A few days ago, I finally finished reading, for the first time, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I would like to introduce this topic by way of Groucho Marx.
I get my hair cut on a regular basis, which is about the only time I am exposed to television. Since I get my hair cut early in the afternoon, what’s on the television is even more horrid than normal since it is, by definition, daytime television.
What was being broadcast was a reboot of You Bet Your Life, this time hosted by a (surprisingly elderly) Jay Leno. Why Leno feels the need to whore himself out on a cheesy daytime game show is beyond me, but there ya go. It’s a free country. I guess he likes the money.
Anyway, as I was sitting there with my barber, being exposed to this dreadful program, Leno asked the contestant (a grown woman, I want to be clear) this question: “Groucho Marx was the original host of this very program, but prior to You Bet Your Life, what famous comedy troupe was he a member of?”
I assumed, naturally, it was a joke question, sort of like “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Maybe something at the $1 level just to get things going. But……………..she had no clue. None. Absolutely none. She was asked what comedy troupe that Groucho Goddamned Marx was in, and this dipshit had absolutely no idea at all.
Now, look. I didn’t grow up in the 1930s. I’ve never watched a single Marx Brothers movie. The little snippets of the original You Bet Your Life that I have seen, I find to be dull, simply assuming that in the 1950s, production standards were so low, that this kind of thing passed for entertainment. But Jesus H. Christ on a pita biscuit, how could any sentient human not know the answer to such a question?
What does this have to do with Henrich Himmler, Tim? Or Rudolf Hess? Nothing at all (except, I suppose, that they were contemporaries of the aforementioned but apparently very obscure troupe). What it has to do with, though, is my opinion of myself after seeing such a thing. Because when I see idiocy, I latch on to the idea that I’m just about the smartest thing in a skirt, and everyone else is an idiot, and I can barely stand sharing the same planet with all these people.
And that’s not healthy.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’d rather be just about the dumbest guy in the room, not only for the sake of humility, but also to learn something. I can’t stand being around dumb people. It’s tedious, un-educational, and it creates poisonous boosts in my self-esteem. I’d rather be humble and learning than megalomaniacal and stagnant.
And there’s the link to this book. And I’m not saying that reading about Hitler makes me think I’m just one hell of a guy, because let’s face it, Idi Amin could consider himself a pretty good human being if he took the time to understand Hitler’s awfulness.
What I am saying, however, is that reading about how so many people with could do so many awful things to so many others makes me think that Saint Timothy, after which I am named, is an apt moniker.
(As an aside, it occurred to me I never bothered finding out what St. Timothy was the patron saint of, and I can scarcely conceal my disappointment).
Anyway, back to Hitler.
I believe this book should be required reading for every student in the country. In fact, if you need to make room for it, get rid of Calculus. If people want to pursue higher math, let ’em. But for most people, like little old me, it was an absolutely ridiculous waste of time. Far better to learn about something which we ALL have in common (living here on Earth with billions of other humans, some of them not very nice) than something which is of zero practical use to almost everyone in day to day life.
The simplistic view of Hitler by virtually everyone is that he was “evil“. I think it’s the wrong word. Evil seems too passive, like “blue-eyed.” It almost excuses him for his behavior.
I think a better word, although there are dozens of other ones too, is “cruel“. Because that’s what I think of – – a man absolutely consumed with wanton destruction, violence, hatred, and the dispensation of misery. To be evil seems pre-ordained. To be cruel is a choice, and a wicked choice, the application of which makes those like myself truly wonder what happens to the spirits of those who use their lives in such a manner?
I think it is particularly important to study history since I believe strongly the world is heading for another very dark place. The idea that, eighty years after Nazism, the world is suddenly Very Wise is, I believe, complete lunacy. Everything is a bell curve, and some meaningful portion of the eight billion other souls on this planet are, in fact, cruel – – most of them not actively, but latent cruelty abounds. All such a spirit needs is the right opportunity. These darkest seeds of humanity are planted in the ground, just waiting for the right conditions to reveal their black blossoms.
The book is almost entirely chronological, so near the end, we read about how Hitler is becoming increasingly enraged at his inner circle, since his world is crumbling around him. In the end, he kills his three dogs, has his new bride kill herself, and then blows the back of his head off by sticking a pistol in his own mouth. In reading about the collapse of this person, I was reminded of one of the last scenes in Passion of the Christ, when Satan has been irrefutably defeated, and is shown utterly alone, enraged, and condemned to emptiness.
My own disposition and personality might suggest that I’m the most cynical, misanthropic curmudgeon, but as with so many things in life, things are seldom what they seem. In the grand scheme of things, I am the most optimistic of optimists, because I believe the way the universe functions, entropy be damned, is that the forces of creativity, constructive thought, and beneficence will always beat the countervailing forces of malignance. Yet we were counseled to be as wise as serpents though innocent as doves. Part of that wisdom comes from reading about terrible things, which I believe everyone should do.