Hannah Arendt, Understanding ‘The Banality of Evil,’ and George W. Bush! – eprof2

I lost it last night at the dinner table while watching ABC World News. The network told the story about a mother trying to raise her son through the words his father, a career Army man, left him in a journal before the father died in Iraq. “Deceased Sgt. leaves a journal of advise, values, and life lessons.”

It was the sort of story that news organizations want their viewers to see as a silver lining in the worst of situations. That’s when I lost it. FUCK YOU, MR. BUSH! I screamed at the television set, much to my wife’s dismay as I hardly ever curse, much less use the F word.

Here was the story of an American GI who died in a war of choice by the president of the United States based on lies, fabrications, and falsehoods. This young boy would have to grow up without his father and be asked to live his life from only the words in a journal to support him.

That’s when I thought about Hannah Arendt and her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), which I had read many years ago as an undergraduate. She coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Adolph Eichmann, who was on trial in Israel for the murder of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of innocent Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe during the time of the Nazis. Throughout his trial, Eichmann showed no remorse, no understanding of why he was on trial, and maintained his innocence with “I was only doing my duty” as his defense.

Hannah Arendt raised the question of “whether ‘evil’ is radical or simply a function of banality—the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.” See Wikipedia link. Evil, she insisted, arises from an unwillingness to understand the human condition and the consequences of one’s decisions — especially to understand a person’s responsibility in promoting evil.

George W. Bush is a banal man who probably doesn’t distinguish between “I’m just doing my duty” and his doing evil, much in the same way professor Arendt reported on Adolph Eichmann so many years ago.

How, you ask, could the commander in chief of the army and navy just be doing his duty? Well, when you’re not very smart and you don’t think through the implications of your responsibilities, especially as the president of the United States, and you only want to throw your power around in arrogantly divisive ways, egged on by the likes of the neo-cons and Dick Cheney, George W. Bush would, and probably will, tell us that he was only doing what he thought his duty was in starting a pre-emptive war to, ironically, wipe out evil.

So, Jordan, like so many other children of victims of this war, Iraqi and Americans, will grow up without his father. He will have to live his life mostly through the words of a journal. Thank you, Mr. President! And, thank you Hannah Arendt for providing us with the insights into the ‘banality of evil’ which George W. Bush has practiced almost every day of his presidency. Is there no greater evil than the banality which creates evil in the first place? I think not!



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47 responses to “Hannah Arendt, Understanding ‘The Banality of Evil,’ and George W. Bush! – eprof2

  1. Well done, and spot on eprof, as you know from the few emails we swapped on this thread I’m a big Arendt fan. If any of you out there haven’t read Arendt, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” it is a must read.

  2. eprof you brought to mind one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite plays, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes:

    “Well, there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it. . . . Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it.”

  3. Nannymm

    I read it years ago when I was in college for a philosophy class. Excellent book! And this was a well done post, eprof.
    I scream at the TV all the time regarding Bush, this damned war and so many of his other disastrous policies. My husband has gotten quite used to it. However, I think he’s hoping for quiet after January 20th. We’ll see…. Bush’s disasters will still be with us for some time to come.

  4. There is a serious issues here which in all candor we can’t lay solely at the feet of Bush, and that’s our own culpability in our eagerness to march into war against a nation who had done us no harm. While certainly I was opposed to the war from the get go, my passions on the issue were slow to come to a boil. Far too many of us were all too willing to give Bush whatever he wanted as long he kept us “safe”.

  5. dnd

    Excellent post eprof2.

    Now admit it, you yell at the TV when the Dbacks are losing 😉

  6. dnd

    “Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet has been chosen to fill the U.S. Senate seat, sources close to the process confimed this morning.

    Bennet would fill the seat after the confirmation of Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary. ”


  7. Nanny — my spouse, too! Great quote, Brian. Hellman and Dashiel Hammett tore up the literary world for at least a decade or more.

  8. Nannymm

    You make a good point, Brian. But, I was opposed from the beginning and was marching in the streets in opposition to this war. At the time, I could not understand how so many were willing to just go along. I still don’t understand. In ’68 there were HUGE, well-organized marches and demonstrations against the Vietnam War. The anti-Iraq War demonstrations were small and disorganized for the most part. I remember one in NYC that I was it. It was pathetic by comparison. Was it 9-11 that made so many turn a blind eye to what was being done in our name? Or was it that a mob mentality seemed to take over? Whatever it was, I hope we NEVER let it take over again.

