Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Oliver Stone was right

Sort of. This may seem like ancient history because it's been a week since Stone shocked the media world by suggesting Hitler was a scapegoat, Russians suffered more than Jews (which is unknown due to a Jewish dominance of the media), and Stalin may need to be given some slack. Stone not being Mel Gibson, issued an apology to Jewish leaders who were upset, redefined his statements about Hitler, and everyone has moved on (that is because the dirty little secret is, much media outrage is proportional to how much someone happens to run afoul of the basic biases and agendas of the media. But that's for another post). What I want to do is break down Stone's statement, because I found it and, more to the point, the 'outrage' to be interesting.

Here's what Stone said about Hitler that turned everyone inside out:

“We can't judge people as only 'bad' or 'good'," Stone said. "(Hitler) is the product of a series of actions. It's cause and effect. People in America don't know the connection between World War I and World War II. Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it's been used cheaply."
Let's break that down.

We can't judge people as only 'bad' or 'good'. That depends doesn't it. We can say that Hitler loved animals, or that Charles Manson was charismatic, but the idea that 'good' or 'bad' can no longer be applied smacks of a post-Boomer moral relativity. And it's that manner of moral relativity that most in the post-Boomer world seem reluctant to apply. After all, most of Stone's life has been framing his films around "He's good and he's the baddie." Of course, you can't just say it's all bad or good. For too long Hitler has become a one-dimensional cardboard cutout comic book villain. Knowing what Hitler was, what made him tick, understanding he was a human being, are all appropriate. But it needn't replace the fact that the overall average of Hitler's life still should end up in the 'evil' column of history (which Stone, in his apology, agreed with).

Hitler is the product of a series of actions. Of course. So is the United States, every president, each filmmaker. That's always true. Nothing unusual about that except for the fact that when such an obvious statement is applied to Hitler there is a knee-jerk reaction demanding the perpetrator's head on a platter.

People in America don't know the connection between WWI and WWII. It's likely that some in America would be hard pressed to remember there was a WWI at all, if it wasn't for the fact that the name WWII suggests something must have happened beforehand called WWI. Modern Americans and historical knowledge are two ships passing in the night. Which is why you have Americans leaving such stellar films as JFK or The Da Vinci Code assured they just received a post-doctorate level education in history.

Finally, has Hitler been a scapegoat? Has he been used cheaply? Second question first. Yes, if you mean that for many "Evil" is defined as 'Hitler and the Nazis killed 6 million Jews. Period. Everything else is subject to debate.' Has he been used as a weapon to bludgeon folks in debate or politics, when the people invoking the name couldn't explain anything about Hitler other than he and the Nazis killed 6 million Jews? Sure. Has he been used to sweep other terrifying episodes - particularly in the 20th century - under the rug? Frequently. Like the rest of our historical knowledge, misunderstanding Hitler, and therefore misusing Hitler, is all too common.

As for the first. A scapegoat? This is where we begin seeing Stone move from some bold, if not simplistic, evaluations regarding our current knowledge of history and Hitler's role in human events, and begin to get a strange whiff of bias. For we see in his other quotes that Hitler was simply a marionette, dancing to the tune played out by - who else? - those evil American and British industrialists. This is where Stone goes off the same tracks his films always seem to jump.

Especially strange is why Stone would assume Hitler was somehow supported by the industrialists. Did some, early on, see Hitler as someone who could get things done, could make things happen, who turned around his country's dismal economic depression? They did. Were there folks willing to look away from the Nazis' flagrant anti-Semitism due to a latent bigotry in their own lives? Apparently so. But that means there were humans who were wrong, bad, or short-sighted like there are today. Just as there is a well known filmmaker insisting that even though Hugo Chavez may be cracking a few skulls in Venezuela, the ones getting it have it coming. Besides, look how he is a man who can get things done, make things happen, and turn around his country's dismal economic depression!

Perhaps Stone is right after all. Maybe there were people pushing Hitler because of their own agendas and designs, and Hitler merely sailed to the top on their prodding and cheering. That is easier to believe now that we see modern dictators and dictator wannabes spreading oppression, hatred, and fear while also gleaning the support of many modern industrialists' proddings.

Next time, more on Hitler and Stalin, too!

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