Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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Olivier Maurel to Harald Welzer
Sunday January 27, 2008

Barbara: It shocked me to read the logical letter by Olivier Maurel, and I find it hard to believe that the causes of the violent German history are so grossly distorted and played down by a book which claims that it is “normal” if such crimes are committed. The use of this word is also misleading, as if one wants to explain apologetically the past and those who caused its horrors. But we must learn from history and face the truth that what is done to children remains stored in their brains, waiting like a ticking time bomb to be recalled and implemented into unscrupulous actions by power-crazed, dangerous politicians.

It is dismaying that Harald Welzer – although he mentions Alice Miller’s work – does not seem to take any notice of her research and realizations, as if the cruelty of allegedly “normal people” were the most normal event in the world. Alice Miller has clearly shown, above all in her "reflections" on hatred at the end of her book “Paths of Life,” how the inhuman and therefore not at all “normal” way of mistreating children led to the Holocaust and the gruesome crimes of Germany.
(See also: "What is Hatred?" on this website)

Olivier Maurel’s letter presents plausibly and convincingly the illogic conclusions and the dangers of this ignorant and clueless point of view and is printed hereafter.

Dear Mr. Welzer,

With great interest I have read your book «The Perpetrators» (Les Executeur) in French and have found in there many interesting analyses, which amended or corrected what I already knew from Browning und Goldhagen. But in a fundamental matter I do not share your point of view. I am actually most astonished that – as a reader of Alice Miller’s «For Your Own Good, » which is also mentioned in a footnote – you do not refer at all to what she has written and proven.
She does indeed describe in her book how Germany at the turn of the 20th century generally lived under the yoke of an authoritarian, repressive educational manner. It was custom to beat children almost everywhere in Europe and all over the world, but Alice Miller indicates that cruelty and discipline had a special place in the German methods of education. This is why it is so surprising that you have left it out of consideration.
You often use the expression «normal» or «most normal humans» – and this already in the under title of your book – and you strive to demonstrate that these humans can become mass murderers if circumstances permit.
But can one characterize humans as «normal» who as children had to suffer cruelties from their parents and did not question it? They are of course normal insofar as they conformed to the norms of the education of their time, but are they «normal» by comparison with children who were met and treated with respect? Would you consider such animals as normal – for example dogs or horses – if it had become miraculously possible that their parents should have treated them with the same kind of violence that most German children experienced previous to Nazi times? And this during all of their childhood and youth and sometimes also after they came of age? Would you then not say that these animals became diseased and that they behaved abnormally? Today, the repercussions of educational violence are better known. We know of their manifoldness as well as that the beatings, which parents hand out during the time of the implementation of the brain, become impressed into its deepest layers and impact the innate behaviors of the child.

In order to simplify, one could compare the individuals with vehicles and claim that this education increases the power of their engines, lessens the efficiency of their brakes and makes their steering imprecise.
This education increases the children’s potential for violence by offering them early on behavior patterns which are marked by cold or wrathful violence. As they are forced to accept the beatings without any reaction, rage accumulates within them that will attempt to take itself out on all scapegoats that happen to be available. It has shown them that violence can very well be done onto others «for their own good». In other words, it revealed to them that it is normal and convenient – in the name of some abstract notion of «goodness» – to inflict violence onto defenseless beings.

In addition, this education impairs the ability for compassion, which is one of the most effective means to put a brake on violence. In order not to suffer too much or even in order to survive, beaten children must cut themselves off from their feelings. But by hardening themselves against their own emotions, they also harden themselves against the emotions of others; thus it cannot astonish that they later are capable of a cold-blooded murder. The violence, under which they suffered, has also destroyed within them for example the most profound and universal ethical principal, the golden rule: «Do not do unto others what you do not wish to be done to you» because their violent parents have taught them the opposite. This violence has erased within them the primal instinct to protect their young, their offspring, because they had to suffer their parents’ aggressions from their early childhood on. Is it then any wonder if they are capable of murdering children in cold blood under martial circumstances and by means of a supportive ideology?

Finally, Alice Miller has also proven that exactly the senses for what is ethically right as well as for logical thinking are damaged in beaten children who are beaten «for their own good» because they associate violence as something good and accept this contradiction. Children whose moral categories and intelligence have been damaged to such an extent can then listen, without protest or even with elation, to the most insane and outrageous speeches, like those of Hitler and his following. Furthermore, the habit to obey violent commands, learned since childhood, evidently prepares people to submit to military discipline as well as to violent politicians that call forth the memory of paternal discipline and personality.
For these reasons, I do not believe that one can claim that mass murderers were «normal» humans, or only between many quotation marks! The education in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda and Cambodia was also marked by great violence.

That you did not take into consideration Alice Miller’s realizations has surprised me all the more as you allege – where you raise the matter of independence – that «the ability for autonomy presupposes the experience of the affective bond and of happiness»!

Do you know the study of Samuel and Pearl Oliner about the upbringing of more than 400 «righteous among the nations» who demonstrated the very remarkable ability to think and act for themselves? In their answers, the following points emerge clearly: they had loving parents who taught them altruism (probably more by being role-models than through their admonitions), who trusted them and who granted them a non-authoritarian and non-repressive education.

According to you, mass murderers were «normal» people, while the «righteous» were rather unusual personalities who sailed close to the wind of the monstrosity of good. Should one not proceed on the assumption that these were ordinary, normal children who became truly normal adults because they were raised in a way that showed consideration for their personality?
But what makes it so difficult to take into account the consequences of a violent education is the fact that more or less almost all of us endured it and that it is exactly one of its first implications that one considers it as normal and advantageous.

Olivier Maurel, author of the book «La Fessιe», La Plage, 2005

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