  9. Yes I too went to several peace marches and rallies here in the city, and yes they were rather “anemic” in comparison to the Vietnam War era events.

  10. OK, dnd, you got me — I yell, but rarely curse at the tv when the D-Backs play!

    Brian, you’re right — Arendt was also very critical of those who did nothing or worse aided in the march to the ovens. While many raised their voices against Bush, the overwhelming majority of Americans did nothing, absolutely nothing, to try and stop BushCo from doing what he and his followers wanted to do. In fact, Bush was re-elected to the presidency partially on his “war record.” We are all to blame to one degree or another for BushCo’s banality.

  11. horsedooty

    unfortunate timing for me on the protest marches in the late 60’s. I was in the USAF from jan66 to jan70.

  12. horsedooty

    most all of that time was served out of the country. Labrador and Frankfurt, Germany.

  13. Perhaps all future war resolutions should be tied to reinstating the draft, a “put up or shut up”.

  14. Nannymm

    Doots, my hubby was in the Air Force,too. He was stationed at Wiesaden, Germany for four years and somewhere in England for another 2.

    Brian, I like that “put up or shut up” idea. If we had a draft with no deferments except for extreme situations, perhaps, we would think twice before engaging in these unnecessary wars and conflicts.

  15. Michael Bennet to be new Senator from Co.

  16. dnd

    Check the link from my 12:15 post.

    Now can New York’s governor take a lesson from Colorado’s governor.

    ps. It’s suppose to be 60 F here today. Snowy and 28 F on Sunday.

  17. missed it before dnd, me bad!

  18. dnd

    Oh, and Brian, those NASA posts are really starting to depress me. There is very little scientific need for manned space flight, these days particularly to the moon or Mars. I hope someone puts that bug in Obama’s ear.

    That said, I think breaking down the barriers between NASA and the Pentagon is a good ideal. The same contractors build the rockets for both agencies, and while they may lose money by not servicing both groups, it will benefit the taxpayer and the space efforts.

  19. dnd

    “Now can New York’s governor take a lesson from Colorado’s governor.”

    Meant to pose that as a question, particularly to our New York contingent.

    BTW, I have no clue why Ritter chose Bennet. More as it develops.

  20. dnd

    “The wreckage of Continental Flight 1404 will be moved today from a ravine next to a Denver International Airport runway to a secure location at DIA.”


    It couldn’t have been too comforting flying in or out of DIA with that carcass visible to passengers.

  21. dnd

    You may be swearing at the TV when you see the Big Unit pitching for the Giants this year 😉

  22. horsedooty


    can Randy Johnson still bring it? He must be near 45 now.

  23. Excellent post eprof2.

    Though I didn’t protest in the 60’s like so many did or even after 9\11 I was against both wars.

    We have too remember that in the 60’s everyone was eligible to be drafted if they were over 18 and possibly with parents consent 16 year old’s could enlist as well, if I recall correctly.

    After 9\11 I had no problem with going after Osama Bin Laden with all that we could use against him and Al Qaeda. Both the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq was a War of Choice and A War Crime as well.

    It was a Crime Against Humanity because it was all about stealing Iraq’s oil for Cheney’s and Bush’s oil and the Corporations they ran.

    Since the draft is no longer in effect the people don’t see it as affecting them so therefore no protests by them. If their *ssess were on the line to be drafted and sent to Iraq the protest would have been as big as, if not bigger, then the protest against the War in Vietnam.

    One of the first signs of a fallen Democracy is the passing of Laws that strip away or weaken the Citizens Rights and Freedoms under the Guise of Keeping Them Safe.

    And there are those on both sides of the aisle who are Guilty of Violating there Sworn Oath to Uphold and Defend the Constitution of The United States of America against All Enemies, Both Foreign and Domestic.

    These people are just as Guilty as those who wrote and supported those Laws and Bills since they either voted for them or refused to Honor their Sworn Oath and allow them to come to a vote.

    Folks, we have not yet been told the full damage our country has suffered under Bush\Cheney and I don’t believe that they will ever tell us the truth.

    We are in the start of a full blown Depression that will last for at least two more years before we start on a recovery. And this Depression will be far worse than Our Country has ever seen.

    The drop of the Housing Market is not done and we still have not had the balloon burst in the Credit Card Market which should rear its ugly head sometime this summer I think.

