Of Heroes, Racists, and Hitler
The preposterous Rob Reiner (“Meathead” from the famous 1970’s sitcom All in the Family) appeared on a mainstream liberal Sunday talk show recently and droned on and on about conservatives being racists, Jan. 6 being an actual attempt to forcefully remove the government, and President Trump being the modern-day embodiment of Hitler. In other words, Reiner trotted out every cliché and shallow, predictable progressive talking point, once again confirming that high-profile liberal celebrities have essentially nothing insightful or original to contribute to the public discussion. It was painful to listen to.
But it did illuminate a truth that needs to be amplified: When dramatic, powerful words are overused or used incorrectly, they lose any semblance of their former value and impact. There are three glaring and important examples of this—the words hero, racist and Hitler.
It’s a real shame that this word has been indiscriminately tossed around to the point where it’s lost its real meaning, because anyone who serves the public interest while at risk to themselves deserves our utmost respect and appreciation. However, having said that, not everyone is a hero in the strict definition of that word.
Here’s someone who was: In February 1942, early in World War II, Navy pilot Butch O’Hare’s F4F Wildcat was the only plane available to stave off an entire squadron of Japanese bombers attacking his ship, the valuable aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington. Displaying unhesitating bravery and unerring marksmanship while ignoring withering defensive machine gun fire from the enemy planes, O’Hare is credited with shooting down five Japanese bombers and chasing off the rest, all within a matter of a few minutes, actions that single-handedly saved his virtually irreplaceable ship and earned him the Medal of Honor. Next time you fly into Chicago’s busy O’Hare International Airport, you’ll know how it got its name. That’s heroism.
In early 20th century America, there was still tremendous racism against Blacks. The contention here is that this racism was even worse than what occurred earlier in the 18th and 19th centuries, during the slave era. By 1900, the Civil War had been over for decades. Blacks were supposed to be fully equal citizens. The country had advanced quite far technologically since 1865, especially in agriculture, to the point that the huge amounts of raw manual labor that had been necessary (and had thus fueled the rise of a slave workforce) were no longer needed in farming to anywhere near the same degree. The United States had become a fairly mechanized and automated society, with modern factories, military and civilian aircraft, sophisticated sea-going ships, large private ownership of cars, widespread radio usage, major league sports stadiums, movie theaters and the like. There was absolutely no reason, economically or socially, why Black Americans shouldn’t have been able to participate fully in daily American life, the same as whites. Unlike the manual farming needs of the 1700s and 1800s that drove slave ownership and the mistreatment of Blacks, in the early-mid 1900’s, the cause of their continued mistreatment was pure societal meanness and prejudice, not some misplaced rationalization of economic necessity. That made the racism of the 1900s even worse, even more inexcusable.
But the term has now been diluted to the point of meaninglessness. If one bases education admissions and employment on merit and ability rather than racial quotas, you’re a racist. Make an innocent joke, and you’re a racist. If entertainment awards or other industry recognitions don’t adhere to a strict formula of ethnic and gender proportion, then you’re a racist. And this is at least equally important: it only counts as racism if it discriminates against a minority. Discrimination against whites (especially white males) is allowed—if not welcomed and cheered—because of whites’ many centuries of underserved “white privilege.”
The term “racist” has lost its meaning, its legitimacy.
The events and conditions that made Hitler’s emergence possible and led to World War II is a long, complicated topic, more than worthy of it own separate in-depth analysis. In very simplistic terms, the particularly harsh punishment and reparations imposed on Germany after World War I ended in 1918 absolutely ruined the country. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, German recovery from World War I was essentially impossible. Afraid of a German militaristic resurgence, the Allied victors put severe restrictions on Germany’s economy, particularly their manufacturing sector. For the average person, life in post-World War I Germany was a nightmare.
Clamoring for hope, for the slimmest promise of an end to their national ordeal, Germany was ripe for a charismatic leader promising to restore Germany’s former affluence and power, a leader who could convincingly blame others for Germany’s hellish predicament and who vowed vengeance on those responsible. Coming to power in 1933, Adolph Hitler filled that vacuum, the person who’d make everything right again in Germany, the one who would lead Germany to new heights of glory and national wealth. His fanatical hyperbolic speeches moved the national mood to back his aim of world dominance and set in motion the events that led to World War II from 1939-1945. It was a war that resulted in over 40 million deaths, unspeakable atrocities in the name of national ambitions and the re-ordering of global boundaries and relationships, the majority of which are still in effect to this day.
As the main catalyst of World War II and its incomprehensible horrors, Hitler occupies a lone place in history. No ignorant off-the-cuff remarks likening a current political figure to him can even remotely be thought of as appropriate or accurate in any way. To call an average modern-day politician Hitler simply because of a policy or verbal stylistic disagreement eviscerates the memory of Hitler’s unsurpassed evil and betrays the depths of the speaker’s astonishing callowness.
Unfortunately, the words hero, racist and Hitler, have lost their significance, their weight, their import. Luckily, this one hasn’t: Idiots.
Image: Picryl / public domain
To comment, you can find the MeWe post for this article here.