I was in the U.S. military during the Vietnam era (thankfully I wasn’t sent to Vietnam) and was stuck into the Air Force version of the military police. It was both educational and terrifying.
Being in the police exposed me to the seductions of power and the ease with which I could engage in a**holey behavior. And also that sometimes not behaving badly isn’t so much enticing as it is that not behaving badly requires some measure of courage…or something.
There’s a movie titled “Denial” that has a terrific scene in it where the character played by Tom Wilkinson is talking about the behavior of Germans during the Hitler era and the actor’s character says something to the effect that he was fearful that he would have gone along with participating in atrocities our of cowardice (he was referencing his being afraid to resist those who ordered harm to others).
As you note, some do harm because they like it and others because resisting authority (not following orders) requires more from them than they can muster.
(If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it…it’s rather frightening as well as thought provoking.)
I was fortunate enough to mostly resist such stuff (although it scared the bejesus out of me because of its allure) but I saw many, some who I considered to be friends, succumb to it’s allure and to relish it’s pleasures.
It was astonishing to watch young men who railed against the absurdities and indignities of military lunacies simultaneously embrace the tiny tyrannies of being assigned power over others. I knew a number of folks who finished their military service and immediately joined civilian police forces just because they enjoyed that kind power.
Maybe the scariest part was/is how easily and effectively they were able to simultaneously embrace bad behavior and denial of such.
Not all humans who become policepersons are despotic, but many who are drawn to such work are attracted to it for just that reason.
I knew the United States had chosen to expose a very rotten part of itself when, after the events of 911, it opted to openly engage in torture. That means that taxpayer money was paying the salaries of torturers and also that there were U.S. citizens who were willing to torture others. All who are citizens of the United States became complicit in that ongoing debacle. Few of us admit that we condone/support torture…but we do.
The history of the U.S. (and of western Europe also) is one of atrocity and conquest yet that’s not the story we tell ourselves. We’re socialized in denial from birth onward and way too many of us never struggle against that denial.
Nope, historical weakness and/or absence of vigilance isn’t so much the problem. The problem is…like Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The bad guys are indeed “out there”, but…they’re also in each of us and resisting them (or even recognizing them) is much much more arduous and demanding than we are taught to know.