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Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War

Nations Have the Right to Kill
Author: Richard Koenigsberg


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Praise for Nations Have the Right to Kill

“Richard Koenigsberg is an intrepid generator and disseminator of novel ideas regarding the psychodynamics of human violence and destructiveness, ideas that are startling all the more for being self-evident once they have been absorbed. The identification of the individual with the collective and, reciprocally, the equation of the collective with oneself, can create a horrific psychic situation whereby ameliorative or redemptive actions are invoked that can be suffused with bloody violence and destruction. Koenigsberg’s ideas cut trenchantly through conventional, rationalized notions about culture, the nation, and war, and enable us to see through the psychic machinations of human institutions in utterly new ways.”

Ruth Stein, New York University, author of For Love of the Father

“It is disturbing to consider how the minds of young men are manipulated to get them to kill. But there is an even more disturbing hypothesis. Scholar Richard Koenigsberg argues that war is the result of a desire on the part of a society to sacrifice its own young men. Koenigsberg recasts the perception of war as normative, glorious and honorable. War is about the production of corpses and mutilated bodies. While men say they go to war for honor, or territory, or self-defense, or empire, in fact they go to war to prove that the nation is real. ‘In war,’ Koenigsberg writes, ‘actual human bodies are sacrificed in the name of perpetuating a magical entity, the body politic. Sacrificial acts affirm the existence of this sacred object, the nation. Entering into battle is a devotional act, with death in war the supreme act of devotion.’ Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg of ‘the last full measure of devotion,’ what we commonly call the ‘supreme sacrifice.’ How close are we to admitting the truth of this terrible hypothesis?”

Excerpt from *From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years* by Kent D. Shifferd, University of Wisconsin

“Using Hitler as a focal point, Nations Have the Right to Kill offers a riveting examination of the ideology of political violence. Dr. Koenigsberg observes that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in the 20th-century has been so continuous that it is taken as an immutable characteristic of history. To interrupt our historical attachment to war, we might begin by examining the mentality and ideology of those who perpetrate political violence. No example looms larger than Hitler. What did Hitler’s cognitive map look like? Through careful analysis of Hitler’s writings and speeches, Koenigsberg makes us aware of the ideology that was the source of both warfare and genocide. Dr. Koenigsberg’s is a message that anyone with an interest in changing the course of human history should internalize and reflect upon. Can human beings transcend war? If so, Nations Have the Right to Kill will be one of our most important guides. Its striking lucidity will be a catalyst for our collective evolution.”

Lee Hall, JD

“If a case can be made that nationalism is a religion, few books rival Koenigsberg’s Nations Have the Right to Kill. The author confronts the taken-for-granted world of nationalism and political realism, and makes them suddenly seem utterly peculiar and bizarre. The strength of this book rests in fleshing out original lines of argument and grounding them in historical evidence. The force of Koenigsberg’s contention leaves little doubt that in analyzing nationalism and warfare, we are treading on a sacred ground in which ultimate and redemptive meanings are promised.”

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 48, Issue 4 (December 2009). Review by Matthew Eddy, University of Oregon, Eugene.

“Two terrors from long ago haunt. First, the Holocaust: that cold-blooded massacre of millions. Second, the ability of political leaders during two World Wars to convince ordinary people that slaughtering their neighbors was patriotic. A half-century later, we continue to ask: how was this possible? Richard A. Koenigsberg offers provocative answers. Koenigsberg’s analysis ranges from gender identity, to the First World War, to Aztec warfare. No single answer will exorcize our terrors. But Koenigsberg’s bold and original approach, clearly and precisely presented, will help us, if not to expel them, at least, finally, to comprehend them.”

Robert Whalen, Queens University of Charlotte, author of Bitter Wounds: German Victims of the Great War, 1914-1939

“Despite the vast body of research devoted to the Holocaust, Nations Have the Right to Kill marks a seminal contribution to our understanding. Koenigsberg challenges the belief that Hitler was a uniquely inhuman monster, placing him squarely within the narrative of the nationalist ideology that claims dying for one’s country represents the apogee of love and devotion. The Holocaust thus became ‘a perverted, degraded version of dying for the country—sacrificial death at the hands of the nation-state stripped of words like honor, heroism and glory.’ Given that both war and genocide remain pervasive in today’s world, Nations Have the Right to Kill forces us to reexamine, and reflect, on the true causes of these phenomena.”

Brian A. Victoria, Antioch University, author of Zen at War

“In this illuminating study, Dr. Richard A. Koenigsberg argues that war is a ritual process through which a nation becomes alive. Koenigsberg’s persuasive argument is based upon a dazzling array of historical examples across centuries, with special focus on Nazi Germany. With great precision, he shows how in the Second World War Hitler encouraged the death (murder) of thousands of his obedient soldiers. Nations Have the Right to Kill provides a fresh and passionate mode of theorizing war, showing how nations are constructed through sacrifice of self and other.”

