I have always spoken of how we ‘live under the shadow of Hitler’. The tragedy and horror of Hitler and the Nazi regime are very apparent. No one wants to go down that road again nor have anything similar to it develop again. As a result, there is a strong sense of avoidance, of trying to not repeat what Hitler did. Because of this, there is a tendency to condemn anything that remotely resembles Hitler.
Hitler and the Nazi’s brought up a number of themes that have defined their behaviour and which have become disastrous and horrifying in their consequences. As a result, these themes tend to be looked at critically ever since. These themes include:
- Murdering innocent people.
- Certain beliefs about race.
- Having a megalomania and feelings of superiority.
- Thinking you can conquer the world.
These are not the best of values, to be sure, but they have actually existed, and were a concern, way before Hitler was even born. This means that the concerns surrounding the ‘Hitler theme’ are not new. Not only that, they were often condemned and criticized, in various ways, for centuries before Hitler and the Nazi appeared. This means that Hitler did not bring up anything new, in actuality.
What, of course, makes Hitler new is how he did it and how it manifested itself. This means that it’s not what he did that matters but how he did it. Normally, we condemn what he did which, as I’ve said, has been done for centuries. But this is not what the ‘horror’ was that he created. Hitler was not the first person in history to have these notions. But he was the first person in history to use the modern world to implement those themes. What this shows is that those themes aren’t any more ‘horrifying’ than what we’ve seen in the past but what the modern world can do is horrifying if let out of control.
I’ve always said that Hitler could not achieve what he did 50 or so years earlier. This is because the modern world, with all its machinery and power, wasn’t developed enough to allow for the ‘Hitler regime’ to of done much. Hitler came at a time when the modern world was developing, with all its science, machinery, weaponry, etc. Without this the horror of Hitler could never of taken place. In fact, I’ve always felt that the success of the modern world is one of the reasons why it got so out-of-control as it made it seem that they were invincible and all-powerful, which only made their egos grow. This growth in ego would be a big factor in the development, and subsequent behaviour, of the Nazi’s.
Some aspects of the modern world that helped create the horror of Hitler and the Nazi’s include:
- The rise of modern weaponry.
- The rise of industrialism.
- The rise of mass media and communications.
- The rise of science, such as chemistry.
- The rise of quick and mass transportation.
- The rise of consumer products.
Without developments such as these there is no way Hitler and the Nazi’s could have achieved what they did. As I said above, I hav always felt that the horror of Hitler does not revolve around things like the massacring of Jews, the starting of a war, of superior race, etc. but more the horror of how he used the modern world to do it. The warning of Hitler, then, is not those themes but the danger the modern world can create if misused.
But most people only emphasize those themes, often talking as if Hitler was the only person to of done them. There is great fear for a ‘repeat’. Anyone or anything that even remotely resembles Hitler and the Nazi’s is condemned to death. But it has gone so far as to become a fear or paranoia. We make too many comparisons, trying to see Hitler in everything, in our government, our businesses, our personal relationships. And when we see it we condemn it.
But, to me, this is missing the whole picture. True, these themes are bad, but it took the modern world to make them a tragedy. Without the modern world, the tragedy could never of gotten this far. This means that, though these themes are found in humanity, they are not as prevalent and extensive as it seems. But, yet, many people will use Hitler as the example of the ‘bad’ in humanity. In effect, Hitler has become nothing but a condemnation of the bad side of human nature. Typically, Hitler is looked at only from a moral point of view, that what he did was morally wrong and what it shows about humanity. In many cases, it has the quality of a Christian lashing themselves for the ‘sins’ they’ve committed in life . . . oh, the sins of humanity! But the horror of Hitler was not created and developed from the evil side of human nature, but from the creations of the modern world which exaggerated, distorted, and amplified everything. In other words, it isn’t a moral issue, nor is it a demonstration of the outright ‘evil’ of mankind.
What it has done is create a myth about the ‘evil’ in human nature in general, making it far more extensive and horrifying than it really is. This has even gone so far as to condemn humanity as a whole. I’ve seen many people use Hitler as just a means to condemn humanity as a whole, as if we are all bad people. He becomes the ‘measure’ of how bad we all are.
All this, though, is misleading in that the conditions that created Hitler and the Nazi’s are unique and not inherently part of the human condition. As such, they cannot be construed as being representative of humanity as a whole. If they did represent humanity as a whole we would have seen similar behaviour all through history all over the world. This is not the case. Historically, behaviour like Hitler and the Nazi’s is rare in the world. This is because it does not appear naturally. It takes special conditions to create it which makes it, in a way, an abnormal situation. Because of this, we cannot look at Hitler as the ‘norm’ nor as being representative of humanity as a whole. It is, in actuality, a ‘special situation’ in history and should be looked at from this light.
This makes ‘living under the shadow of Hitler’ as living under something like a myth, a misconception, about human nature. It also gives a misconception about morality and common behaviour. In actuality, a number of the themes I described at the beginning of this article are common in human nature (though murdering innocent people isn’t that common, thank God). Many people display one or more of them in some form or another and in varying degrees. But . . . seldom do they get horribly out-of-control or even create problems. The horror of Hitler has made us too critical of ourselves . . . out of fear, out of paranoia, out of self-condemnation. In my opinion, this has been done too extensively. And more importantly, has being too critical actually helped us? I don’t think so.
In reaction to the horror of Hitler there have been great condemnation and fear of particular themes. These are not because they necessarily cause problems, or are a concern, but because they are associated with Hitler in some way. These themes include:
- Any killing by any government for any reason (unless its in the name of democracy, of course).
- Even a hint of expressing a dislike for another race or people. This may even get so bad that you can’t even NOTE a difference between races. In the U.S. this got even stronger as a result of the Civil Rights Movement.
- Any hint of any hatred of any kind. This, in a way, creates a condition where we must, BY LAW, love one another (don’t laugh . . . there’s a lot of truth in this).
- Any government, or anything else, trying to control people in any way.
- Any reference to feeling one is superior in any way.
In many ways, Hitler set the tone for a lot of things that have followed in the years since, which include:
- Many of the themes we would see during the cold war were just continuations of the themes brought up by Hitler.
- It also set a lot of the tone for international relations. Often, the attempts to ‘save the world’ are often nothing but preventing the ‘Hitler themes’ from reappearing again.
- It also set the tone for a lot of the legal policies that have followed since. In a way, they made any hint of the ‘Hitler themes’ illegal.
Its quite evident that the ‘fear of another Hitler’ has played a large impact in the decades that followed WWII. But, in trying to prevent another Hitler we have, in a way, only continued the horror of those years into our lives almost as a ‘perpetual reminder’ and a ‘perpetual fear’. In that sense, we could really say that the horror of Hitler continues to live, in these menatilities, in the policies, in the laws that have followed since. I’ve always felt that this is not good. Why? Because, as I said above, the horror of Hitler is not a normal scenario in life. We’ve made an uncommon abnormal situation a constant presence in our life. That’s like being afraid to walk outside your house because three people got shot in their front yard in the past five years. I would say that this is not a common event . . . and the situtation of Hitler is not all that common either. In short, then, we’re really panicing over nothing.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen