It's That Man Again
Adolf Hitler featured so repeatedly and tiresomely in the British newspapers during the late 1930s that the Daily Express ran a story about him under the headline "It's That Man Again." (The headline was so well known it was picked up in 1939 for the title of a radio comedy show that ran for a whole decade.) The British public wondered if the annoying fellow with the permanent frown and the Charlie Chaplin moustache would ever go away.
He never has. Today, seventy years on, it's a rare week that someone or other doesn't trot out Hitler's name in some cause or other. Rob Reiner was on TV the other day with one of the smirky guys — Colbert, Stewart, Maher: their smirking, sneering faces just blur together in my mind — telling us that: "You never get into a political discussion unless you bring the word 'Hitler' in." (At 0m56s in this clip.)
If you insert the words "with people like me" between the seventh and eighth words of that sentence, I'm sure Reiner is right. Those of us who conduct our political discussions outside showbiz-airhead circles usually arrive at our conclusions without having made any use of the H-word, though. I guess Reiner would find this surprising. As one of Oscar Wilde's characters remarks: "It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different."
A couple of days later there was Joy Behar on The View, saying of a Sharron Angle campaign ad that: "Yikes, it's like a Hitler Youth commercial!" (At 0m55s here.) The Angle ad wasn't actually the least bit like a Hitler Youth commercial. (Here's one for comparison.) It's just that when you're an ignorant lefty hyperventilating about the Bad — Tea Partiers, George W. Bush, The Bell Curve, supply-side economics — you reach for the Baddest of the Bad to make your point. And there he always is, waiting to be reached for: It's That Man Again. Don't go to lefties for a sense of proportion.
That Man is still in the newspapers, too. Just this past weekend he got some extensive coverage in the London Daily Mail. A researcher for the British Legion, a charity that supports ex-military personnel, turned up an album of photographs from a visit Legion officers had made to Germany in 1935. The photos showed a posse of very respectable English gents hobnobbing with … yes, It's That Man Again. (The lead legionnaire rejoices in the name Francis Fetherston-Godley. I don't see how you can get any more respectable than that. He probably pronounced his surname as "Fewley.")
The researcher, who is also the Mail's reporter on the story, is all in a tither about the embarrassment caused to the Legion by his find, though plenty of British people, including some highly-placed ones — such as, for instance, the then-proprietor of the Daily Mail — thought well of Hitler in 1935.
"To refrain from admiring Hitler or Stalin," said George Orwell after WW2, "should not require an enormous intellectual effort." To see the mass-murdering dictators of the twentieth century in their historical context, as we see Napoleon or Genghis Khan, does require some intellectual effort — more, for sure, than lefty bubbleheads like Rob Reiner or Joy Behar are capable of. With the Reiners and Behars, in fact, we are probably in the presence of people who have never heard of Stalin, or think he was some kind of agrarian reformer.
The Daily Mail reporter is more representative of the Western public at large. He doesn't seem to have any lefty ax to grind; and not being in show biz, he does not labor under the disadvantage of having had his brain turned to bean curd from associating with preening morons all day long. He just shows the common historical sensibility of our times, viz. that 20th-century European history began in 1933 and ended in 1945.
The Godwin's-Law tendency of leftist political commentary is depressing, and should be resisted and deplored whenever it shows itself. Hitler's Germany does not map into any large tendency in modern American politics. Some particular components of it map into localized phenomena; but even when this happens, it is usually to the detriment of our political Left.
The strongest antisemitism in our culture, for example, is found among black radicals. The politicization of the Academy, a key part of the modern Left's program, was also a key part of Hitler's. (Highly successful in both cases. "During the first five years of the regime … the proportion of those who lost their posts through defying National Socialism was, as Professor Wilhelm Roepke, himself dismissed from the University of Marburg in 1933, said, 'exceedingly small'." — Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Chapter 8.) The quasi-pagan nature worship characteristic of Nazi culture has resurfaced in far-Left environmental and animal-rights groups … and so on.
Orwell, who was no bubblehead, and who had taken a bullet through the neck in the fight against fascism, also wrote the following interesting thing when reviewing Hitler's book Mein Kampf in early 1940:
I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power — till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not matter — I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs … It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is there. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can't win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.
There you have a mature, thoughtful, worldly, and well-educated man reflecting on Hitler, and on Hitler's success in having seduced Europe's most civilized nation into his own peculiar style of barbarism.
Orwell's calm cogitations are a long way from the vapid, shrieking sloganeering of the modern Left. For the shriekers, however, as for Orwell, there is something "deeply appealing" about Hitler. That Man will be with us for a while yet.