Blogs > Liberty and Power > Why the Focus on Hitler?

May 21, 2004 8:14 am

Why the Focus on Hitler?

Every time I've taught my Comparative Economic Institutions course, my favorite class day is the one where I ask precisely the question William does below: if Stalin's (and Mao's) crimes were worse than those of Hitler (at least the body count was several times higher), why are we so fascinated and stuck on Hitler as the symbol of totalitarian, murderous evil? I have my own set of 3 or 4 not mutually exclusive answers to that question, some obvious, some maybe not. The students always have interesting ideas, but what's more interesting is how they've never even considered the question before, nor really knew how bad Stalin really was. The latter point is the most troubling.

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David Lion Salmanson - 5/21/2004

A couple of reasons. One, Stalin and Mao did it the old fashioned way: state created famine, executions, even mass executions are old tools of oppressors. What makes the Nazis different is their application of scientific and business principles to create a death industry. That is pretty engaging stuff. Fordist principles in action is way more titilating than average caloric intakes.

Second, famines as state sponsored activity happen a lot. As much as it makes the left uncomfortable to deal with Stalin, the right does not want to deal to closely with famine. The British Empire in particular has two pretty major man-made famines in its past, those of India and Ireland, that may be comparable to the Soviet famine.

Third, the Nazis kept incredible records. Let's face it, they filmed everything and documented it in triplicate. Researching Nazis is comparatively easy. I don't have first hand experience in the Chinese or Russian archives, but I hear they are pretty tough places to work and the CCP definitely were not good record keepers.

Most world history textbooks these days give Stalin, Hitler, and the Armenian genocide pretty much equal space.