I remember a while back there was this immensely popular post with a gif of Hitler flattering his wife, that had tons and tons of notes from all these people gushing about how they had no idea Hitler was human too. When I criticized it, this older blogger claimed all these tumblr teens were taught in school to “dehumanize” Hitler, and now they were learning more than the simplistic narrative they were taught in school. It was, according to them, mind-broadening and important. The dehumanization of Hitler they claimed is a huge problem, and a bigger problem was young people thinking too simplistically about this complex person.
But this is the thing:
It’s true you are taught a simplistic and misleading narrative about World War II and the Nazis in school. But the problem isn’t that you’re taught to think badly of Hitler and Nazis, who committed mass murder, torture, enslavement, and other human rights abuses. The problem is you are taught that the US was the good guy and the Nazis were the antithesis to everything the US represented and now represents. You’re taught that the US came in and saved everyone in the name of freedom and democracy and crushed those Nazi fascists! And everyone lived happily ever after.
When in reality, the US invented eugenics which inspired the Nazis’ Aryan racial ideals in the first place. The Nazis modeled their treatment of Jews, Romani and other minorities after how the US treated Black people. Not only that, but the US refused the entry of many European Jews fleeing the Holocaust into this country. The US refused to help the Jews and other minorities targeted by Nazis. The US ignored pleas begging them to destroy gas chambers when they were so close within striking distance in Europe that they hit one accidentally.
What happened was after Pearl Harbor put the US at risk, they got involved and then they made up a story about why they were the good guys and why the Germans were the bad guys, about how they were now all about saving the world and the poor Jews. And the truth about antisemitism in the US (there were literal signs saying NO JEWS and shit, which you never learn about in school), about eugenics in the US, about the US’s deadly passivity for much of WWII, is actively erased, glossed over or explained away. And meanwhile, irony of ironies, the US sent thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps—which of course were not the same as Nazi Germany’s extermination and concentration camps, but weren’t exactly the kind of thing someone who was ideologically opposed to Nazis would do. (You’re taught about the internment of Japanese Americans in school, but you aren’t encouraged to think about it as compromising the US’s alleged position as ideologically opposing Nazi Germany).
The US has used WWII to its advantage to create a particular narrative. It’s arguably a big reason antisemitism in the US changed and Jews started to achieve much greater access to whiteness. Associating Jews with whiteness dissociates Nazis from American racism and eugenics, despite how much mental gymnastics you have to do to ignore the fact white supremacy was at the core of Nazi ideology (people continually allege Jews were white in Nazi Germany despite the fact Nazis killed them, literally, to purify the white race). It takes the conversation away from the end result of white supremacy: genocide and brutality. Think about how important that would have been in the 1930s and 40s when the US was even more overtly racist than it is now. How would the US look: a nation where PoC, and Black people especially, were constantly exposed to violence and oppression? When what allowed the concentration camps in Nazi Germany to exist was a change to their constitution that allowed the deprivation of human rights in particular spaces, and all Roosevelt had to do was write an executive order depriving Japanese Americans of rights just as easily. Criticisms of white supremacy and human rights violations in Nazi Germany open up the same criticisms toward the US. I’m not the first to have that idea. Harper Lee tackles it in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Tumblr SJ who complain the Holocaust gets “too much attention” compared to other social injustices also seem to miss this point—they suggest it’s ~Jewish privilege~ or white privilege that explains why everyone cares more about the Holocaust, ignoring the fact that the mainstream narrative in the US about the Holocaust and WWII also often erases the long history of antisemitism in Europe and the history of it in the US. The narrative suggests Nazis arbitrarily decided on Jews as a scapegoat and ignores the racialization of Jews in Europe. There’s also an implication that with the end of the Holocaust came the end of antisemitism. Many aspects of the mainstream narrative around the Holocaust is hurtful to Jews. Ignoring the role of white supremacy in the Holocaust does no marginalized people any favors: as well as making it too easy to let the US off the hook for creating eugenics in the first place, it also erases Romani, who were targeted in the genocide, and are still definitely not racialized as white to this day.
The US is a racist empire (and I say empire because we currently live on colonized land and also exert worldwide control) and while I don’t like comparing Nazi Germany to anything, we’re not the opposite of Nazi Germany by any means—we certainly were not in the 1940s when we fought them. I don’t think the US is the same or even similar to Nazi Germany (as I said, I don’t like making lazy comparisons like that), but I think both the US and Nazi Germany have two terrible things in common: white supremacy and a government that has the power to deprive citizens of their basic rights at a moment’s notice.
That’s the story you’re not taught in school. That’s the mind blowing epiphany that actually matters.
Hitler being human is a fact of course. But he was a horrible, horrible human being, probably one of the worst in history. And making excuses for him being primarily responsible for wiping out one third of population of a people (Jews; edit: see here), 90% of the population of another (Romani), as well as countless other atrocities doesn’t make you interesting, edgy or counter-culture. It makes you downright despicable.
Sadly, it seems tumblr’s teens find the idea of Hitler flirting with his wife more interesting and mind-blowing than the idea that everything they were taught about the US’s role in WWII is slanted to mislead them.
here it is
not to mention how the nazis modeled their actions after U.S. and European colonial actions against indigenous peoples in the Americas and Africa.
^^^^^^^ and that Nazism was seen as the logical continuation of Western civilization and ideals - I learned that in another class how Nazism is based on all the fundamental tenants of Western Civilization and Ideology (something not talked about much is how enlightenment and a lot of western philosophy was drawn from by Nazis)