We've been living here in North Carolina for a little more than 7 years, and it never fails. As soon as I "forget" that I'm in the south, I get a reiminder that I am way south of the Mason-Dixon Line. There are no burning crosses, or hooded clowns wearing sheets, and nobody's called me nigger. At least not to my face. But the tendency toward willfull stupidity still amazes me.
Last night I went to a middle school in Wendell, North Carolina for an information session. Parents gathered in the library with 6 or 7 administrators disseminating what seemed to like endless information. About 30 minutes in, out of the corner of my eye I say a row of boxed action figures labeled with swastikas. Inside the box, there he was in all of its sadistic glory, a 12" Hitler "doll" dressed as a baseball player! Beside that box, there was Mussolini dressed in army fatigues, and then another box of Hitler.
As I sat there half listening and half staring at 12 inch Hitler, I tried to figure out why he was there, and what his purpose was. What context was used to justify his very existance on a shelf in a middle school library? I could not come up with an answer, but there had to be a reason, right? Wrong!! When it was all said and done, I asked why there were likenesses of psychopathic dictators prominently displayed for all the world to see. I expected, at least a little shock, and a perhaps a shred of empathy to say the least.instead, with a smile on her face one of the administrators said, "It was a student project on dictator's. Aren't they precious?" I've heard Hitler called a lot of things but precious was definitely not one of them. I found it unquestionably offensive, and when I expressed my displeasure, disdain, and disenchantment, it was met with a dismissive smile and an approving nod. So approving on fact that I began to wonder if my reaction was because of my New York conditioning. New York has long been known as a "Jewish town" because the Jewish community had so much political clout that it gave them the power to effect change. Each and every offense or action that was perceived as such was met with protests, outrage, and swift indignation. News of a Hitler "doll" in a NYC middle school would have set the city on fire. So maybe my reaction is a direct result of my "programming". Sounds like a convenient way to explain away my reaction, right? Maybe. But that doesn't make it less offensive.
You might think I'm overreacting or making a big deal out of nothing. But the fact of the matter is that the holocaust in Nazi Germany did not start with 5 million Jewsish people being mass murdered. It started with propaganda in which charactitures, and character assisination in both the media and in newspapers at that time portrayed the Jews as rats. A sub-human species not worthy of humanity. It had a desensitizing affect. This propaganda laid the ground work for 5 million Jews being sent to gas chambers, and burned in ovens. We must ask ourselves the question, "If it starts here where does it end?" Allowing children to embark on such projects, and presents such imagery gives the impression that the most notorious figure in the history of the world is nothing more that a mythic creature from their text books. A historical figure to be toyed with, who's impact has been diminished by reducing him to a harmless action figure to be displayed and appreciated. This does nothing more than desensitize the you, and eventually change the historical context in their minds. It doesn't create dialogue. It creates apathy, and indifference while deminishing the impact of a demon.