LUANNE(as Tanya lights up): Hello, I thought we agreed no smoking in the house.
TANYA: You know who else had anti-smoking laws? Who was it... oh, yeah -- Hitler!
King of the Hill, 2000
Another day, another box filled in British politicians’ favourite new game, Hitler Bingo.
Today, we have Vince Cable, emphatically informing us that Hitler would not have approved of the European Union. Yesterday, it was Boris Johnson, insisting that Hitler and the European Union shared the same aim – a return to the glory days of the Roman empire.
And not long ago, it was Ken Livingstone, of course, telling us that he’d once read in a book that Hitler had supported Zionism.
But it’s not just ageing Liberal Democrats and publicity hungry former London mayors playing Where’s Adolf?
The pro-Europe campaign has brought in some World War 2 veterans, including prolific tweeter Harry Leslie Smith, to back the case for the European Union. Meanwhile, actor and campaigner Juliet Stevenson implores us to remember the Kindertransport and support Lord Dubs’ (who was saved by the Kindertransport) proposal that the UK take in more Syrian refugees. Hitler is not invoked directly, but he’s there, ever looming in his evil.
For the vast majority of Britons, defeating Hitler was the last unequivocally good thing the country did. Being against Hitler is to simultaneously place one’s self as both moral and patriotic, in the simplest possible way.
But this certainty has moved Hitler from the status of historical figure into a modern devil. To put oneself on the side opposite to Hitler is to reject Satan and all his works, to make a vow against evil. Conversely, as with Livingstone’s argument on Zionism, to associate a movement with Hitler is to cast it in the realm of the Satanic.
The same can be said of Boris Johnson's association of the European movement with Napoleon (“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically”): many contemporary cartoons and portrayals of the Little General showed in league with the devil, and certain strands of millenarian Christianity do see the European project itself as Satanic. Did Johnson make this association deliberately? Perhaps not. But it is still interesting.
A secular country such as Britain may no longer fully hold with the idea of a battle between Heaven and Hell, but we’re still looking out for the signs.