I am not talking about the Waffen-SS, or the death camp guards, or any of the real monsters. I am talking about the ordinary infantry grunts who were drafted into the army to fight a war for their country, and went along with it.
Most of these people had no idea what their government was doing. They probably liked Hitler. Maybe they had been little boys when their parents took them to a rally, and they were happy and excited to join a huge cheering crowd. Maybe they had been in the Hitler Youth, and enjoyed a lot of good times with their friends in the countryside. Maybe they had family who fought in World War 1. They had certainly heard stories about the cruel damage that the Allies had done to Germany after winning that war.
It was easy to believe their government when it told them that fighting for their country a good and noble thing. It was easy to believe that they were protecting their friends and family from the bad people out there who were just waiting to harm them. To them, World War 2 was just another in a long series of European wars that had to be fought to protect their nation. Most of them honestly believed that their Fatherland was being threatened, and that they had a duty to defend it.
My grandfather fought the Nazis in World War 2, in the Italian front. He was captured in 1944 and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. He got along fairly well with the guards and the soldiers there. Everyone knew that they were all just soldiers, doing their jobs. There was no hate. When the war was ending and the Russian army approached the camp, the guards opened the gates and let everyone out. The Germans and Americans both went west to get away from the Russians, and the Russian prisoners went east to rejoin their people.
None of this changes the fact that Nazi soldiers were agents of evil. If they had won their war, a brutal, oppressive, horrific regime would have conquered all of Europe, destroying the lives of millions, and threatening the peace and security of the world. There is a reason we see Nazi soldiers as an embodiment of pure evil. They really were.
It was through inaction, rather than action, that these men became cogs in one of the most dangerous war machines ever created. They did not wake up one day and decide that they would become an embodiment of evil. They allowed themselves to be pulled into an evil system.
And for this crime, they had to die. It was right and proper for soldiers like my grandfather to kill these Nazis, who in different circumstances might have been their friends. These soldiers had to be cut down on the battlefield, just like rabid dogs must be put down as a threat to humanity.
If we capture Nazi soldiers, and take their guns away, then they become human again, and deserving of human rights. It would be a war crime to murder them, when they can be locked safely away until the end of the war. But while they are armed, while they are attempting to conquer other nations, it is right to see them as inhuman monsters and kill them without mercy.
It is hard to admit that a normal human can be turned into an agent of horrible evil. We want to think that our enemies are naturally bad people. But most of them are no worse than we are.
Ask yourself this question: "What would stop me from becoming a Nazi soldier? If my country was doing something evil, and conscripted me into its army, would I resist?"
We like to think that we would resist. We like to think that we would never support our government as it wages an aggressive war of conquest. But when I am honest with myself, I realize that I would not resist. If culture, authority, and self-interest were all telling me to do something, I would do it.