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That thing with Prince Harry and the swastika
delirium happy
OK, I know I'm incredibly late to the party on this one, and all the cool cats have already expressed their moral outrage one way or another (or their amusement over the concept of a "natives and colonials" themed party as the case may be). However, I've been thinking about this some more today, and the more I think about it, the more completely ridiculous it seems.

For anyone who missed the story, which was about a week or so ago, Prince Harry (son of Prince Charles, third in line to the British throne) went to a private party dressed as a Nazi, someone took photos, gave them to the press, and much media-fueled outrage ensued. I'm sure you all know about this, but I'm equally sure that if I look back on this in a year's time, I won't.

The thing is, I so completely could not care if Prince Harry wore a Nazi uniform. This is partly because I don't care in the slightest about what Prince Harry chooses to do in private, but mainly because the hysteria that tends to accompany anything in any way connected with the Nazis really pisses me off.

Now don't get me wrong; I think that the Nazi party -- both as a collective, and as a group of individuals -- did one hell of a lot of thoroughly repugnant and objectionable things which every right-minded individual would unreservedly condemn. However, wearing a swastika was not one of these things.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the swastika. It's a little symbol. Making it the ultimate taboo, as many people seem to do, gives it far too much power and is nothing short of idolatry. The swastika did not attempt to kill all Jews. The swastika did not replace a German democracy with a fascist dictatorship. The swastika did not invade Poland. Wearing a swastika is not an implicit statement that is equivalent to saying "I support the actions of the Nazi party". It is nothing more and nothing less than the wearing of a swastika.

There are plenty of other regimes in the history of the world who have committed horrendous atrocities. The soviets attempted to wipe out indigenous cultures, and sent millions of people to die in labour camps in Siberia. The Iraqi Ba'ath party gassed the Kurds and invaded Kuwait. the southern states of the USA went to war over their right to keep slaves. The entire of the USA, and the rest of the European colonists of the Americas, systematically killed vast swathes of indigenous peoples. Milosevic and the Kosovan Albanians. The utter disregard for human life shown by all the western European states, in pursuit of empire building. And so on and so forth. (And that's just recent history; the likes of Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan weren't all that moralled by today's standards either.)

So what was so horrible about the Nazi party? Why is a swastika so reviled, while nobody seems to care all that much about, say, a Soviet or a Confederacy flag? Was what the Nazis did really just that much worse than what vast numbers of other civilisations throughout history have done? I find that hard to believe. They might have been the worst atrocities ever committed by mankind; I really don't know enough history to know whether this is true or not. I will wager, though, that they weren't so disproportionately worse than anything else as to warrant the pan-national swastika taboo.

I've been thinking about this, and have managed to come up with two probable reasons for this. Firstly, they lost. They lost, in the end, really quite badly. This means that they didn't get any say in writing the history books. The atrocities carried out by the British Empire tend to be rather less publicised in the history books from over here. And then there's the fact that the victims of the Nazi party were "people like us". People tend to get much worked up when it's "people like us" who are being persecuted. "I mean sure, it's horrible that the Ba'athists were gassing the Kurds, but they're Kurds, y'know? Weird foreign types. Now gassing the Jews though, that was truly horrible. That guy Oliver who lives down the street from me is a Jew -- bit weird at times, but a decent fellow once you get to know him." And so on. While I'll admit that that may be somewhat hyperbolic, I think that it's not entirely unreasonable.

So what message are we sending by this Nazism taboo? We aren't sending the message that genocide and fascism are bad. We get those messages across much better in other forms. No, the message that we send is that crimes are much worse when they're perpetrated against people like us, and that if something bad happens we absolutely must tread carefully around the subject, and err on the side of caution, lest we inadvertently offend somebody.

Well bollocks to that.

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Incidentally, there's a lot of debate over the use of the Confederate flag--pretty much the only people who fly it are white upper-middle-class Southerners. I wrote a paper on it a few years back, I'll try to find it.

But as a symbol, it appears fairly frequently. The flag may not be used much any more, but its legacy certainly lives on.

And it's controversial. The swastika is still used too and by much the same people in the US. In the US there is a close link between white supremecists and neo-nazis, so the two are actually much more closely equivalent.