    And with the way things are going over in Gaza we could be involved in another War. Bush destroyed Our Country and needs to be held fully accountable. He is a Traitor and a War Criminal. One day he will be tried for his War Crimes and the World will Rejoice when he’s given the same sentence Hitler’s Nazi’s got and Saddam Husein got.

    But be prepared as things will still get much, much worse. And we still may be put under Martial Law when the People finally stand up for America again against the Tyranny we have been under for way too long.

    God Bless you all.

  24. dnd

    Johnson finished last season 11-10, 3.91 ERA.
    100th complete game in September against the Rockies .

    He’s lost a step, but his fastball and slider should still work well in the NLW IMHO. And I think he’ll work well with those kids in the Giants rotation, Cain, Lincecum and Lowry. And maybe he’ll motivate Zito 😉

  25. Thanks, dnd, for the stats on Johnson. It didn’t break my heart to see him go; I questioned whether we should have brought him back two years ago for 12 mil a year. The first year he was out almost the whole time and the second year, while the stats look pretty good, he didn’t make it past the sixth or seventh inning too many times. The D-Backs offered him almost exactly what the Giants did but he still chose to leave. Often the players would be upset at him because he wouldn’t make the road trips when he wasn’t in the rotation. Most of the fans that I know aren’t all that upset at seeing him leave. I wish him well in getting his 300th. I’m not sure he’ll a) have too many more starts and b) whether a young Giants team can keep the lead after the sixth inning. Time will tell.

  26. dnd

    I was glad to see Johnson go too, when he went to the Yankees! His slider and fastball is devastating at the Coors Field altitude.

    I agree that for the last several years the Giants bullpen has sucked. It looks to improve this year, but as you said, time will tell…

  27. Chef Sheila

    I everyone….cookin cookin cookin cookin. EProf,

    Sicnerely. Very thought provoking. I’m going to have to read it again tonight when I can sit down. I’m getting ready for a 4 day weekend, but then that means having to cook 4 days of food.

  28. Chef Sheila

    Doots, I am now having errors with gmail…..must be catching.

  29. horsedooty

    check the date on the computer. I restarted my computer and found that it was some how set to Feb 2, 2009. I reset the time to Jan 2, 2009 and my issue went away.

  30. horsedooty

    time/date is what I meant!

  31. horsedooty

    I promise I am not making that up, Brian. After the I restarted the box I got a message saying google could not log on due to a time/date error. It said to check the time/date thingy and I did that and the issue went away.

  32. I didn’t think you were making it up, I just said it was weird.

  33. horsedooty

    LOL 🙂

  34. Bigger Than Bush

    The fault, however, lies not in Republicans’ stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.


  35. Prof,

    That was an interesting post. I know I am not alone in wishing all deliberate speed to Bush’s departure. Lord knows what long term damage has been done, but I am sure it will be historic. I think Iraq will do about a quarter century damage to us.

  36. IN General,

    I am definitely watching events in the Gaza Strip. What a tragedy! I feel all sides are to blame. Although I certainly don’t blame Israel for taking action to stop the rocket attacks, I am (once again) disturbs by their disregard for civilian life, home and mosque. Most of all, I am tired of our foreign aid being dispatched to them without much a consequence.

    The Chargers are going to be destroyed by the Colts in the playoffs today.

    Its good to be back, and thanks to Sheila, I am on my third successful day of backchanneling.

  37. Chef Sheila

    Hey Steve! I am so glad to see you. Managing my usual migrain today and tomorrow. Just chop my head off!

    I like the way you worded your assement of the Gaza sitch. I am very disturbed by this. I feel for both sides. But Israel has a right to defend their citizens…..

  38. horsedooty

    here is some of the local Texas news yesterday.


    FORT WORTH, Texas – A jail has been closed and its nearly 60 inmates transferred as authorities investigate what they call dangerous conditions for jailers and those behind bars — including cells that locked from the inside or contained recliners.

    as they say you just cannot make some of this stuff up.

  39. Chef Sheila

    Doots…..LOL Holy Crap.

  40. dnd

    Hey! Who wouldn’t want a recliner in their cell?

  41. dnd

    Mike Littwin on CO gov Bill Ritter picking Michael Bennet to fill Ken Salazar’s vacant senate seat:

    “For possibly the first time in modern history, I’m going to use the words bold and Bill Ritter in the same sentence.”


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