Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A celebration of a birthday.

Adolf Hitler
Date of Birth: 20 April 1889

Adolph Hitler is the face of evil for most Americans, so much so that what we think of when we say "Hitler" is a caricature of the real man. The real man was just a man. Hitler did not invent anti-Semitism in Germany. Hitler did not invent militarism in Germany. Hitler did not invent concentration camps. Hitler did not invent pre-emptive war. He was just a man, a small and insecure man who gave voice to what his fellow Germans and Austrians would have said if they had dared voice their opinions but did not dare say because it was not politically correct. All Hitler did was voice the darkness in the soul of the German nation -- he did not invent it.

In a way, this makes Adolph Hitler exactly equivalent to people like Ann Coulter, she of the "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" quote still proudly displayed on the National Review web site. Ann Coulter did not invent that sentiment. That is a sentiment that, instead, reflects the darkness at the soul of America, a darkness that, for example, during the Iran hostage crisis at the end of Jimmy Carter's presidency, led to Bubba America calling for Carter to nuke Iran. But making this comparison does not work, because we no longer see Hitler the man when we say the word "Hitler". We instead see the personification of Evil. He wasn't. He was Ann Coulter if Ann had gone into politics rather than punditry -- i.e., someone who channeled the evil at the heart of a nation and said what the majority wanted to say, but would not say because it was not politically correct.

The problem with making Hitler the personification of Evil is that it allows those who would similarly channel the darkness in the soul of nations to reject comparisons between them and Hitler. Because Hitler is now a caricature rather than a man, because Hitler is now Satan incarnate rather than just being an ordinary politician speaking to the popular prejudices of the population, people who similarly are ordinary politicians speaking to the popular prejudices of the population are swift to condemn comparisons between themselves and Hitler. After all, is a Bill Frist, George W. Bush, or Tom Delay the incarnation of Evil? No, no more than Hitler was. They are just men, politicians, giving voice to the darkness at the heart of America, a darkness of racism and lynchings and brutality which seemed to have receded for a bright and shining moment of American life in the 1960's, but which has been slowly creeping back and expanding from its bastion in the Deep South ever since, to the point where it now encompasses the majority of America and Americans. If Adolph Hitler was born in America 50 years ago and became a politician, he would not be ranting about Jews and untermenschen. He would be saying the exact same things as Bill Frist, George W. Bush, or Tom DeLay. Because Hitler was just a man -- as is Bill Frist, George W. Bush, and Tom DeLay.

Digby talks about being boiled. That is because Digby is a relatively young man who grew up in a time of light and hope, a time and place which is fairly unique in the history of both the United States and of the world. I grew up in the segregation-era South. I have seen the evil at the heart of the beast up close and personal. I have seen policemen boasting about "nigger knocking". I was not there when Police Commissioner George D'Artois busted down the door of a black church and paraded down the aisle with dozens of mounted police officers, and pistol-whipped the preacher for holding a memorial service for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. because "we don't celebrate Commie niggers in this city", but I heard about it. I have seen policemen talk about how planting a knife on a "nigger" they shot was better than planting a gun, because knives don't have serial numbers. I have heard politicians say "Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation forever!". I saw the city fathers shut down every public park and recreational facility in the entire city because a court had ordered them desegregated and, quote, "we ain't gonna have no niggers mixing with white people in OUR city." I saw a city destroyed by hatred and evil in much the same way that Germany was destroyed. This evil went underground. This evil changed its rhetoric. But this evil is no more dead today than it was 100 years ago, and indeed, has grown, mutated, changed, inserted itself deeper into the very soul of America.

On this day, Hitler's birthday, let us reflect upon evil and recognize it for what it is: something that lives in the souls of nations, not in the souls of politicians. For politicians are nothing more than mirrors. Hitler was a mirror unto the soul of a nation, not evil incarnate -- as are George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, and Bill Frist. And may the Lord have mercy upon our souls.

-- Badtux the Historian Penguin


  1. Wow, Badtux. Very powerful.

    I'm fortunate to have grown up in light and hope. All of this evil seems strange to me.

  2. Hitler was a fantastic painter. I wish he could have stuck to it for a career.

  3. If it had not been Hitler, it would have been some other charismatic demagogue. The people of Germany were primed and ready for evil, and someone would have given them the outlet for that pent up desire.