You're right that the Nazi thing is overdone. It was just so well-organized. Sure, people had been trying to wipe out Jews for ages - the Inquisition, various pogroms, but the Holocaust was just huge. And when you grow up with it being your grandparents or your great-aunts and uncles who were killed or those of people you know, it makes a huge effect. It was very recent and not just to people we know, but to our families. At least, it was for me.

But quite frankly, I don't care so much what anyone wears. I care a lot more about their politics. As you say, the swastika was not the problem. I'm more concerned that the Nazi party has won some small, local elections in Germany. Not that they want to kill the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled, etc. this time, but they still have support for facism. And that's scary.

I'm quite sure that I've seen the Confederate flag used genericly, in a sense not linked to white supremacy or the ideals and morals of the Confederists from the time, but rather as as handy symbol for "southerness". Judging from your comment and sarianna's I'm presuming that this must be less common than I believed -- or possibly I'm even misremembering -- but I am fairly sure that it's a lesser taboo than Nazi symbolism.

A lot of the "redneck" movement is directly tied in with white supremacy and Southern separationism. As with everything, it comes down to context and intent, but it's a more offensive symbol than you might imagine. Living in the Northeast, I can tell you that if someone displayed a Confederate flag here, it would automatically be considered a racist display and not one of "Southern pride."

The North/South-Red/Blue divide is as bad in America right now as is was in the build-up to the Civil War, and I really do mean that. The issues have changed, but the sentiment is there.

People often fly the flag and claim it is a symbol of pride in the Southern traditions and way of life. They are generally assumed to be simply less-honest racists.

I agree. The Nazis are also teh eeevilest because we are obsessed with WWII and we're obsessed with WWII because it is morally simple (with the benefit of hindsight) and we were on the right side. Plus it's a nice distraction from a war which is complicated and unpleasant and where we are patently on the wrong side.

My mum works in an inner city school with huge amounts of racial tension, there are BNP members in the local area, race-based murders etc. My mum was horrified by the Nazi symbolism because she's daily suspending kids of BNP members for using Nazi salutes and so on. In some parts of Britain, the swastika is alive and well and representing daily violence and fear. So well done Harry, appearing on the front page of the son wearing that. Really helped. Great.

What the hell? I live in a country where kids are being denied education based on their political beliefs? That's rather disturbing.

You live in a country where kids are being suspended from school for using symbols in school that will be perceived--and are intended to be perceived--as threatening to their fellow students.

If it comes to a choice between student A staying home because he's scared, and student B being told to stay home until he stops threatening student A, I think the ethical decision is clear-cut. As far as I know, nobody is being suspended from school because of who their parents vote for, or for going around on weekends with BNP leaflets.

Personally, I'd say that as a society we have a moral obligation to both children. While I appreciate that the teacher's job is often not easy, and they have to make decissions based on the lesser of two evils, any system that allows for that is flawed.

I also think that a Nazi salute is not, in and of itself, a threat. It all depends on context and, as you say, intent. And trying to gauge a person's intent is notoriously tricky. So I say we go on context. A single Nazi salute is not a problem. Repeated Nazi salutes over a prolonged time span aimed at one individual or a small group is bullying and harassment, and they should be suspended for that rather than for the Nazi symbolism. A Nazi salute used as a precurso to violence is a problem, btu again, it's the violence that's the problem, not the salute.

I rather suspect that one of the big reasons why kids will use that sort of Nazi symbolism is that they know damn well that it will get a rise out of people. If people stopped reacting to it so extremely then one of its attractions would be gone.

If a kid thinks that Nazism is cool, then we really aren't going to disepl that idea by suspending them. That way they're just going to think that it's more cool because they get to piss off authority figures, and they'll end up with no education and remain embittered with "the system".

We have a universal education system because it's important; because it allows people to break away from ignorance, poverty and bitterness. We also have it because people below the age of 16 (which is the earliest legal school-leaving age in this country) are still learning. they make mistakes. We certainly shouldn't be condemning people to an uneducated life simply because they make mistakes in their teens.

And yes, I am well aware that there isn't a single easy answer as to how to solve this problem. I don't think that any sort of zero tolerance approach is the right way to go about things though.

