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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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Review of Nations Have the Right to Kill

By Dr. Younes Abouyoub, (Political Sociology) Denis-Diderot Paris VII University - Columbia University.

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. By drawing on the Aztec conception of war as a ‘sacred activity’ Dr Koenigsberg compares modern warfare, especially the First and Second World Wars, to the Aztec martial tradition, which consisted in capturing enemy combatants and ceremonially offering them as a sacrifice to the sun. For the Aztec, warriors who fall in the battlefield bring the sun to life; the sun in turn becomes the reincarnation of the warrior. Likewise by giving their life as an offering, modern soldiers give birth to their nation: ‘As the soldier dies, so the Nation comes alive’.

Furthermore, the author examines political violence in its different manifestations and concludes that Genocide like warfare is a societal form of violence and not an individual one, as it is commonly believed. Yet, if warfare is taken for granted and legitimized in the collective consciousness, genocide is commonly perceived as an anomaly, a transgression of the norms established by the human society.

Subtly echoing Hannah Arendt’s concept of the ‘banality of evil’, Dr. Koenigsberg concludes that the final solution imagined by the Nazis was not something exceptional in the ideological context of the Twentieth Century, since the logic of genocide grew out of the logic of war. The Second World War and the Genocide were after all two sides of the same coin. For Hitler, since German soldiers were dying by the thousands to allow their Nation to live Jews, whose loyalty was questionable, had to become the sacrificial offering to the God that Hitler worshiped i.e. the German Nation. Hence, the Holocaust represented less an aberration than a sacrifice for the German body politic.

Through its analysis of modern warfare, the author questions rightly the concept of ‘country’ and ‘nation’, and wonders why people do have a staunch quasi-religious faith in such concepts. The question of blind obedience is touched upon in many parts of this book but unfortunately never fully developed or answered. Dr. Koenigsberg advances an interesting thesis to explain political violence and modern warfare. Yet, he could have buttressed his account by providing a more detailed analysis of the question of obedience and the institutional and societal mechanisms government put in place in order maintain ‘the established order’ and the collective ‘fundamental beliefs’ that make people obey and ‘die for the Nation’.

Why is it that these ‘imagined communities’ have such a strong influence on people? Why do soldiers die willingly? Isn’t it fair to say that soldiers are killed by their nations and not by their enemies in the battlefield? This book challenges us to rethink our taken-for-granted ideas about nations and the justifications advanced by our leaders to wage wars. It is an interesting read for everyone who is preoccupied by the state of our world and its future evolution.