JWR / Mideast Geopolitics

Nathan Lewin finds Israel's Histradrut trade union in contempt of court

Douglas Davis talks with John Le Carre on Jews and Israel

Sheldon Kirshner interviews new-old novelist Jacqueline Park

Anne Roiphe calls for an American Jewish initiative on behalf of Jonathan Pollard

Phil Jacobs discovers a special minhag of compassion

Zev Spektor discovers a different Jewish calling -- not worship, but photocopies

Suzanne Fields has been sandwiched between generations

Dr. Jacob Mermelstein discusses achievement motivation in children

Nehama C. Nahmoud presents the Jews of Yemen, Part II: The Jewish Kings of Yemen

Reader Response

L'Chaim / Living Jewish
January 9, 1998 / 11 Tevet, 5758
Paul Greenberg / Little Rock Diarist

A Perfectly Normal Morning

IT'S A THURSDAY MORNING not long ago. I am sitting on the third floor of the federal courthouse in Little Rock, listening to highly civilized beings discuss whether it should remain permissible to kill an almost delivered human baby.

No one puts it that way.

This is a court of law. Authorized counsel pose questions; licensed practitioners offer answers. Available statistics are analyzed. Terminology is explored: is the subject under discussion partial-birth abortion or dilation-and-extraction? What do the medical textbooks say? The legal statutes?

The witnesses and advocates discuss hydrocephaly and amniocentesis, the advantages and disadvantages of removing the fetus in part or intact, and to what purpose. The participants speak of fetal viability and fetal demise, not life and death.

When the phrase "irreparable harm'' is used, it may refer to what threatens the abortionists, not the human life at stake.

No operating theater could be as sterile as this hearing. Due process is observed.The exhibits are properly numbered, everyone's papers are in order. The American flag is in its proper place, off to one side of the magistrate's bench, as if furled. A clerk stares fixedly at her computer screen. The blood-red curtains along the side of the courtroom have been closed, admitting no natural light.

The only sounds are those of professionals expounding, papers shuffling, the wheels of the law grinding.

No one weeps.

Max Weber explained it. Who better than a German sociologist to foresee how efficient bureaucracy would prove, how effective at suppressing inconvenient emotions? To quote Weber:

"When fully developed, bureaucracy stands ... under the principle of sine ira ac studio (without scorn and bias). Its specific nature, which is welcomed by capitalism, develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is 'dehumanized,' the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal elements which escape calculation. This is the specific nature of bureaucracy and it is appraised as its special virtue. ''

Those words were written in 1916, long before abortion became a recognized, routine branch of The Healing Arts. At the time, if you can imagine it, abortion was widely considered a crime.

Now, for just a moment, the mundane mesh of bureaucracy parts. One of the expert witnesses, Dr. Kathi Aultman of Orange Park, Fla., explains that she no longer does abortions. She used to. She never thought overmuch about what it was she was destroying. Actually, she found it fascinating, how all the expelled parts fit together into a tiny, perfect being. Amazing. She would go down to pathology and section them -- the little hearts and livers and lungs.

But one day Dr. Aultman read an article comparing the abortion industry with the Holocaust.

"Personally,'' she testifies, ``I had a hard time understanding how the German doctors could do what they did during the war.'' Now it became clear: "Any time you take a group of people and consider them nonhuman, you can do anything to them. It wasn't until I had my own baby and then read that article that I understood how the German doctors could do what they did.''

Label any group Tiermenschen, define them as sub-human, make them unpersons, declare them chattel, and they can be disposed of without qualm. They're not even human. "All of a sudden,'' Dr. Aultman testifies, "I saw what happened to me during training.''

In the best and shortest book about the Holocaust that I know, The Cunning of History, by Richard Rubenstein, the author explains that bureaucracy proved a far more efficient instrument of The Final Solution than any conscious evil:

"Law and order prevailed... The hoodlums were banished. Only then was it possible to contemplate the extermination of millions. A machinery was set up that was devoid of both love and hatred. It was only possible to overcome the moral barrier that had in the past prevented the systematic riddance of surplus populations when the project was taken out of the hands of bullies and hoodlums and delegated to bureaucrats.''

An 87-year-old Frenchman was on trial recently in Paris for doing nothing more than following orders, filling out the paperwork and generally acting as a model civil servant during the war. All he did was expel some unpersons, subjects of the State with no legal standing at the time, human tissue. The papers were in order, the procedure well established.

Hannah Arendt called it the "banality of evil," but there was nothing slipshod about it. It was the bureaucratization of evil. Maurice Papon did his job methodically, punctiliously, conscientiously as a minor official in Bordeaux, and went on to a long and successful career in the civil service. Nobody would ever confuse him with a thug or bully; he was always an upstanding professional. He did whatever the State asked of him. The statutes and ordinances were on the books, the protocols and decrees as clear as Dred Scott or Roe v. Wade.

Back in an American courtroom in at the end of the century, the testimony continues. The niceties are observed, the machine operates on schedule. Another doctor who performs some 60 abortions a month, month after month, testifies that he opposes criminal abortion and favors the legal kind. The criminal element, he explains, needs to be kept out of it. Yes, abortion requires well-trained professionals.

"The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism,'' Max Weber wrote, "compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the non-mechanical modes of organization. Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs -- these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization.''

But sometimes a cog slips, retrogresses, malfunctions. Sometime in the 1980s, Kath Aultman became a mother. Raised a Methodist, she had successfully made the transition to atheism, but in 1983, she backslid and became a Christian. It happens. The programming occasionally fails, begins to develop weak spots, and atavistic emotions re-emerge.

Max Weber defined modernity as secularization, rationalization and the demystification of the world. In the case of K. Aultman, the process called modernity had not completely taken. The "purely personal'' elements that bureaucracy was designed to eliminate returned, as in a flashback. ("All of a sudden, I saw what happened to me during training.'')

The trial recesses. Reporters and lawyers stand, stretch, make small talk. "You're very emotional about this,'' one of the lawyers notices. After all, it's only a matter of law, only a matter of life and death.

I leave the courtroom, take the elevator down, walk past the color portraits of Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the shabby lobby, past the metal detectors, past the old, unnoticed brass plate in the shadows that says "In G-d We Trust.''

Outside, all is normal, all is correct. No one screams. Pedestrians wait for the light before crossing. It could be any provincial capital on a slow day shortly before noon. In the 1940s, there was a sleepy town in Poland called Oswiecim that nobody much beyond it had ever heard of. The Germans called it Auschwitz.


Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Paul Greenberg is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-
Gazette. With this issue, he becomes a periodic contributor to JWR.

©1998, Paul Greenberg