â€œIf you want to see jackbooted Nazis, watch American movies,â€ filmmaker Quentin Tarantino conceded recently to NPRâ€™s Teri Gross during a discussion of his new film, â€œInglourious Basterds.â€ Tarantino is right. It is three-quarters of a century since Germany surrendered to the Allies, and Americans still seems unwilling or unable to pass the calcified stones of what you might call â€œNazi Pornâ€ out of our cultural maw.
â€œInglourious Basterdâ€™sâ€ is the latest in a seemingly endless stream of depictions fascistic; the propensity, at the seeming drop of a clacker, to put out more swastikaâ€™s, the bigger, blacker and redder, the better. Check out Tom Cruiseâ€™s recent Nazi epic, â€œValkerieâ€ Worse yet, tune into the Nazi-related fare on the History Channel. You can spend an entire week watching shows like â€œNazi Prophecies,â€ â€œNazi America, a Secret History,â€ â€œThe Nazi Expedition,â€ â€œNazi Spies in America,â€ â€œNazi UFOâ€™s,â€ â€œHitlerâ€™s Britain,â€ â€œHitler, Tyrant of Terror,â€ â€œNazi Guerillas,â€ â€œTracking Nazi Gold,â€ â€œThe Rise of the Nazi Occult,â€ â€œAmerican Spies Inside Nazi Germany,â€ â€œSaddam and the Third Reich,â€ ad â€“ truly -nauseum. It really is enough to make you hurl, or at least insist that the History Channel properly identify itself as â€œThe Nazi Network.â€
Nor is this endless parade of Germanalia just a middlebrow activity. Recall earlier this year when the haut-literary world went gaga over the publication of Jonathon Littellâ€™s â€œThe Kindly Ones,â€ a perverse, Zagatâ€™s for the â€œRise and Fall of the Third Reich.â€ To whatever banal hell Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Goebbels, Heydrich, and Eichmann are consigned, we can now send two fictional Nazi Everymen, Littellâ€™s malign Maximilien
Aue and Quentin Tarantinoâ€™s sleek Colonel Hans â€œThe Jew Hunterâ€ Landa. When it is made into a film, as it inevitably will be, â€œThe Kindly Onesâ€ will spend as much time as does â€œInglourious Basterdsâ€ focusing lovingly on the ephemera of fascism; the crisply ironed black shirts, the crookâ€™d cross armband, the deaths-head and SS lightening bolts. The popular appeal of this fetishistic proclivity towards Nazi Porn is a point unwittingly underscored in the New York Times review of Inglourious Basterds, in which Manohla Dargis waxes poetic about the filmâ€™s â€œgorgeously saturated colors, one velvety red in particular.â€ You can bet your totenkopf in which flag this particular red resides.
What I would really like to know is why these accursed symbols are still so damned arousing today? For Tarantino it is a weird and unconvincingly simpleminded alignment between the genocide of the American Indian tribes and the genocide of the European branches of the Tribes of Israel. But schoolboy rhetoric aside, what is the attraction? Is it some sort of infantile infatuation with the bogeyman? A Goth fashion statement? Or is it the dark thrill of surrendering to a leather-jacketed supermen in hobnailed boots trampling across your night-time dreamscapes?
I can tell you one thing, Nazis, dead or alive, never troubled my dadâ€™s dreams. To him the subject conjured up images of pathetic, shell-shocked boy-soldiers passively herded onto the troop transports in Tangier, Casablanca, Messina and Naples. These were the lucky ones on their way to POW camps in the blessed USA. There was a different fate for the haughty Waffen SS fanatics, who were often hauled behind burned-out farmhouses in Italy and put out of their wretched misery. Dad would be slightly amused, and a little bit sickened at the ongoing fascination with the accoutrements, no matter how glittery, of such a pathetic bunch of historical losers.
In 1965, two decade after the warâ€™s end, we sat in temple, listening to Rabbi A.J. Feldman, the leader of Beth Israel, Hartfordâ€™s largest Reformed Jewish synagogue, give a sermon that shocked many of his congregants. Feldman, with the canny timing of the politician he was, understood that it was time for the horrors of the past be interred â€¦ in a fashion. â€œForgive, but donâ€™t forget,â€ Feldman proposed, and while Dad could never bring himself to buy a German car, he was inclined to applaud Rabbi Feldmanâ€™s missive. He, like Feldman, had grown to understand that the deep, dark secret of the Nazi nation was that it was made up of people not very different from ourselves.
It seems to me that it is past time for a moratorium on all things Nazi. Take the malign stuff from that Dark Age and stuff it in the back of the drawer marked â€œEnough.â€ Turn off â€œValkerie.â€ Forego Hitler Night on the History Channel. Ignore the latest deconstruction of the films of Leni Reifenstahl in the New York Review of Books. While weâ€™re at it, why donâ€™t we also take up a collection to send Quentin Tarantino and â€œInglourious Basterdsâ€ back to eighth grade to learn how to spell, if not how to read and interpret history. And if you want to talk about George Santayanaâ€™s chestnut about remembering the past or repeating it; given the exuberant gravitational pull of the symbols of evils past, we are likely condemned to repeat performances whether we remember or not.
I will concede Santayanaâ€™s point, but with a caveat. Why not simply try to take the swastika and all the accompanying trappings of evil, and deprive them of the light of day. We might be amazed at how quickly the luster fades and with it, any perverse intrinsic power. Consign Nazi Porn to the historical dustbin where it deserves to be. A tip of the hat to Rabbi Feldman, but maybe itâ€™s finally time to forget and not forgive.