Happy Nazi New Year

2009 starts with a bang in terms of Nazi stories, which were a strong theme in 2008 too. In addition, we gained insights into the similar reading habits of Bush and Hitler.
2009 starts with a bang in terms of Nazi stories, which were a strong theme in 2008 too. In addition, we gained insights into the similar reading habits of Bush and Hitler.

Maybe it's just me, but it seemed like 2008 was filled with Nazi and Hitler stories and references. I wrote about it on a number of occasions, including pointing out brouhahas over local conservatives comparing environmentalists to Nazis, critics accusing the Seattle-visiting Dalai Lama of having Nazi sympathies, and the Olympics controversy over the Chinese torch relay, a ceremony invented by the twisted PR geniuses of the Third Reich.

Then there was the case of a Bellevue retiree accused of being an SS soldier who participated in war crimes in World War II Serbia, and further the arrest of a man in Bellevue who was suspected of trying to sell a stolen golden bookmark that once belonged to the Furher.

Any thought that 2009 would be Nazi-free evaporated before the hope could even be articulated. On New Year's Day, at around 2 am, Seattle police shot and killed a man in the University District who was dressed in a Nazi uniform.

But sometimes Nazi connections are a matter of seeing patterns of behavior and trying to explain them, and that's what brings this next observation to mind. At year's end, outgoing president George W. Bush's reading habits were much discussed as former aide and Bush's "brain," Karl Rove, tried to establish that incurious George was in fact a prodigious reader, having devoured up to 95 books per year, mostly non-fiction. These included many books on history and political crises, not to mention a slew of Travis McGee mysteries. However an analysis of his reading habits led the Washington Post's Richard Cohen to this conclusion in a Dec. 30, 2008 column:

It is awfully late in the day for Rove — and, presumably, Bush — to assert the president's intellectual bona fides. Now feeling the hot breath of history, they are dropping the good ol' boy persona and picking up the ol' bifocals one. But the books themselves reveal — actually, confirm — something about Bush that maybe Rove did not intend. They are not the reading of a widely read man, but instead the books of a man who seeks — and sees — vindication in every page. Bush has always been the captive of fixed ideas. His books just support that.

Bush may have read a lot of books, but they weren't really teaching him anything. This sounded awfully familiar. Then I remembered a long review I had read in the Dec. 24, 2008 New Republic by Anthony Grafton. It's about the book, Hilter's Private Library: The Books that Shaped His Life by Timothy Ryback. It offers a detailed analysis of the books Hitler owned and underlined. I haven't read the book, but the review is worth reading in full. What was the conclusion about Hitler's reading habits? The German leader read a good deal of non-fiction as well, and found escapism in Westerns. But his MO sounds eerily familiar:

For the most part, the marked books [in Hitler's library] show that Hitler read not to discover but to confirm what he already knew... Hitler read...as he talked: not to uncover new facts or ideas but to validate what he already thought.

Too bad Nancy Pearl couldn't help sort these two out.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.