Evil Men (2013)

The following blurb at the Toronto Public Library website highlights a study by James Dawes – presented in a fractured structuring of transcripts and commentary – entitled Evil Men:

  • Presented with accounts of genocide and torture, we ask how people could bring themselves to commit such horrendous acts. A searching meditation on our all-too-human capacity for inhumanity, Evil Men confronts atrocity head-on – how it looks and feels, what motivates it, how it can be stopped.
  • Drawing on firsthand interviews with convicted war criminals from the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), James Dawes leads us into the frightening territory where soldiers perpetrated some of the worst crimes imaginable: murder, torture, rape, medical experimentation on living subjects. Transcending conventional reporting and commentary, Dawes’s narrative weaves together unforgettable segments from the interviews with consideration of the troubling issues they raise. Telling the personal story of his journey to Japan, Dawes also lays bare the cultural misunderstandings and ethical compromises that at times called the legitimacy of his entire project into question. For this book is not just about the things war criminals do. It is about what it is like, and what it means, to befriend them.
  • Do our stories of evil deeds make a difference? Can we depict atrocity without sensational curiosity? Anguished and unflinchingly honest, as eloquent as it is raw and painful, Evil Men asks hard questions about the most disturbing capabilities human beings possess, and acknowledges that these questions may have no comforting answers.

War makes it hard to discern what is true

On page 169 of his 2013 study, James Dawes remarks:

  • War makes it hard to discern what is true. It has always been thus. Wars are made possible, sustained, and won or lost through deceit and the confusion of reference. The lies of war extend even to its most basic physical operations. “Strategy,” Elaine Scarry [1985] writes, “does not simply entail lies but is essentially and centrally a verbal act of lying.” Codes, for instance, “are attempts to make meaning irrecoverable,” and in camouflage, “the principle of lying is carried forward into the materialized self-expression of clothing, shelter, and other structures.” War, she writes, is defined by its “disappearing content.” It is, by nature, a matter of cover-ups.

Sir William Stephenson

It may be added – as the story of Sir William Stephenson underlines – that Allied excellence in dealing with wartime codes and subterfuge was a key factor in determining the outcome of the Second World War.

Germany in the 1930s

An August 21, 2013 Atlantic article describes the development of German concentration camps.

Of related interest is Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture (2009), a study of 1930s Germany.

The book establishes a context for Steven Heller’s Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State (2008).

Topics addressed in the latter study are also highlighted in a December 23, 2009 New York Times article entitled Deadly Style: Bauhaus’s Nazi Connection.

James Dawes interview

A CBC interview with James Dawes can be accessed here.

I learned of Evil Men (2013) from CBC Radio’s The Current.


A March 3, 2013 Toronto Star article is entitled: “The deadly mixture of guns and class in Toronto.”

A May 16, 2014 New Yorker article is entitled: Mass murder relies on people like us: An interview with Thierry Cruvellier.”

A sept. 2, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “Book Portrays Eichmann as Evil, but Not Banal.”

An Oct. 9, 2014 New York Review of Books article is entitled: “Heidegger in Black.”

The article notes: “Heidegger was one of the most influential thinkers of the modern era. He was also a convinced Nazi.”

An Aril 28, 2915 New Yorker article is entitled: “Is Heidegger Contaminated by Nazism?”

A Dec. 31, 2014 CBC podcast is entitled: “Anne V. Hereford’s secret code-breaking work at Bletchley Park in WWII.”

An April 6, 2015 New Yorker article is entitled: “The System: Two new histories show how the Nazi concentration camps worked.”

An April 22, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Oskar Groening, former Auschwitz guard, describes camp in chilling detail at trial.”

Image from Arsenal Lands west of Small Arms Building at Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East. Jaan Pill photo

Image from Arsenal Lands west of Small Arms Building at Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East. Jaan Pill photo

A May 7, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: ” ‘Forbidden Films’ Exhumes Nazi Poison From the Movie Vaults.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“The Third Reich was not only a totalitarian state but also a total multimedia regime. Seven decades after its fiery collapse, the embers remain — including some 1,200 feature films produced under Joseph Goebbels’s ministry of propaganda. Are they historical evidence, incitements to murder, fascist pornography, evergreen entertainments, toxic waste or passé kitsch? All of the above?

“Those questions are raised by ‘Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film,’ a documentary essay by the German filmmaker Felix Moeller, opening May 13 at Film Forum for a weeklong, free-admission run.

“Mr. Moeller, born 20 years after Germany’s defeat, is concerned about what he sees as youthful disinterest in the Nazi period and the concurrent rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe. He arrived at “Forbidden Films,” he said by telephone from Berlin, after making ‘Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss,’ a documentary about the family legacy of Nazi Germany’s most celebrated director, Veit Harlan. Harlan’s most notorious film, “Jew Süss” (1940) — a period melodrama in which a Jewish moneylender connives to take control of the duchy of Württemberg — is as incontrovertibly anti-Semitic as it was enormously popular.”

[End of text]

Extremely Violent Societies (2010)

Also of relevance is a seedy entitled:

Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century (2010)

A blurb notes:

“Violence is a fact of human life. This book trace the social roots of the extraordinary processes of human destruction involved in mass violence throughout the twentieth century. Christian Gerlach shows that terms such as ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ are too narrow to explain the diverse motives and interests that cause violence to spread in varying forms and intensities from killings and expulsions to enforced hunger, collective rape, strategic bombing, forced labour and imprisonment. He explores what happened before, during, and after periods of wide-spread bloodshed in Armenia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Greece and anti-guerilla wars in order to highlight the crucial role of socio-economic pressures in the generation of group conflicts. By focussing on why so many different people participated in or supported mass violence, and why different groups were victimized, the author offers us a new way of understanding one of the most disturbing phenomena of our times”

[End of text]


A Feb. 7, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “‘My family resisted the Nazis’: why director had to film Alone in Berlin.”

A March 6, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “René Girard’s theories still explain the violence all around us: French-born scholar spent his career trying to understand what what makes violence a chronic problem.”

An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”


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