Milgram’s Experiment: Conclusion

Conclusion

Milgram’s obedience experiments have had a mixed reception in psychology.

On one hand there is recognition of the importance of the work but this is tempered by real concerns about the ethics of his procedure, doubts about the meaning of the results and particularly an almost disregard of Milgram’s attempts to explain his results (Lunt, 2009, p. 63).

Many of the criticisms Milgram received were extreme, but may have been missing the main point that his experiments demand our attention, provoke us to think and raise important questions about power and subjectivity (Lunt, 2009, p. 63).

Whether the ethical arguments and other arguments made are valid against Milgram’s experiments, one thing is for sure, he taught everyone something about obedience. His interest in the Holocaust sparked his initial interest of obedience to authority and today it is proven that anyone is susceptible to obedience to authority. “To a remarkable degree, Milgram’s early research has come to serve as a kind of all-purpose lighting for discussions about the human heart of darkness” (Baker, 2013).

Adolf Eichmann

Milgram’s Influence: Adolf Eichmann and his trial

Adolf Eichmann’s Trial (Photo Credit: Timothy Nunan)

Adolf Eichmann was the head of the Department for Jewish Affairs in the Gestapo from 1941-1945. Eichmann was also the chief of operations in the deportation of 3 million Jews to extermination camps. It was Eichmann who organized the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, focusing on the issues related to the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” He began to organize the mass deportation of the Jews from Germany to Bohemia in accordance with Hitler’s orders to make the Reich free of Jews as rapidly as possible.

At the end of World War II, Eichmann was arrested and confined to an American internment camp. Eichmann was able to escape the American internment camp, unrecognized. He then fled to Argentina and lived under the alias of Ricardo Klement for 10 years until Israeli Mossad agents abducted him in 1960 to stand trial in Jerusalem. Eichmann’s trial went from April to August of 1961. On December 11, 1961 Eichmann was indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in an outlawed organization. He was then sentenced to death December 15, 1961. Two minutes before midnight on May 31, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging in Ramleh, Israel. He was cremated and his ashes were spread at sea, beyond Israel’s territorial waters. This was the only time Israel has enacted a death sentence (Adolf Eichmann, 1997).

At his trial, he expressed surprise at being hated by Jewish people, stating that he had “merely obeyed orders, and surely obeying orders could only be a good thing.” He was declared sane by 6 psychiatrists and was described at his trial as a very average man (McLeod, 2007). The New Yorker magazine sent over reporter, Hannah Arendt, to cover the trial. It was because of Eichmann’s dull bureaucratic demeanor that Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” (Perry, 2013).

Adolf Eichmann (Photo Credit: Krusty 1960s History Story)

Milgram and the Holocaust

What encourage Milgram to perform his experiments?

The Holocaust (Photo Credit: Tom Parry)

Milgram’s claim in his original paper that the experiments shed light on the Holocaust was also put into doubt. Milgram suggests, “the generalization of his findings is not specific to the Holocaust but addresses general principles of obedience to authority” (Lunt, 2009, p. 47). Milgram never claimed he was trying to capture the conditions of the Holocaust in a laboratory setting. Instead, he was trying to isolate factors that affected obedience in the laboratory. Milgram states that the idea of the Holocaust was simply a “background metaphor; in other words an extreme case in which the central importance of obedience to social life is illustrated but that his experiment is aimed at obedience as a general phenomenon” (Lunt, 2009, p. 47-48).

Milgram started his experiments in 1961, shortly after the trial of the World War II criminal Adolf Eichmann had begun. Eichmann’s defense was that he was simply following instructions when he ordered the death of millions of Jews, which aroused Milgram’s interest. In his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority, he posed the question, “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?” (Cherry, 2008).

Why Obedience?

The experiment’s relevance to genocide

In October 1963, the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology published a 9-page article written by Milgram, titled “Behavioral Study of Obedience,” which highlighted his obedience experiments. “By his fourth sentence he was already referencing Nazi death camps and their ‘daily quotas of corpses,’ implying that the Holocaust was something his 9-page paper would help the world understand” (Baker, 2013). Milgram was especially attracted to obedience research studies due to the impact of the atrocities of World War II. He drew parallels between the behavior of the subjects he saw in the lab to the willingness of ordinary Germans to slaughter the Jewish people and other minorities during the Holocaust. It was not that Milgram thought there was something wrong with the Germans, but instead there was something wrong with humanity and he wanted to try and find the answer to this problem.