Babak Rahimi, University of California, San Diego

“By questioning the taken-for-granted idea that wars are waged for specific and ‘real’ reasons, Dr. Richard A. Koenigsberg challenges the ‘rational choice’ theory and advances an alternative rationale for nations’ proclivity to wage wars. His central thesis is that nation-states decide to go to war—not in order to control vast new territories and gain larger shares of natural resources and wealth—but rather in order to create opportunities for killing and dying. In other words, war is not a means to and end but rather an end in itself. This book challenges us to rethink our taken-for-granted ideas about nations and the justifications advanced by our leaders to wage wars.”

Younes Abouyoub, Columbia University

“In Nations Have the Right to Kill, Richard Koenigsberg poses disturbing and often ignored questions: ‘How can humans sacrifice millions for an abstract concept of “nation?” Is destruction and self-destruction the actual purpose of war?’ The answers are both insightful and unsettling. The strength of Nations is the use of original artifacts to support claims. Koenigsberg always begins with data. He takes a rhetorical approach by grounding his arguments in a careful analysis of Nazi writings, speeches and recorded correspondence and conversations. The point that nations grant their leaders the right to kill is powerfully documented.”

E. Sam Cox, University of Central Missouri

“Richard Koenigsberg’s Nations Have the Right to Kill reminds us in clear and incisive prose that sacrifice and total war are inextricably linked. Drawing on a broad range of knowledge spanning the social sciences, Koenigsberg asks us to conceive of the Holocaust as the product of an ideology that demanded the sacrifice of both Germany’s male population and European Jewry. Nations Have the Right to Kill contains thought provoking conclusions about war and genocide in the twentieth century. The Third Reich is a unique case, but the notion that nations demand and expect a blood sacrifice is one of the hallmarks of the modern age.”

Brian E. Crim, Lynchburg College

“Nations have the Right to Kill is a passionate monograph that presents a searing criticism of the sacrificial ideology that mobilizes people for war and sustains such efforts for the benefit of that ‘magical entity, the body politic’. At a time when the Western media and popular culture sets up the ‘Islamic bomber’ or ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ as a freak attracted to the idea of sacrificing himself for Allah, it is beneficial for Westerners to reflect on their own past. The vocabulary of mobilization deployed by state agencies on the Western home front and the vocabulary of duty and dedication affirmed by the soldiers on battlefields in WW-I are not far removed from the language paraded by Mohammed Atta or the Bali bombers.”

Michael Roberts, University of Adelaide, author of Empowering the Body & Noble Death

“Koenigsberg’s thesis is that there is a ‘fundamental dynamic that leads nations to go to war,’ independent of political circumstances. This purpose or driving force is destruction and self-destruction: a mass human sacrifice that elevates the nation to a sacred place at the expense of its people. In war, Koenigsberg says, ‘human bodies sacrificed in the name of perpetuating a magical entity, the body politic.’ This is a thoughtful, sometimes startling, well-written book: important and challenging.”

E. James Lieberman, M.D.

“Dr. Richard Koenigsberg belongs to the post-Frankfurt-School generation of scholars who asks why people act against their own best interests. In his most recent book, Nations Have the Right to Kill, he explores the psychic and social construction of the nation-state. His work is more interesting than ever. Challenging the traditional view of war as a struggle for scarce resources, Koenigsberg claims that nations kill—not so much to destroy enemies—but to increase cohesion by sacrificing their young. Incisive arguments and a clear style: this book is highly recommended.”

Juha Siltala, University of Helsinki

“This is psychological inquiry of great depth and tragic urgency. A deep humanity and ethical urgency informs this book which is full of original and provocative insights.”

Walter A. Davis, Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University

“Richard Koenigsberg represents an entirely orthogonal and de novo vantage on war. His academic lens is Psychology, and he has penetrated to a still-obscured truth of war in Modernity: That it is in essence the sacrificial—and thus transcendental—celebratory vessel of all human sacred identity. His essay is in its way a call-to-arms: To see at last our own buy-in culturally to a boundlessly destructive essence within our own humanity.”

Michael Vlahos, United States Naval War College, author of *Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Chang*e

“Filling a gap in the scholarly narrative, Nations Have the Right to Kill uses a comparative framework to offer an intriguing exploration of the philosophical connections between war and genocide. Focusing on the Nazi case, Koenigsberg concludes that both the sacrifice of German soldiers in glory on the battlefield, and the sacrifice of victims in the gas chambers, served essentially the same purpose: to feed the sacrificial bloodlust of the national deity.”

Journal of Genocide Research Volume 12, Issue 1 (September 2010). Review by Megan D. Lee, University of South Carolina.