Why is it that every atheist and religious site seem to constantly bring up one short reigning psychopath as their prime example to “prove” some point whenever they seem otherwise incapable of defending their position on the merits?
Has so much mental anguish ever been so wasted on debating such a worthless proposition? Not since the Catholics stopped debating how many angels could dance on a pinhead.
The Best Example of …what exactly?
Most frequently, but not exclusively, Hitler gets dragged out as:
- An example of atheist behavior – even though he wasn’t one, and said so many times in both writings and speeches, and despite ample opportunity, failed to enact any Government policies that could even remotely be deemed atheistic in nature;
- A reason why you shouldn’t criticize Jews – should Buddhists get this treatment since Pol Pot and Mao slaughtered them, or the Cathars (who were totally annihilated by the Catholics), or Muslims, or Mormons, or Protestants, or Hindus, or Sikhs, or Templars (same as the Cathars), or every other religion where people have been systematically murdered by somebody else at one point or another, which would be pretty much all of them?;
- A reason for fearing religion and religious wars – did I miss something in WWII? Since when was this a war caused by or waged for religion? Did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor because the Christians were getting too close to the land of Shintoism? Was German Catholicism being imposed on Polish Catholicism? Was the preceding WWI just a war over the interpretation of the Transubstantiation of the Host (Ottomans and Japanese excluded, of course)?;
- A reason to hate the Catholic Church – sorry, but the historical record here seems more like Machiavelli’s The Prince with the Vatican playing Mussolini and Hitler to get a State of its own and avoid its own persecution rather than using them to convert non-Catholics to the faith, unless I missed the mass conversions someplace. With about give or take 1,800 years of history, you’re going to hate the Catholics because of some alleged conspiracy with Hitler? Seriously? If so, I am sure you’re also worried about the Illuminati, Zionist Conspiracies, Space Lizards, the Rothschilds, and crop circles too. There are special sites for those people with these sorts of delusions, and you don’t need to clutter up the atheist sites with your conspiracy fantasies.;
- Etc. enough, please. Find a more rational example to illustrate your point, and please learn some basic history before you try to use 10 minutes of (very often flawed) Wikipedia sourced “history” as an example. Reading one reference on Wikipedia is not the same as reading even a single actual book. What is the point of debating history anyway, when you want to make a point about religion or philosophy?
Hitler and Nazism wasn’t special
There was nothing special about Hitler, or his brief period of rule (from 1933 until 1945). The original fascist, Mussolini, also enunciated a policy of expansion and a criticism of elements (the proverbial scapegoats) within Italian society and the international community that were preventing Italy from reaching its full potential of a new Rome. El Duce also wrote a better, but nowadays less well known book, The Doctrine of Fascism, which in its day was much more influential and more widely translated and published than Hitler’s ramblings from a jail cell. Fascism spawned a series of governments in a number of countries; Hitler’s watered down National Socialism did not. The other well-known European Fascist of the day, Francisco Franco, also persecuted his own citizens based on their political beliefs, many of whom also died in concentration camps. Mussolini was in power for about a decade before Hitler, and was a strong proponent of racist expansionism, at the expense of the “subhuman” Africans and Slavs. Sound familiar? He was running a country, while Hitler was sitting in jail wondering about his career choice and whether it was too late to go back to art school.
A dictatorship functions largely as does a monarchy (Hitler was close to being an absolute monarch, but only at the latter part of his rule) without calling him a king or having a legal right of progenitor succession (although this has happened in Syria and North Korea, as notable exceptions). Fascism adds the element of corporate-government cooperation that is often largely overlooked now, but which doctrine has arguably influenced corporate policies toward corporate-government relationships to this day. Perhaps Americans and Europeans would be uncomfortable seeing that many of their current corporate welfare policies had been advocated as nationalist policies in The Doctrine of Fascism – or maybe not? Objectively, the doctrine of Fascism has had a lasting impact on the economic policies of many modern “Western” governments, whether intentionally emulated or conveniently borrowed but always rebranded.
Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933 after his party won the election with a minority but sizable portion of the vote (a bit over 40%). There was no unique ideology, no great genius, just populism, which sadly seems to work in most countries at different times. If you doubt this, read Mein Kampf. Almost every aspiring leader in a republic writes a book (Hillary Clinton just wrote another), and most are pretty forgettable. As noted, Mussolini’s book had some original ideas that have lingered on, but I can’t think of anything at all unique in Hitler’s work nor do I know of any reputable political scientist who has considered it to be a work of lasting significance in the field. Hitler left no lasting achievements or accomplishments of any kind (other than perhaps invading Russia and losing a war which was hardly unique, just ask Napoleon). The best that probably can be said is that Hitler’s government (no credit to Hitler) started a program in rocketry that was then transferred to America, which greatly expanded the program and continued to develop it for another 23 years leading to the first moon launch.
Hitler persecuted minorities…like this is something unique?
As for blaming a minority, that tendency has been around as long as recorded history. We see it today in some European countries who blame the Roma for many current social ills. The Burmese blame the immigrant Rohingya, the Sinhalese blame the immigrant Tamils (who used to rule over them in a very bloody and repressive reign), the Indonesians seem to blame the Chinese every time there is an economic or political shock, the Russians have blamed almost everyone at one point or another, the Japanese under the Tokugawa blamed the Christians, the Ottomans blamed the Armenians, etc. Either a minority group gains acceptance, is absorbed, or falls into insignificance on the national scene (like Native Americans in the USA – just look back at the American editorials during the Wounded Knee standoff in 1973). When a group has power, it often kills or banishes the “offending” minority, as with scores of ethnic groups in Stalin’s USSR. Most often, if economic times are decent, minorities are just ignored.
