Group-Serving Bias: Bloodlands Edition
By Bryan Caplan
In October 1941, Mahileu became the first substantial city in occupied Soviet Belarus where almost all Jews were killed. A German (Austrian) policeman wrote to his wife of his feelings and experiences shooting the city’s Jews in the first days of the month. “During the first try, my hand trembled a bit as I shot, but one gets used to it. By the tenth try I aimed calmly and shot surely at the many women, children, and infants. I kept in mind that I have two infants at home, whom these hordes would treat just the same, if not ten times worse. The death that we gave them was a beautiful quick death, compared to the hellish torments of thousands and thousands in the jails of the GPU. Infants flew in great arcs through the air, and we shot them in pieces in flight, before their bodies fell into the pit and into the water.”
At first glance, the policeman’s mentality defies belief. His army invades a country, and almost immediately begins mass murdering babies. The policemen/murderer writes home to tell his wife, “They’d do the same to our babies” – as if mass baby murder were familiar behavior for conquering armies in modern Europe. He never asks himself, “Is it possible that our enemies would have left our babies alone if we’d left their babies alone?” While the policeman grasps at his paranoid straws, he adds in a gratuitous reference to the Soviet secret police – as if Jewish babies were somehow complicit in the GPU’s crimes against Soviet citizens.
On reflection, though, I have to wonder how many people around the world would express equally demented arguments if their group engaged in equally barbarous behavior. What would it take to bring the typical human being even to silently condemn his own group as “the bad guys”? How many would secede in disgust – even in the privacy of their own minds?