Almost eighteen months before Hannah Arendt’s series of articles, “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” began to be published in The New Yorker—stirring up controversy still raw today—the sociologist Stuart Palmer wrote in The Nation, in “Eichmann and Ourselves” (August 20, 1960), that “Eichmann could be understood.”
What more effective way is there of trying to reduce a problem, in this case violence, than to understand what produces it? If individuals let that very violence sway them from the rational to the emotional, then the result is only a strengthening of the vicious circle. Let me be more direct about this: terrible as Eichmann’s crimes were, if one is going to insist on being negatively emotional about him, on putting him beyond understanding, then the whole human attempt to achieve reasonable, non-violent, productive order probably cannot prevail…. Staggeringly monstrous as Eichmann’s actions have been, there were causes for those actions and they can be comprehended. Like it or not, it may be well to keep in mind that Eichmann was once a two-year-old who played in the sand as my child is doing now. The case of Eichmann is the grand opportunity to put constructive rational action ahead of destructive self-defeating emotionalism in the human march toward non-violence. In all likelihood that opportunity will not be grasped.
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