Psycho-Cartoon Warfare: Putin as Hitler

by Dr. T P Wilkinson

The real Hitler was rather popular in upper class western circles, at least until the start of World War Two. The media’s use of “Hitler” as a pejorative has little to do with the actual politics of the world’s most famous fascist. The Hitlerization of Putin turns reality on its head, “making the actual aggressor appear to be a victim by accusing one's target of all the acts actually perpetrated by oneself.”


Psycho-Cartoon Warfare: Putin as Hitler

by Dr. T P Wilkinson

The image that is to be created and maintained in the popular imagination is that Russia is invading Europe.”

There would appear to be something grotesque in the inflationary use of the term "Hitler" to attack any national leader opposed by the US regime and its vassals. What does the word "Hitler" actually mean – if anyone can be compared to Hitler, except actual fascists.

Before the outbreak of World War II, there had been very little mainstream negative reporting about the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP, or Nazi) regime although Adolph Hitler had been in power since 1932. In fact the German head of government and state enjoyed positive support, especially among the corporate elite in the US and UK. The massive public works programs initiated under the NSDAP were even praised by liberals as an indication of what could be done to remedy general economic problems in the midst of a global depression.

The only serious objections to Hitler came from two sectors: the Left, which enjoyed no official sympathy, and the imperial business sectors (mainly in Britain) that were opposed to sharing any of their global wealth-streams with Germany. Of course the latter were thrilled that the NSDAP regime was increasing the profitability of investment in Germany and destroying the labor organizations of Europe's largest workforce. The only influential critics of Hitler before 1939 were the hardline Germanophobes in the US, UK and France. Hitler, himself, did not become an acceptable enemy until it appeared that he had made a deal with Stalin in 1939 to divide Poland. In the US, Hitler only became an acceptable enemy once the Anglophile sector of the US elite prevailed over the nativist-nationalist faction which opposed any intervention in Europe. However, the US war against Hitler only really began after war had been declared on Japan and Hitler in turn declared war on the US at the end of 1941.

Until it became clear that the Soviet Union was defeating the German Wehrmacht, by 1942, the US had concentrated almost all of its efforts in the Pacific theater, waging war against its imperial rival in Asia. The prospect of Soviet victory over Germany induced the US regime to devote more attention to Europe. However, this came only after protracted campaigns in Africa and Italy. British belligerence toward the Germans had been entrenched since the Great War but anti-Hitler propaganda only became important once France had fallen and German Luftwaffe attacks against the British Isles commenced.

Salazar and Franco as well as Pinochet were all fascists and they were never called "Hitlers" by the press.”

In short, the history of anti-Hitlerism and the image of Hitler as the equivalent of evil did not attain its current universality in the West during the WWII. With the possible exception of Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), there was probably no conspicuous mass media image of Hitler in any way consistent with today's stereotype. Moreover, in Anglo-American mass media, the name Mussolini is almost never used. Although Franco and Salazar remained European dictators from the 1930s until the 1970s without interruption, neither name has any status in the mass media cliché world.

It is tempting to assert that it was the NSDAP regime's concentration camp system and brutal warfare in Eastern Europe that gave rise to the Hitler stereotype. However, as Norman Finkelstein showed, this version of Nazism had been largely irrelevant outside of Germany and Eastern Europe for most of the post-war period. It only attaining polemical stature in the wake of the so-called Six-Day-War when massive efforts began to justify, mainly in the US, the realignment of the Middle East under Israeli hegemony. The modern "Hitler" stereotype actually has little in common with the historic Hitler or the prevailing relationships with Hitler and the NSDAP during the regime's control of Germany.

The inflationary use of the term "Hitler" for any political personality to be vilified in the mass media is conspicuously distinct from the use of the term fascist. Another reason for this bizarre phenomenon is the impact of a strong biographical school which treats the NSDAP regime under Adolph Hitler as determined entirely by the personality of Hitler, the man. This school of thought persists in national security "profiling" of political leaders, e.g. as practiced by offices within the US intelligence agencies. The official assessment of any political personality is presented to the media in the form of a psychological "celebrity biography." This supports an entrenched use of "celebrity" reporting to shape what the public views as information or news. "Hitler" is a term for "negative celebrity": a person who is unavoidable in the news (or is made to seem unavoidable) but for only negative reasons. Orwell described this phenomenon when he illustrated the function of Goldstein in 1984. Hence it was possible to call Manuel Noriega "Hitler", Saddam Hussein "Hitler" and now Putin, too.

