A comment on a Facebook post Saturday night greatly disturbed me and set my mind on a path, trying to understand how or why anybody in their right mind would make such a comment. The original post was by my friend A, and it was a relatively innocuous political post. Nothing to inspire hateful comments, not really anything particularly controversial. But one of A’s friends who I do not personally know, responded with the following:
“Everyone has their opinions, yes I voted for him but I would have voted for Hitler himself before I would EVER have voted for Hillary! I don’t debate politics nor do I disrespect anyone that did… This is simply my opinion.”
I was so incredulous that I had to read and re-read the comment several times to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. Surely NOBODY would EVER say such a thing! But she did. I responded with relative calm, telling her that her remark was exceedingly inappropriate and adding a suggestion that she invest in a history book or two.
Within an hour or so, the comment and with it my response were removed, so either she realized the error of her ways, or was just angry and removed her comment. I neither know nor particularly care which. But I did a lot of thinking, wondering why she made that comment in such a flippant, off-hand manner.
I have always heard that history is cyclic, and perhaps it is so. I was born a few short years after the end of World War II. My grandfather had fought in World War I. My father and uncles had fought in World War II. I grew up hearing of the horrors wrought on the world by Adolph Hitler, thus the war and the Holocaust were as real to me as if I had been there in person. I vividly remember the story my father told of going to sleep in a building in Dunkirk and waking up a few hours later … in the only corner that remained of the building. Stories of brutality, of man’s inhumanity to man. It was real to me, and by the time I was about five, I hated Hitler with a burning passion.
When I had children of my own, I spoke of these things. My now-grown children understand what Hitler did, despise him for what he did, but with a few degrees less passion than I, because of distance and time. I liken it to parents trying to teach a child a valuable lesson that they, themselves learned. More often than not, the child cannot learn from the parent’s mistakes, but must go out and make his own in order to fully understand the lesson. For twelve years I taught history to my homeschooled granddaughter, and I suppose my passion on the subject got through, because she was almost as offended as I when she saw the comment that began this post. But other young people I know are pitifully lacking in even understanding quite what Hitler did that was so bad, and they really have no idea how he rose to power, the set of circumstances that enabled him to do so. Is this a failure on the part of our schools, or is it that to these young people it is such ancient history that they do not feel a connection, and therefore lack interest?
If this line of thinking is correct, and I have no idea whether or not it is, then are we doomed to make the same mistakes … is history destined to repeat itself? Perhaps we are enough generations removed from the horrors of the Nazis and the Third Reich that it is much diminished in the minds of those who are in what is now called the millennial generation. How, then, will people see Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and others in another 100 years? Will the memory, the lessons, be so diluted in another century that Hitler is seen as nothing much more than “just another bad leader”?
And what does this say about us as humans? Are we so self-focused that events not directly affecting us are irrelevant? A fellow-blogger recently wrote a post where she suggests that we in the U.S. have been blind to the human tragedies in Syria, Aleppo, Sudan, Yemen, and many others. And she is right … we have been, for the most part. Why? Because they do not directly affect us? Just as the past horrors that affected our ancestors no longer affect us. I am reminded of the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys that transcended multiple generations until finally nobody remembered what the original feud was about.
Where am I going with this? I have no idea. The comment that the person ‘would have voted for Hitler’ just sent my mind tumbling around trying to figure out how anybody could think it is okay to say such a thing, and what you have just read is the result of those mind acrobatics. Just something to think about.