CIX – The Hitler Icon

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"When
I use
a word, "Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what
I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether
you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty
Dumpty, “which is to be master — that's all.”

~
Lewis CarrollAlice's
Adventures in Wonderland

Democratic
Senator Richard Durbin committed one of the cardinal sins of modern political
discourse: he used the Hitler metaphor beyond the boundaries licensed by the gatekeepers
of "politically correct" rhetoric. Referring to an e-mail from an FBI
agent describing his visit to the Guantanamo Bay prison, Durbin declared that
had he not identified what Americans had been doing to prisoners, "you would
most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags,
or . . . Pol Pot or others."

To
politicians accustomed to playing bipartisan pat-a-cake games with their "esteemed
gentlemen" colleagues, or media voices who regard the results of an opinion
poll as a meaningful debate, Durbin's remarks were shocking. Newt Gingrich — who
established his credentials as an abuser of metaphors when he spoke of coercively
imposed GOP policies as a "contract with America" — called upon
the Senate to censure Durbin for his remarks, which he said demeaned the "dignity"
and "honor" of America. Mr. Gingrich apparently does not regard the
lies, deceit, and forgeries that have thus far produced the deaths of over 100,000
persons in Iraq, as a stain upon American "dignity" and "honor."

Gingrich's
reaction — typical of many defenders of the political order — reflects the Shakespearian
sentiment that "the lady doth protest too much." It's not that this
crowd resents those who take liberties with the Hitler analogy: you will recall
that George Bush I compared Saddam Hussein to der Fhrer as a justification
for his Gulf War. I suspect that members of the establishment get angry over such
comparisons not because they are wrong, but because they know they are too close
to the truth. The ominous parallels between current political thinking and many
of Hitler's policies were developed in
an earlier article of mine
.

While
it is quite easy for critics to overuse comparisons to Hitler, one must understand
how and why this occurs. Following World War II, Nazi Germany and Hitler became
the standard by which "tyranny" was to be defined. Other regimes were
just as vicious and murderous as Hitler's (e.g., Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot),
but their wrongs received little attention from the establishment mind-setters.
If you doubt this, go to any library or bookstore and count the number of books
written about (a) the Nazi Holocaust, and (b) Stalinist despotism. How many movies
have been made about the evils perpetrated by Hitler, and how many about Stalin?
So continuous has been the effort to single out Nazism that television's The
History Channel is often referred to as The Hitler Channel, for its
frequent showing of films and programs concerning this period.

My
point is not to minimize the heinous nature of the Nazi regime. Quite the contrary!
Hitler was a butcherous tyrant whose "jack-booted Gestapo" agents, concentration
camps, "storm-troopers," and "SS" functionaries, help to define
what we think of as a police-state. But Hitler was not the inventor of vicious,
totalitarian rule, nor did he monopolize such practices during his lifetime. If
the numbers of victims impress you, Stalin was a far deadlier thug.

But
Adolf Hitler and Nazism were concepts to be segregated within the human consciousness;
quarantined behind locked doors of the mind as a sui generis aberration fostered
by peculiar circumstances. In an age in which the powerfully ambitious pursued
their own brands of political hegemony, Nazism was not to be thought of as a symptom
of a disease intrinsic to all species of statism. Hitler and his movement were
to be wrapped in a cocoon — or, a more apt metaphor, buried in concrete as was
done with vampire-like monsters in horror films — to keep them from ever again
threatening the common folk. Holocaust museums were constructed, helping to reinforce
the idea that Nazism was a brutal relic of the past, from which modern humanity
learned a lesson that will never be repeated.

Whatever
may have been the motivations of those who helped to create Hitler as an historic
singularity, they have unwittingly marginalized the human costs of tyrannical
systems. We are asked to condemn — as we should — the concentration camp deaths
of millions of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals; but only scant reference is ever
made of the millions of Ukrainians intentionally starved to death by Stalin. Hitler's
wrong was that he systematically murdered people, not just Jewish
people! Would his crimes have been more acceptable had he slaughtered without
regard to race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual preference? Are we so detached
from the suffering generated by political systems that we insist upon such distinctions?

Such
"politically correct" definitions of wrongs to other people have been
responsible for the creation of that legalistic monstrosity: the "hate crime."
We are now expected to more strongly condemn violence against members of certain
selected groups than others, provided one was motivated to inflict such injury.
It is but another manifestation of the Orwellian proposition that while all persons
are equal, some are more equal than others. This kind of twisted thinking also
helps to sanitize war: as long as you don't "hate" the people you are
slaughtering, their deaths can be dismissed as "collateral damage,"
with no moral repercussions!

