When I was growing up, there were zero games ever played among my friends where the bad guys were Nazis. Because no one would be take the Nazi part. It was just unimaginable. We could play “USA vs USSR” and some of us would put on our best Russian accents because we could be fun and theatrical and lose. Rocky could fight Ivan Drago, because, as bad as he was, he wasn’t a true monster. The WWF could have an Iron Sheik, you could play an actual demon in D&D, the Red or Yellow Menaces could threaten in any of a number of horrible, racist ways.
But no one. Ever. Would take the side. Of. A. Nazi.
Because we all knew that they were just the most evil creatures ever. And they were real. In living memory, they were the killers who deliberately aimed at children. They were the slaughterers of millions. They were a reason to team up with the Soviet Union. No one cried when their faces all melted off in “Raiders of the Lost Arc” and the most evil empire in all of outer space was modeled after them.
The most traumatic piece of educational/social programming they ever did at my Jewish summer camp was when, late at night, a counselor used washable spray paint to put a swastika on the side of a building that only the oldest kids could see. There was then a whole morning of “nothing else happens, emergency programming” trauma interface. All done deliberately, mind you, as a way of dealing with the ultimate Jewish “What If?” There was group crying, and there were physical responses – gangs of boys who tried to summon the physical means to defend the camp, consideration of returning home. There were conversations circles, and safety discussions, and, once it was revealed to all be a part of a program, there was a lot of tears and a pretty deep sense of betrayal. I remember some kids said that they’d never feel safe anywhere again.
There was nothing worse than the Nazis.
And one could say that me and my friends weren’t the norm – that we were northern “liberal elites.” Certainly, at camp, we were almost all Jews. But the national culture didn’t support these bastards either. Like I say – the occasional Nazi was the ultimate villain. Unredeemable. Unsympathetic. Unacceptable to us. Hell, the scariest movie I ever saw was “The Wave” where teacher, in attempting to explain how the Nazi party succeeded, created a version of one in the high school. All of the kids who jumped onboard were utterly mortified when the teacher showed them the leader of the movement – a video of Hitler. Or course, they all instantly repented having any part of the movement. It was a given. Hitler: Evil. Nazis: Evil. White Supremacy: Evil.
So what happened? How is it possible that there are people with Swastikas making Nazi salutes at White Supremacy rallies, and murderers driving cars into the counter-protest? How are there are douchebags with Hitler quotes on their social media profiles and t-shirts? How are there asshats making “Seig Heil” gestures at rallies? How can there be racist chants and some unintelligible mishmash of beliefs that allow people to think that Christianity, America, and Nazi philosophy are somehow compatible?
I mean, I hear that some people feel lost because they don’t have access to what their parents had, regardless of how much that depended on the suffering of others. I know that the Americas has been chock full o’ racists from the day Columbus wrote, concerning the Arawaks, “…with 50 men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” I am told that religious intolerance has become a tenet in modern conservative Christianity. I watched the current President espouse violence in his election campaign. I will never forget that more than 3500 black males were lynched in the years after the civil war ended, nor that the country’s very existence was built on Holocaust numbers of deaths of Native Americans and enslavements of Africans.
I can’t write what I was going to write, because, as I review this list, I realize that I am lying to myself. I do know “how.” It isn’t that this terrible mindset isn’t a part of America. It’s just that we never owned it. White supremacy, hatred, racism, violence. This is one of our legacies – perhaps our darkest one. It’s just been hiding behind other names. Names like “Manifest Destiny” and the “Divine Uplifting of the Africans.” Like the “Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” “Skinheads” and “The White Man’s Burden.”
So, I guess, we owe one tiny debt to these vicious, small-minded killers who gathered today in Virginia. Because, finally, they are accepting the title that goes with their evil. They are taking off the mask, and embracing the cult of hatred, of blame, of violence and vitriol. They have finally seen who their leader is, and, unlike the shamed teens in that movie, these people have looked into the eyes of evil, and embraced it. They are Nazis.
And maybe now it will become easier to stand together and fight them. The way we fought them in Europe. We know their evil – we’ve studied it for years. And we know that, if we allow it to go on, it will destroy us.
Our President mumbled some bullshit condemning “violence on all sides.” I wonder. If he’d been standing in the trenches in Eastern France or running with the men who liberated the camps – would he have condemned the “violence” on the part of the Allied soldiers?
Oh, wait. Silly me. He would never have gone over there to begin with. He’d have gotten a deferment. He’s a coward, just like these Nazis, who are also all afraid that, on level ground, they’ll automatically lose.
And, you know what? They should be afraid – because they will lose. We’ll stand together to make sure of it – to make sure that the promise of America, the ideas that made this country great, regardless of the society that birthed it, can be fulfilled. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Not just white guys with a chip on their shoulder. Not just citizens. Not one religion, color, creed, or gender. All of us. Equal. And with a right to our lives.
Goodbye, Nazis. You may have some history here, but it’s time we pulled you out of our garden for good.