Hitler is History

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A story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald made me really, really stroppy. A private school in the Northern Territory of Australia encouraged pupils to dress up as literary characters in celebration of Book Week. One pupil chose to dress up as Adolf Hitler. It so happened that a group of exchange students from a Jewish school in Melbourne were present and found this representation of the man who attempted to annihilate their race in Europe confronting.

hitler

Now everyone is falling over themselves apologising and counselling one another and promising it will never happen again.

So why am I stroppy?

First, the presence or otherwise of Jewish children should have no bearing on the case. Hitler was an enemy of mankind and victimised Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped, Catholic priests… please add to this list as you see fit.

Second, airbrushing events and individuals out of our cultural landscape, and therefore out of the knowledge that we pass down to our children, is a pretty good way of ensuring that the mistakes of the past are repeated in the future.

And third, dressing up as someone does not have to imply endorsement of their character, their politics or their actions. Prince Harry was castigated a few years ago – unfairly to my mind – for going to a fancy dress party as Hitler. Nobody has suggested that he did so because he wanted a revival of Nazism.

If one goes along with the mock-shock-horror and handwringing that followed an innocent child’s efforts to get into the spirit of Book Week, one should ask oneself which other historical figures should be off-limits. Genghis Khan? Henry VIII?

ghengiskhan henryviii

What about some biblical figures who had a pretty shady reputation when it came to human rights? Moses and Joshua come to mind. How would a descendant of the Canaanites feel if they saw someone dressed as one of those two genocidal criminals? And what about some other unsavoury characters who are still alive and at large?

moses joshua netenyahu

PS   If you think this post is gross, I would point out that it is my 144th.

Rolf Harris

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RolfHarris_young

Like many other people, especially in Australia and the UK, I was shocked and unbelieving when allegations started being made about sexual abuse by Rolf Harris.  In 2014 he was found guilty in a British court and is now serving a 6-year prison sentence. Now I read that he is to be charged with seven more counts of indecent assault, allegedly committed between 1971 and 2004.

I don’t condone any kind of sexual activity that is not 100% consensual. Nor do I believe that serious crimes should be subject to a statute of limitations. But I would point out two things that I don’t think have been taken fully into account in the Court of Public Opinion:

  • Back in the 1960s and 70s there was a broader understanding of what was normal and acceptable behaviour between men and women. A sly pat on the bum was not considered an assault and a suggestive remark was not harassment. And celebrities were cut a lot of slack: there weren’t so many of them in those days, so it didn’t matter so much.
  • Whatever crimes Rolf Harris may have committed, they do not extinguish his extraordinary achievements as an artist, song-writer and performer. I see nothing contradictory in condemning his morals while celebrating his talent.

As soon as Rolf was sentenced there was a sudden disappearance of his paintings from the walls of public buildings and of his recordings from the airwaves. To my mind this connotes either vindictiveness or cowardice or both.  I say ‘cowardice’ because many people, I think, feared seeming to be insufficiently outraged.  It reminds me – on a different scale – of show trials in the USSR and Nazi Germany, and the enthusiastic display of support for the verdicts by people who feared they might be next.