The place is called Westside Middle School. I actually went there for 7th and 8th grade, back when it was called Arbor Heights Junior High.
They have a marker board where the teachers will post a “quote of the day”. Last week, someone posted “The man who has no sense of history is like a man with no ears or eyes”.
That quote is frequently attributed to Hitler, although the provenance of that attribution is in doubt.
I was having a hard time figuring out what it was that was troubling me on this, and I think I got it:
There seems to be a notion that the real problem with the quote (never mind the provenance questions) was that it implied that Hitler said something reasonable. We can not allow any indication that such a thing ever happened. We must maintain the narrative that Hitler was a monster, in all things and at all times, and must strenuously suppress anything that might inject even a sliver of humanity into his history. We must make no mention of any reasonable statement he ever made. Our memory of Hitler must forever be of the angry man giving speeches in angry sounding German as he pounds in fury on the podium.
I understand the impulse toward that view. (Hitler was pretty monstrous.) But I think it represents a dangerous perspective. It is a mistake to teach kids that monsters are easy to recognize. It is a mistake to paint the view of Hitler as the ever raging lunatic. Monsters don’t work that way.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (a man who knew a few things about monsters) said it well: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Well, that’s no fun, because it requires each of us to look inward and confront our own capacity to be monsters. Who wants to do that? It is far easier and infinitely more satisfying to decide that we are the good and someone else is the monster. Once we do that, we get to rationalize our impulse to dehumanize the others. After all, they are evil, and deserve no quarter. The next thing you know, we decide that our hate is the good kind of hate, the righteous hate, and we can rain it down upon the others without limit because we do so (as CS Lewis put it, more or less) “with the comfortable approval of our own consciences”.
That’s dangerous stuff. That is the stuff that gives rise to tyrants.