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Was Hitler a Bully? Teaching the Holocaust to Kids
Evan Selinger   Sep 14, 2012   Slate  

Is it a bad idea to compare Hilter to a bully? Is it sensible and ethical to equate the worst criminal in history to a playground tormenter?

Should I allow my 5-year-old daughter to embrace the world of Disney, or break Prince Charming’s spell by pointing out that royalty got awesome castles by exploiting poor serfs? Answers to questions like this define a parent’s outlook on what childhood should be like. Despite my exposure to critical gender studies, I generally encourage my daughter to get her politically incorrect princess on. So, imagine my dismay at discovering that her kindergarten class planned to commemorate Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) by discussing a person called “Bully Hitler.”

To be fair, the teachers did their best when comparing the worst criminal in history to a playground tormentor. By combining Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum, a story about a young girl bullied because of her unusual name, with the forest-animal tale Terrible Things: An Allegory About the Holocaust, no traumatic detail was ever uttered. Nobody mentioned concentration camps filled with emaciated prisoners and flesh incinerating ovens. And that’s a good thing, because 5- and 6-year-olds just can’t grasp the complexity of the Holocaust.

Young children do, however, understand bullying. And since bullying is dangerous and pervasive, kindergartners should be taught how to identify and properly respond to its troubling manifestations. As with “stranger danger” training, promoting safety requires piercing the innocence bubble with some knowledge of potential peril. Indeed, to advocate for a “pure childhood” is to recommend a dangerous naiveté.

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Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The AtlanticWiredSlateForbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.


Let’s not underestimate Hitler; doing so enabled him in the first place. I’ve read Mein Kampf (the first volume) all the way through: it is a cogent (though totally immoral) defense of evolutionary racism. Which is why it wasn’t surprising Dawkins said we can’t be entirely sure Hitler was wrong because from a super-Darwinist perspective Hitler was correct; from a moral perspective Hitler was wrong.
Naturally, the main question is, was Hitler a bully? No. Hitler didn’t bully the people around him as Stalin did. Hitler was more akin to a mad scientist.. a mad social scientist.. than a bully. He made suggestions to his lackeys and they, out of loyalty, did the bullying. If you read Ian Kershaw’s two volume work from the late ‘90s, it is all explained—and it isn’t merely a popular work but also a scholarly one.

... as Commander in Chief, Hitler was a bully; as Head of State, he preferred to make suggestions:
“Speer, will you devise a more efficient way to transfer locomotives to the East?”
Deeming Hitler a bully is, btw, a way to relieve his underlings of culpability:
“Hitler made me do it.”
“I vas only followink orders.”
When in fact they were at the very least complicit.

Hitler was both personally and politically a product of WWI: the war gave him the confidence to realize what his supporters (scores of millions inside and outside of Germany) were not only complicit in but also active in—fanatically so. Revenge for WWI was a big part of it and though Hitler was The Leader, too many shared his goals to consider his indirect bullying (again, his followers did the actual bullying) the main causitive factor.
Suggesting to, and buying people out, were Hitler’s personal MO—not bullying.

In summation: Hitler was able to climb to power because he was underestimated as being a bully, when Hitler was an orchestrator of bullies, not the bully.
Hitler was architect, not the actual contractor.

But the important lesson of Hitler is the primacy of charisma. Franz Neumann wrote in 1942:
“no one can doubt The Leader’s charisma… it is no mere phantasm…”

In other words, both Hitler and his considerable charisma were underestimated/ignored by the outside world.

Perhaps our kids need to be taught about other genocides (you know, like the one the Anglos carried out on the American Indian).

What always gets me is the one-sided method of teaching history authorities use with young children.  Perhaps it matches the authority’s black and white thinking (you know, we are good, they are bad).

BTW, if Hitler was a bully, so were many others, many of which our culture wants to paint as heroes.  Frankly, if Hitler and Nazi Germany were to have won the war, we would be calling the US President at the time Roosevelt a bully.

Me, I think we are all about 99% genetically similar, so in a real sense we are all identical, and interchangeable.  It is just fantasy to pretend that Hitler was significantly different from anyone else you meet on the street.  But for the grace of God go I.

