• 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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