Hitler, Hussein, and the Problems of Comparison

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Source: ‘www.geoffhook.com – used with permission

Recent commentary once again has provided me with an opportunity to offer my opinions and perspectives about the problems associated with history – specifically Hitler. This being said, while it may appear that I am critical of the cartoon in the following response in an academic forum, I fully appreciate and admire the symbolism intended. My issue is – and always will be – with the overbearing and terrible figure Hitler was and my own perspective of quick and casual comparisons.

Of course, my irritation could stem from the fact that every facet of world history since 1900 doesn’t have to involve Hitler in some form. Contemporary history is not “Six Degrees of Adolf Hitler” after all. 

“The biggest problem I have with such comparisons as the one implied in this particular cartoon is the overall readiness to compare whatever unpopular head of state to only Hitler. Could Hussein be as easily compared to Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, or any other tyrannical heads of state in recent history? My initial reaction is to say that I believe that there would be plenty to compare his actions to. Many of these also had an overinflated sense of national ambition and “delusions of grandeur.” At the same time, examples like Mussolini would be even more fitting, given that his power and influence was somewhat regional, and his actions against his own people were more questionable than effective.

“One of the biggest challenges I have had in my academic studies is the specter of Hitler which tends to overpower any discussion of Germany’s actions during the Second World War. I have avoided as much discussion of German wartime leadership because the topic always goes back to Hitler and renders much of the conversation moot, in my point. After all, how can one effectively discuss the effect without getting mired in the cause… which undermines the effect? Dönitz may have ended up more successful in the U-boat campaign, and Rommel may have been effective in taking his objectives in North Africa, but we find ourselves right back into a discussion about Hitler.

“To continuously come across Hitler comparisons tends to become somewhat annoying, personally – especially in current media coverage. To most people, I think the pre-Second World War events in Germany involve Hitler magically appearing and subsequently invading Poland, when the truth of how Germany descended into the post-First World War political and social chaos is a lot more complicated. However, this is the problem with studying history versus common assumptions about history – we tend to oversimplify events, which can lead to a faulty understanding of the conditions which created them and an overlooking of the potential to repeat those painful lessons.”

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