Do Noriega, Hussein and Putin have any personal attributes in common? There are certainly none which would immediately suggest a relationship to the historical Adolph Hitler. They were not called Nazis or fascists? Perhaps because to be a Nazi or a fascist in the Anglo-American dominated mass media is not necessarily a bad thing. Salazar and Franco as well as Pinochet were all fascists and they were never called "Hitlers" by the Press. Perhaps fascist and national socialist are terms too complex to be used in celebrity reporting – the dominant form of so-called news dissemination.

Germany today presents a rather bizarre situation. Here we have been told for decades who Hitler was and what we were or are in relation to the era of the NSDAP regime. There is an old joke here about how the Austrians (especially through the Esterhazy family) appropriated Beethoven and Germans got Hitler from Austria in exchange. There are still people alive her who can remember the Nazi era. Until Willy Brandt became chancellor the federal government was headed mainly by people the US regime felt were at least good Nazis – the main thing being that they were not communists or social democrats. It was relatively easy to find people in high office, the academy and mass media who had been Nazis. But there was very clearly no Hitler. Even to compare the chairman of the SED (Socialist Unity Party) in East Germany to Hitler would have been viewed as tasteless and inappropriate. 

“’Hitler’ is a term for ‘negative celebrity’: a person who is unavoidable in the news (or is made to seem unavoidable) but for only negative reasons.”

It is also a matter of record here that the extreme right/ neo-Nazi parties are so heavily infiltrated by undercover police and national security officers that jokes are made whether they would continue to exist without police membership. In short we have no Hitler candidates either in Germany or in Austria to attack.

So why now does the Hitler label penetrate the informal mass media here in Germany? Why is it almost compulsory to be opposed to Putin? There are two complementary reasons for this trend. One is because the US mass media, both conventional and internet-based, has an enormous rate of penetration in Germany, enhanced through the saturation of smart phones and tablets which bombard consumers here almost non-stop. The tendency to sympathize with the consumer-identity message that dominates US mass media creates a logical and emotional antipathy toward Putin's Russia which is made to appear as intolerant as that shown some fantastic Islamic states (of course not compared with Saudi Arabia, only with Iran). Young people have learned to define their "freedom" in terms of direct and vicarious consumption – largely through fashion and internet products. Consumption is driven by "identity" politics. That is to say in the increasingly retarded process of human maturation, the creation, maintenance or remodeling of identity – normally an adolescent process – becomes permanent and product-driven. 

Already by the late 1960s corporations had realized that by changing individualism into egotism the same energy that was threatening to vandalize the established social order could be turned into consumption. Youth were encouraged to become what they buy, which easily became buying in order to become. For instance the disappearance of gender-distinct clothing did not in itself cause a dissolution of gender distinctions but it did add to the market potential for clothing and other products which could be called transgender. The impact of such changes was superficial until the 1980s. In the 1980s a major shift in US corporate strategy occurred. The Thatcher and Reagan "revolutions" were successful because corporations had finally found the means to promote mass economic egotism. This involved two political shifts: an end to permanent corporate employment and the subordination of the race and class struggles that had been boiling since the 1950s to individual identity politics. 

Although the Reagan regime was frequently attacked for its apparent pandering to the Religious Right, this actually kept most political opposition to Reagan focused on identity politics rather than on class or race issues, not to mention imperial warfare. The issue was not whether African-Americans have rights but who is actually African-American and what constitutes the essence of that identity to be protected. By abolishing for all intents and purposes permanent corporate employment as inherited from the New Deal, the foundation of the labor union structures were fundamentally undermined. No promise of job security meant that the prevailing union structures became useless. Add to this the identity political component and it was not difficult to persuade young people that a union was just another kind of meaningless conformity like a big monolithic corporation and that real individuality could only be found in one's own unique employment relationship. Unique employment, unique consumption and unique identity configurations merged into what has really become an externalization of the human identity, programmed at corporate level and delivered individually by the latest version of hand-held electronic device.

Youth were encouraged to become what they buy, which easily became buying in order to become.”

This process has also reconstructed the definition of "freedom" as something solely individual and personal. Correspondingly a "threat to freedom" need not take the form of military or police operations at all. A threat to freedom can be triggered by disconnection from the external identity production machine and its components: pop music, clothing, food, and synthetic messaging. In the USA to be black or brown, despite the skin color found among a miniscule number of the US elite, is to belong to the class of people who earn less, live shorter lives, and with the highest proportion of relatives in prison or subject to penal surveillance. This does not apply to homosexuals. Homosexuals do not constitute a class or a race in the US or anywhere else for that matter. However they do constitute a significant consumer group and include prestigious "market-makers" in the identity industry.