Having
enshrined Hitler as the epitome of modern tyranny, should we be surprised to find
polemic speech employing such a standard? Would one reasonably expect a critic
of George W. Bush to condemn his policies as "akin to Charles de Gaulle"?
While, as I stated earlier, I find some very disturbing comparisons between the
mindset of people in 1930s Germany and modern America, I do not find the comparison
of George Bush to Hitler all that convincing. I find Bush's counterpart more in
Benito Mussolini: the strutting mountebank, hands on hips, with the sneering smile
that accompanies the arrogance of power. Bush is too transparent, more like Charlie
Chaplin's comic buffoon in The Great Dictator.

What
may be most troublesome to members of the political establishment in bringing
the Hitler analogy to bear upon American political behavior relates to the dynamics
of mass-mindedness upon which Nazism fed. I have written, frequently, of the "dark
side" forces within each of us which, when mobilized, can cause us to become
eager participants in the brutalization of others. While most people prefer to
think of Hitler as a "madman" who, somehow or other, "seized power,"
the reality is much different.

Our
lives are haunted by "dark side" influences within our collective unconscious
that cause us more anguish than do "terrorists" from the external world.
Such inner "shadow" forces represent all the shortcomings, doubts, fears,
temptations, anger, and other discomforting qualities we have about ourselves;
but about which we may be induced to part by projecting such traits onto others.
Political systems thrive on the unresolved conflicts we have within ourselves,
by convincing us that our inner turmoil is really the fault of others; others
who need to be punished and/or controlled in order to make our lives more orderly.
Those selected as recipients of our projections (i.e., the "scapegoats")
can be comprised of any number of interchangeable persons or groups. Depending
upon circumstances, the "scapegoat" can be either "Jewish"
or "Palestinian," "secularist" or "evangelical,"
"manufacturer" or "consumer," or any seemingly endless mix
useful for the moment. The statists need only concoct a plausible foe that enough
people will accept as an explanation for their difficulties, and then begin the
task of mobilizing opinion against the "scapegoat."

Hitler
knew that "[a]ll propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual
level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends
to direct itself." His propaganda specialist, Joseph Goebbels, noted that
"[i]f you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually
come to believe it." Goebbels then stated what has become a truism for all
modern political systems: "[i]t is the absolute right of the State to supervise
the formation of public opinion," urging underlings to "[t]hink of the
press as a great keyboard on which the government can play."

Who
can read these admonitions and not find in them a reflection of how modern politics
is played out upon the minds of the "least intelligent" who will "come
to believe" a "big enough" lie, particularly if you "keep
repeating it?" Consider how "the press" has allowed itself to become
"a great keyboard on which the government can play" in its efforts "to
supervise the formation of public opinion."

If
the dynamics by which the state manipulates public opinion in furtherance of destructive,
power-enhancing ends are comparable to similar processes employed by earlier totalitarian
regimes, such analogies ought to be taken seriously. Those who make such well-reasoned
comparisons are performing a genuine service to all of humanity by discovering,
from the past, the consequences that are implicit in current behavior.

Since
political systems depend upon the actuating of "dark side" forces, the
state will not want such processes explored. It will appeal to concrete-bound
minds to eschew what is merely analogous, and to insist upon precise replications.
If there are no concentration camps with gas chambers, then comparisons to Hitler
are wild hyperbole.

But
as long as the "dark side" of humanity is being exploited for political
ends, the same deadly games will continue; the political show will go on. The
costumes may change — no more brown-shirts, knee-high black boots, or swagger
sticks; and no martial music to accompany a goose-stepping choreography. Plastic-encased
ID cards will replace swastika armbands as indicia of authority, while "ATF"
jacket insignias will take the place of "SS" lapel pins.

The motion
picture, The
Usual Suspects
, has a wonderful closing line: "the
greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world
he didn't exist." I don't believe in devils, other than those
"dark side" specters that reside within each of us:
frightful visions which we prefer to deflect onto others. The
Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots — yes, and the George Bushes — are
all products of our minds. Such men — and the tyrants who preceded
them over the course of history — are both the fomenters and beneficiaries
of psychic forces which, once unleashed, work their destructive
powers upon humanity. Like small children, we cannot pretend these
forces out of existence by closing our eyes and pulling the blankets
up over our heads.

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