The Hitler dream
During the year-end holidays I had a dream about Adolf Hitler. It was just before I woke up - or, maybe it’s what woke me up. The timing of it, or the strength of it made a big impression and I recalled it clearly after I was awake. It went like this: it was post-war Germany. The Allies had been occupying the country only for a few weeks. The Fuhrer had stepped down before the war’s end and was out of office when the Allies entered the Fatherland - similar to prime Minister Hideki Tojo of Japan. His exact whereabouts was undetermined. Hitler had transformed himself and taken up a quiet country life. He had become a beloved junior school teacher, living quietly in a small provincial town in Bavaria. His students were too young to understand the war and his role in it. The townsfolk avoided talking about him and were a little protective of their infamous neighbour because he was such a great teacher. It was like a conspiracy of silence, avoiding contact with all outsiders, like an allergy. Then one day the American army arrived looking for him. They pulled him from a class and hanged him for war crimes almost on the spot. The sense of loss, confusion and incomprehension among his students was moving and pathetic.
Hitler was exactly the age I am now when he waged war throughout Europe. I’m not that kind of person. I can’t even imagine it. But I still think of him as a person - a man who had a mother who loved him; a man who liked children, dogs, chocolate and American cowboy movies; a man who read voraciously; a man who had reasons for his ideas and behaviour, even if his reasons were wrong.
In the West we are programmed to think of Hitler as evil incarnate, evil beyond question or doubt, all the bad adjectives you can imagine rolled into one. A monster. Thinking of and portraying him as a normal man is just not done. It could result in a teacher being fired. (If I can imagine it, then I guess it’s already happened.) One result is that the Nazis’ democratic election to political hegemony is usually ignored in the English media in favor of the more programmed story of a power “seizure.”
Asia has different models of monstrosity - Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, and in Japan especially the Kims of North Korea - Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-Il, and Kim Jong-un. They may be difficult names and identities for Westerners to keep track of, but not for Asians. For many Asians the Nazis are a fashion statement, admired for their stylish uniforms, which explains why you occasionally find Hitler’s image used in advertising (Korea), or Nazi-themed restaurants (Singapore), or tailor shops proudly displaying Nazi-era uniforms in their display windows to boast of their tailoring skill (Japan). Twice in Tokyo I have seen young men walking on the streets in full Nazi dress uniforms complete with swastika armbands and peaked caps - one naval and the other Gestapo. Maybe they were cosplayers, or maybe they just thought the uniforms were handsome.