It is fairly obvious, at least I would like to think, that Attorney Fernando Topacio is using his pro-Hitler statements as an opportunity to distract from the predicament of former President Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband. From the blatant display of a Hitler portrait during an interview to his almost infantile and overly simplistic pro-Nazi statements (seriously, he basically quotes Springtime for Hitler verbatim) Topacio is egging on the public. His agenda became even more obvious when he subtly compared Hitler to President Noynoy Aquino in a follow up interview, while defending GMA.
Talk about bad taste.
While the natural reaction, other than ridicule, is to just dismiss these statements as the rants of a self-fashioned court jester, I firmly believe that is just as much as a disservice to history as his original statements. Argumentum ad Hitlerum should not be allowed to slide, especially when so publicly disseminated. In the wake of the first story covering his professed Hitler love one of my chief critiques of media was the lack of contextual stories. We did not see a single interview by a respected historian or specialist in the field. It was only in the follow up stories (as cited above) where even a statement by a specialist was offered to contradict his bombastic statements.
The fact that we are letting Neo-Nazi, pro-Hitler, and anti-Semitic statements slide with a wave of a hand speaks volumes about our pervasive lack of historical appreciation and understanding in the country. If a public figure in Europe or the United States made such inflammatory statements they would be pilloried from almost all corners, and for good reason. At the very least, they would be called to defend their statements in public and offer proof to back up the assertions. Likely, statements from their clients or affiliations would be sought as well. That is how you combat ignorant and hateful speech, by putting it under a microscope. By studying why the statements were made, what was the purpose behind the statements, by bringing bigotry to light.
The fact that Topacio is using hatespeak and inflammatory comments is par for the course, I would not expect anything less from a lawyer of his…caliber. We have seen it before from him. But there is a line, and that line is crossed when Neo-Naziism and the misrepresentation of World War II history enters the discussion. That he is allowed to almost get off scot-free by us after essentially insulting Holocaust victims is shameful. His tactics are not in question, his gross misuse and misunderstanding of World War II history, his strident defense of Hitler, his continued pursuit of the Aquino = Hitler meme, and his dismissal of over six million dead civilians at the hands of the Nazis is in question. More to the point, our medias inability to offer any sort of cogent critique is as well. Hate speak as this should not, it cannot be, waived off as grandstanding. Or dismissed as being misconstrued in the court of public opinion. Doing so allows those ideas to take root, to grow, to linger on. It is a disservice to the victims of the Nazi regime (and their allies) and to ourselves.
The Nazi party came to power on a wave of Aryan supremacy, Teutonic myth-building, and was buoyed by anti-Semitic thought. The demonization of the ‘Other’ was central to their ability to maintain and consolidate power. The rise and fall of the Nazi party and Hitler offer stunningly topical warnings about insularity, parochialism, the abuse of history, and the power of racism, if properly understood. Perverted history in service of ideology is the playground of demagogues and dictators. In an analysis of Hitler and his anti-Semitic and pro-Teutonic sentiments Margaret MacMillan offers: “Setbacks and defeats become parts of such stories, rather than challenges of their truth. If the faithful have suffered, that is because of the plots and conspiracies of their enemies. For Hitler, of course, that meant the Jews. They had started World War I and created the Bolshevik Revolution, and they had ensured that Germany suffered under the Treaty of Versailles. He had warned them, Hitler said repeatedly, that if they dared to start another war, he would destroy them, ‘the vermin of Europe’. World War II was the fault of the Jews, and the time had come to deal with them once and for all. If any one person was responsible for that war, it was Hitler himself, but logic and reason do not enter into closed systems of viewing the world.”
The mis-use and perversion of history, especially within the Philippine public sphere, has been on-going focus of critique within this space. It is precisely because the misappropriation of history, its abuse in other words, can go directly to the heart of a nation. When claiming history in purely political or rhetorical ways it allows an overly simplified, seldom rational, version to be presented. One that relies wholly on emotion, little on context, usually to substantiate or defend improper actions, and inevitable in whipping a populace into a frenzy; one usually pointed outward and at some manufactured Boogeyman. The mis-use and proliferation of bad history is especially dire because it is so easy to disseminate and manufacture. Bad history is not only a disservice, it can even become dangerous.
As Eli Wiesel pointed out, anytime victims are forgotten or their memory allowed to be insulted with commensurate response it is as if we killed them a second time. By failing to offer reasoned and cogent critiques of Topacio’s grossly inappropriate statements we are abetting to the proliferation of hate speak and the continued erosion of public discourse in the Philippines.