The Nazis and Hitler are a cultural obsession with us. From references used by academics and politicians to the smorgasbord of expressions we hear everyday, the Nazi is truly one of most fetishized people that we have. One is strict as a Nazi (the “soup Nazi,” “a grammar Nazi,” etc); one is angry or tyrannical as a Nazi (“easy there, Hitler!”); or if one is evil, he is, of course, no better than Hitler. When we draw a blank for something bad, we have the Nazi cache somewhere there to draw upon blindly. We might recall in The Silence of the Lambs that in the psycho-killer’s basement is a large swastika. The image has no relevance to the movie, but it reveals that structural, cultural tendency perfectly: in the basement, the boogeyman and the Nazi sit together.
Politically, figures from the Left to the Right use something supposedly Nazi to smear opponents. Obama is slandered as being like Hitler. Think of Glenn Beck plainly associating Nazism with the recently passed Health Care bill. On the other hand, anti-war and G2/12/20 demonstrators connected Bush and the other neoconservatives (and Obama et al) with the Nazis in regards to their imperialist ventures. And any gesture to validate a pre-emptive military plan is guaranteed to ask (the painfully silly question), what would’ve happened if Britain didn’t act against Germany and remained passive? We have always, then, the moral right to pre-emptive war. Without getting too deep into a historical argument, most of these references are used sensationally and inaccurately for cheap political advantage.
Finally, in culture, there are endless films involving the Nazis in some shape or form, mostly in a ridiculous manner. We all know those wooden, inhuman German soldiers in an endless stream of war movies. Perhaps the culmination or epitome of this is Quentin Tarantino’s recent Inglorious Basterds, which is such a mockery of history and historical characters that you wonder whether or not he is drawing attention to the very myth of the Nazi or not; that is, is it postmodern insofar as it is openly aware that what we think a Nazi is, is just an image of an image of an image with the real irretrievably lost? This is what we are told in anti-essentialist Historicism – that the past is always and only viewed through the particulars of the present; it is radically subjective. How deeper in the subjective mess, then, is the Nazi who has been acted and written out countless times and dissolved into wartime propaganda?
Yes, we can know much about the war, but, as for the Nazi character, we finally have to come to admit that we are talking of myth.