieve their short-term goal of revolutionary, military victory and long-term goal of purging of their respective societies. Therefore I believe the escalation of violence and warfare at the Eastern Front was a chosen strategy and was not inevitable.

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