To the Editor:
Kristina Mois’ piece “Nazi symbols no more than harsh reminders” (2/26) presents a historical-cultural point about the differences between the ways old regimes are viewed in Russia and Germany that is both well-argued and interesting, but the argument with respect to the swastika is flat wrong.
I’ve never worn a hammer and sickle T-shirt, but my best guess from observing those who do is that their intent is not to create some kind of powerful historic reminder that will deter people from becoming Stalinists. Rather, there was a time in this country when a radical subset of (mostly young) Americans had a romanticized attachment to the Soviet Union or, more commonly, figures like Che Guevara. Those who wear the shirts today are typically hearkening back to that old ’60s or ’70s radicalism. It’s stupid — it’s always been stupid, it was stupid then — and not many do it, but there is cultural precedent for it.
There is, however, no cultural precedent for glorifying Nazism or the swastika in our country. That’s why there is a difference between wearing a hammer and sickle shirt and a swastika shirt; there is a measure of ambiguity in the former but none in the latter. If you draw a swastika or wear a swastika shirt, it is an unequivocal endorsement of genocidal anti-Semitism. Stop looking for the ambiguity here. It doesn’t exist. The meaning of a symbol is, by definition, embedded in a cultural context — it’s not determined by a dispassionate, rational assessment of which regimes did what. In our culture, a swastika is unambiguous.
Moreover, there is no reason it shouldn’t stay that way. The romanticization and glorification of Soviet symbols like the hammer and sickle always have and continue to obscure recognition of the awful crimes the Soviets perpetrated. The failure to recognize such crimes is exactly what the author is complaining about here — but then why does she want to transfer that confusion and obfuscation over to another symbol of oppression and tyranny, and genocide as well?
Let the swastika stand as the hated symbol of evil that it is. Let us denounce it and all those who use it. Most importantly, let us take incidents like the one that occurred this weekend as reminders that while we have come far in overcoming anti-Semitism in this country, we haven’t come nearly far enough, and there is so much more to do. The use of a symbol like the swastika is unequivocally hateful — but by calling the hate what it is and standing up against it, we can use these incidents as an opportunity to move our society forward and thereby defeat the bigots who try to spread hate. If we instead confuse these symbols by drawing bogus analogies, we will have lost that opportunity.
The writer is a senior in Morse College.