Olick looks at how catastrophic, terrible pasts – Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa – are remembered, but he is particularly concerned with the role that memory plays in social structures. Memory can foster any number of things – social solidarity, nostalgia, civil war – but it always depends on both the nature of the past and the cultures doing the remembering. Prior to his studies of individual episodes, he fully develops his theory of memory and society, working through Bergson, Halbwachs, Elias, Bakhtin, and Bourdieu.
Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever.
While this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit actions they would never do of their own volition.
Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.
“A remarkable—and singularly chilling—glimpse of human behavior...This meticulously researched book...represents a major contribution to the literature of the Holocaust."—Newsweek
The contributors—including historians and social scientists—describe societies’ struggles to produce and then use ideas of what a “normal” past should look like. They examine claims about the genuineness of revolution (in fascist Italy and communist Russia), of inclusiveness (in the United States and Australia), of innocence (in Germany), and of inevitability (in Israel). Essayists explore the reputation of Confucius among Maoist leaders during China’s Cultural Revolution; commemorations of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States Congress; the “end” of the postwar era in Japan; and how national calendars—in signifying what to remember, celebrate, and mourn—structure national identification. Above all, these essays reveal that memory is never unitary, no matter how hard various powers strive to make it so.
States of Memory will appeal to those scholars-in sociology, history, political science, cultural studies, anthropology, and art history-who are interested in collective memory, commemoration, nationalism, and state formation.
Contributors. Paloma Aguilar, Frederick C. Corney, Carol Gluck, Matt K. Matsuda, Jeffrey K. Olick, Francesca Polletta, Uri Ram, Barry Schwartz, Lyn Spillman, Charles Tilly, Simonetta Falasca Zamponi, Eviatar Zerubavel, Tong Zhang