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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 Matthew M. Caverly, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor of Comparative Politics, Santa Fe College, Visiting Assistant Professor at University of North Florida

Richard A. Koenigsberg’s Nations Have the Right to Kill (2009) is an exhaustive psychoanalytic and sociopolitical study into the justification of war as a domestic and foreign genocidal activity. In this work, Dr. Koenigsberg articulates the thesis that warfare is a direct product of nationalist ideology that justifies and even makes sacrosanct the mass sacrifice of soldiery, citizenry and otherwise marginalized groups (his example is the Jews of Germany’s Third Reich) in the pursuit of military victory.

Koenigsberg builds on a wide range of academic inquiry, including anthropological work on the Aztecs’ use of warfare as an instrument of sacrificial sun worship and comparative historical studies of the major social psychologies directed towards the massive blood-letting in the trench warfare of the Great War’s Western Front. He then analyzes the specific cases of German sacrifice on the Eastern Front in World War II, the development of the euthanasia program against the mentally ill and the canonical example of the Holocaust. The author concludes by showcasing his larger point that warfare is used by nation-states to engage in an ongoing reification of their own social construction. In other words, in order for the state to justify its vaunted place in our social lives, from time to time it must make us collectively bleed in its honor. This act of sacrifice provides for a collective self-worship known as nationalist ideology, which Koenigsberg identifies as a quasi-religious phenomenon.

This work is particularly prescient for our contemporary understanding of the concept of war, not as a policy means, but as an ideological instrument to create and preserve national identity. Given the renewal of ethno-national conflict since the 1990s, as well as the perceived and real challenges to state identity brought about since 9/11, this work warns against what the excesses of unquestioned nationalism can lead to. It also makes us question the true role of nation-state sociopolitical identification as a possible counter-force to fragmentation. This phenomenon, in turn, is set against the pressures of an increasingly re-imagined socioeconomic form of global interdependence. Koenigsberg’s implication is clear: will warfare continue to be employed by states with no greater aim than to maintain themselves? Or will we finally be able to abandon the social construction of war–and its attendant state–by adopting non-genocidal (both foreign and domestic) methods of political discourse?