• Phil Tanny
    So much of the human experience takes place in the realm of story. Stories help us make sense of things by organizing observed phenomena in to recognizable patterns. Sometimes we have to bend the facts a bit to get new experiences to fit in to one of the stories we're used to. Sometimes we bend the facts more than a bit.

    One of the ancient human stories is the good guys vs. bad guys theme. Part of what makes World War Two such a compelling story is that the historical facts fit this classic story theme pretty well. But not perfectly, as is typically the case.

    Crafting A Good Story With Fantasy

    During WWII the Nazis played the role of villain to perfection. But they had a little help from our creative imaginations. In order for the Nazis to inhabit the bad guy role in the story in a satisfying manner there was a lot the good guys had to sweep under the rug, forget, ignore.


    FORGET: Here in America we had to forget that only a generation or so before the Nazis we had completed a century long continent wide process of racial extermination. In order to keep the Nazis in the bad guy role in the story of WWII we had to forget that at the same time the Nazis were rounding up Jews we in America were still lynching blacks in the South, and casually supporting a systematic process of ruthless race based oppression which we called Jim Crow.

    IGNORE: In Europe, the WWII allies who fought the Nazis had to ignore the fact that they were still engaged in building global colonial empires based largely on the domination of people of color all over the world. Ignore, ignore, ignore. What colonial empire?

    DENY: In Russia, where most of the fight against the Nazis took place, to keep the Nazis in the bad guy roll everyone had to deny the inconvenient fact that Stalin was arguably as much a psychopath as Hitler. Deny, or die at Stalin's hands!

    While Hitler was quite frank about the need of grabbing Lebensraum for the German people, here in America we persuaded ourselves that we were civilizing the native peoples, doing them a favor, as we exterminated them and stole their land.


    The Nazis skipped over such blatant self delusional hypocrisy, and just stated to the world, "We are the predator, the wolf, and you are the prey, the lamb." Such honesty made it much easier for their enemies to organize and motivate their opposition. That is, it made it easier to cast the Nazis in the role of villain in the story.

    The mistake the Nazis made was in being late to the racial conquest land grab game, being too honest about it, and in playing the role of villain all too well.

    None of the above should be read to excuse or rationalize Nazism. The Nazis clearly really were despicable evil psychopaths who deserved to die at the earliest opportunity. Thank God they are gone, and thanks to those brave souls who gave everything to make them gone.

    A Story About Stories

    This piece is instead about the role story in human affairs, and how earnestly we often dive in to self serving self delusion to keep our stories neat and tidy.

    The self serving self delusional story of the World War Two era is still with us today. We tell ourselves that war is long over, it's just history now, we fixed all that. We're the good guys, we won, it's done.

    And we tell ourselves this story with sincere conviction, while we continue to sit on the land we stole from the native peoples of North America in a process of ruthless race based conquest, typically without giving the crime a thought.

    I recall hearing a Native American activist being interviewed on NPR suggest that one way to help heal the racial divide in America would be to hand the nation's national parks over to Native American tribes for management. After all the speaker reasoned, no one in America has a closer relationship to the land than Native Americans.

    "What a great idea!!", I thought to myself. With no chance of happening. You know, white culture will ask, without being honest enough to say it out loud even to ourselves in the privacy of our own minds...

    We stole that land fair and square. Why would we give it back??

    See? Even the idea that we might give back some tiny fraction of the land we whites stole from native peoples is unacceptable. Unacceptable, right now, today. Is Nazism really over?

    Were we to ask all the people of color who have perished under the American racial imperialist jackboot how American history is different than Nazism they might reply...

    The Nazis had better uniforms.

    Some stories can be so inconvenient. But we can fix that by just tossing out the facts.

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