Demonize the enemy–a trick of propaganda. Even beloved icons are guilty of it like Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. Dr. Seuss was a prolific political activist during WWII and created hundreds of political cartoons for New York newspaper PM (1940-1948). He criticized the U.S. for its lethargy for entering the war. He criticized racist, anti-black labor practices in U.S. industries. He criticized regimes in general. His anti-Japanese caricatures prompted an apology later with Horton Hears a Who Atlantic Monthly, Seuss Takes on Hitler. I invite you to explore the University of California San Diego library which features Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons. UCSD Dr. Seuss Goes to War Special Collections
This ten minute Walt Disney film parodied and simplified the complex issue of Germans embracing Nazism. Mixing facts with hasty generalizations, the format of the cartoon made it easier to swallow in the guise of education.
In history class the other day, students annotated a scholarly article for homework. I selected a half-dozen to lead a discussion. At the end of the article, students were asked to answer several questions. Susie, one of my “very” students–very dedicated, very charming, very smart, very ambitious–confidently described the article. Then it came time to share the answers at the end of the article. I told the class to listen to their peer leaders and fill in any gaps they had missed. It they didn’t have the answer, now was a good time to get the information.
Outraged, Susie yelled, “Why should I tell them the answers? I stayed up late last night to prepare for today. Why would I help out those who didn’t bother to do it? That’s not fair!”
Red warning flags flapped. Ghosts from the Holocaust nudged me to handle her outburst promptly. No, Susie is not a Nazi, but her attitude reeked of it.
Many know the secret of manipulation lies in the power of propaganda; nations around the world used it to influence their citizens in WWI and WWII. For example, you might have heard of the George Creel Committee established during WWI to create propaganda posters to persuade the nation to enter the war. Eugenics was a global phenomenon, and a philosophy embraced in the 19th and 20th centuries for establishing a racial superiority. NARA power of persuasion Propaganda sets up an elitist, “It’s us against them” hierarchy. Propaganda simplifies complex issues and fosters a black and white mentality. Propaganda is a biased attempt to persuade and shape public opinion.
“The real danger of propaganda lies when competing voices are silenced –and unchecked, propaganda can have negative consequences.” United States Holocaust Museum
An interesting aspect of Nazism was the expectations placed on women. Wife/mother schools accepted Arian pure bloods and encouraged athleticism. Healthy mothers were essential for producing a brood of Nordic-looking children. The Fatherland rewarded you with a house and accolades. The opportunity for financial stability and affirmation enticed many women in Nazi Germany.
Women of Nazi Germany, was a British documentary produced by Dunja Noack and directed by Cate Haste and first broadcast in 2001. Surviving SS and Nazi women gave their historical account including Hitler’s last personal secretary, Traudl Junge. She was a principal character played by Alexandra Lara in the critically acclaimed film, Downfall (2004).
Bruno Ganz gave an electrifying performance. It was a film that succeeded in showing the cult of Adolf Hitler. The extent to which Mrs. Goebbels honored the Fatherland and Hitler chilled me to the bone. Hitler’s perverse ambition to create an Aryan, 1000-year-old German Reich ruined countries and murdered millions. Similarly, in the Pacific Theater, the Japanese emperor demanded absolute obedience from all citizens. Both countries expected the great sacrifice–death than defeat to the Allies. WWII baffles my mind. It always depresses me.
Back to Susie.
In my opinion, when one meets a new person, the mind clicks “yes”, “maybe”, or “no” with a snap decision. Take that impulse and what will you do with it? If you listen to the influences of your culture, it will shape that first impulse. I think humans are malleable. We want to feel accepted and loved, and we succumb to instant gratification–that is, we feel first and think later. Generally speaking. An ideal, a better way of life, a promise–these are the instruments of the demon as well as the angel.
Who knows why some of her classmates didn’t do their homework? There have been good and bad excuses since there have been students and teachers. When Susie felt contempt for her classmates, when she felt superior and brazenly rejected them, I felt fear. People weren’t born Nazis. It took years to cultivate that hateful ideology. Susie was not racially but intellectually contemptuous. Still, once one starts believing they are better than another, it’s a dangerous journey. Intolerance and malignity are ingredients; if fed, they grow into a cancer.
I told Susie she would feel satisfaction if she shared her strengths with her classmates. Her “very” gifts gave her an advantage; she was certain to become a leader. I told her true leaders embrace compassion, not contempt. I don’t know if she heard me, but I hope so on behalf of the multi-millions who had no voice in WWII and perished because of malignity and intoleration.