We’ve turned Hitler into a god.
Adolph Hitler had ambitions as much, though not as the god we made him out to be. Hitler wanted to be Hitler, founder of our great world empire. After his successors would establish Pax Germania he’d become a household name like Lenin in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And like Lenin (or folks here in the US like MLK and JFK) there’d be monuments to Hitler everywhere. Hitler wanted Hitlerton and Hitlerville and Adolph Hitler High School. Hitler Boulevard would become a common thoroughfare in municipalities and statues of his likeness would commonly adorn public parks and community squares.*
Instead he became the new devil. Hitler out Satan’d Satan.
Want to express how despicable someone is? Compare them to Hitler. Think that people shouldn’t engage in a behavior. Observe that Hitler did that thing too. Don’t like a politician? Draw a toothbrush moustache on him (or her!). Looking to be edgy in an anonymous forum? State Hitler did nothing wrong! It works every time!
Hitler is of a slightly different flavor of evil than Satan was, being a Snappy-saluting, Poland-invading, Goose-stepping**, Jew-massacring evil, rather than the soul-buying, sin-tempting, soul-tormenting evil that Satan was in the 19th and 20th century.†
In fact, Mike Godwin figured out an abstract mathematical model noting the popularity of Hitler comparisons in internet-age discourse, which has helped turn it into something of an acknowledged cliché. And it typically is.
For instance, Imagine the guy who just cut you off at the freeway exit. Then when you see that he’s smoking and texting at the same time, you figure he’s worse than Hitler.
No, he’s not. He’s not in the running with Hitler. Hitler doesn’t even drive. He has one of his clerks drive him around when he needs to go someplace. More likely he’ll have the clerk fetch what or who he needs.
And no amount of rude driving will compare to The Holocaust which is about as awful as awful things get. The Holocaust was a pretty big deal. A lot of people were involved. A lot more people were massacred. The entire world community processes it in a number of ways, from building monuments and grieving, to writing books and analyzing how it could have happened to outright denying it altogether. The whole of humanity is still rather embarrassed how the Holocaust happened and was done by countless allegedly civilized human beings. And no amount of social infraction is going to add up to that.
And while I can acknowledge that there is a strong temptation to compare people you don’t like to Hitler, before you do, it may be good to assess the magnitude of the infraction in question, and consider if it was of the scale that many nations would erect memorials for the victims of that action.
I’ve been so tempted to make such comparisons, but as someone who’s learned a few things about the WWII era I engage in what I call Applied Godwinism, which is to narrow my comparisons of recent incidents to very specific events in German history circa 1922-1945.
For instance Trump’s suggestion of mandating special ID cards for Muslims smacks a bit of the yellow badge that Jews were required to wear. (The Judengelb or Judenstern.) They were mandated locally until 1941 where the law was extended to all German-occupied territories.
Another one: The US police are able to beat, tase, shoot and even outright murder people with minimal penalty, so long as they fear for their safety. We’ve now seen a plethora of cases in which officers have been given paid leave until the incident was reviewed by internal affairs, in which grand juries were massaged to acquit a officers who killed someone, in which officers rob freeway users of their belongings and get to keep them. This situation compares nicely to the German Freikorps who served as peacekeepers after WWI. They were a separate caste than the common peoples of Prussia and Austria and had become very accustomed to getting their own way by force anything wasn’t freely given. Needless to say, the locals freely gave to them whatever they wanted. It’s good to be above the law.
* It was also his ambition to turn Christmas into Hitler Day, this was partly because he was a firm believer in political secularism (i.e. the wall of separation between Church and State) and felt that state holidays should not feature religious icons. He didn’t mind if he had to share the day with Saint Nicholas or Krampus in some houses, so long as he was in there somewhere as the jolly good founder of this new shining happy utopian age. Official decorations and celebrations would only relate to Hitler Day, though. Because rules.
Hitler did have an opposition to Christmas continuing to be associated with Jesus, as he was opposed to anything related to Jewish culture. Hitler’s clear disdain for Christianity runs curiously in conflict with is insistence of remaining active members of the Roman Catholic Church, and insisting the same regarding his cabinet and the entire SS. Probably also because rules.
** This is one of situations where images get mixed in the brain. Troops on parade would goose step to show they’re well disciplined and have been practicing, much like superfluous rifle drilling. In fact, they still do. We still associate the goose step march with Hitler due to the memorable 1939 footage of the Wehrmacht on parade. At the time Hitler didn’t goose-step, himself, rather was enjoying the snappiness of his troops on parade and occasionally doing the non-conventional L-salute.
† Satan only went into the human-soul commodities market after the legend of Faust, which wasn’t Satan’s regular shtick at the time. That was a special deal he was making with Faust. Before that, Satan was much more like Imhotep (circa 1999) in that he commanded the elements and would siege human settlements with storms, plagues, fire from the sky, and so on. Much closer to Hitler and his Blitzkrieg, actually. Also, like Yahweh when He’s angry, which makes some sense, because Satan was notoriously compelled to imitate Yahweh.