so i was reading what is history by british historian edward carr and i came across a passage in which he talked about passing moral judgment on individual characters in history and how it was a fruitless exercise because such judgments bear little on historical events. because he is british, carr cites examples such as the “bad” King John and King Henry V, which didn’t interest me as much. but then he talked about how it was tough to avoid passing moral judgments on stalin and hitler because the actions they were associated with were relatively contemporary (carr writes in the 1960s) and the effects of their “evil” acts were still felt by living people.
this got me thinking as to how i, a korean dude living in america over sixty years after hitler’s rise, would write about the much-hated historical figure known as hitler. for all i know, my opinion of him is a product of the endless material (i almost used “propaganda” but that will get me hanged) that portray him as a demagogue with the evilest of intentions – i.e. the annhiliation of the jews. but then a part of me realizes that he was a big-time nationalist, “a product of his time” in that the germans were going through a rough period and was in want of a strong leader, and that he was, to a degree, allowed and supported by the people to do a lot of the things he envisioned (of course, there is also the argument that he manipulated the germans so well, but you can seriously only give oratory skills so much credit). but of course, i am not so stupid as to write anything about hitler without saying something negative about him or else i will be called a nazi apologist and an anti-semitic jew-hater. but what would carr say if he observed me writing a well-researched paper tracing hitler’s life, perhaps, against the backdrop of the various movements in his day, and prioritizing the “causes” of what led to the Holocaust, WWII, etc.? and in the course of my written work, i was able to avoid saying anything morally judgmental, but just wrote about the figure of hitler as an active individual unit in the course of an entire social movement (duh, i am sure this has been done many times over and over again, but just play along please)? i mean, com’on – anti-semitism, as TS Eliot most definitely proves, was an “intellectual” movement at one point.
but to backtrack on my jumbled argument above (if there even is one), i want to know if the people who are so anti-hitler today are such a way because they feel the pain still or because of a very effective campaign on the part of historical moralists to make sure that every child learning anything about history knows that hitler is evil. probably a bit of both, and i do wonder what the sentiment will be like another fifty or so years from now. will people relate less to the evil and think it as an afterthought? and how about them armenians? the turks still say they didn’t do nuttin’, but armenians claim that people died by holocaust proportions. how come turkey isn’t as evil? (okay, i must admit, 99% of my knowledge about armenians come from atom egoyan’s movie ararat)
hmm.. for my own safety, i should take the time now to point out that i have great jewish friends, and i do not endorse the actions of hitler or anything associated with the nazi party. perhaps carr should’ve mentioned that writing history is also a very political exercise.