The Danger of Fanatical Indoctrination

            Philip K. Dick, the author of Man in the High Castle, is known for his complex, thought-provoking novels on the human character. Dick was born in 1928 and passed away in 1982 due to heart failure. He wrote around one hundred short stories and a dozen novels in the space of about twenty years (Kennedy, “Philip K Dick”). While Dick never received great success when he was alive, his works are known throughout the science fiction community today and some of his works, including Man in the High Castle, have been turned into movies or a series.

Man in the High Castle was published in 1962 (Dick V). After World War Two ended, and the Nuremburg trials (1945-1946) were over, there was still much shock over what the Nazi Party had done in concentration camps, as well as the medical experiments taking place within Germany. These feelings of shock and horror can be seen in Dick’s novel. Man in the High Castle is set in 1962 in the United States. However, Japan and Germany have won World War Two and the US has been divided between them. On the east coast, there is the Greater Nazi Reich and on the west coast, there is the Japanese Pacific States. Throughout the novel, and in the series as well, the Nazi’s are portrayed as evil. For example, they have killed all the Africans (Dick 10). The Jews and the gypsies have been annihilated in Europe and the Slavic people have been forced to return to Asia (Dick 23). In season one, episode one of the series, there is a Nazi cop who unemotionally states “Tuesday’s they burn cripples, the terminally ill, drag on the state” (Man in the High Castle).

In the series, we are introduced to a powerful man in the Greater Nazi Reich, he is the head of the SS in America, John Smith. He has a wife and three children, and his family is portrayed as the perfect Aryan, Nazi family. However, in season two, his son, Thomas, is diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. According to Nazi law, Thomas must be killed because he is a burden on the state. Dick uses the example of Thomas and eugenics in the Nazi Reich to prove the danger of fanatical indoctrination.

The Nazi party of Germany was maniacal in their view of the perfect race. Early on, they began research in eugenics. Eugenics is defined as the pseudoscience that deals with the improvement of humans by controlling mating among them (Merriam-Webster). However, the Nazi Party took eugenics farther than ever before, they did not want anyone with physical or mental disabilities. Additionally, no Jews, gypsies, or people of color were allowed. They wanted only those of pure Aryan blood.

After Thomas was diagnosed, his dad killed the doctor to keep the diagnosis from getting to the government. He then tried to plan Thomas’s kidnapping in a neutral area so that Thomas “can live out a full life” (Season two, episode six). The series uses the irony of having a high-ranking SS officer try to save his son from being euthanized, to show the absurdity of the Nazi ideal of eugenics. In a cruel twist, Thomas discovers his diagnosis and decides to turn himself in to the medical department to be killed. In the final episode of series two, he is shown dressing in his Nazi youth uniform. He is proud of turning himself over so that he will not be a “useless eater” or a “burden on the state”. He apologizes to his parents for being “defective”. This produces shock among the audience. How can a young boy, with a full life ahead of him, be made to feel defective and that killing himself is the right thing to do?


Thomas being led away by Medical Doctors


According to the International of Law and Psychiatry, the German Medical Society played a pivotal role in the Nazi medical program. They euthanized, sterilized, and experimented on millions of individuals. In Action T4, 275,000 individuals deemed by physicians to be incurable sick were murdered by starvation, gassing, or medication (Haque, Frietas, et al. 473). Many of these mercy deaths were committed without ever physically examining the patient. Doctors were represented in the SS seven times more than the average German male (Haque, Frietas et al. 474). There are many theories as to why many doctors joined. Some of these include the idea that they were preventing contamination and “providing a partial solution to the dread of helplessness in the face of existential problems” (Haque, Frietas et al. 474). The idea of conforming is highly valued among physicians to give excellent care across medical fields, but this idea can be manipulated by a strong authority figure.

The Nazi Party utilized propaganda to fanatically indoctrinate the citizens of Germany. “Sick Heil: Self and Illness in Nazi Germany” was written by Geoffrey Cocks and published in the academic journal, Osiris. This journal covers research in the history of science. The common Nazi slogan was “collective need before individual greed” (Cocks 93). The Nazi’s emphasized the duty to a perfect ethnic community. The Nazis also “propagandized ‘great personalities’ to portray in word, picture, and film, model individuals of Nazi character and performance. They relied on their propaganda as well as striking terror in their citizens. They vilified any disability and the population began to be disgusted by those who had it and fear that they might be infected by this. “The Nazis stressed virtues congruent with most Germans’ sense of themselves as living up to high moral standards…” (Cocks 98). After World War One, many Germans began turning toward alternative medical practices to lead their bodies to the “perfect” as a way to cope with the many different external stressors that were being placed on them because of losing the war. They did not have control over what was occurring in their country, but they could control they way their bodies appeared. The Nazi regime used this trend in the citizens, to introduce their model of eugenics.

