Are you a Nazi? Let’s Take the Test

Ray Comfort’s Moral Dilemma

Some time ago the Youtube commentator Thunderfoot and Ray Comfort had a recorded discussion in which Ray proposed to Thunderfoot a moral dilemma that went something like (this is from my memory):

You are a a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. You are forced to perform duties for the guards at the camp. You are ordered to use a bulldozer to bury the bodies of your fellow prisoners, some of whom, it is apparent, are still alive. The officer who commands you to do so has a gun pointed at you and he makes it clear that if you do not obey him he will kill you. Do you obey the officer or do you get killed?

Most people would say as Thunderfoot did, that they would tell Mr. Nazi officer to go fuck himself and — BLAM! I would like to believe the same of myself. That is the way most people would like to view themselves.

It’s easy to say you would do a particular thing when you don’t actually have a loaded pistol pressing against your skull. It is also easy to view things from the vantage of 20/20 hindsight. We have the advantage of examining Nazi Germany in terms of historical analysis, sociological phenomenon, and examination of collective morality. Had you been a citizen of Germany during the rise of the National Socialist Party, don’t you want to believe that you would be a voice of reason speaking out against the madness of mass conformity?  You probably do. So do I.

This is another aspect in which argumentum ad Hitlerum is effective:


I am morally opposed to Nazism,

Therefor I am opposed to X.

If you are not opposed to X then you are equal to those who did not oppose the Nazi Party  in Germany.

Would you really have stood up against the Nazis?

The question has come up again and again. Why?

Why did so many German people look the other way, go with the flow, or actively support the Nazi Party despite the hatred and violence that they obviously perpetrated?

The psychologist Stanley Milgram set up an experiment in 1961 that most of us are familiar with:

— The subject was offered payment for participating in an experiment about “memory and learning.”

— The subject was told to administer electric shocks to the “learner” every time he gave a wrong answer, increasing the voltage each time an incorrect response was given.

— The learner would complain and then scream begging to be let go each time an increased shock was given.

— The director of the experiment demanded that the subject continue to administer the shocks.

— The shocks were not real, the experiment  was designed to test how much the subject would torture another person just in response to being told to do so.

Milgram’s investigation into obedience to authority demonstrated that people seem to have an innate predisposition to obey an authority figure. Milgram’s experiment on obedience demonstrated a very disturbing aspect of human nature. 65% of the subjects of the subjects administered as many shocks as they were told to. All of the subjects gave what would have been a harmful or lethal shock had the machine been real. Not one single participant refused to shock a person in response to merely being told to do so.

So, perhaps we don’t need to go all the way back to Germany during the second World war, but just to Boston in 1961.

If you were one of the subjects who participated in the Milgram experiment, do you think that you would have been the single one who said, “Go fuck yourself Mr. Experimenter, I will not torture a fellow human being for the sake of your research!”?

Hey, if you think that just maybe you would have been that lone maverick, the one who showed an extremely rare level of bravery and integrity, standing up for what you know to be right  — you are not alone.

If truth be told I would certainly like to think of myself that way too. I bet most people feel the same way.

I think that may be an interesting experiment to do now — repeat the same experiment that Milgram did. Most adults have learned about the famous experiment in one way or another and would recognize the set-up. Find out how many people would say — “NO!” right from the get-go.

Hindsight is always 20-20.

Meanwhile, Back on the West Coast

Let’s jump over to Palo Alto, California, 1967. A high-school history teacher named Ben Ross was asked the question by his students — Why?

He was teaching them about the atrocities committed by the Nazis during WWII.

How did they let this happen? Why did they let this happen?
“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
— Lily Tomlin


Ben Ross decided to use the students in his history class as subjects for a sociological experiment. He created a mock organization based on a level of authoritarianism and mind control similar to that of the Nazis.  It was called THE WAVE.

There was a movie made about this in 1981. Even though it is a made-for-TV movie, it is well-done. You can watch it on Youtube, the reproduction quality is not great, but I would say that it’s still worth a watch.

Almost immediately Ross started getting some answers to those tough questions. Some students joined up with his group the second they found out about it. He discovered that the social network that The Wave created gained an interest with students outside his classroom and soon started spreading throughout the entire school. The Wave became a social group and a sense of identity for some of the students. Animosity grew toward those who were openly critical of the new organization and sometimes toward students who merely didn’t have an interest in joining it and did not openly criticize it.

It became apparent that there were some students who functioned better under an authoritarian system. Some kids who performed poorly in class and had little interest in their peers changed a great deal after being part of The Wave . They became high-functioning academically and gregarious with other Wave members.

Despite the progress shown by some of the students, it became clear that Ross had to abort the experiment before it went too far. How far? Though I am a strong believer in gaining knowledge and finding out answers to questions by way of experimentation and observable reality — this is one case that I would rather remain a mystery.


10 comments on “Are you a Nazi? Let’s Take the Test

  1. Anonymous says:


    I got word that your account at smrt has been approved, username, Godlesspanther2.

