The Myth of Good and Evil: From Hitler to Mother Teresa
These days, the archetypes of good and evil in our society are Mother Teresa and Hitler, respectively. If you start with these two as the paradigms, it becomes pretty easy to figure out what “Good” and Evil” are really all about.
I admit that I have never met Adolf Hitler. Fortunately for this blog post, however, I have met Mother Teresa. It was in Toronto, Canada back in ’84. She was giving a speech at Shea Stadium and I (being the ‘good Catholic boy destined for priesthood’) was brought to Toronto to be introduced to a living saint.
The woman was a bitch to me.
I shook her hand and she sneered. I said a few words— basic niceties of some sort— and she just glowered at me. After about three seconds, she turned to the security people with her and said “Get rid of him.” They did.
I suspect I would have done better meeting Hitler.
Years later, I learned that Mother Teresa had a disdain for males. This information came to me as I read about the series of accusations leveled against Mother Teresa shortly before her death. It seems that many in India thought she was misappropriating the funds she had raised, using them to build more convents instead of feeding the poor. She explained that this was her answer to the cruelty of the streets of Calcutta: The more girls there were in convents, the better things were on the streets.
The problem, of course, was that this policy prevented males, married couples, and any girl who did not want to be a nun from getting food or help. Many were pissed about it, and sought to have her relieved of her duties. The Church and the media basically rode out the accusations until she died, and whitewashed it all with a canonization.
Now, this doesn’t make her “evil” or anything, but it does show some normal, human fuckedupedness in this icon of ultra “Good”.
[I can just hear people out there thinking “He’s not going to try to defend Hitler now, is he?”]
Hitler was responsible for killing lots of Jews, and starting a World War. This makes it a tad hard to portray the man as “good”. However, I’ve always been of the opinion that Hitler was really just a man of his times. Hear me out here…
Long before WWII, there were pogroms throughout Europe. (POGRAMS were mass killings, usually of Jews. See the WIKI.) The genocide of WWII was basically just another pogrom. This is why Hitler’s plan was called ‘The Final Solution’… other extermination plans had been tried before and failed. The Nazis reasoned that only a large, coordinated pogrom could achieve the genocide they wanted. It was the ‘final solution’ in a series of attempts, not the stand-alone event that many see it as today.
Here’s bit of little-known Hitler history for you:
In 1939, before his extermination of Jews began, 937 Jews got onto a boat (the S.S. St. Louis) and tried emigrate to anywhere that would accept them. These Jews, having a good idea of what returning to Europ meant, traveled to every port of call they could find, asking for refugee status. None of the allied countries (who were supposedly appalled by Hitler’s Final Solution) would accept a single Jew into their country. Every one of the 937 Jews on that boat were forced to return to Europe to face the concentration camps.
Follow this forward: During the war, German troops were stretched thin, the supplies were dwindling, and Germany still had hundreds of thousands of Jews in concentration camps that no other country would take off their hands. The Nazis couldn’t feed their own men, and they certainly couldn’t feed the hated Jews in the camps. This is why the corpses of the dead were found so malnourished… Hitler was unwilling to “waste” resources on the concentration camps when his own soldiers were starving in the field. When it came down to it, a prisoner in the camps had to show that they could contribute to the war effort, or they were killed. The Nazi’s only other option was to keep them alive, but starving.
Is this evil incarnate? As I said, I’ve always seen Hitler as a man of his times. These Jews could easily have been granted refugee status in any of dozens of countries, but were rejected.
Still, when it was all over and the cameras moved into the death camps, the rest of the world was able to relieve their guilt by elevating the evil of Hitler. He was the madman. He hated and killed them all. He was the very essence of EVIL.
We, of course, were the good guys. We “saved the Jews”. (Except for the millions who could have emigrated to the USA in 1939 but were flatly rejected.)
The point of all this is simple: Good and Evil are just monikers. Every icon has a story behind it. More often than not, the elevated status of saints and demons are created to make us feel the way we want to feel. Mother Teresa is good and holy because she takes our $10.00 donation and makes us feel better about poor starving children in India. Hitler is ultimate evil because he exonerates our own guilt. In Hitler’s case, his designation even allowed us to feel superior and heroic.
There is no ultimate evil in the world, any more than there is ultimate good. They’re just words we use to get over our own guilt, or to make ourselves look good. People are people, some more fucked up than others, but all of us fall within that five percent deviation from the norm.
Beware anyone who tells you different.
The above post was edited to correct abjectly stupid errors of fact that occurred in the original post. Thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org for the one-up.
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