I live in a country that will suspend a teenager for giving a classmate a midol or a tylenol when they are in pain and call it drug traffic. I live in a country that expelled a boy for letting a classmate use his prescription inhaler because she also had asthma and was having a massive attack and couldn't find hers and all the adults admit he probably saved her life.

So, it could be worse.

mmmm zero tolerance policies.

Um.... I think it has to do with the scale and sheer industriousness:

Number of people killed by:
Plague in 1348 in England: 1.5 million.
AIDS (as of 2001): 21 million (over the course of over 20 years)
Terrorists on 9/11/01: 2,977
Tsunami in 2004: ~160,000
Atomic bomb in Hiroshima, 1945: <350,000
Hitler's death camps: 12 million (est.) over the course of 4 years (Jewish and non-Jewish).

Disease, terrorism, and natural disasters are all kind of "random" acts of violence. Even warfare doesn't select its targets quite so clinically and coldly, and even so, those selected for termination are those who have power, not the huddled masses of women, children, and elderly that were the first to walk into the gas chambers.

America's own past of slavery is a hard past to live with, but it's not a past that includes rapid, methodical, industrialized genocide.

I think that is why a symbol of Hitler's world is so chilling, so repellant, so horrifying. I think that is why it's such a big deal.

And I tend to agree with leora. The real problem is that the Nazi party has such a stronghold in Germany and the US, and the absolutely chilling rhetoric used by the American President to describe the people he wants to exterminate, too.

But to quote from wikipedia:

It is generally agreed by historians that if famines, prison and labour camp mortality, and state terrorism (deportations and political purges) are taken into account, Stalin and his colleagues were directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions. How many millions died under Stalin is greatly disputed. Although no official figures have been released by the Soviet or Russian governments, most estimates put the figure between 8 and 20 million.

It's debatable which is worse out of that and the Nazis, but I think they're definitely comparable. Stalin was on our side in the war though, so there tends to be much less press about the people that he killed.

Perhaps it is simply that the Nazis have more power *today* than Stalin?

I would suspect that it's probably the other way around: that there exist Nazi parties precisely because of the huge amount of press that the original one gets.

Well, as Izzard explained, that was okay because he was killing his own people. We're fine with that. But if you start killing your neighbors, we won't put up with that for more than a few years.

I do think part of it was the world view, the plan, the ultimate goal versus the actual results. Hitler wanted to have a world with only the people he viewed as acceptable in it. And many people in those categories or know people in those categories still have to face that world view. People with various disabilities may not be putting into death camps or forcibly sterilized in the US much anymore, but they still face doctors who try to convince them they shouldn't have kids because they shouldn't pass on their genes. So, Hitler stood for many things that are still dangerous. Facism is alive. Prejudice is alive. And he's just a handy symbol for all of that.

Of course, the killing of the natives in the Americas was incredibly evil. But if you ignore things like deliberately giving them blankets infested with smallpox you can almost make it look understandable. Almost. But given that that genocide was so effective, it's just too much to take in to really think about it. Failed genocide is easier.

Oh, and Jews don't take attempted genocide lightly. We've been celebrating Purim, afaik, since before the birth of Christ. It's the story of an attempted and failed genocide. And the name Hamen will get almost as bad a reaction as the name Hitler, and it's been a very, very long time. He didn't even successfully kill any Jews, just tried. But every year we ritually drown out his name.

Except, of course, that many of the people he killed weren't his people at all. They were people in places that had been annexed during war time. Go to war, invade a few countries, then send off the natives to be killed.

I just feel the need to add to your death count regarding Hiroshima -- hundreds of thousands more died in carpet bombings immediately prior to the atomic bomb.

I think I'm simply stunned by how much Americans care about this. Bush's daughter gets arrested for underage drinking, and everyone says "hands off, you can't talk about those poor girls like that!" A royal kid in another country does something stupid at a costume party, and you can't get away from it on the news.

I agree, the only thing I'm "morally outraged" over is how childish and simplistic the reaction has been.

(Deleted comment)
Oh, that too. Very much so. Although to be fair, the Nazi swastika (black, very angular, arms pointing clockwise, in a white circle on a red field) is very much a Nazi symbol, and that was what was being used in this particular case in point. But the association of any swastika with Nazism is annoying and silly.

This reminds me of the time Microsoft issued a critical update over a font.

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