Today I spent some time leafing through a solemn black notebook filled with sketches made primarily in the stacks at the University of Washington Suzzalo Library, reminding myself that not all good research is immediately digitized.
Sometimes it takes a few months before a certain concept can swim down to the bottom of one’s consciousness and take root.After all, in the intervening time between the initial scribble and the considered return, new experiences are had which illuminate old notes freshly.
For instance: one casually turns on a cable-equipped television in the United States in August 2009, and is assailed by programming on a major network of what amounts to gross historical distortion, hate speech, incitation to violence, and the unrelenting equation of the country’s first African-American president with the genocidal German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
(Having once thought this line of thought to be too obviously ridiculous or self-referential for anyone to take seriously, I found in a conversation with a fellow hard-working American in the Long Beach Airport bookstore that there are people out there who eager lap up the above line of reasoning. Moreover, these poor people will sloppily and readily interchange Adolf Hitler with his existential foe Franklin Delanoe Roosevelt in deciding upon historical parallels for our current president.)
It does seem awfully odd to be lectured by someone who speaks neither German nor holds a graduate degree about how the Obama years are simply a replay of the Weimar era in Germany. Wouldn’t that make G.W. Bush the Kaiser of a defeated state? In these weird historical comparisons, Bush is somehow absent: only Obama holds the match to the Reichstag when “the future crisis” occurs.
Incessantly arbitrary distortions of the past and marshalling of pure hatred for the head of state make Fox look worse than Xinhua. This is pure propaganda, reminiscent of an anti-Japanese paroxysm in North Korea or China (on guard against a fascist revival!), but directed within. Why is it necessary to torpedo any semblance of rational debate by implying that the President of the U.S., sworn to protect the country and uphold the constitution, is a foreign communist engaged in some sinister plot to revive the Holocaust? It’s just not funny anymore: We are losing face as a country because of jackasses like this.
In any case, Hitler was my the brain thanks to the propaganda trust at Fox, and my own foolish curiosity to see just what some Americans were watching as “news.” (Apparently meeting Fox news anchor E.D. Hill face-to-face in May 2007 at Hiram College, the same one who later analyzed Obama’s greeting of his lovely wife after his acceptance speech in St. Paul was “a terrorist fist jab,” and basically hearing her call for an invasion of Iran while Christianizing China wasn’t adequate for me.)
Hitler Reflects on East Asia
Last spring, in search of references to Japan in World War II, I spent a couple of hours taking notes during the reading of transcriptions of Hitler’s monologues at his headquarters [Adolf Hitler, Monologe im Fuhrerhauptquartier (Hamburg, 1980)].
Hitler recalls a moment in his adolescence when he first identified with Japan (watching Chechen children weep in his classroom with hatred for Russia, recalled in a conversation of 21 September 1941) and goes on to spell out a few clichéd ideas about Japan’s role in race war. He likens the Japanese to the Dutch as “a people of small capitalists” who therefore “do not wish for a National Socialist revolution” (conversation at Wolfsschanze, 31 December 1941).But perhaps most interesting in our current condition is Hitler’s expressed notion of states and charismatic leaders. At the end of a long rant on the night of January 3 which extended into the early hours of January 4, 1942, Hitler identified himself with the Japanese emperor. Noting that the state religion in Japan centered around the emperor, Hitler asserted that the state had to be personified by an individual: “Die Volksfuehrung under die Stadtsfuehrung muessen in einer Person indentifizierst sein!”
We see the same form of hero-worship running though German culture in the late 1930s; even enunciations of German praise for Chiang Kai-shek centered around this notion that an individual could incarnate the will of the nation. And Chiang ate it up, as we can see in his China’s Destiny.
And this notion of a state cult centered around an individual suddenly took on more clarity for me in the light of another essay I have been turning over recently, one by Brian Myers.
North Korean Dictatorship and the Shadows of Imperial Japan
In his recent work, Myers argues that likening the North Korean state system with its imperial Japanese predecessor yields an understanding greater than simple comparison to a Stalinist system or South Korean dictatorships. We really need not take juche seriously, he notes, because the North Koreans themselves do not really take it seriously. What we ought to pay heed to instead is the racial and racist aspects of North Korean nationalism, and these clearly are rooted in Japanese ideologies of the past rather than supposedly race-neutral Stalinism, for instance.
If the violent and paranoid wing of U.S. public opinion which is not wholly encompassed by the Republican Party is able to do so, they might take a closer look at North Korea through this prism. President Obama is a democrat with a small “d,” which is to say he is a consensus-builder, not some supreme dictator. To liken Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler or Kim Jong Il is to diminish the historical lessons of the Second World War and to grossly underestimate the sickness of totalitarianism which is afflicting the DPRK. Reinstating the old bracket of tax deductions for Americans making over $250,000 per year is not the equivalent of Mao’s killing 700,000 landlords, etc.
It is almost as if, lacking a monarch, the desire of some individuals to be controlled by some strong hand has been thrust upon Obama in the Jungian phenomenon of transference. And the desire to rail against state power, repressed during the war whoops and drowned out like speech while stealth bombers fly over the World Series of the Bush years, has somehow returned.
Adolf Hitler, Monologe im Fuhrerhauptquartier (Hamburg, 1980).
Brian Myers, “Ideology as Smokescreen: North Korea’s Juche Thought,” Acta Koreana Vol. 11, No. 3 (December 2008): 161-182.
E.D. Hill, Commencement Address at Hiram College, Ohio, May 12, 2007.
Foreign Ministry [Auswaertiges Amt] Files, Inventar 64, German Bundesarchiv, Berlin.
Coda: Someone inculcated with propaganda might watch this clip and recall that (unlike Hitler) Kim Il Song was also great with kids. I would prefer to take it for what it is, a good conversation between two citizens of different ages about the state of education in the U.S.