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When the Israeli government captured Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann, journalist Hannah Arendt was struck by the fact that Eichmann appeared to be a nondescript accountant type. He was not highly intelligent, and he did not appear to be particularly vicious. This led Arendt to the conclusion that anyone could, under the right ideological circumstances, become evil. Evil, she said, was banal.
This was an exaggeration of the case. Eichmann was a willing executioner of Hitler’s orders; he identified deeply with Hitler’s anti-Semitism. He was not just a cog in the system, he was an active system-maker.
But there is truth to the notion that anyone, given the right amount of self-interest, can be sucked into collaborating with evil — or at least looking the other way. Edmund Burke once stated that all that was necessary for the triumph of evil was for good men to do nothing. The Nazis believed ideologically in the murder of Jews, but the rest of the Western world, including the Roosevelt administration, were willing to sit idly, closing their gates to the refugees. A Holocaust is a worldwide affair.
At Penn State, the same principle applied. Former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky spent decades sexually assaulting young boys. He started a charity, The Second Mile, to recruit young boys. One victim was a houseguest with Sandusky. Sandusky fondled him, performed oral sex on him and forced the boy to perform oral sex in return. A Clinton County high school routinely called the victim out of study hall to meet Sandusky in a conference room. The wrestling coach at the high school, Joe Miller, saw Sandusky molesting the victim; Sandusky said that he was wrestling the boy. Miller found the situation odd, but said nothing. This behavior lasted from 2005 to 2009.
On March 1, 2002, graduate assistant Mike McQueary entered a locker room at the University Park Campus. The lights and the showers were on, even though it was 9:30 at night. McQueary looked into the shower and saw a young boy with his hands against the wall being subjected to anal sex by Sandusky. The graduate assistant reported this to Joe Paterno, coach of the Penn State team. He was then called to meet with the Penn State Athletic Director and the Senior Vice President for Finance and Business.
Paterno was nowhere to be found. Sandusky’s keys to the locker room were taken away, and the incident was reported to The Second Mile. Nobody reported any of this to the police.
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