I'm not really all that mysterious

Being Realistic about Hitler

Godwin’s Law becomes extremely unhelpful when discussing actual fascism and despotism. The Nazis may have committed some of the greatest atrocities known to humanity (although the Communists under Stalin and under Mao killed more people) but Hitler is not some incredibly inhuman evil monster that we’ll never see again. He may have been evil and monstrous, but his motivations were akin to the motivations of other politicians.

Half Of What You Know About Adolf Hitler Is Wrong • 2016 Mar 19 • Marc Eliot Stein • Pacifism for the 21st Century

I did know that fascism is primarily anti-Communist, but I didn’t realize just how deeply linked anti-Semitism and anti-Communism were.

I can see imperfect parallels to Islamophobia and antiterrorism. And racism against Latinos and Chicanos vis-a-vis generalized anti-immigrant sentiment and the War on Drugs.{: #war-on-drugs }1

[Hitler] was not an egotist or megalomaniac

We are accustomed to thinking of Hitler as an incredible egotist and megalomaniac because of his vast cult of personality, which strikes us as bizarre today. It’s bizarre that Germans were required to shout “Heil Hitler”, that every German soldier or military officer was forced to declare a loyalty oath directly to Adolf Hitler, that the children of the Reich were expected to join the “Hitler Youth”. Adolf certainly seemed to have an outsized ego, didn’t he?

Not so fast. We are today so far removed from the Napoleonic age that totally dominated Europe’s intellectual culture during all of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century that we find all cults of personality strange, but Napoleonic cults of personality were standard in European politics during the Hitler era. If you were a Fascist or Communist leader in Europe and you didn’t cultivate a massive cult of personality, you weren’t doing it right.

Now I wonder: does Trump’s actual narcissism make him more dangerous or less dangerous?2

Conclusion: Hitler was a craven opportunist

It’s frightening to realize that Hitler did not belong to a different species from other politicians of the modern age. It’s frightening to realize that an opportunistic desire for power explains nearly everything about his miserable 12 year reign in Germany… because an opportunistic desire for power is something many politicians share.

What made Hitler different? Well, he may not have been as different as we want to believe. He was not the worst genocidal murderer of the 20th century: historians give that honor to Mao Zedong of China, with Joseph Stalin in second place and Hitler in third.

As we look forward to our current and future next generations of world leaders, from Vladimir Putin to Kim Jung-un to Donald Trump, it’s worth asking if we have learned any lessons from the disaster of Adolf Hitler at all.

Hitler may have been a soldier in WWI, but that alone doesn’t falsify that claim that he was a coward at heart. Meanwhile, we know that Trump used deferments to get out of the Vietnam War while brazenly belittling a prisoner-of-war. So I wonder: does Trump’s even more abject cowardice make him more dangerous or less dangerous?3

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