Not knowing what they are talking about doesn't hold back anyone, not on social media nor in journalism, and that's a problem for public discourse and does a disservice to those who experienced it. As History Channel programming shows, people remain obsessed with World War II. It isn't just in the U.S. In Norway, non-fiction and fiction about what happened during World War II remain popular but the authors overwhelmingly have no experience - they just heard stories or read media claims and go from there.
Literature Professor Unni Langås from the University of Agder calls it ‘etterminnetiden’ - living in a time of past memories. As World War II has increasingly become distant history, no different than the Old West was for young soldiers in World War II, falling back on old stories which have their own bias is common.(1) It isn't just casual users of social media who hate people in a different political party that use old-timey lingo and jingoism, politicians use "Manhattan Project of" for so many things it became a joke, so they pivoted to using "Moonshot of" as the new cliché.
They're not trapped in the past, they think you are, the same way marketing groups that want to appeal to older consumers use music from the 1980s.
Langås breaks the stories in modern prose down into seven broad types; Heroes, Enemy Soldiers, Prisoners/Refugees, Experiences, Forbidden Love, Local Nazis, and What It All Means.
Sympathizers are easy to understand and thus how easily it leads to revisionism. By now we've all seen modern accounts claiming that the Germans didn't massacre Jews, the Nazis did. They choose not to learn that Hitler got the same percentage of votes that Bill Clinton got in the 1992 election. The Germans knew exactly who he was and liked it. In 1920, after he got control of the German Workers' Party he renamed them National Socialists. He got his position because he successfully argued against capitalism, espoused big government, wanted an end to religion, and demonized those outside their political tribe. You could remove the name Hitler from his arguments of 100 years ago today, before the raging anti-Semitism, and a whole lot of western academics and pretend socialists would nod along with his words.
A century of sympathizers earlier, French author Victor Hugo had to write his greatest book, "Les Misérables", in exile. His political opponents said conservatives like him needed to leave France or face bodily harm. The conservative positions he prized were freedom of the press and legal equality. Yet the French liberals banning opponents had plenty of sympathizers. Most of the French left wanted Napoleon III - noting he could not be bought off the way politicians can. He took away the rights of Republicans, and for two decades his liberal supporters believed they were right in doing so, until the economy collapsed and he crossed Bismarck and was deposed.
Even today in pop culture, these themes of sympathizers, not simply "useful idiots" like American communists in the 1940s or environmentalists taking money from Russia now, remain valuable. In "Avengers: Endgame" no one was surprised Thanos, the cosmic environmentalist, had followers who believed in his cause.
Heroes are much easier to defend. They often are not accurate portrayals but ideals and there is nothing wrong with creating aspirational behavior. Smart marketing companies use thin, attractive people to sell products because they are ideals, USDA has a food pyramid scheme that only 2% of people can follow so it is obviously aspirational.
The others are easy storytelling also. If you want to make a sympathetic Nazi, have him do something nice. Even famous German Generals like Rommel refused orders from the SS to target Jews. Good villains make good stories, like Stane in "Iron Man" or Agent Smith in "The Matrix" and a sympathetic villain works even better if it happens to lead to Forbidden Love, like a Norwegian freedom fighter and a Nazi soldier.
Local villains are the most chilling because they are the most believable to all - a corrupt sheriff in a small town like Little Bill Daggett in "Unforgiven" wasn't fiction, it just used names and scenarios that were.
The dreariest stories are What It All Means.
If you are descended from a Nazi sympathizer or a Nazi, you are supposed to feel guilty about that. It is unclear why, since modern people self-flaggelating weren't even born. In America, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center employees don't feel the least bit of guilt that their income is from a global-warming-causing automobile magnate. Ingvar Kamprad was a Nazi sympathizer who ducked paying taxes, so cheap he only got haircuts in poor countries to save a buck, but his IKEA-funded Stichting INGKA Foundation will give away a billion dollars, so no one minds his legacy.
Despite that, the descendants of survivors of Nazi oppression feel mobilized to tell their story, even if it isn't relevant.
Will we ever get out of the past? Perhaps not, in older wars there was no real-time media and no television. Today, everyone on TV who served in Afghanistan or Iraq is portrayed as having PTSD, whereas Afghan militias are no longer getting the kind treatment they got in The Living Daylights or Rambo III.
A book like the one Langås wrote may help, because it is geared toward shining a light on how society memorializes history, versus historians pretending they have a more objective truth.
Until then, stop calling people Fascists just because they want to pay more or less taxes. It was a political party, and had its day, just like Nazis, and both failed spectacularly. Yes, some people will co-opt the brand but the only place where they have any real power is in a story of their own making.
(1) Anyone reading historians from today may believe that the 'wealth' gap right now is large, despite the historical evidence showing that poor people able to afford enough food to be able to get fat is only the last 40 years. Historians are rewriting or ignoring old works to create their own revisionism, which they know will bias people in the future. That they do it anyway is worrisome.
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