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Guest Post: Killing Hitler...Repeatedly

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

While doing my weekly web crawling for video game news, I came across what seemed like any other example of exploitive violence showcasing the downloadable content for a (at the time) new game. It’s the typical highlight reel of action and gameplay showing off the “all the creative ways [the columnist] offed history’s worst person.”

I found the article, video, and comments that followed intriguing. Immediately, I noticed I lacked the same enthusiasm with the portrayal of Hitler’s death as most people who commented on the video. Unsurprisingly, this made me introspective.

The graphics seem on par with other B list games and boasted animation that slows to an x-ray mode so you can see bone shatter and the dictator’s heart explode. It’s not quite the over-the-top gratuitous face-exploding Hitler-killing in Inglorious Basterds, which On V has previously discussed, but it aims for a similar strange satisfaction derived from the killing of a mass murderer. Instead of feeling that rush of enthusiasm or laughing as Hitler’s testicles exploded, I simply shrugged and contemplated our culture’s fascination with Nazis as the archetypal villain.

On Violence guest posters have addressed previously the role and effect of video games in our culture. A while back, guest poster Will wrote how active participation in a fantasy world can blur the lines between fiction and reality, and I repeat the same. Video games are both reflect and impact our culture. Take the hyperbolic assertion of Hilter as the worst person in history made above by Gameinformer’s columnist. While a matter of perspective, there are a variety of villains in human history, even from the same time period, in contention as the worst person in history. Consider Adolf Eichmann, one of the Holocaust’s actual architects or Himmler the head of the SS. There is also my personal least favorite person; Josef Mengele, a physician who oversaw the terrifying medical experimentation on human beings.

On the opposite side of the war but with similar detest for the Jewish race was Stalin. Then there are monsters whose contributions to human history can be measured in the insurmountable number of lives they contributed in taking or encouraged others to take in their name such as Gengis Khan, Mao Zetong, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Nero, and Caligula.

But the Nazi’s have become the symbol in our culture for the evils of mankind. Consider Fox News’ prominent use of the Nazi regime as a talking point or even the prominent use of Nazi’s in video games as an enemy force.

Killing Nazis in video games is not a new concept. As far back as the original Wolfenstein, we’ve been virtually slaughtering the SS and their commanders. The original Bionic Commando actually allowed kids to make it all the way to the Fuhrer himself and end the regime with his death. We, as consumers, are fine with killing Nazis. After all, we are playing a first person shooter or an action game and there must be an enemy to defeat. Plus, it’s that much more acceptable if our hero is of Jewish descent.

There is only so far we can go with fighting aliens and monsters. At the same time we’re not okay with the Nazis being Nazis. In the original Wolfenstein, creators took heat for portraying the swastika in the game. Even in Sniper Elite, the patch on the Hitler’s arm is not the African division of the German army’s symbol; a palm tree atop the swastika, but a palm tree alone. Other games have tried to diversify the villains, including most notably, Homefront. It simulated a communist invasion of the US by communist forces similar to the movie Red Dawn. But the villains originally meant to be Chinese became North Koreans because portraying China as an enemy would hurt the development company Kaos Games.

I have no affection for Hilter or the things he did or help perpetuate, but I’m beginning to think the way our culture portrays Nazism and Hilter is distorting the lessons we should be learning from one of the greatest tragedies in human history. First and chiefly, the Holocaust did not happen because of one man, but because of an oppressive regime and a frightened complicit people. Second, the danger and ease with which hate and fear can be channeled. And third, the importance of being an active participant in democracy so decisions are not made for you. And lastly, the evils of the present will mirror those of the past.

Consider our present. Racism and hatred are still alive and well and even more prominent than most of us would like to admit. Consider the following over examples:

- Let’s start locally.

- Nazi idealism alive.

- Greece’s fascist party.

- And ISIS.

Or the number of past and active genocides you may not have been aware of.

The simple point being that the simulated assassination of Hitler seems an impotent expression of rage at the evils humanity perpetrated against itself. Video games are an outlet for me as much as a source of entertainment. But there is a distinct difference between the video game industry’s ability to add to the discourse of our culture so long as the focus of games is on things like how gruesomely we can assassinate one of history’s worst people.

Matty P is an avid gamer and PA pediatrician. He has been a youth pastor, ordained minister and EMT. He has also participated in medical relief missions and ministry outreach in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Just for the record, he is also Jewish by heritage.

three comments

Someone asked the question on Twitter, thought I’d share it here:

“Let’s take it another direction… Does the encouragement of violence against Nazis socialize kids for use of the metaphor applied to other political enemies later on (ISIS, etc)?


Also should point out, the Daily Show had a segment last week about Nazis that totally feeds into all of this.

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/c22laq..

Read the NYer article on the guy in question. A much more nuanced discussion to be had.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/0..


Eric,

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll go ahead and take credit for the above question, in case anyone wants to pursue the discussion further. Please feel free to email me or contact me on Twitter (@HGChamberlainIV).

With a background in Army Psychological Operations, I often try to look for the role certain messaging serves in reinforcing social norms. I am not trying to suggest that there is any sort of conscious sinister master plot to “pre-program” Americans via the use of the Nazi metaphor.

Rather, that, as a society, the whole of World War Two has become our “national mythology” that helps us make sense of an often senseless world. In our telling of WW2, the US plays the hero, France and western Europe play the damsel-in-distress, the UK plays the plucky sidekick, and the Nazis (personified in Hitler) obviously play the main villain. All movie accounts, and even most historical re-tellings of the war follow a fairly recognizable literary plot-line (everything pre-1944 is stage-setting, D-Day is the epic confrontation, the Bulge is the sneak attack that is ultimately overcome, and quickly the hero triumphs).

This has obvious usefulness in a country generally devoid of culturally-unifying cultural epics. (George Washington and Abraham Lincoln provide a few useful tales, but nothing compared to the medieval and classical tales and heroes most Europeans can claim.) Where this obviously begins to be problematic is when it is manipulated via rhetoric by politicians to encourage violence, or at least the acceptance and permission of violence, against certain new opponents or enemies.

The Taliban are not Nazis. Bin Laden was not Hitler. The decision to invade Iraq ought to be based on the case against Iraq, not on how many parallels one can draw between Iraq and Nazi Germany. And so on…

Perhaps a more pragmatic approach is to simply see this as necessary, given all that we now know about the psychology of violence in war, and the need to dehumanize an opponent if leaders are to expect their soldiers to be able to do violence “for God and country.”

A more troublesome element of this mythology to me personally is that it seems to have created a military force that is constantly longing for the “good-old-days” of a mid-20th century conventional war ( a style of conflict that was actually quite short-lived historically, and very unique to that particular period), and insists on couching its strategy, tactics, and spending priorities on that dream.

Anyway…

Thanks for the Daily Show links. Will definitely check those out.