Lessons we can learn from history’s villains

Regarding the dust up associated with freshman Illinois congresswoman Mary Miller citing this quote attributed to Hitler [article p.3B, 7 Jan. edition]: “Whoever has the youth has the future.” It shouldn’t have to be said but apparently is, there is no possible interpretation of Miller’s remarks that could be construed as an endorsement of Hitler. Miller’s observation was a simple, unadorned empirical observation. But it elicited outrage comparable to that of a hornet whose nest has been whacked with a stick. Even fellow Republicans piled on.

Since college, where I was beaten mercilessly and unceasingly until I developed a sound writing capability, I have always valued clear thinking above all other qualities in a human being. A high level of literacy makes possible clarity. And clarity is the first pre-requisite of moral strength. I am regularly excoriated for purposeful but sincere distortions of statements I make. It angers me because it is inherently dishonest and manipulative. Everyone, including a right-wing dingbat like Mary Miller, deserves to be judged on the clear meaning of his/her words — for good or ill. Failure to do so reflects poorly on the accuser, not the accused.

This particular case has hidden in it just below the surface a premise that is patently preposterous once made explicit: that being that quotes made by evil people must themselves be evil and on this basis should be censored. I confess to a longstanding, albeit morbid fascination with WWII Nazis, Japanese imperialists and Proud Boys. They, like many of today’s Republicans, represent the basest instincts of humanity. As such what they have had to say is invaluable to the moral advancement of our species.

My favorite villain of all time is Hermann Goering. A WWI fighter pilot, the man was dynamic, flamboyant, eloquent, astute, bombastic, and utterly depraved. To my mind there could be no more salient commentary on our country’s slide into authoritarianism than this statement of his:

“… the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. Tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” [The term “peacemaker” should be understood as a stand-in for all unfairly scapegoated and maligned peoples]

Who could be more qualified to ferret out this grim truth than Goering, and can we really afford to ignore it because it’s horrifying?

William Ambrose



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