Hitler’s Final Solution was nothing new, as killing off a select group of people for an irrational reason has been around for as long as there have been organized states. The Rwandans did it with far less organization, used hand weapons but only killed over the course of about 100 days, still managing to exterminate about 20% of the Tutsis. The same was true for Pol Pot’s regime, where the “minority” were those with an education. Or by Americans in certain “campaigns” for body counts in the Vietnam War (Kill Anything That Moves by Nick Turse gives the best researched view on this official policy). Germany kept at it for an extended period, and so killed more people, so it may be notable in terms of industrial efficiency. But when a policy of State sanctioned murder is in place, whether for killing dissidents or minorities or any other non-conformists, like any government policy under the Institutional Imperative (see the book of the same name by Robert N. Kharasch), it tends to continue on so long as there is someone who benefits by running the program. Just look at the long standing programs with thousands of disappearing people run by dictatorships in Iran (under the Shah), Chile, Argentina, Brazil and others.
There were probably more Russian civilians killed in WWII than there were victims of the German extermination camps, but that seems to be lost on most Westerners, maybe because they were just Slavs or somehow starvation and bombing is less repulsive than gas chambers? Or maybe because the USSR ended up as a rival to the West after the War. But “dead is dead” to a child, and I don’t see how death by starvation, disease, bomb fragments, bullets or from being burned alive is any less horrendous than death in a gas chamber. If you want the worst deaths, maybe you need to look up Japan’s Unit 731 (if we are limited to WWII statistics), whose unconscionable murders of civilians and prisoners were protected from prosecution by America at the end of WWII. But again, they are only killing Chinese (mostly), right? Somehow, for many people, it’s not as bad as Hitler killing Caucasians.
But Hitler was a Westerner
I suppose that Westerners may feel somewhat guiltier about Hitler, than about Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao or other 20th century killers, and perhaps this is why they illogically attach more importance or significance to the atrocities under his rule than to others. Perhaps no one mentions the atrocities committed on civilians during the 30 Years War, because few people know about them. (Next time someone wants to talk about the civilized Nordic countries, just bring up Swedes during this conflict.)
For Westerners in the 20th Century, Germany was “one of us,” a product of the European Enlightenment, with notable composers, scientists, authors, philosophers, and all the hallmarks of an “advanced” culture and society. There were large numbers of Americans and Canadians with German heritage, and the British Royal Family is German at its root. This was in the days when Europeans within the last 100 years were still “discovering” people in other parts of the world who wore less clothes than themselves, ate different things, and worshipped different “less enlightened” imaginary gods. It was the apogee of European/Western cultural arrogance, and the horrors of WWII started the irreparable crumbling of this self-created intellectual edifice of cultural superiority.
Hitler’s government was also killing Caucasians (Semitics are Caucasian), and doing it in a very industrialized way. Like something out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, they were rounded up, sent on trains, to established special purpose designed camps, and killed and their bodies incinerated using industrial scale engineering. Modern technology applied to Bronze Age problems – the Iron Age Assyrians would have probably done the same thing, although it would not have had the same terrorizing effect as flaying people alive or piling up mounds of severed heads. Perhaps the Hebrews would have done the same when they were writing about their mythical conquest of the Promised Lands of Canaan, although the process would have needed to allow for the preservation of virgin women and the elimination of animals as well. Systematic murder, especially of the vanquished, is as old as recorded history. Mercy is unique, cruelty is not.
Hitler was not exceptional, don’t turn him into some sort of Superman
If people gave some thought to these issues, Hitler would have less appeal. He was nothing special, it just happened to be in the more recent past and it was in Europe, whose people seem to think they are better than this. Just look at the Belgians’ continued reverence for the genocidal mass murderer King Leopold II, whose policies in the Congo were responsible for the deaths of an untold number of Congolese, estimated at from 4-15 million people (with some creditable higher estimates as well). His policies were just as culpable as Hitler’s, yet there are statues to him in Belgium today. You might as well look at Pol Pot, or Mao or any other populist leader who ended up killing minorities (ask the Tibetans about this). The real question is why do humans so frequently become enthralled with psychopaths and only recognize them for what they are afterwards (or not at all, as in the case of Leopold).
And if you think Americans are any different, take a look at American policies against the Native Americans (a minority) and how their (mis)treatment figured in American political campaigns for decades. Or America’s protracted “war on terror” in the Philippines during its long years of occupation (primarily during the first half of the 20th Century, following its acquisition as a result of America’s military triumph over Spain in 1898). More recently, see what Presidents Taft and Roosevelt thought about Asians (The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley is eye opening on this subject).
We can only deal with these monsters once we recognize that they are not unique or special. They are among us all the time, and we can release them without knowing what they really are. Hitler was not unique in any way, and there are still monsters among us just trying to get to power. He wasn’t made by religion, he was not fighting for religion, he was not brilliant in any way except perhaps as a populist. The only example he can set for us is that anyone can unleash the human capacity for violence and prejudice, and a hallmark of civilization should be the measures taken to control and repress these forces which may lurk within all of us. As my college psychology teacher once remarked, “even Hitler loved his dog”. It is only by recognizing that Hitler was not unique, and not by holding Hitler up as some paragon of Evil that presumably can never be matched by an average person, that we can learn to control our own selfish and less than noble desires and limit the mastery over us that we allow our leaders. Just remember, every time you reference Hitler, you give him the one thing he craved most - immortality.