    During WWII our propaganda demonized Hitler because that was easier than examining the root causes of the conflict, some of which did not reflect well upon the United States, such as the United States not insisting upon a fair and livable peace treaty between Germany and Austria-Hungary and France and England (and yes, the U.S. had the troops on the ground to enfore such a stipulation, the French and British had been bled dry), and U.S. refusal to participate in the League of Nations and thereby give the League the wherewithal to squash Hitler early. There was a war to fight, thus rather than self-reflection, FDR did what was necessary to motivate people to win. And I can't really blame him.

    The problem came after the war, when that demonization stuck. The basic principle then became that evil arose from single men, rather than arising in the hearts of nations. But Hitler did not kill a single person himself. Hitler did not invade a single nation himself. Germans willfully followed him. If nobody had followed Hitler, Hitler would have just been a fruastrated painter raving about Jews in his local beer-hall.

    In the end, the evil came not from Hitler. The evil came from those who followed him. Alone, Hitler was no more evil than a bad John Norman novel.

    - Badtux the Historian Penguin

  4. He was just the match for the German psyche. The powderkeg was established by the punishing WWI treaties. The fuse was primed by world-wide depression. The US is being primed. May god have mercy on our souls.

  5. I know, Badtux. But that doesn't mean that I can't feel wistful for what might have been if he had a better circumstances- he would been one of the great painters, I like to think. His quality of color was between Turner and Monet. And yet- no one dares to display his artwork because of the other things he did.

    It's an old curse though. May you live in interesting times.

  6. But they are just like Hitler and the Nazis. I mean, whether it shuts the other guy's listening down or not, they are. Murder, destruction of civil liberties, demonization of a scapegoat group of identifiable people, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit, much as I don't want to believe it, if 9/11 was their Reichstag fire. I mean, you're tying my hands here, you snarky flightless bird.

  7. the following response came from my partner, Janine deManda. I forwarded Badtux's posting to her from the Bay Area Bisexual Network (BABN) chat list.


    Juba Kalamka

    can i just say that i detest simple-minded, dualistic thinking?  'cuz i do.  there are acres of possible perspectives between "hitler equals evil, and i'm not hitler" and "evil resides in the souls of nations, and i'm not a nation".  of course, i'm not even sure that counts as dualistic thinking because both sentiments essentially boil down to "evil is not me, so it's not my fault.  i'm just sayin."

    and then there's the factual inaccuracies.  yes, the weimar republic was a progressive government under which countercultures had room to breathe.  that does not mean that anti-semitism was "politically incorrect" in germany in 1923.  gimme a frickin break.

    and why does the reality that most humans are easily led and not particularly inclined to do the work required to live in harmonious complexity somehow lessen the egregiousness of the wrongs committed by those who choose to lead them to slaughter each other?

    and {paraphrasing} evil has been creeping out of its bastion in the deep south since the halcyon days of '70s?!  'cuz it's all those trash folks in the south who are the heart of darkness?  no evil in seattle or montpelier or boston or l.a., right?  at least, not until it crept back there from the deep south, anyway.  'cuz the u.s. reached the pinnacle of peaceful egalitarianism in the frickin' '70s?  how'd i miss that?

    and the genocidal despot is the equivalent of a less-than-charismatic pundit?  did someone miss the day in class when they explained about false syllogisms?

    and he's a white guy who lived through the civil rights era.  so?  that makes him an expert on the "evil . . . [that] has grown, mutated, changed, inserted itself deeper into the very soul of America."  clearly not 'cuz evil need not "insert" itself into the "soul of America".  it was here, as he acknowledges, a century ago.  it was here, in fact, five centuries ago, ten centuries ago.

    no, the horror of the holocaust does not rest solely on the shoulders of that bad painter and MISCHLING from vienna.  but neither does it rest on the insubstantial shoulders of the "evil in the soul of the {german} nation".  it rests, like all crimes, large and small throughout human history, squarely on the shoulders of each individual who participated in it.  evil is not "in the souls of nations".  evil is in the souls of men {and yes, women}.hitler, w., you, me, everyone. evil, like good, is a helluva lot more complicated than the fellow who wrote that or most folks are willing to acknowledge,and scapegoats, whether despots or nation-states,are still scapegoat s.

  8. evil-live
    what do you make of this?


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