Right on all counts (this comment will be a rambling one). Pol Pot turned Cambodia into one big concentration camp—but Pol Pot is not a household name as Hitler’s is. Ironically for white nationalists, Hitler is the more famous not only because of the size of WWII but also due to him being a European—since Europe is so important to white nationalists ought they not be pleased Hitler scored so big in the history books? Such is one aspect of it.
There is a book, published last year by Prometheus Press; author, 80 year old (which implies he lived through WWII) RHS Stolfi: “Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny”, a more positive view of Hitler (apparently Hitler had great architectural ability). The best work on Hitler is Ian kershaw’s. However he may have tried too hard to be objective, as Kershaw was reluctant to write anything positive about Hitler—so the work is less biography than history. Kershaw does write, though, that history is not concerned with evil.. he doesn’t elaborate albeit presumably evil is for philosophers to wrestle with.

Dobermanmac, I accept your views above; yet perhaps Europeans as a whole are to blame for WWII? Stalin obviously share the top spot with Hitler. Are fascists and Communists, racists—esp. in Germany, Austria, the Baltic and Eastern Europe— primarily culpable as well?  Were all imperialists everywhere to blame for WWII? All bullies, everywhere?
Hitler never wanted WWII, he wanted war, but not WWII. Hitler wanted to annex or control Poland, the Ukraine, parts of Russia, And I would guess Romania (to gain the petroleum in Ploesti), etc.

Now, was Hitler the worst person who ever lived? No. I simply don’t know who was.
Were the Germans the worst people who ever lived?: perhaps, but not today. IMO those behind Hitler were worse than he. Though Hitler was smart, he was more limited than Goebbels—who may have been more evil than his boss (and Goebbels had his six children poisoned.. a genuine atrocity).
Frankly, though Hitler is widely hated, a tinge of ‘admiration’, an awe accompanies the hatred. Hitler was as talented as he was destructive, he possessed a deformed yet capable mind. As Kershaw writes in his preface, “One thinks of Stalin”. Since the 1840s, it became thinkable for those at he bottom to rise up. Unfortunately, Hitler and Stalin rose up a century later, and rose up far too high to say the least.

Often it does appear we have to make every mistake till we get it right. If we ever do get it ‘right’.

It is consensus reality that any bad word you want to use for Hitler (i.e. homosexual, psychopath, insane, high on drugs…) is OK.  Me, I would rather words accurately describe, rather than just sloppy slander.

OTH, I wouldn’t waste one moment defending Hitler, just as I won’t spend one minute trying to overturn the death penalty, because even though I am skeptical that it is wise or even rational (i.e. the death penalty deters?), I don’t want to waste my precious time on Earth defending heinous murders.

Yeah, there is no doubt if it doesn’t happen in Europe or other parts of the industrial world, then it hardly affects the collective consciousness of our culture.

My biggest grip is this dismissive attitude toward “bad guys” doesn’t further knowledge at all.  Hitler was more than just a personality, he was a movement in history, he was a prime mover.  What where his genuine motivations?  Unfortunately, the prejudice against Hitler prevents any rational discussion of his real (i.e.  “The best work on Hitler is Ian kershaw’s. However he may have tried too hard to be objective, as Kershaw was reluctant to write anything positive about Hitler—so the work is less biography than history.”).

Stolfi’s book is a rational discussion and Stolfi is German, has a feel for the subject outsiders don’t. Aside from architecture, Hitler had a brilliant mind in all areas—for the pre-1914 era. In other words he would have excelled, say, as a Karl Lueger or even a Bismarck.
Problem is, to start with, when Hitler is defended it brings up Stalin as defender of Great Russian nationalism; and what about Pot Pol as Cambodian super-patriot? No thanks. One can defend any creed with distorted ethics.
Kershaw had the ‘right’ way to do it: ignore good and evil to concentrate on facts. Kershaw did underestimate Hitler by deeming him to be a quote unperson unquote in his private life, when the pressures on Hitler—esp. during WWI & WWII—were more than substantial enough to restrict his private activities.
Again, unlike Stalin, Hitler was not a bully, he was a 19th century social-Darwinist idealist transposed into the 20th; far less vulgarly social-Darwinist than his thug supporters at the bottom were. Rigid but not as vicious as he is thought to be. Hitler was an evolutionary racist who wanted to remove the weak from the world: the flaw is when the last non-‘Aryan’ controlled land was to be conquered by the Reich, then the Aryans would undoubtedly turn on each other as thieves fighting over the loot—and with super-weapons such as the V-rockets, etc. Hitler loved women, children and animals yet WWII killed and maimed millions. As so many, Hitler wanted peace through war…
if only those pesky easterners hadn’t been so ignorant of the “laws of nature” Hitler was trying to enforce! Again, it is more accurate to term Hitler a mad social-scientist than bully or monster, and if one is an evolutionary racist, then Hitler whatever he may have been, wasn’t ‘mad’.


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