Tuesday, September 13, 2011

With Greatest Sympathy

I'm going to try very hard not be trite in this post.

Being a parent has given me a perspective that I lacked at this time last year. A year ago, I would not have been arrested by this picture which I discovered as I surfed the internet. Scratch that. Not just been arrested, but moved to weeping.

It's a picture of a baby from over a hundred years ago. His eyes are vacant and trusting. He looks like a sweet little boy, maybe with an unfortunate haircut, but sweet nonetheless.

Here's the thing. It's Hitler. I must have been one of the only history buffs in the world who hadn't seen this image until now, and I also missed the commentary and uproar it stirred. It's a bit of a cognitive dissonance. World War II propeganda turned Hitler into a demon and history and legend have transformed him into the most evil man who ever lived. Up until this point, I had not dwelled much on Hitler's past. I had known he was a shrimpy geek who was refused service by the Austrian army but was subsequently accepted into the German army and gassed on the Western Front. I also knew he was a mediocre artist. Before that, however, I had no idea. He might as well have rocketed out of the earth with a belch of flame and sulphur and a "Mwa-hah-hah-hah-hah!"

Yet there he is. There are no horns, no blood-spatters and his eyes do not appear to be luminous red. Adolf Hitler was once a sweet little kid who didn't know anything. A year ago, I'm sure the same thoughts would have formed. What brought tears to my eyes was the fact that when I saw this picture, I was holding my own baby in my lap. In her eyes is that same vacancy and trust. When I enlarged the resolution of the picture to look at it more closely, she recognized Hitler as another baby, leaned forward and smiled.

That was what broke my heart. Hitler started at the same place my baby did. I'm reasonably certain my little girl won't become a perpetrator of genocide during her lifetime, so what happened to him to so utterly destroy his humanity? What turns a sweet little boy into a paranoid butcher of millions who needs a child or soldier to watch him sleep lest a menacing spectre only he can see wake him screaming in the night? Was he emotionally and physically abused by his parents? Did an uncle touch him? Was he mocked until he cried or beaten for being short and brown by his schoolmates? How did World War I destroy him? What spiritual toll was exacted for years of having his simple, impressionistic artwork ignored? Or was he always just irredeemably broken?

And that was that. I FELT SORRY FOR HITLER.