Jan 2018 diary

26th Jan

Nazis – A warning from history

This documentary film series examines how the Nazis came to power in Germany and perpetrated their unspeakable atrocities leading upto the World War.

When we think of Hitler, we perceive a monstrous leader in absolute command. We think he must have absolutely dictated in chilling detail every barbaric deed the Nazis were involved in. This broad understanding is easier for us to accept and explain the horror of concentration camps and the destruction of war. One man. One evil monster masterminded it all.

The documentary reveals a different story. Adolph Hitler commanded absolute power and had legitimized Nazism as the ideological underpinning of his grandiose plans. However, as a ruler, Hitler was not at all hands-on with the nitty-gritty, the minutae of adminstration and terror. Sure, he was charismatic in his dealings with those who came with problems. His charisma infused a demonic zeal in his officers. However, he spoke in broad visions and gave vague directions on next steps after every momentous decision. It was left to those immediately below him – of whom there were a great many number-  to divine what the Fuhrer had in mind.

This ambiguity can be assumed to be deliberate in part. Hitler was either not good at or disinterested in the details of execution. His strategy was to surround himself with a good many subordinates and not assign any pecking order to them. The result was that all of them fiercely competed with each other for the Fuhrer’s attention and approval for their specific plan. Hitler encouraged this because he felt that this internal competition would ensure that only the best ideas would filter upto him. At the same time, the officers soon learnt that Hitler preferred extreme ideas. The more audacious and radical the idea, the more Hitler liked it and approved it. It was this structure and process that marked top decision-making at the highest levels in the Nazi regime.

How decisions on war were taken is not the purview of this documentary.

What is deeply troubling is something else. It’s one thing to have radical and inhuman ideas, but another to find ground realities conducive to their execution. In Nazi Germany, people in positions of power – from the top to the bottom – embraced these vile ideas with full gusto. Vague orders were converted into meticulous plans at the local level. Every leader, at every level, unleashed a reign of terror that is too horrifying to detail here. It was just not the top leaders who were responsible, it was leaders at every level, down to the bottom-rung official.

This is more troubling because we cannot just pretend that it was one evil monster. A civilized nation, a cultured society allowed this to happen. Everything seemed rational to those who lived through the regime and were a part of this adminstrative apparatus. These people are interviewed in the series and they speak in a matter-of-fact way. Deeply troubling to see them do that, but they are actually doing future generations a favour. In openly sharing how they found Nazism and Hitler so promising, these people should make us think. What seems inhuman in hindsight seemed a slightly less than normal aberration to them. There must be an irresistible form of mass delusion or indoctrination at work! Who is to say that we have evolved in human consciousness to escape that possibility.

Watching this documentary film was seeing what the ‘banality of evil’ looks like. Hannah Arendt was so right in naming it that way.

14th Jan

A word is not just a word

On the news today, I heard about Mark Wahlberg, the Hollywood actor, donating his re-shoot fees to a Time’s Up Fund. Sexual exploitation & gender-based unqual pay form the background of this fund. And in reporting the news, the newscaster used the words, ‘actor’ and ‘actress’.

A few years back, mainstream media of all kinds was using just the word, ‘actor’. Now, in the light of what is happening, they had to use two words because they are needed to describe the murky realities of showbusiness.

What was the underlying motivation in using just one word? Did it usher in any change of perception? Did it make any difference to how men and women are treated? When ugly truths rear their head, we realize that words and language play their own role in having masked them.

False alarm, a real alarm

In an incident that is bound to raise serious concerns over how well governments and public authorities communicate and respond to existential threats, a false ballistic missile launch alert was sent out to the entire population in the state of Hawaii, US.

Hawaii is closest to North Korean missile reach and the recent sabre-rattling would not have helped. One can only imagine the doomsday experience everybody would have gone through till word came that it was a false alarm.

The incident is an ominous warning for a world full of nuclear weapons. The reason given for the false alarm is that an employee used the wrong button during a change of shift! Is access to such a button so easy? Are there no safeguards? What if a missile detection system would have malfunctioned at precisely the same time or was misinterpreted in panic-stricken judgment? And what if a call would have been made to lash out or retaliate?

When an American president boasts about having a bigger nuclear button, that adds another dangerous variable to the mix. Nuclear warfare spells destruction for everybody. It is madness to even think about using nukes. And such human errors like the one experienced today are sounding out a real alarm, one that should shake up the whole world.

This false alarm is a real alarm.




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