Understanding why Nazi society views disabled people as a burden on the state can be partially explained by the propaganda techniques. It can also be described by obsession with attaining the perfect body in Germany. The Germans had suffered a crippling loss in World War One. They could not control anything and so turned to making themselves the perfect superior race. Finally, the society also believed that they were helping those who were suffering through these mercy killings. It made them feel morally superior.

According to author Sasha Scambler in her article, “Exposing the Limitations of Disability Theory: The Case of Juvenile Batten Disease” published in the academic journal Social Theory and Health, “Human beings give meanings to the objects they encounter in the social world and they orient their behavior accordingly” (Scambler 147). When the term disability is given a negative meaning then all those with disabilities will be seen in a negative light. According to the article, to reclaim the term disability, positive messages need to be attached to the word (Scambler 148). This can be seen happening in many other movements, for example with the term “Queer” in the LGBTQIA movement. The disability movement suggests that it is social oppression that prevents individuals from participating fully in society rather than their bodies themselves (Scambler 149). When applying disability theory to the Nazi regime, it is clear that “disability” was socially constructed to the extreme in this society. It had such negative connotations as “useless eater” “burden on the state” and “defective”. It was seen in such a negative light that Thomas, a young boy with a bright future ahead of him, felt the need to turn himself over to be killed because of the negative connotation and fanatical indoctrination of the society.

Today, doctors do not decide who is living a worthy life. However, the social construction and oppression of those with disabilities is sadly thriving. A lot of research is being done on those with learning disabilities. In his article, “The Social Construction of Learning Disabilities” Curt Dudley-Marling argues that it is the American motif of rugged individualism that makes those who need help facing the challenges of today seem inept (483). Everything in school reinforces this individualism and teachers choose to see the child as the issue rather than the school system (483). Marling is arguing that the school system wants every individual to have the same cognitive functioning when this is not possible. Instead of blaming the failure of the school system, society believes it is the failure of the individual.

The producers of Man in the High Castle use the humane portrayal of John Smith as he is trying to save his son as a critique of fanatical indoctrination. By showing John Smith as human, the producers are reminding the audience that anyone can become fanatically indoctrinated. It is dangerous to think that the Nazis were all cruel monsters with no humanity left, this leads to the false belief that a regime like this can never happen. By showing the humanity, the audience can see that anyone can fall under the spell of a dangerous leader constantly barraging the citizens with propaganda and terror. Thomas is used to show the danger of seeing disabilities as only negative. The social construction of disability leads to the oppression of many individuals today. The term “disability” needs to be changed from one with a negative connotation to one that simply means being different. The beauty of humanity is our diversity. Each one of us plays a role in the world, no matter how small. We must all be wary of fanatical indoctrination, thinking critically about everything we are told.


Works Cited

Cocks, Geoffrey. “Sick Heil: Self and Illness in Nazi Germany.” Osiris, vol. 22, no. 1, 2007, pp. 93-115, http://www.journals.uchicago.edu.libproxy.sdsu.edu/doi/full/10.1086/521744.

Dick, Philip K. Man in the High Castle. G. P. Putnam Sons, 1962.

Dudley-Marling, Curt. “The Social Construction of Learning Disabilities.” Journal of Learning Disabilities, vol. 37, no. 6, 2004, pp. 482-9, Research Library, http://libproxy.sdsu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/docview/194220486?accountid=13758.

Haque, Omar, Frietas, Julian, and Viani, Ivana et al. “Why did so many German doctors join the Nazi party early?”. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, vol. 35, no. 5, 2012, pp. 473-479, http://www.sciencedirect.com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/science/article/pii/S0160252712000854?via%3Dihub.

Kennedy, Rudyard. “Philip K. Dick Biography” IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001140/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm. Accessed 10 December 2017.

Man in the High Castle, Season 1& 2. Amazon Studios, 2016.

Scambler, Sasha. “Exposing the Limitations of Disability Theory: The Case of Juvenile Batten Disease.” Social Theory & Health, vol. 3, no. 2, 2005, pp. 144-164, Research Library; Sociological Abstracts, http://libproxy.sdsu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/docview/203619307?accountid=13758, doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.sdsu.edu/10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700045.