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Something much worse than hate drove Norwegian gunman


''Would it be true to say that you finally felt that they weren’t really human beings?''

''. . . Cargo,'' he said in a dull voice. ''They were cargo.''

''There were so many children; did they ever make you think of your children, of how you would feel in the position of those parents?''

''No,'' he said slowly, ''I can't say I ever thought that way. You see,''he then continued, still speaking with this extreme seriousness and obvious intent of finding truth within himself, ''I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass.''

An interview by Gitta Sereny with Franz Stangl, Nazi commandant of Treblinka camp in World War II. Her book is Into That Darkness.

I'm reminded of Sereny’s chilling exchanges with Franzl Stangl because of the atrocity in Norway this week. Anders Behring Breivik, 32, massacred 76 people by explosives and guns, 68 of whom were young people on a Labour Party-sponsored camp. There is no analogy between the events of Stangl's life, who died aged 70 in prison, in 1971 and those of Breivik's.

Stangl claimed that he was a just a cog in the machine, a dutiful officer, efficient in his job. It's to Sereny's eternal credit that she was able, over the course of her interviews with him, to crack open the facade far enough that Stangl condemned himself through his own words.

So it will prove with Breivik, as it has already started. He is not part of a behemoth death machine. He has admitted responsibility but not guilt.

The murders were heinous, he justifies, but necessary. It was, in other words, to him a cleansing. Between 2-3 per cent of Norway's population is Muslim, having immigrated in the past 20 years.

What a piece of work.

In Breivik's mind, flesh, blood and spirit became object; people became targets, and their deaths became a goal. In the planning and execution of this monstrous deed — and it appears he had been planning this for years — the core of all that defines the beauty of humankind was drained from the cup.

Judge Kim Heger, before whom Breivik appeared this week, said: ''The operation was not intended to kill as many people as possible, but to give 'a sharp signal' to the people that can’t be misunderstood - (that) as long as the Labour party follows its ideological line and continues to deconstruct Norwegian culture and import Muslims en masse so they must take responsibility for this treason.''

The Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, evoked the Nazi invasion date of April 9 in promising that never again would such a thing happen.

''We promise never again July 22,'' he said. It's a vow drawn from a well of deep anguished grief, but it can never be completely assured.

For how can you completely defend against an unhinged mind?

Here is a man who murdered for his own cause and yet did not regard the effect of his actions as in any way mitigating against the slaughter. He dressed as a police officer to lure young people out of hiding so that he could mow them down. The callousness, the cruelty, the inhumanity of this makes his statements about the death toll not being significant a lie. If he felt so badly about his country’s perceived directions, why did he choose extreme violence ahead of non-violent means? No, it was easy to be a craven killer than a disgruntled letter writer to the editor.

The massacre of the innocent was Breivik’s cargo. To him, humans became un-people. He was the delivery man to his country, and the world. The same motivation can be said of the 9/11 hijackers. But, in truth, history is littered with monsters (Hitler and Stalin, for instance) who, in trying to slake their thirst for domination over other peoples, give life a value of nothing. Perhaps, the human race is, as Jonathan Swift wrote in Gulliver’s Travels, just a bunch of nasty, brutish horrible creatures called Yahoos. It's a wonderful feeling that we can answer, No, it is not. No other creature can express hope so hopelessly.

Everyone, of course, has their own prejudices and biases. Breivik has been linked to a network of anti-Muslim crusaders, so he would have found succour in others having views similar to his own. Ranting is one thing (that's why we have soapboxes, chambers of parliament and internet chat forums), but Breivik took his rant and shaped it into a grostesquery. Did he hate his victims so much that he had to take their lives?

This is the hardest thing. In fact, he didn’t viscerally hate his victims.

They died because they were cargo.

60 comments so far

  • Let's not get carried away. Regular soldiers are also trained to depersonalise the enemy - so what else is new? The problem is that violence is seen as a legitimate means to an end. That applies to unjust wars as well (I could name a few). They are the epitome of horror also, and on a more massive scale.

    Date and time
    July 27, 2011, 7:37AM
    • "For how can you completely defend against an unhinged mind?"

      You can't. For all that you desire to protect, for all that you wish, hope and pray that these massacres do not occur- you can never say with absolute certainty that it will not happen.
      All we can ever do is our best.

      We need to understand that our society is a complex meld of illfitting forces barely contained by the institutions and traditions we accept without thought. We must understand that, while we should always question what occurs around us and hold to beliefs that sustain us, that our opinion, our belief is no more and no less important than the myriad of beliefs surrounding us; that we may be in error.

      In conflict, courteous; in action, honourable; in attitude, helpful; for our freedoms grateful. That should be our ideal.

      It is not that Norway has suffered such a chilling tragedy that is important. It is that there are parents who will never speak to their kids again, whose dreams, hopes and fears are shattered, soon to be buried. It is that there are siblings feeling the raw ache of loss for the first time, the worst time. Were it to happen here, the loss would be the same. Were it to happen in a village in Africa or in the towers of Manhatten, the loss would be the same.

      We can never completely defend against it. But we can make sure we never contribute to it- by always affording others the same rights and responsibilities we hold ourselves.

      May they find the strength to sustain them in these terrible times.

      Date and time
      July 27, 2011, 7:39AM
      • He was a religious bigot who cowardly targeted the innocent and unarmed. Lets try to not over think it.
        Why aren't people calling this guy what he really is, a christian fundementalist terrorist not a madman.

        Winston Smith
        Date and time
        July 27, 2011, 7:55AM
        • As horror-struck and appalled as any civilised human being must be at the sheer evil of this act we must not allow it to turn us into fearful people who sacrifice our liberty for security. Benjamin Franklin said "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." I'm not sure that I can wholly support that comment, but it does draw the issue pretty clearly.

