To a technical person who is inclined to listen to rational explanations and to believe their conclusions, the rhetoric of certain present day political leaders can be baffling. Even more baffling is the eager positive response to such demagoguery by a large part of the population. The danger of what may happen next – rhetoric translated into loathsome policy – is frightening.
The lead up to the Second World War has shown us how clever manipulation of the minds of people who are relentlessly targeted by propaganda, will in the end lead to these people applauding anything that is promoted by the voice on their radio. Apparently – and this may be an unexpected conclusion to us, technical people – it is possible to influence the minds of good willing blokes and girls alike in any way that a politician wishes, given enough money and assistance from experts who know social psychology and modern techniques of communication.
In this way a regime with a particular agenda may change the moral conduct of its population. Norms that were for a long time based on religious freedom and universal human rights may be replaced by hard rules like: ‘own-people-first’. War may be declared on other nations, making void all habits of polite co-existence. The own constitution may be re-explained in different terms. Racial suppression may be declared the norm. Your neighbor may be sent off to a concentration camp and nobody inquires as to how and why.
To limit ourselves to the subject of this blog: early aviation history, here are some examples of frightening changes of moral judgment.
In 1940 the ruling Nazi’s and their sympathizers in Germany applauded the destruction by Luftwaffe bombardment of the city of Coventry in the UK, as a spectacular warning for an imminent invasion. Equally true, the hurt British took pride in the retaliatory actions of their RAF on the city of Berlin (and who would blame them for that?).
The state of war changes all judgement of right and wrong. It is easy to find more examples.
One may conclude that war erases all civilized premises of ‘having to love thy neighbor’. The new maxim becomes: ‘let them suffer what we have to suffer (and then some more please)’.
The scientist/engineer/technician is told to design superior airplanes and to the Army comes the order to use them as effectively as possible. The new moral standard becomes: ‘serve thy country – try to inflict as much pain as possible to the other guy’.
Or: war reverses all our moral values, once the other human being has become ‘the enemy’. And apparently this takes place without any questions asked. After a declaration of war, our moral standards change overnight.
As far as so-called ‘normal’ war goes, a certain effort has been made to set standards of conduct by the so-called Rules of Geneva. Thus, military prisoners shall be treated according to certain humanitarian rules. However, there are no rules with respect to a civil population that has become directly involved in military actions (called ‘collateral damage’ in doublespeak). Indeed, have brutal acts of war, such as the otiose bombardment of Dresden by the RAF in 1945, not conclusively shown that the civil population has become the hostage or even the target of modern warfare?
The superior aircraft and improved weaponry produced for each new war are enthusiastically described in technical publications and hobby blogs such as these up to today and judged purely on their technical virtues, without reference to the dehumanizing effects of war or the suffering of victims. As long as we don’t know the victims personally, we can concentrate purely on fascinating technical matters. Did the crew of ‘Enola Gay’ lie awake afterwards or did they congratulate themselves on a target well located and destroyed?
The human brain has an astonishing talent for partitioning-off the memory areas that contain unwelcome facts. If needed, the facts are explained away by powerful, selective reasoning. German military technical personnel brought to the United States after the war had never heard of the atrocities that happened in the extermination camps in their home country. Wernher von Braun was fully dedicated to the American moon program and did not remember the underground Mittelwerk in the Kohnstein where 5,200 V-2 rockets were built by the SS with the brutal use of concentration camp labor. Disabled workers were executed and cremated on site. 
Let us not forget that war is gruesome. Let us be vigilant. Human beings may behave pleasantly under pleasant conditions. There is however little persuasion or rhetoric required to re-program their partitioned minds and turn them into blind, contented wielders of destruction.
 Charles Lindbergh in his “Autobiography of Values” Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York, 1978, 473 p. ISBN 0-15-110202-3.