If someone had traveled back in time to tell the denizens of 2012 America that in 2017, Donald Trump would be the president, that global climate change would get worse, and that a Bond supervillain reject named Sebastian Gorka would be a temporary foreign policy advisor, it would be safe to assume that the denizens of the past wouldn’t believe it. Now, we get to add on that list the numerous defenses by various people over everyone’s favorite group of people, the Nazis.
On Oct. 5, the Twitter account for the popular video game franchise Wolfenstein tweeted an advertisement for the newest installment, The New Colossus, with the title, “Make America Nazi-Free Again.” Needless to say, turning the slogan of the Trump campaign into a call to arms against fascism is going to upset some people, but the backlash has been bizarre. On Reddit’s infamous subreddit r/KotakuinAction, for example, numerous individuals engaged in everything from defenses of the Wehrmacht (the standard army) and the Waffen SS (the military wing of the Nazi party), to saying that without Wernher von Braun and other Nazi scientists, we would never get to the moon (as satirist Tom Lehrer once sang, “Once the rockets go up, who cares where they go down? That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.”). Some even argued that the bombings of Dresden, deployment of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet use of Commissars made any claim of moral superiority invalid. In other words, they want to turn the worst conflict in history from World War II into the War of Polish Aggression.
Now, for a moment, let’s pretend that the advertising by the Wolfenstein team is somehow unethical, or that it’s contrary to a series of games that has solely been focused on killing Nazis since its first game released in 1981. Even then, we find the arguments by these far-right snowflakes to be hinged on historical inaccuracy and a lack of morals.
First, let’s start with the attacks on anti-fascism. According to these individuals, the depiction of violence against fascists will bolden real life anti-fascist groups, thus destroying free speech and our democracy. This will usually be coupled by a reference to Orwell, without knowing that Orwell had joined an anti-fascist militia in Spain during its civil war in the late 1930s. Another thing that also occurs will be the claim that Wolfenstein is trying to appeal to the left, and although that may be true, I don’t think that’s bad. The new game features everything from an insane veteran of the war to a communist priest and the head of a black liberation front, and uses these stereotypes to humanize the actual people they may represent.
First of all, this argument is based on the assumption that fascism, where it has existed, is somehow peaceful. This is false. We know from Charlottesville that when fascists are organized, they actively pursue violence, and we know from history that when they take power, such as in Germany, Italy and Spain, they pursue genocidal policies. Secondly, fighting fascists is the way that you defend democracy; this is what philosopher Karl Popper called the “Paradox of Tolerance;” that in order to defend a tolerant and democratic society, you would have to be intolerant of those who pursue intolerant goals. Otherwise, those fascists will use the gift of tolerance to destroy democracy and seize power. This doesn’t mean shutting up anyone who says something problematic, but by confronting organized and armed demonstrations of actual fascism and defeating it by any means necessary. In Wolfenstein, the Nazis effectively control the entire world, and openly work with groups like the Ku Klux Klan in order to enforce order in America, so a peaceful solution is off the table, just like in real life.
Next, we have the historical claims. These arguments, which try to argue that many soldiers of the Third Reich were good people, and that the only people who bear responsibility for war crimes are those at the top of the Nazi hierarchy, lacks any substance in reality. For starters, the Wehrmacht actively abused and murdered Polish, Russian and Yugoslavian prisoners of war, and executed Soviet officers and Commissars, and engaged in the brutal torture, humiliation and killings of captured partisans. The Waffen-SS is even more guilty; most of its members were former concentration camp guards, and received specific ideological training in Nazi ideals and the “fight against Judeo-Bolshevism.” Most officers in both units were also war criminals; for example, Joachim Pieper executed 120 Allied soldiers in Malmedy, Belgium. Erich von Manstein helped enforce the execution of captured Soviet Commissars, and Heinz Guderian helped suppress the attempt at overthrowing Hitler by Claus von Stauffenberg.
Worst of all, however, would have to be Oskar Dirlewanger. Before the war, he was a convicted child molestor and failure of a commander during the German Revolution. During the war, he would command the 36th Waffen Grenadiers, a battalion made up of child molestors, rapists and murderers with the job of suppressing dissent within Belarus and Poland. According to historian Timothy Snyder, when dealing with anti-Nazi partisans, “Dirlewanger’s preferred method was to herd the local population inside a barn, set the barn on fire, and then shoot with machine guns anyone who tried to escape.” On top of that, he would also extort ransoms from the ghetto in Lublin, use the skin of dead Jewish prisoners to make soap and publicly whip and rape young Jewish female prisoners, and his unit would be responsible for executing over 100,000 prisoners after the Warsaw Uprising. There is a reason why everyone hates the Nazis; because the Nazis hated everyone who wasn’t them, and they made sure everyone knew that. The villain of Wolfenstein: The New Order, Deathshead, shares the name with one of the most ruthless SS units during the war, known by its German name, Totenkopf.
Which leads to the final argument, the idea that actions taken by the Allies make them morally equal. I hope that I have shown otherwise, but for the sake of the argument, let’s go deeper. In regards to the bombings of Dresden, the usage of the atom bomb, and the Soviets use of Commissars in the military, there is no comparison in regards to who was worse. While the suffering of the population at these bombing locations were very real, it was not the intent of Allied bomber command to actively murder the local population; it was done to bring the war to a screeching halt, against a foe which wanted to continue to the bitter end. In regards to Commissars, despite being portrayed as bloodthirsty fanatics who would shoot their own men, most refused to shoot deserters by mid 1942, after seeing the death toll from the invading Wehrmacht, and instead acted as reserve troops. Compare that to the Germans, who were purposely waging a war of annihilation against its foes, especially on the Eastern Front.
When the Wolfenstein staff say that they want America Nazi-free again, this shouldn’t be controversial; we shouldn’t have love for the worst people humanity has ever produced. And yet, we do; we now live in a world where many people think that fighting fascism is morally equivalent to the Holocaust, and that includes everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Trump to the FBI, who designated Antifa as a domestic terrorist group. What a time to be alive. Let’s hope that The New Colossus puts that anti-fascist sensibility back into the American people.
Colin Meehan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org