A BRILLIANT AND DISTURBING STUDY OF THE CHARACTER AND TRIAL OF ADOLF EICHMANN - STEPHEN SPENDER, THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS. THE TASK SHE SETS FOR HERSELF FAR TRANCENDS THE CRIMES OF ONE MAN SINCE IT DEALS WITH THE GREATEST PROBLEM OF OUR TIME...THE PROBLEM OF THE HUMAN BEING WITHIN A MODERN TOTALITARIAN SYSTEM...OUR BEST PROTECTION AGAINST OPPRESSIVE CONTROL AND DEHUMANIZING TOTALITARIANISM IS STILL A PERSONAL UNDERSTANDING OF EVENTS AS THEY HAPPEN. TO THIS ENDHANNAH ARENDT HAS FURNISHED US WITH A RICHNESS OF MATERIAL - BRUNO BETTELHEIM, THE NEW REPUBLIC. HANNAH ARENDT COVERED THE EICHMANN TRAIL FOR 'THE NEW YORKER' WHERE HER REPORT FIRST APPEARED AS A SERIES OF ARTICLES IN 1963. FOR THIS REVISED EDITION OF "EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM", THE AUTHOR HAS ADDEDFURTHER FACTUAL MATERIAL THAT HAS COME TO LIGHT SINCETHE TRIAL, AND A POSTCRIPT COMMENTING ON THE CONTROVERSYTHAT HAS ARISEN OVER HER BOOK.
While living in Argentina in 1960, Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped and smuggled to Israel where he was put on trial for crimes against humanity. The New Yorker
magazine sent Hannah Arendt to cover the trial. While covering the technical aspects of the trial, Arendt also explored the wider themes inherent in the trial, such as the nature of justice, the behavior of the Jewish leadership during the Nazi Régime, and, most controversially, the nature of Evil itself.
Far from being evil incarnate, as the prosecution painted Eichmann, Arendt maintains that he was an average man, a petty bureaucrat interested only in furthering his career, and the evil he did came from the seductive power of the totalitarian state and an unthinking adherence to the Nazi cause. Indeed, Eichmann's only defense during the trial was "I was just following orders."
Arendt's analysis of the seductive nature of evil is a disturbing one. We would like to think that anyone who would perpetrate such horror on the world is different from us, and that such atrocities are rarities in our world. But the history of groups such as the Jews, Kurds, Bosnians, and Native Americans, to name but a few, seems to suggest that such evil is all too commonplace. In revealing Eichmann as the pedestrian little man that he was, Arendt shows us that the veneer of civilization is a thin one indeed.