  2. Milo says:

    Look what happened at Penn State. A graduate student witnessed the rape of a boy by a coach and did nothing to stop the attack. How many of us believe we would have grabbed that boy by the arm and gotten him to safety?

    • Starbuck says:

      There is a problem in the human condition. We all have it. None of us want to go to prison. I knew a fellow and he caught someone (I didn’t know who it was) who was raping his little brother. He proceeded to beat this guy to an inch of his life. he broke the guys jaw, knocked out most of his teeth, broke ribs, an arm, and left the badly bruised and bloody.

      The guy I knew got arrested and charged with attempted murder. He spent 10 years in prison. He explained to the police, district attorney and the judge why he did this. They didn’t care. They all said he should have called the police.

      It’s easy to choose the right thing to do when there is no consequences. But fear does funny things to us. As Panther said, I would like to think I would do the right thing. But we truely don’t know for sure… do we. Unless of course we get into a similar situtation.

      • Milo says:

        Starbuck, you never cease to amaze me. Previously you compared gay rights to rights for pedophiles. Now you are conflating stopping a crime and aiding the victim to taking justice into your own hands. There is the option of saving another person without beating the perpetrator to a pulp. Jeez.

        • Starbuck says:

          You missed the point I was making entirely.

          And as for stopping a crime, since when has violence not been acceptable to society?
          What do you want to do to a man that is raping a women? Reason with him? No, you commit violence upon him until he is subdued. Hopefully not willing to do this act again.

          And as for your accusations of me comparing gay rights to pedophiles. Well, your reasoning and logic of homosexuality being harmless is ridiculous to me.

          Like I said, one persons logic regardless of how wrong it is, is different then someone elses.
          This is called opinion. I am surprised not one person understands this.Everyone thinks thier opinion is logical and right. Even if they are wrong.

          • Milo says:

            So what was your point?

            • I don’t want to put words in Star’s keyboard, but I can see a point that he was making.

              He was talking about how society is structured, such that, there is a very real learned fear in taking your version of perceived justice into your own hands. We live in a societal structure in which we are dependent on authority for many things. One of the “advantages” of being obedient to an authority figure is that you need not take personal responsibility for your actions.

              If one sees a crime taking place, one can easily dismiss themselves from the responsibility of having to act on it. “I am not a police officer, I do not work for a child protection agency, so it is not my place nor my responsibility to intervene in this situation.”

              We are trained, as members of this society to let the proper authorities handle situations. If you do decide to act in a rape intervention, I would agree that one need not beat the perpetrator to near death. A blow to the head, a jab to the eyes, or a kick in the nuts is usually all it takes to end the behavior.

              But, I was not there in the case that Star describes.

              We an recall the Nuremberg trials in which the Nazi war criminals were attempting to relieve themselves of the responsibility for their behavior by claiming that they were following orders. Oliver North made exactly the same plea when he was being investigated for his implication in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration — he was just doing what he was told to do.

              Obedience and dependence on authority is a way for people to play it safe in most societies — I suppose that would be any society except for a complete anarchy.

              Oh dear, as Bullhorn would say.

  3. Milo says:

    Starbuck changed the subject to vigilantism. It had nothing to do with fear of authority or the reluctance to get involved.

    What annoyed me was the conclusion Starbuck seemed to draw from his story of retribution: “It’s easy to choose the right thing to do when there is no consequences. But fear does funny things to us.” Now maybe that was a non sequitur and had nothing to do with the preceding paragraphs, but the guy in the story didn’t choose to do the right thing. He took the law into his own hands and viciously beat a man.

  4. Starbuck says:

    Milo, I can honestly say that you and toastie and MVP are only fooling yourselves.

    But as you can see I don’t really care anymore. Go find some other idiot like me to throw your insults at. So many atheists told me they wanted an honest discussion with Christians. I tried talking honestly with what I believed in. What I got was “prove it”, “You’re and idiot” “What a boffoon”. All because I wouldn’t believe in atheistic beliefs. Most of which are just politically correct garbage. Oh Yea, I am a bigot for not buying into and fully supporting homosexuals.

    I deleted my blog because the few atheists that did post there (not all.. Froggie was actually quite cordial except when it came to accepting homosexual marriage) were rather rude and insulting.

    I have had the handle Starbuck for close to 30 years. I am dumping that. I refuse to get on atheist central because that is no discussion, it is an insult match.

    I am no longer interested in what atheists have to say because they are as thick as rocks. Not to say they aren’t intellegent. They are very intelligent. I honestly believe they really fool themselves.

    I am actually shocked that the Bible has pegged them to a T. I really didn’t think a person could actually have that kind of belief.

    Another thing that absolutely disgusts me. It is the internet. It has grown into something we can’t life without anymore. Well, we could but we wouldn’t like it.

    Well, I am going to go back to living without the internet.

    Goodbye and no I won’t return.

    • Star, you will probably return to the internet at some point. I understand the desire to get away from it for a while. I have done it for long periods of time.

      If my job was not so dependent on the internet to some degree, I would join you for sledding or something fun like that and forget about the WWW.

      I quit watching TV over 15 years ago because I became so disgusted with the banality of it

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