The Problem With Hating Nazis

Not to brag or anything, but I’m basically the queen of entertaining people on long car rides. I have a seemingly-unlimited arsenal of activities and conversation topics to keep people entertained for hours, including a storytelling game that was very popular on bus rides with the jr. high youth group I helped with.

The one rule was: no killing anyone. I hoped this would keep all of our stories from turning into random murder sprees whenever anyone couldn’t think of a creative way to solve a problem, but a few of the participants did not like this rule.

“We can’t kill anyone?” one girl protested.

“Nope.”

“Not even the bad guys?”

“Sorry, no.”

She paused, then tried again. “What if there’s a Nazi? Can’t we kill the Nazi?”

This moment is brought to you by the local jr. high Holocaust history unit, during which everything is gas chambers and Anne Frank and racism and death for a few weeks, until even a fourteen-year-old still addicted to boy bands realizes that what Hitler and Co. did was evil in its most blatant form and should never, ever be allowed to happen again.

Nazis

That is true, and that is something important to teach to kids who are becoming thinking (voting, morality-forming, decision-making) adults. In case it needs saying, I agree that the Holocaust was sickening and terrible and every negative adjective I could possibly apply to it. I don’t want to diminish that in any way.

What concerned me about this little incident, and others like it, is that this girl was placing Nazis into a different category than normal human bad guys. They were their own circle of awful, so far beyond regular villains that they might earn an exception.

And I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. In fact, I think there are some really important, really awful consequences of our highly specialized hate for Nazis.

First, when we make Nazis into some inhuman “other,” we don’t admit that we are sinful just like them.

After watching The Sound of Music or reading The Hiding Place, we are quite sure: We wouldn’t have looked the other way like nearly every politician, housewife, schoolchild, pastor in Germany did. No. We would have been among the few who fought back, who took a stand, who knew what was right and acted on it.

Except…probably, most of us wouldn’t have. Maybe there are even issues right now where we’re ignoring a chance to take a stand, evils we’re allowing or even contributing to in our society. Because when there are threats and risks involved (even to things like our own comfort), we are not heroes, or even basically nice people who just wish we could all get along. We are capable of deeply selfish, sinful acts, just like they were.

We all want to be this guy from The Avengers. But would we be?

We all want to be this guy from The Avengers. But would we be?

And if we don’t acknowledge that, if we’re lulled into apathy by vague platitudes about our own ability to be different and more heroic, there’s a chance something as terrible as the Holocaust could happen again.

But also, and maybe more importantly, a special hatred for Nazis means we aren’t thinking of them as humans like us.

After the most recent Star Wars movie, was anyone else somewhat surprised that there were actual people under those stormtrooper helmets all these years? (Oddly familiar villain hoard member name, too…along with the decidedly Hitleresque speech scene, the “New Order” doesn’t seem to be hiding its inspiration with much subtlety.)

NewOrder

I had always assumed stormtroopers were just badly-programmed robots, and not just because they had terrible aim. (Though there is that.) I didn’t see them as people until The Force Awakens because I wasn’t supposed to. It’s a simple sociological fact that makes movie producers trot out legions of bad guy armies with gas masks, hoods, weirdly shaped helmets, and other seemingly impractical fighting gear. Namely, that it’s easier to hate people when you can’t see their faces.

Guys, listen: we have to see people to care about them. Do you understand the importance of that statement?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a terrible example of literature and filled with stereotypes, but it got Northerners to see black people as actual people. That’s why it had the impact it did.

Humans of New York recently did a series of interviews with convicts. Though sometimes the comments on these posts, which work so hard to be affirming of everyone’s beliefs/life choices/fashion statements, annoy me (topic for another post), I loved the idea behind these posts, and the series on refugees before that: to humanize people who we often see as numbers or lines in a news report. When we see their faces, hear their stories, feel their emotions, or at least see those emotions in their eyes…we remember that they, too, were made in the image of God.

It’s the same reason I think Jesus answered an abstract question (“Who is my neighbor?”) with a story about a foreigner who looked after a wounded, bloodied man, going over and above social requirements even when the stuffy religious characters looked the other way. He wanted the audience not to see a moral rule, but a person. To think—who around me needs a good Samaritan? Who am I passing by every day when I should stop to help?

Every single individual and group throughout history has the tension of being made in the image of God (existence given dignity and value by God) and having a sin nature (using that existence to make really awful choices). Even the Nazis. Even us.

Let’s not forget that.

15 comments

  1. Agreed. I have a character in my novel who I severely dislike (I refrain from saying hate because I’ve made that choice, but the intensity with which I dislike him is stronger than most other emotions toward him). It has taken years to work him from a stereotype into a human being.

