Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hitler’s Book Club

This past week, Neo-Nazis in Germany celebrated what to them was the equivalent of getting their own Star Wars sequel.  After more than 50 years, it is now legal in Germany to buy and own a copy of Adolph Hitler’s autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’, German for ‘My Struggle’. Since the end of World War 2 Mein Kampf had been banned in Germany. But its copyright, which was owned by the State of Bavaria, has expired and a newly annotated version is now on sale. In this past week alone, more than 4000 copies have been sold making it an instant bestseller. The Fuhrer has awoken.

 Considering that Mein Kampf served as a blue print for NAZI ideology inspiring the genocide committed by the Third Reich, it’s understandable that not everyone in Germany is pleased by its new accessibility or sudden popularity. Some fear that it will influence a new generation of impressionable morons, who will find in it inspiration to carry out sick twisted acts; the way other books like the Bible, Quran, and The Catcher In The Rye have. How soon will it be before some poor loser thinks Hitler is commanding him to shoot Lady Gaga?

However, lifting the ban on Mein Kampf in Germany has been long overdue. It fact, it never should have been banned in the first place. Firstly because all it did was add an aura of mystique to Hitler, perhaps making him more attractive to the kinds of rebellious losers who find that sort of thing appealing. I suspect German NAZIs treated Mein Kampf much the same way most of us treat Salman Rushdie’s  ‘The Satanic Verses’- as a largely symbolic book you show off on your bookshelf to look edgy, but never actually bother to read.

Secondly, banning books should never be acceptable. Sure you might think you’re doing the world a favor by taking all the books written by people like Rhonda Byrne; (author of ‘The Secret’), or Deepak Chopra, throwing them into a pile and setting them on fire. But the irony is that is exactly the same tactic the NAZIs loved to employ.

On the night of May 10, 1933, the German Student Union presided over the ceremonial burning of thousands of books that were deemed to be “un-German”.  All books by foreigners, and anything that didn’t glorify the German people or the German language were set alight. Books written by the likes of Hemmingway, Joyce and Tolstoy were torn to shreds and reduced to ash. Those in the Artist Coalition of T&T and others in the local content lobby who are always calling for restrictions on “foreign content” might have been proud to witness it.

A truly free society allows for the exchange of ideas, no matter how reprehensible or idiotic those ideas may seem to be. Censoring books like Mein Kampf may stem from good intentions, but it sends a false message that there are ideas which are too dangerous to be openly discussed. Those of us who wish to see NAZI ideology continue to be relegated to the ranks of hopeless losers who cant find a job or sex, should encourage more people to read Mein Kampf. Because then they will better see what a really bitter loser Hitler was.

Hitler spends a lot of time in Mein Kampf, just complaining. His father is mean. His schoolmates are mean. Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts rejects him because they are mean.  Volume 1 of Mein Kampf reads pretty much like the posts of that loser you know on Facebook who thinks the world is out to get him. Volume 2 isn’t much better either. In it, Hitler plainly maps out his racism, anti-Semitism and delusions of grandeur in such an infantile way, you feel sorry that he’s that stupid.

But there is one aspect of Mein Kampf that everyone could take caution from-Hitler’s manipulative charisma. It is what George Orwell noticed when he reviewed Mein Kampf in 1940. Orwell felt that Hitler’s writing, though clumsy, oozed with the same theatrical appeal as his speeches. To Orwell, this was Mein Kampf’s real strength. “Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result, a whole nation flings itself at his feet,” Orwell wrote.

Hitler may be dead. But the totalitarian impulses of politicians still remain, along with the ability for a mass of people to be swept off their feet by a charismatic demagogue. (cough, Donald Trump, cough, cough). This is why Mein Kampf is an important book that needs to be read by all and not shut away.

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