From the positive reception for Amazon Prime’s ambitious new show, The Man in the High Castle, to Jeb Bush’s recent remarks about killing baby Hitler, American pop culture loves to kick Nazi butt. We cheer when our heroes, be they Captain America, Wonder Woman, Indiana Jones or the Rocketeer, take on The Third Reich and help the Allies win World War 2. It’s understandable, the Nazis committed one of the nastiest crimes against humanity in history as well as plunged the world into an unecessary bloodbath for the second time.
But the problem with this is that they’re portrayed as the only villains of World War 2 and frankly it’s starting to get very predictable and boring.
The Problem With The Man in the High Castle
I’ve seen the trailers, clips and even the opening titles for TMITHC. I read the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick. And while the idea of pretending what the US would be like if the Axis Powers won WW2 is both fascinating and horrifying, I’m not too pleased with the way certain events are depicted in both the book and the series (but moreso the series).
For those not familiar with the story: it’s 1962 and the Axis Powers consisting of Germany and Japan have won. The Allies lost. To add insult to injury, the U.S. has been conquered by said powers and split in two. More than half of America (now called The Greater Nazi Reich) is under Hitler’s rule, while the West Coast (“Pacific States of America”) is under Imperial Japan’s thumb. While we read/hear about the further atrocities the Nazis commit to the rest of the world, a majority of the novel’s action takes place in I.J. – controlled California (For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the Japan of that era as Imperial Japan) and an untouched area in the middle where the Rocky Mountains are. And therein lies the problem.
The human rights violations Imperial Japan committed before and during WW2 are never mentioned or discussed. While the main characters secretly harbor resentment against their imperial “overlords”, even calling them “Japs” behind their back, life under I.J. rule, is…not so bad, compared to the Nazis. But all of the American characters in TMITHC are white or Jewish. There’re no black, Korean, Chinese or Filipino-American characters in the story. How would these groups be treated under the Imperial Japanese? Considering what Japan did to China, Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines before and during WW2, I think it’s regrettable that Dick or Amazon didn’t incorporate references to The Nanking Massacre or Unit 731. I hold Amazon more accountable because in 2015 we have more historical evidence of these atrocities than Dick did in the 1960s. Would it have hurt Amazon to add some new characters of Chinese or Filippino descent who fear being rounded up and sent to units for human experimentation? Who harbor resentment towards Imperial Japan for killing their loved ones and destroying their lives in their native countries?
Some would argue that depicting the Imperial Japanese as villains would seem racist and promote another white hero vs. Asian villain argument, especially with regards to the internment of Japanese-Americans and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But these dark events in American history doesn’t excuse those dark events in Japanese history. Even though America has forgiven Japan, China has not. And to this day some still deny the existence of those events.
The Problem With Killing Hitler
Every time I hear someone talk about going back in time to assassinate/kill Hitler, I make one massive internal eyeroll, not because I believe in Hitler’s right to live but because killing him would only be cutting a slice of the evil pie.
The 20s, 30s and 40s were the era of dictators, two of them even deadlier than Hitler. Heck, the 20th century was full of deadly dictators.
Sure, you killed Hitler but what about Joseph Stalin, his contemporary? Did you know that he’s responsible for the worst famine in history? And why aren’t there more comic book superheroes beating the living daylights out of him? Why haven’t there been more movies about his human rights violations?
Or what about going back in time and killing Mao Zedong? Or Hideki Tojo, the man who orchestrated the Pearl Harbor attacks?
“But”, you might argue, “by killing Hitler I stopped World War 2 and Pearl Harbor from happening.”
Maybe. Maybe not. But you still have the problem with its predecessor.
That’s right, Tojo was born in 1884. Hitler was born in 1889. Stalin was born in 1878 and Zedong was born in 1893. What do these men have in common? They lived through World War 1 – the war that changed world and changed them for the worst. The first war to severely affect civilian life, the war that introduced the affliction of PTSD, the war that brought the first modern genocide.
Some are now saying that it would be better to go back in time and stop Gavrilo Princip’s bullet from hitting Archduke Franz Ferdinand instead. Then there’d be no WW1, no Armenian Genocide, no WW2 and no Holocaust.
Maybe. Maybe not.
But while there’s nothing we can do about the past, there is something we should do about the present. While we shouldn’t forget about the Nazis or the Holocaust, we should stop focusing solely on them and direct our attention to other villains of the past, whether we’re writing science fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, or comic books so that other victims and heroes can have their voices be heard.
Read: The Man in the High Castle: When a Nazi-Run Dystopia Isn’t So Dystopian
Watch: 10 Myths About the Nazis (some of the facts may shock you.)