I am not an expert on Hitler. But my father is.
He toured post-war Germany extensively in 1957 and ’58 as a child performer. And he often recounts the stories. He befriended teenage Lebensborn children (if you don’t know what Lebensborn children are …well …before you post anymore about Hitler you should read about them). He visited an SS widow and got a peek at her husband’s uniform and Luger (that he’d committed suicide with), she had stored in an old trunk, in the attic.
These and other intense experiences in Germany sent my father on a life-long quest to understand this sociopath (Hitler) and the country that allowed itself to be dragged into one of the darkest chapters in world history. My dad is a Hitler/Nazi buff the way Indiana Jones’ dad was a Holy Grail buff.
As the son of a man with this hobby (one might call obsession) I learned a lot about Hitler and the Third Reich just by osmosis, growing up. My father would weave WWII stories into his sermons. He would talk about new books he was reading on the subject. When I was nine-years-old I bought him a book on the battle of Stalingrad for Christmas. Not a tie or a pair of socks. A book …on the battle …of Stalingrad. Yeah …it was kinda like that.
The thing my father and I have often discussed, through the years, is the eye-rolling art of comparing American presidents to Hitler. It is such an absurdity we find it amusing …and frustrating. It’s often just a punch line. Like the Soup Nazi wasn’t really a Nazi. He was just mean. The Nazi part made it funny. You know …over-the-top. Like “grammar Nazi” or “spelling Nazi.” Nobody is really a “Nazi.” It’s our representation of something we consider jarring, strident, intractable and inhumane.
But the truth about Nazis isn’t funny at all. It’s bloody and horrible and gut churning. And it involves machine guns and butchery and inhumanity on a scale that takes your breath away. Nobody is really a “soup Nazi” …unless they served it in a concentration camp.
The idea of comparing an American president to Hitler is just as absurd …from any angle, in any context. The American system ITSELF pretty much prevents “Hitlers” from showing up. And America ITSELF is anathema to what Hitler was trying to create. An American ANYTHING or ANYONE is hard to fit into the Hitler model. It’s just not apples to apples.
There are some fundamental things to understand about Hitler:
1. He took over a small, failing state that didn’t have separated government, enumerated powers or checks and balances. It’s difficult for a guy like that to show up here, in this system.
2. His entire political career was violent from the beginning. There was always death in his wake. He didn’t just suddenly “turn” violent. It was a pattern …as it always is with sociopaths. This is THE most important thing to watch; the violence. I always keep an eye on who is rioting …breaking things …throwing rocks and bombs. It doesn’t make them Nazis. But it signals how far they’re willing to go.
3. He entered office with his own personal military construct (the SS) with allegiance to him ONLY. They would carry out things the regular military would never carry out: i.e. the murder of private citizens and political opponents. Nothing like that exists or COULD exist in America. We simply wouldn’t allow it.
4. He didn’t start out just killing Jews. He started out euthanizing people with special needs …for the betterment of the care-givers’ lives. (You can decide which side of the aisle favors the extermination of “inconvenient” people).
5. He disarmed the population, then nationalized healthcare and education. (Two-out-of-three of those are Bernie Sanders moves …But, guess what? Bernie isn’t Hitler either …not by a long shot)
The list goes on and on. But the deal is this:
Hitler was a real life murdering sociopath. He wasn’t just a charismatic speaker who incrementally fell into bad behavior. He wasn’t just a racist corrupted by unfettered power. In other words, you or I probably couldn’t end up being Hitler. A garden variety KKK leader probably couldn’t end up being Hitler either …or a community organizer …or a New York real-estate tycoon. It’s not that easy or simple.
NONE of our American presidents have ever been Hitler. But the people of Germany certainly thought FDR was a murdering dictator when B-17s started dropping bombs on them. This is why you have to KNOW what you believe and why you believe it. Good guys and bad guys are often in the eyes of the beholder. And they often look similar in the fog of conflict. I would imagine Japanese Americans in internment camps wondered if their president was Hitler-like. Nope. Horrible act …but not close to Hitler.
To that point, ironically, the American president who could’ve actually been likened to Hitler (before Hitler) in some of his methods was …wait for it …Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln broke more constitutional law than any other president in U.S history. He imprisoned political opponents without due process. He suspended habeas corpus. He was personally responsible for the deaths of six hundred thousand people.
He invaded countries that had declared their own sovereignty and forced them back into a union they didn’t want to be a part of. He unilaterally annexed Nevada, without 60 thousand residents, (a pre-requisite for becoming a state) in order to carry it and win the 1864 election. In other words, he pretty much rigged it.
And when he was killed by the highest paid and most famous actor of his day (ironic …don’t you think?), the actor screamed “death to tyrants!” (in latin) because the man thought he was being a patriot for ridding the world of a dictator. But he wasn’t …and he didn’t.
Lincoln did all of those things to end and win the Civil War. And today we love him for it …as we should. Because in the end, his vision was right …even though his methods were suspect in the heat of the moment.
When people think they’re seeing a Hitler, they might actually – sometimes – be seeing something closer to a Churchill. Before WWII everyone thought Churchill was the big bad wolf. His own people hated him and thought he was a Hitler type character (again …pre-Hilter). But he just kept saying, “guys …I’m telling you. This Hitler guy is the real problem. Not me.” And he turned out to be right. There’s a difference between an abrasive leader who makes you uncomfortable …and a despot.
Now, people are comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. And the countdown has officially begun, to …well …I don’t know …but something really bad. I get that someone who is combative with the press and who wants to vet refugees and shut down open immigration fits the bill some are always looking for when it comes to finally getting their “Hitler” villain.
But if you study enough about it, you realize the guy vetting and banning refugees is probably not Hitler …the guy CREATING refugees probably is.
If we keep looking for Hitler in every United States president we disagree with, we’re not going to recognize the real one when he actually shows up …in a different country.