Project 4 – Dangerous Games and the Current Use of History in Politics

November 28, 2018 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Project 4 – Dangerous Games and the Current Use of History in Politics

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Thomas Fangmann

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The book Dangerous Games by Margaret MacMillan provides rich examples of the ways in which history has been used to shape the present. Some examples of the uses of history include: supporting the idea of the nation, creating group pride, justifying group grievances, providing entertainment, and so much more. Furthermore, MacMillan provides examples of abuses of history. According to MacMillan, abuses include using history to justify harming other people, creating lies about the past, and showing only one perspective. The conclusion I get from this is that history can also be abused for good purposes, but according to MacMillan it would still constitute an abuse. When we deal with the relationship between the past and the present, we must be careful to avoid abuses, even if we are working towards a noble goal such as helping the less fortunate in society or countering hate.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 History is still very much a part of public discourse in the US, and historical examples are being used to support actions and ideas in the present. One example of this is making analogies between current events and the archetypically evil Nazi regime. Another example is the public debate over the memory of the Civil War and the role of slavery in secession. From reading Dangerous Games, we see that when history is abused it is usually told from a single perspective or relies on distortion and even lying. This might not always be the case though, as even a true factual history can theoretically be used to justify an evil action. The problem then becomes largely a moral one and not a historical one.  In order to counter these abuses through MacMillan recommends that historians teach history in a way that promotes critical thinking, using evidence, and recognizing the complexities of history. Essentially, in order to combat the abuses of history, MacMillan recommends cultivating a more skeptical and educated public who are not so susceptible to historical manipulation. This is a noble goal although it may also be overly optimistic. In this article I will explore an example of using history in current political discourse.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Given the great crimes that the Nazis perpetrated, it is certainly warranted to identify and counter similar ideologies and trends in our own society. Nazi comparisons though can sometimes be alarmist and misleading, and they can hinder our understanding of the complexities of the past and present. One example of comparisons with the Nazis is a Washington Post article from August 2017 titled, “Worshiping the Confederacy is about white supremacy – even the Nazis thought so” by historian and author Nina Silber. The main argument is that historic links between admiration for the Confederacy and Nazism prove that honoring Confederate generals is explicitly racist. While I agree that there is clearly a link between the Confederacy and racism, Silber’s historical argumentation and use of evidence in her article is problematic and may preclude understanding the relationship between the South and racism, and also racism in the US in general.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Silber argues that there were deep connections between Nazis and Confederate sympathizers and that southern racists and Nazis drew direct inspiration from each another. Her first piece of evidence is a quote from Hitler himself where he draws inspiration from the Confederacy and laments that the South lost the Civil War. While this certainly seems like powerful evidence, the source is somewhat problematic. Silber does not list a source, but what she includes appears to be a direct quotation from the 1940 book The Voice of Destruction by Hermann Rauschning. Rauschning was a German conservative who joined the Nazi party, but then renounced his membership and moved to the United States in the mid-1930s where became a sharp critic of Nazism. This work, also known as Hitler Speaks, is Rauschning’s account of his memory of conversations he had with Hitler in the early to mid-1930s. Renowned Hitler historian Ian Kershaw describes Hitler Speaks in his highly respected 1998 work Hitler 1889-1936 as “a work now regarded to have so little authenticity that it is best to disregard it altogether”[1]. This is the only evidence in the piece for the Nazis being inspired by the memory of the Confederacy except for Hitler’s admiration of the movie “Gone With the Wind.” While it is certainly likely that Nazis drew some inspiration from the Confederacy, the evidence in Silber’s piece does not support that. Furthermore, Silber does not qualify how much of an influence the Confederacy or the US in general had on the rise of Nazism.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In the rest of the piece, Silber focuses on how Nazism inspired reverence for the Confederacy and white supremacism in the United States. The evidence that she supplies though appears to be spotty and without clear sources. She states for example, a “explicit political connection” between Nazis and southern politicians without providing any examples or evidence. She also discusses the film “Gone With the Wind”, which romanticizes Southern slave society, as a favorite of Hitler’s. Silber also mentions an Atlanta hate group in the 1940s that venerated “Mein Kampf” along with Robert E. Lee, and also highlights the Midwestern Black Legion hate group from the 1930s that she describes as anti-Semitic.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Silber’s article could be called an abuse of history for several reasons. First, it purports to show clear connections that are based on problematic or non-existent evidence. Secondly, Silber only shows a limited perspective on the relationship between Nazism and the US. The reality is that Nazism did draw inspiration from the US, but not just from the South and the Confederacy. There are several prominent examples of this connection including the relationship between Henry Ford and Hitler, US eugenics laws, and genetic race research in the US. In his 2017 book “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law”, lawyer and professor James Q. Whitman details some of these explicit connections. When you use MacMillan’s method and examine Silber’s historical claims with scrutiny you see that the history is more complex than the argument put forth. This does not mean that there is no reason to oppose Confederate symbols and representations, or that there are no similarities and connections with Confederate admiration and Nazism. However, the relation between the US and Nazism is more complex than presented by Silber and not confined to the South. What this means for us today is a certainly a difficult question, but it is one that we should not ignore.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 [1] Kerahaw, Ian. Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris.xiv


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