Sunday, March 7, 2010

Nazi Propaganda

Oh, wow. I think I'd have trouble coming up with a more loaded phrase if I tried.

I am currently taking a history class in which we are studying the buildup to World War II. This includes watching some propaganda films. These are scary, because if I let myself forget what the solution he is talking about is, I want to follow him. I genuinely feel community, family, interdependence and independence blended to make a nation. It's a good feeling, like being back at Girl Scout camp, or on a choir trip.

But that is not what scares me the most by a long shot.

What scares me the most is the people around me who refuse to look at these films as anything but Nazi propaganda. They talk about how stupid these people were to follow, how obvious it is. When asked what makes it obvious, none of them have an answer better than looking offended and/or saying, "So what, you'd follow him?"

If my kids are dying? If I don't know what he's going to do to all those people? If he's turning the economy around, genuinely helping? Oh hell yeah.

The problem with these people is not that they want to do horrible things--a lot of people do. The problem is that dictators like Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler got people to follow them. Especially Hitler. Refusing to admit that those who followed him could be intelligent people, even good people, however rarely, is dooming yourself to repeat these mistakes. Because someone who refuses to believe that someone can be evil without a glaring mark is going to believe that the next charismatic malevolent despot isn't bad. It doesn't matter whether he or she is up to Hitler's level. I hope with all my heart none will be.

If someone is showing old propaganda, it is probably not so you can laugh and feel superior. It is probably so you can look at life through those people's eyes. Refusing to do so is refusing to learn the lesson. And when the lesson is on the Holocaust, it is an important lesson.

(Incidentally, good people can be charismatic, too. Charisma and morality are independent.)

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