Genocide and Reification
Essay title: Genocide and Reification
6 million exterminated. That number rolls off of our tongues as we sit and learn history in the 6th grade, or we write a paper on WW1. How about 800,000 murdered in 100 days, while Americans attempted to keep our troops of the conflict yet watched the bloody images daily on CNN. Genocide in our world is something that is impossible to justify or embrace, but we must attempt to understand it. It is only through this understanding will we be able to prevent or stop one of the most horrific acts man can do in the future. Genocide, in both the Holocaust and in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, is grounded in self-reification and the external reification of others. This then, when put into certain contexts, can manifest itself in a projection of hate through genocide. Although reification is the process which explains genocide, other social movements, such as extreme nativism in the Rwandan genocide and extreme modernism in the Holocaust, help perpetuate widespread genocide.
Internal reification of the Germans was projected into external reification in the form of hate of the Jewish people. Reification is a thought process of “thingifying” identities of both yourself and others. It first begins inside and is projected outward onto others. The internal reification of the Germans began with their detachment of themselves from their identity. This identity was that of the ‘victim,’ which arose from their perceptions of how they were treated during and after WW1. The Treaty of Versailles included the ‘war guilt’ clause, which blamed WWI on the Germans and had caused them to pay large reparations to other counties, causing their economy to crumble. They also felt as if they were victims of the worthless and ineffective Weimar Republic, which was the government in power in Germany following WW1. Also, due to propaganda, many Germans believed that they were the victims of a Jewish conspiracy which had been against them for years. The Germans found a false concreteness in their identity as victims. This identity was false because there was no evidence that there was Jewish conspiracy, and the Treaty of Versailles was not forced upon the Germans but rather the terms were willingly accepted. The German people then took the identity of victim which they had their false concreteness and objectified it. This allowed them to detach it from themselves to reify it. The Germans, who were a very proud people, became disgusted at this identity of being the victim. To them, being a victim meant losing honor because of their weakness. However, even though they were the ‘victim’ in the situation, the Nazi campaign and the German’s belief was that they could regain power, avenge WW1, and recreate Charlemagne’s great empire. However, the Germans by believing this were actually just denying the situatedness of their freedoms in that those goals were not possible in the context of their history, economic conditions, the constrains of the Treaty of Versailles and their political position. This led to the Germans trying to accomplish their goals, although they were impossible, which is the idea of willing the unwillable. The Germans were trying to will economic prosperity, political strength and national glory even though they were in a situation in which all of those things were impossible. This created a lot of anxiety for the Germans about their own self-worth and situation. In order to overcome the contradiction of willing the unwillable and the anxiety it produces, the Germans became to believe in the illogic of logic, that since the Jews were responsible, if they were eliminated the problem would be too. This belief and the collective anxiety that backed it was what caused this internal reification to be externalized and projected outward toward the Jews in the way of hate.
The external reification which led to the Holocaust was the German’s projection of hate toward the Jews based on difference. This reification began with the German’s generalization of the Jews through stereotypes and the racialization of their religion. The Germans looked at the ‘Jewish race’ as ‘rats’ who were all members of the conspiracy against the German state. This identity as disgusting, impure creatures helped to set them apart from the pure Aryan race in society. This set up the Aryan race as superior and the Jewish race as inferior. This was reinforced physically through structural discrimination such as the Nuremberg laws and the forced wearing of the Star of David. The Germans the then found a false concreteness in this distinction that the Jews were evil and were ‘rats’ who conspired against them. This allowed them to find concreteness in their belief that the Holocaust was legitimate. However, it was false considering that the Jews had fought in the German army and proved their loyalty to the German state. The Germans’ perception of the Jews’