04 June 2009

Belling the cat

In comments to his "Cross purposes" post on the swastika's wilderness years, Ray Girvan and I agreed that continued vilification serves to bolster its potency as a symbol for the neofascist far right.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, though. I can well see why those of my parents' generation (both inside and outside Germany) felt, in the late 1940s, the need to suppress a symbol around which might accrete resurgence of an ideology which had so recently been survived at such cost. The aftermath of total war does not provide ideal conditions for the flowering of reason and nuance (see JSBlog's post "Law and the Potter mythos", discussing Aaron Schwabach on "a society which has made imperfect laws in the confused aftermath of a war").
The generation which followed was mine. We had no memory of Nazism, but our formative years were spent in its shadow. We were the babyboomers who, despite our rebellions in many ways, carried the fears forward. I certainly, despite my intellectual recognition of the case for defusing the symbol through rehabilitation, feel reluctance to have anything to do with it.
The Nazi swastika was probably the first massively successful global logo branding exercise, and we are still living with that fact.
The result is a common phenomenon both socially and physically: a pressure cooker whose lid nobody dares touch. Efforts against coastal erosion can sometimes generate a spit of land which defies and distorts currents for miles around, leading to a choice between sacrificing a community upon it or continuing to subsidise destruction of others ... until eventually it becomes impossible to maintain. (Shooting off at a tangent: Joanne Harris's novel The coastliners is built on much the same idea: theft of a sand beach, and associated tourism driven prosperity, from one community by another, by construction of a harbour component.) The present dire situation of Isra'elis and Palestinians is the direct result, years down the line, of pragmatic spur of the moment decisions made in the after math of the same war which gave us swastika fear. Some buildings which utilise highly tensioned support components are very difficult to demolish safely.
Temporary action against the swastika as Nazi symbol, at a time of postwar turmoil, has built up exactly that sort of head of steam. If I am reluctant to have anything to do with the swastika, I shouldn't be surprised that politicians have no wish to destroy their careers by messing with it. To dismantle the taboo would be the sensible thing to do; but nobody wants to be the one who bells the cat.


  • Joanne Harris, Coastliners. 2003, London: Black Swan. 0552998850 (pbk.)
  • Schwabach, A., Harry Potter and the Unforgivable Curses: Norm-formation, Inconsistency, and the Rule of Law in the Wizarding World. Roger Williams University Law Review, 2006. 11(2): p. 309.
  • Art Spiegelman, A.M. Spiegelman, and A.M. Spiegelman II, Maus : a survivor's tale. 2003, London: Penguin. 0141014081 (pbk)
  • 2 comments:

    Poor Pothecary said...

    And the "highly-tensioned" aspect is that others are locked into the situation: diminishing the taboo will be perceived by many as diminishing the experience/feelings of those who were oppressed by the Nazi regime and/or fought it.

    our formative years were spent in its shadow

    Same here. I remember my grandmother - anyone she disliked was "like Hitler". If I was naughty as a child, I was "a little Hitler" or told I had "a little Hitler sitting on my shoulder". She had reason for hostility, as my grandfather (her first husband) was killed in the War, but it's pretty toxic imagery to pass on.

    Felix Grant said...

    PP> ...diminishing the taboo will be
    PP> perceived by many as diminishing...

    Agreed.