    While the director change definitely caused some change to the stormtrooper image, The Force Awakens still made me feel a little uncomfortable about the whole thing. They were given more humanity in the newer movies, but they were supposed to have been taken from families, as opposed to the original trilogy where they were all clones. The clones were treated as sub-humans but I wonder what kind of image they would have had if Abrams had left them as clones. Is it the individuality that made them more human? Is that why they suddenly got the human treatment? What if they had been left as clones and all looked like Finn? Would they still have their individual humanity? While Abrams was probably exploring a different theme, the humanizing of the newer stormtroopers in the Star Wars narrative as a whole ends up dehumanizing the clones troopers, still leaving them with the potential to be the half-people the characters called them.

    It reminds me of reading Restoration era literature when people began to show more of the humanity of lower classes. It definitely had its positives, showing that someone hard on their luck could have once been a person of equal class to the reader, but at the same time, the lower class people in the story had the tendency to secretly be people of a higher class, so in the end the main characters still all ended up being a part of the upper class, and no one of an actual lower class had a good standing in the end. I tend to notice that there are times when people attempt to restore the other they end up focusing on the similarities between us rather than the differences, and turning the others into duplicates of ourselves. Which is not what we tend to do with Nazi’s–we tend to focus on the differences rather than similarities. Othering can go both ways.

    1. Interesting, I didn’t think about the clone vs. humans choice (possibly because I hate the prequels with a fiery burning passion and have only seen them once). I don’t think it’s always bad to dehumanize villains…when they’re not human. For example, video games that are aimed more at kids often have them killing aliens or monsters because that doesn’t desensitize them to violence against fellow human beings. I’m 100% okay with that. I’m not sure where clones would fall in that spectrum, but it’s interesting to think about!

      Great example from literature. I like the idea that Othering can go both ways. Maybe if we focus on the core similarities (which I always think of as being made in the image of God and the sin nature we share) without trying to make other people/groups into copies of us and our culture, we’d hit a better balance.

      1. Okay, the Star Wars nerd in me wants to comment. Stormtroopers in Episodes IV, V, and VI weren’t clones, just recruited humans. (Clone troopers were bred to have a shorter lifespan and most weren’t around by that time.) And those original movies did make the villains a bunch of faceless redshirts (sorry, cross-fandom reference). The more I think about it, the more I love Episode VII featuring a stormtrooper realizing the wrongness of “his” side. There’s an exchange between General Hux and Kylo Ren about whether clone troops or regular brainwashed ones would be more effective, and that helps you see how unthinkingly evil these upper villains are. But it also makes you nearly pity the rest of the stormtroopers. They didn’t even ask for this life (it’s understood that most underlings in the first Empire joined up). And they’re told it’s okay to do what they do. This goes great with the golden calf post too. How often do we (or the Nazis) tell ourselves that what we’re doing is actually ok for one or another reason? And, how many stormtroopers like Finn realized that they were doing wrong but went along with it?

        As for the clones from the prequel trilogy, if you want to see more about how they gained some individuality, watch the Clone Wars cartoon series. There’s not a lot of time to develop this in the movies (though I’m still shocked the Jedi just went along with clones…), but this shows a lot of different reactions to the clones wanting to have personal, individual lives. There’s even a couple of novels that do this for stormtroopers.

    2. Its totally not your fault for not knowing since it was never addressed in the movies, but the Empire stopped using clones between episodes III and episode IV. The clone army was sort of the ‘gateway drug’ for getting the galaxy used to having white-armored soldiers everywhere.

      At least….that’s how it was in the old canon. Who knows? Maybe in Disney’s new canon, the original trilogy stormtroopers were still clones. *shrug*

  2. Great post, I do think people tend to look at what is considered to be the worst of society and act as if those people need to be hated.  I was thinking about this after watching an episode of Blue Bloods once, where Danny was treating a pedophile with such hatred even though the pedophile was not proud or happy about what he did.  Really, I can understand Danny’s anger, and I would have been angry at the guy too.  Still, even though I wouldn’t trust a pedophile, I wouldn’t hate him, and I would hope that he finds the help he needs to overcome his addiction.  From my observations, people in many types of addictions are almost as bad off as their victims.  And most of us are addicted to something or other whether or not we recognize it.  When I saw Danny talking with such hatred, I couldn’t help but think ‘What about all the stuff you do wrong, Danny?’. Because Danny is judgemental, does a lot of things he shouldn’t, but justifies them.

    The clone thing is interesting, too, because I think it should be an interesting way to explore how human life should not be devalued even when it’s something we think we made.  In real life, from what I’ve read, clones are genetic copies, but not actual copies of a particular being.  So if someone cloned you, the clone might be genetically the same, but would have different memories and probably a different personality because it would have gone through different life experiences.  Some of the side stories of Star Wars have played with this a bit, with some books having clones that choose a different life.  In the newer 3d animated series for the Clone Wars, many of the clones have made themselves unique by dying their hair or cutting it differently. From what I can tell, though, if the clone is of a human, the clone would be a human too.

