We like to think of evildoers as easily recognizable cartoon characters. We want them to be different from us to reassure ourselves they aren't anything like us. But when you consider the man pictured here, and the truly bestial things he did, you have to accept the fact the face of evil is a lot like our own. If that makes you uncomfortable, don't worry. It should bother you. If it didn't, there would be something wrong with you.
The man in the old photo is tidy, professional, and clearly in control. Even without a stethoscope slung around his neck, you know the man in the white coat is a cultured, educated, intellectual man of science.
You may not recognize him, but you certainly know his name. He's (in)famous for his experiments. In fact, he's so extraordinary I think he deserves a medal. I don't mean he should get one; he should get one named after him. I think Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell deserve to be the first to get this medal.
I have heard references to Dr. Bruce Jessen (left) and Dr. James Mitchell (right) before. But Valtin's diary about torture experiments really drove home to me just how disturbing a role these men played in these atrocities. (Valtin's current site)
Their role in the torture atrocities is disturbing, but not for the obvious reasons. Even more disturbing than the sadism and the cruelty, is the realization that we've seen this all before. Yet, we continue to repeat the atrocities of the past.
I'm not talking about torture. That's ancient. I'm talking about the "experiments" carried out by Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell. Those are a special kind of atrocity. They aren't done in the heat of the moment. They aren't the result of someone losing control and snapping because they were placed in an intolerable situation. They aren't even the result of misinformation or manipulation. They were done intentionally, with malice aforethought. They were done as cold, calculating, clinical exercises. This makes them a special type of atrocity.
Special deeds require special recognition. That's why I think these men deserve special medals named after a special man, the man in the white coat.
Atrocities aren't new, especially in wartime. During WWII atrocities were committed on all sides. The Germans had their concentration camps and the Japanese had the Rape of Nanking. The Allied firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo certainly rank right up there. German women of a certain age called the Red Army war memorial in Berlin "The Tomb of the Unknown Rapist" for good reason.
It is pretty amazing that even considering all of those atrocities, one man still stands out from all the rest. He was also a doctor, like Jessen and Mitchell. He also liked to experiment. He's the man in the photo. No one doubts the man in the white coat did despicable things. However, he was never brought to justice for any of it. That wasn't for lack of effort. By all accounts he was brilliant. Evading capture was well within his abilities. Besides, he had the resources and connections necessary to stay beyond the reach of the law. He was not always a fugitive. At the time he was committing atrocities he wasn't even a rogue operator. He was an aristocrat who enjoyed the confidence and support of associates at the highest levels of his government. There is no question that Dr. Josef Mengele was an extraordinary man.
It is generally accepted that Mengele died a free man in South America sometime towards the end of the last century. But I think we make a horrible mistake if we let his memory fade away and turn to dust. As Mark Anthony noted in his famous speech from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.
The same evil that led Dr. Josef Mengele to conduct his heinous experiments on people is the same evil (enhanced with their love of money
) that led Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell to conduct their heinous experiments on people. Because of their extraordinary efforts, I think Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell (seen at right in an artist's rendition of them wearing their Mengele Medals) have earned the (dis)honor of being mentioned in the same sentence as Dr. Mengele. It's a distinction no one should ever be able to take away from them.
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