Blogs > HNN > Hitler and other underdogs

Apr 7, 2007 12:20 pm

Hitler and other underdogs

A strange encounter at the swimming pool the other day has left me stunned.

Vien, we'll call him, is a 30 something Vietnamese American. His mother was Vietnamese, his father a white American soldier. From his looks you might think he's a more handsome Barack Obama and with a similarly multi-ethnic background similarly blessed with a very modern perspective.

I have talked with Vien at other times and knew he is actually tortured by his past. At a young age he was taken in by foster parents who regularly beat him. He escaped to America where he has no family.

By dint of hard work he has managed to build a middle class life for himself. He even owns a house in the suburbs. But the scars of the past left heavy welts on his emotional well-being.

This became evident the other day when he began talking about his upcoming vacation to Corsica. Why had he decided to go to Corsica, I wondered. It's not the usual tourist's destination.

Vien said that he had always been fascinated by Napoleon. Then, in a kind of dictator synapse, he somehow segged from Napoleon to Hitler. Then came the part that stunned me.

Speaking in a tone of voice he might use when ordering French fries at McDonalds, that is, very matter of factly, he said that he had always admired Hitler because Hitler's an underdog.

I asked him to repeat the statement. His English is not always perfect and I wanted to make sure I heard him.

I tried to reason with him telling him who Hitler was and what he had done. I noted that in a world where Hitler ruled he would not have much of a life. 1. He's not white. 2. He's gay. 3. He's an immigrant.

But no matter. He still liked Hitler.

He just happens to find Hitler appealing.

From his perspective, the perspective of an underdog in a dog-eat-dog world, Hitler is another underdog.

How can this possibly be?

When I mentioned all the people Hitler killed Vien retorted that Americans had killed millions in Vietnam. When I pointed out the all too obvious differences he insisted that I was just seeing things from the American point of view.

But how was Hitler the underdog?

Vien's reasoning--and I am only guessing here--is that 1. America is the world's superpower. 2. Hitler is always being castigated by Americans. Hence 3. Hitler is the underdog.

Next time I hear that skin heads have gone on a rampage or roughed up some Jews I will think of Vien and wonder: What combination of individual emotional wounds and history lay behind their deeds.

We are mystified these days about the kinds of societies that produce terrorists. All too often we succumb to easy generalizations as an explanation. Vien's case shows how difficult it is to generalize. He's not poor. He's not under the spell of fanatical leaders. He's not religious.

He just happens to like Hitler. (Thankfully, he does not seem to want to implement Hitler's program of murder.)

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Paul Noonan - 4/12/2007

For a take on Hitler somewhat similar to your friend's I refer you to to an unusual source: George Orwell's March 1940 review of MEIN KAMPF reprinted in THE COLLECTED ESSAYS, JOURNALISM AND LETTERS OF GEORGE ORWELL: VOLUME 2 MY COUNTRY RIGHT OR LEFT pp12-15. Of course Orwell's review was written before Hitler's worst crimes had taken place and before the enormity of what he had already done was really known, but it is an interesting piece.

To quote one passage (this brings up the Napoleon connection as well): "One feels, as with Napoleon, that he (i.e. Hitler) is fighting against destiny, that he CAN'T win,and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous, half the films that one sees turn on some such theme."

HNN - 4/9/2007

Hi Tim,

I was hoping I misunderstood him, but when I pressed him on the subject he went on and on about how much he supported Hitler.

It was when I pressed him that he came up with the fantastical notion of Hitler as underdog.

Tim Lacy - 4/9/2007


Was this a case of poor word choice on the part of your non-native speaking associate? Perhaps if made to understand the term "like" and its connotations, he could've been persuaded to use a different word instead of not admiring Hitler (crazy as that sounds)?

It's too bad that you couldn't have re-directed the guy toward admiring other, more worthy "underdogs" in history. Isn't Easter, for instance, in part the celebration of a man of little means whose ideas have inspired centuries of good people? Of course others have taken that legacy astray, but that was his "admirers," not the man himself.

If Easter's man won't do, what of other people with Horatio-Alger-like backgrounds? What of Christopher Gardner, recently the subject of a movie by Will Smith? More on Gardner is available here:

Are there no other heroes with whom one could substitute?!

- TL