Unit 731 … The Right Conditions

I was afraid during my first vivisection, but the second time around, it was much easier. By the third time, I was willing to do it. – Japanese Army Surgeon Ken Yuasa, Unit 731

Unit 731 was capable for some of the most horrifying war crimes in the history of the world.  The unit operated between the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II and human experimentation was its specialty.  Subjects were operated on without anesthesia, limbs were reattached to foreign positions, biological weapons were used, flamethrowers were used on the living, and so on.  The unit was good at what it did; valuable (eventually to other countries) information was gathered of the darker weapons of war.  However, no one would argue that what they did was anything but reaching the highest echelons of cruelty and immorality.  Certainly, by sheer probability alone, the majority of those involved were not psychopathic.  As with the Nazis and their genocide, many involved merely went with the flow, afraid of disobedience, and willingly partook in the killings.  The conditions were right for “good” men to do evil acts.

Less extreme forms of humans betraying their supposedly “true” nature are found every day.  The crimes of passion or of necessity, such as stealing when destitute, can be found in any newspaper.  The husband that kills his spouse in a fit of jealous rage or the beggar breaking into a convenience store are common.  Hell, I bet you have done an immoral thing or two at some point in your life to avoid dire consequences, be it lying to save your job from a fault of your own, abusing your power when you were temporarily granted authority in some situation, or something else entirely.  The take-home point is that even non-psychopaths can dabble in amorality and immorality if the conditions are right.  It just may not be to the extreme of the example I opened this post with.

Here is what confuses me though: even though everyone has free will, we often excuse the bad behavior of others if we can justify, to ourselves, that they were acting abnormally or were otherwise “coerced” into such actions.  I suspect that it would be hard to fault the surgeon quoted above when he was forced to do his actions by the military.  I also suspect that the homeless that are dying of starvation could receive an empathic “pass” from you as well given their dire straits. Crimes of passion nearly always have lesser punishments than crimes of intent.  We chalk up the rare fisticuffs of our friend to atypical behavior.  We wonder if stress must have played a part.  Sometimes, we’ll even blame the victims.  However, society shits their collective pants when one is honest with their amorality or immorality.  Shouldn’t the punishment be the same?  Why should the psychopath or the ASPD individual be singled out.  The cases of non-psychopaths doing immoral actions are immense and I believe anyone can do such under the right stimulation or provocation.

Anyone can do evil.  The requirements for doing such may vary from person to person, but that potential still exists.  The magnitude can vary, but no one is free from being deviltouched on occasion.  Granted, the typical person will probably never be sprinkling smallpox on others like chocolate chips on ice cream, but does the magnitude really matter?  Why should the psychopath be singled out?  Why should society single us out when they could just as easily fear each other; each other person certainly has the potential, in the moment, to make our latent state and actions look tame.

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  Use of this image should not imply endorsement of this material by the image author, WIkipedia user Abigor.

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