German Nazis during WWII (Photo Credit: Becket Adams)

 

A participant of Milgram’s experiment (Photo Credit: Saul McLeod)

Adolf Eichmann

Milgram’s Influence: Adolf Eichmann and his trial

Adolf Eichmann’s Trial (Photo Credit: Timothy Nunan)

Adolf Eichmann was the head of the Department for Jewish Affairs in the Gestapo from 1941-1945. Eichmann was also the chief of operations in the deportation of 3 million Jews to extermination camps. It was Eichmann who organized the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, focusing on the issues related to the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” He began to organize the mass deportation of the Jews from Germany to Bohemia in accordance with Hitler’s orders to make the Reich free of Jews as rapidly as possible.

At the end of World War II, Eichmann was arrested and confined to an American internment camp. Eichmann was able to escape the American internment camp, unrecognized. He then fled to Argentina and lived under the alias of Ricardo Klement for 10 years until Israeli Mossad agents abducted him in 1960 to stand trial in Jerusalem. Eichmann’s trial went from April to August of 1961. On December 11, 1961 Eichmann was indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in an outlawed organization. He was then sentenced to death December 15, 1961. Two minutes before midnight on May 31, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging in Ramleh, Israel. He was cremated and his ashes were spread at sea, beyond Israel’s territorial waters. This was the only time Israel has enacted a death sentence (Adolf Eichmann, 1997).

At his trial, he expressed surprise at being hated by Jewish people, stating that he had “merely obeyed orders, and surely obeying orders could only be a good thing.” He was declared sane by 6 psychiatrists and was described at his trial as a very average man (McLeod, 2007). The New Yorker magazine sent over reporter, Hannah Arendt, to cover the trial. It was because of Eichmann’s dull bureaucratic demeanor that Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” (Perry, 2013).

Adolf Eichmann (Photo Credit: Krusty 1960s History Story)

Milgram and the Holocaust

What encourage Milgram to perform his experiments?

The Holocaust (Photo Credit: Tom Parry)

Milgram’s claim in his original paper that the experiments shed light on the Holocaust was also put into doubt. Milgram suggests, “the generalization of his findings is not specific to the Holocaust but addresses general principles of obedience to authority” (Lunt, 2009, p. 47). Milgram never claimed he was trying to capture the conditions of the Holocaust in a laboratory setting. Instead, he was trying to isolate factors that affected obedience in the laboratory. Milgram states that the idea of the Holocaust was simply a “background metaphor; in other words an extreme case in which the central importance of obedience to social life is illustrated but that his experiment is aimed at obedience as a general phenomenon” (Lunt, 2009, p. 47-48).

Milgram started his experiments in 1961, shortly after the trial of the World War II criminal Adolf Eichmann had begun. Eichmann’s defense was that he was simply following instructions when he ordered the death of millions of Jews, which aroused Milgram’s interest. In his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority, he posed the question, “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?” (Cherry, 2008).

Why Obedience?

The experiment’s relevance to genocide

In October 1963, the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology published a 9-page article written by Milgram, titled “Behavioral Study of Obedience,” which highlighted his obedience experiments. “By his fourth sentence he was already referencing Nazi death camps and their ‘daily quotas of corpses,’ implying that the Holocaust was something his 9-page paper would help the world understand” (Baker, 2013). Milgram was especially attracted to obedience research studies due to the impact of the atrocities of World War II. He drew parallels between the behavior of the subjects he saw in the lab to the willingness of ordinary Germans to slaughter the Jewish people and other minorities during the Holocaust. It was not that Milgram thought there was something wrong with the Germans, but instead there was something wrong with humanity and he wanted to try and find the answer to this problem.

German Nazis during WWII (Photo Credit: Becket Adams)

 

A participant of Milgram’s experiment (Photo Credit: Saul McLeod)