Descriptions of the Holocaust never lose their power to horrify - the cold bureaucratic language of official reports is particularly sickening. However, those who try to comfort themselves with the illusion that the Holocaust was the work of a unique handful of sadists will find this study of a single Reserve Police Battalion doubly disturbing: sadists there certainly were, but mass murder on such a gigantic scale would not have been possible without the participation of a huge number of "ordinary men". One's sympathies are solely with the Jewish and Polish victims, but an honest man must also ask himself some uncomfortable questions, "What would I have done if I had found myself conscripted into a Reserve Police Battalion and ordered to shoot unarmed men, women, and children? Would I have been one of the few with the courage to refuse to shoot? If so, is that enough? Does morality not demand more? Would I have been capable of more active opposition?" Many people might like to fantasise that they would have rescued like Oskar Schindler, protested like Sophie Scholl, or even resisted like Claus von Stauffenberg. Yet fantasy is what it is: the reality is that for every Schindler, every Sophie Scholl, and every von Stauffenberg, there were thousands of people like the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, most of whom knew that what they were doing was wrong but who did it nonetheless. We should never attempt to justify this, but we need to explain it if we are to stand any chance of preventing such atrocities in future. Professor Browning, like most academics, feels obliged to deny the validity of the Nuremburg Defence, "I was only obeying orders": while he is doubtless correct in saying that historical research has failed to authenticate a single case of a German serviceman being executed for refusal to kill unarmed civilians, a conscript in 1942 was in no position to know that. All the conscript knew was that the Nazi military code mandated capital punishment for refusal to obey orders and the Nazi authorities were not squeamish about executions - whereas the Americans executed only one soldier for desertion in World War Two, the Germans executed thousands. The conscript would also, of course, have witnessed the ruthlessness of his superiors first hand. It would therefore take a brave man to disobey: the fact that some did, and survived, does not negate the fact that the pervasive atmosphere of physical fear in the Third Reich must have had a far bigger impact than most modern academics are prepared to accept at this safe distance. Coercion must therefore be recognised as a significant factor, but many still went far beyond anything they were forced to do. Browning also touches on a number of other factors which he might have explored further: the grey area between obedience to authority and social conformity; the sense of inevitability developed by huge bureaucracies; and the way the men were incriminated gradually, by small steps, from guarding convoys to forming cordons around villages to rounding up Jews to shooting stragglers to massed executions. In the end, Browning is right to conclude that many factors were at work, but the most significant is that most human beings have a strong psychological need to conform. That excuses nothing, but knowing it means we can guard against it. In an age of so-called "political correctness", governments with more potential power over the individual than the frequently chaotic Nazi state, and mass media far more intrusive than anything available to Dr Goebbels, our only hope is to learn to cherish nonconformity. Of course, some say that nothing like the Holocaust could ever happen here and now - but that is probably what the future conscripts of Reserve Police Battalion 101 would have said in 1932. Sorry to go on so long, but the issues raised in this book are important and they really ought to be considered in much greater depth.