Hence when Vladimir Putin is presented as responsible for legislation or government policy that supposedly discriminates against homosexuals, Putin is attacking "identity product" and the consumers at the end of the hand-held devices are addicted to "identity product" much of which is sexuality based. Each consumer is induced to see the alleged acts of Putin in a way not unlike the reaction by a child of a parent or teacher who deprives the child of his electronic toys. The intensity of these reactions among youth has to be experienced to be believed. That is one of the means by which pseudo-dissent is cultivated, the kind of dissent that the owners of Twitter and Facebook have developed and marketed for the US corporate elite.

Describing Putin as Hitler in these terms feeds on the one hand on the relatively recent popularization of the narrative that homosexuals were persecuted under the NSDAP. However, the Hitler cliché among young people in Germany is less historically rooted than the general cliché that Hitler was the dictator par excellence. 

However, for the older generations use of the Hitler cliché is actually rooted in a more insidious psy-war tactic. As the German government alternates between threats of economic and military action against Russia – while leading sectors of German industry know that they depend on Russian energy resources – an acute reversal is performed. The fact is that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union (Russia) with German troops, augmented by troops recruited from the occupied Eastern European countries. The ruler of the Soviet Union at the time, defending Russia was Stalin. Stalin defeated Hitler, forcing German forces to retreat to the River Elbe in Eastern Germany. Nearly seventy years later the German government with its troops deployed in numerous neo-colonial wars has been the dominant economic force in Eastern Europe since 1989. It has steadily pushed all its major manufacturing into the former COMECON countries. At the same time Russia lost virtually all its industrial trading partners as the dollar, deutschmark and finally the euro destroyed the payment system between Russia and its former trading and defense block. Meanwhile, German corporations control much if not most of the Baltic, Polish, Czech, Slovak and Rumanian economies. The Ukraine was a principal target for the expansion of the Hitler regime. 

Supposedly, Europe is defending itself from Russian aggression in 2014 the way the Soviet Union defended itself in 1940.”

Russia's actions – or, better said, reactions – have been to maintain cordial business relations and to rely upon those in major German corporations with important trading links to Russia to moderate the extreme, largely pro-US, faction that aims to isolate Russia entirely. The US still enjoys substantial support in Germany, in part because of the interlocking economic, political and cultural institutions that work overtime to maintain a pro-American environment.  The US and UK, going back to the Rapello Treaty in 1922, have always tried to obstruct economic cooperation between Germany and Russia.

The largely pro-American German mass media portrays Putin as Hitler because they cannot portray him as Stalin. The image that is to be created and maintained in the popular imagination is that Russia is invading Europe. In fact Germany has seized directly and indirectly nearly every economic asset that Hitler sought to hold before attacking the Soviet Union. Calling Putin Stalin under such conditions actually would recall that Stalin defended the Soviet Union against German invasion. By calling Putin Hitler, the image of a dictatorial leader of Russia "annexing" Eastern Europe piece by piece seems more emotionally plausible. Supposedly, Europe is defending itself from Russian aggression in 2014 the way the Soviet Union defended itself in 1940 (from whom?). No one can call Putin a communist or claim that there is a communist threat to be resisted in Eastern Europe. The governments in Berlin and Washington know that very well. One cannot accuse the Russians of Islamic terrorism, since everyone now knows that the Islamic terrorists are all in the pay of the US and Saudi Arabia.

The media strategy is an American one. It is based on making the actual aggressor appear to be a victim by accusing one's target of all the acts actually perpetrated by oneself. The status of "victim" is an elemental fiction in US media manipulation and psychological warfare. The population of Germany, a country whose controlling heights and mass culture are probably more Americanized than any other in the non-English-speaking world, is being told every day how they are potential victims of Russian power and that Putin is threatening all their cherished identity products. The Hitler cliché augments this narrative also because the absolute dictator makes everyone an absolute victim.

Dr. T P Wilkinson writes, teaches History and English, directs theater and coaches cricket in Heinrich Heine's birthplace, Düsseldorf. He is also the author of Church Clothes, Land, Mission and the End of Apartheid in South Africa (Maisonneuve Press, 2003).