Friday, August 18, 2017

On Symbols: What's in a Swastika?

I'm not going to honor the 'Hooked Cross' as it is called in German--Der Hakenkeuz--by reproducing it on these pages.  But, I am going to make the argument that it qualifies as a symbol for the ages that will always carry a level of potency that cannot be either morphed into something good or minimized to mean less than it really does. Here's a story from my boyhood that I believe will make this point:

My friend, Peter, and I spent a lot of time on his family's farm outside of Princeton NJ.  They were neighbors and raised about 150 Shropshire sheep. The dad was an executive who commuted into Manhattan during the week and the mom was a wonderful woman who just loved the earthiness of their country lifestyle and ran the farm. It was about 1957,so I would have been 11 or 12, and all the kids I knew had fathers who had fought in World War II.  After only twelve years, 'the war', as our parents always referred to it, was still hanging in the background of our lives.

There was also a profusion of 'war trophies', souvenirs, that had been brought back from the Pacific and Europe. My own uncle had brought back sundry souvenirs from Europe, Nazi uniform hats and medals mostly. And, I had come into possession of a Nazi flag at some point. It was one of the banners that festooned Nazi Germany from one end to the other during those dark times, part of a campaign to completely saturate Germans' visual surroundings with the vivid scarlet and the bold black swastika on its white field.

There came a day when Peter and I were messing around and we decided it would be fun to fly this 'bad guy' flag from a fence-post near the end of the farm's driveway. So we put it up and it fairly over-hung the road. We had no sooner gotten it up, when a passing car came screaming to a halt, all four tires leaving great black stripes on the road as it did so.  A man jumped from the driver's seat, leaving the door flung open and started screaming at us: "You take that goddamn thing down right now!  I saw too many good men die fighting against that! Take it DOWN!!!"  We couldn't move fast enough and it was down in a matter of seconds.

All these years later, I can still see his face, and hear his outrage. Peter and I both knew that something had just happened that transformed how we felt about this piece of cloth....and we never 'played' with it again.

Now, we have Americans who think that they can parade this symbol through American towns and cities and claim it's their constitutionally protected right to do so, and they want us to let them do if it were any other symbol from history. IT IS NOT!!  It will never just mean, "Hey, we're white and we want some respect."  It will never mean, "White people have rights too."

It WILL always mean, "Evil is our creed."  "We believe in hatred and cruelty."  "Death is what we want for all those unlike us."  "We believe that the white race is superior and we would like to kill, or enslave, all others."

So, we're going to sit back and let this message proliferate under the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States?  It is my profound wish that we could travel back in time and interview all of the individuals who signed the Declaration  of Independence. I would be talking to my great grandfather, six generations removed: Richard Stockton.  His blood flows in my veins, so I get to hazard a guess, with some attached 'gravitas', as to how he might feel, and I am telling you that he would find the idea of protecting people who want to commit mass murder unacceptable.

After all these generations since the Declaration was signed, we now know that the right to free speech is not without some limitations.  Of course, the most cited of these is that you cannot be free to yell 'fire!' in a crowded theater.  It would directly cause harm and even death as the panic ensued.

So, how in the world is it any different, walking through the middle of an American city carrying a banner that says, "I would be pleased to murder you if you aren't like me"?  You cannot argue with any credibility whatsoever that the Swastika flag means less than that.  It is impossible to separate it from that legacy and claim that it means something else or something less.  It is no more a harmless symbol of 'white power' than a rattlesnake is a cuddly little pet that you'd like to have wrapped around your neck.
That is the SS Death's Head, and the SS slogan, "Blut und Ehre"...
Just in case you have any doubts what their 'message' is.

The evil power--and it is 'power', make no mistake-- of the swastika is also embodied in the Hitler salute. When you extend your right arm and shout, "White Power!" or "Sieg Heil!" you are invoking the entire Nazi legacy....and all that comes with it, including the Holocaust, and the murder of five million people beyond even the six million Jews: Slavs, gays, pacifists, dissenters of all ilks...eleven million souls in total.  You are making an aggressive statement that you are aligning yourself with ALL OF IT.  You cannot pick and choose.  It's a package deal.

So,when our very own 'Dear Leader', aka the president, tries to say that there is 'evil' on both sides and there are good people on both sides, he's either astonishingly obtuse and ignorant, or he's just lying as he so often prefers to do.  The Germans long ago realized the inherent evil embodied in all the symbols of the Third Reich, and they outlawed them....all of them.  In view of what they went through, and, especially, in recognition of what they inflicted on the rest of humanity, it was a sensible and important choice to do that.

Americans who think the freedoms protected by the Constitution are always so sacred that there can be no exceptions.....are going to find out that when you protect pure evil, you give it power that is going to proliferate and eventually it will take away all of those rights that the starry-eyed idealists hold so sacred.

Johnny Rivers, and a few other singers, recorded a song about a young woman who rescues a half-frozen snake....she cares for it and ultimately gets rewarded by being bitten, along with the admonishment:"But you knew I was a snake...when you took me in."

Ask yourself this: would you be willing to extend the protection of the Constitution to a throng of marching people who were flying the banner of ISIS, and were chanting,"Death to the Infidels"?

No?  Then why is it okay for another band of armed and dangerous thugs to be shouting 'Sieg Heil' and giving the Hitler salute?

What is the difference?

And, we haven't even gotten to the symbols of the Confederacy......

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