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That thing with Prince Harry and the swastika

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.
Tags: essays, opinion, politics
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