          My thoughts and prayers go out to a highly civilised people whose faith in human nature must be being tested by this appalling act of bestiality. I urge them to find a way to try to prevent such actions in future without compromising the freedom they hold so dearly.

          Date and time
          July 27, 2011, 7:59AM
          • As a Christian, I find it uncomfortable that Breivik is being called a fundamentalist Christian. Yet he described himself as an atheistic Odinist (Odin was a Norse god).
            But he is a terrorist. As others have said on this and other forums, a white, Christian terrorist. Just as those who murder in the name of Christ. He is not the first.

            He is not insane, no matter what spin his lawyer is putting on it. No insane person could have had the mental organisation necessary to put this long term plan together. It was years from setting up his orchard, buying the fertiliser chemicals, assembling them into a bomb. Then planning the explosion as a diversion from his main game, the murder of the young left wing members of a major political party.

            Ryde NSW
            Date and time
            July 27, 2011, 8:14AM
            • It is too easy to dismiss the Norway atrocity as simply the product of a deranged mind. The Norway atrocity happened in the context of anti-Arab anti--Semitism and Islamophobia that has gripped the Western world for 20 years since the fall of the Communist bogey, and especially since 9-11.

              Thus genocidal neo-Nazi and pro-Zionist mass murderer Breivik has made it abundantly clear in his Manifesto that Muslims should be expelled from Europe, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, India and China. Breivik's pro-Zionism is dangerously ignored by mainstream media.

              Breivik's genocidal and anti-Muslim position is variously echoed by all kinds of racist extremists. Indeed an Australian TV channel responded to the atrocity by running a disgusting "multiculturalism has failed" show and the ABC broadcast the Islamophobic views of a UK rightist. Such routine Islamophobic expressions would provoked outrage and litigation if like racism were correspondingly applied to other minorities such as Jews or Aborigines.

              The pro-war leaders of the UK, France and Germany have similarly asserted that "multiculturalism has failed", ignoring the horrible reality that their involvement with the US in Afghanistan has so far been associated with 5.0 million war-related deaths, under-5 infant deaths totaling 2.7 million and refugees totaling 3-4 million ( Google Afghan Holocaust, Afghan Genocide).

              Dr Gideon Polya
              Date and time
              July 27, 2011, 8:16AM
              • Despite the need of the commentariate to describe Breivik as "unhinged" or "insane" or other such descriptions which can safely remove him from people-like-us, the sad fact is that he is not unlike us.

                How many times throughout history have we readily described atrocties as committed by the "unhinged"? And then how many times have we then failed to understand the complex matrix of reasons for such people, such actions?

                To isolate such people as Breivik is simply laziness and snobbery. We need in fact to look long and hard at Beivik and the world of which he is deeply part of.

                Breivik's actions are atrocious, and the loss of vulnerable lives a heavy sadness, but he is not a monster, he is not insane, and the fragile and sel- important sensibilites of a liberal commentariate needs to actually get down amongst the muck of humanity so to analyse his actions and the reasons for them.

                Only then can Stoltenberg's grand standing and rhetorical words actually have some meaning.

                Date and time
                July 27, 2011, 8:41AM
                • I agree with Dr. Polya that Breivik's terrifying acts of violence cannot be viewed outside the context of the rabid right-wing rhetoric spewing from the United States, and finding ready echo chambers even here in Australia... That Tony Abbot has encouraged an hysterical debate about the carbon tax in which the Prime Minister has been regularly threatened with assassination is an appalling and outrageous state of affairs that indicates the terrible events to which Norway has recently been subjected are just as likely to happen here. And if they did, I'm sure these self-same right-wing agitators would be quick to deny any responsibility and try to sheet it all home to some deranged maniac who took it all too seriously.

                  Stephen Sewell
                  Date and time
                  July 27, 2011, 10:13AM
                  • Dr Polya, your post is ridiculous.

                    To attribute some pro-Zionist intent to Brevik's act speaks volumes about you, not him. Referring to Afghanistan as a Holocaust also speaks volumes about you as a fringe-dweller of our society.

                    Breivik is no more acting on some alleged Zionist platform than a Muslim terrorist is acting in the interests of God and peace. To say otherwise is to preach hate. Can you get a doctorate in that?

                    Date and time
                    July 27, 2011, 10:23AM
                    • Breivik set about murdering dozens of children and young adults in full confidence that it is going to bring about an apocalyptic world war.

                      If you are a person who doesn't find that monstrous, who thinks it is an act of sanity, I'm glad not to know you in person and very glad SMH allows pseudonyms.

                      @ColinK, it is a false dilemma to say that there are no other states of mind than complete sanity (or at least what is deemed normal) and chaotic derangement.

                      I suspect that the urge to declare him sane is more about his not evading vengeance than it is about responding according the the facts.

                      BBC World Service reported overnight:

                      For murder - Max penalty 21 years.

                      For terrorism - max penatly 30 years

                      Criminally insane - max sanction never to be released.

                      I know which one I'd choose to help keep my kids safe.

                      According to you "hard on crime" types, Martin Bryant would be eligible for parole at some point in his life (as early as 2107 if we applied the max Norwegian penalty for murder) and I wouldn't trust any doctor who said Bryant had suddenly become sane.

                      The net effect of multiple murder or terrorism convictions with consecutive sentences would be 'never to be released', but if Breivik's sanity is presumed by the state, it opens the door to an appeal that NTBR is manifestly unjust for a sane person.

                      Should survivors and bereaved be subjected to that needless ordeal?

                      Over the Rainbow
                      Date and time
                      July 27, 2011, 10:37AM

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