    And with Nazi Germany, I’m sure a lot of propaganda and secrets were good for keeping citizens from retaliating. A lot of people don’t take that into account when thinking they’d be the. Oboe defender of justice against tyrants.

    1. It’s hard to put aside emotional reactions to other people, especially when they’ve done something we consider to be really bad. Interesting fictional example, Autumn!

      And yes, I’m sure most people in Germany under Hitler had no idea what was really happening, and it was easy to silence any fleeting concerns they had.

  3. There are a few basic principles of what one believes about sin that might influence what we also believe about sin itself at work within us and all other people. One, as you say, “When we make Nazis into some inhuman ‘other’, we don’t admit that we are sinful just like they are.” This is true, and before God’s throne of mercy, all sin is equally serious and equally condemned, so God can only save sinners since there is no other possibility, God does this by grace, love, and forgiveness, in spite of our undeserving nature. BUT, secondly, aren’t some sins worse than others or some unforgiveable? Here there is probably some dividing line between those who think the sins of Nazis are unforgiveable, and those who think God can and does forgive anyone and everyone by grace alone. Third, you say, “we are capable of deeply selfish, sinful acts (thoughts, words, emotions, and deeds), just like they were”. Our will, ideas, and person remains in bondage to sin in all of life. Fourth, don’t some people “sin less” and “do what’s right and moral more” than others? This we can observe in criminal activity, immorality, mean-spirited dispositions, selfishness, prejudice, etc. In other words, from the point of view of human judgment which can be made as discernment and not judgmentalism, we reject, dislike, and resist sin in ourselves and in all others according to our best definitions of what is sin and how sin and goodness are mixed together in every person. Fifth, therefore, we cannot “hate” Nazis as a class or category of people; but we can dislike, condemn, and resist what they did and the ideology (both sinful) which they used to justify their lives. So I can say, Hitler and his henchmen (no women rulers at this level at this time) were worse than sinful; they were demonic and psychopathic and consumed with evil. I’ll tell you in a minute if they should be killed. So was Joseph Stalin crazy in 1924 – 1952 when he murdered millions of his own citizens by labeling them “enemies of the working class”. Then as recently as 1974 – 1979, after Pol Pot became General Secretary (same position as Stalin held in Russia) of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, he likewise killed millions of his own citizens of a different party and buried them in “killing fields” of which there were 343 such fields. These are all today called genocide, and only included a small percentage of military personnel. Finally, to end WW.II with Japan, we (Truman) dropped one atom uranium bomb on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945; and within two minutes of one day we murdered close to 70,000 civilians and within 20 years another 70,000 died from radiation. Then, just 3 days later, we dropped another atom uranium bomb (which was even more powerful because it had some plutonium in it also) on Nagasaki, August 9, 1945; and within another 2 minutes we executed 40,000 to 80K people (that bomb missed its target by 2 miles) who were also civilians. As of Aug. 2015, there have been over 450,000 radiation related deaths that have been documented in Japan. These two cities did have some factories that made materials for their military, but then almost all production was for food, clothing, etc. for everyone. Should we ever kill people who kill people to prove that killing people is wrong? You not only raise tough questions for war or for government’s right to go to war even in self-defense; but the same principles apply to individual life as well. So I would suggest that killing people is wrong; and if a war or military or police action is used it can not be justified except as an “evil necessity” and I have no easy answer to any of this. Thanks for raising the issue and discussing it with teen-agers which I wish someone had done for me. Keep the faith, Date: Mon, 22 Feb 2016 23:32:12 +0000 To: hschlachtie@hotmail.com

    1. Thanks for the great discussion on the larger problem of what we can and should say about evil, Harold. I appreciated your thoughts. In fact, I was just talking to a friend about the difference between saying that legally and in other human-focused ways certain sins are worse than others while still maintaining that, because all sin is THE sin of rebelling against God, it’s all the same from the standpoint of God’s holiness. And, as you mentioned, all able to be covered by Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

      The other examples you note from history are also extremely difficult and thought-provoking scenarios. I honestly don’t think I’d be able to make decisions like the atomic bomb, no matter what sort of moral-political calculus was involved.

  4. If you dehumanize the enemy, you can eradicate them without guilt — that’s exactly what the Nazis did, and what we as a moral society desire to do to the Nazis. This attitude is what allows us to call Muslims the enemy (dehumanizing an entire group of people based on the actions of a few) … and to a lesser degree, what happens with division between political groups.

    Christians don’t realize they are buying into this even when they make snide remarks about another denomination. That Catholic/Baptist/Anglican/Seventh Day Adventist is a living, breathing human being worthy of compassion and love regardless of their theological beliefs. Do we treat them with hatred or love?

    Jesus said… love.

    No ifs, ands, or buts.

    Nice blog, btw. Just ran across it today.

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