NEWLY published pictures of controversial German dictator Adolf Hilter – was it Hilter?
– put us in the odd and uncomfortable position of laughing at one of the most evil men in history.
I like using the Hilter handle – actually from a Monty Python sketch, where the dictator deployed it unimaginatively to disguise his post-war identity – because I can barely bring myself to say his real name. And yet, seeing him in lederhosen and long socks, you can't help laughing.
Then you think: "All electorates are overwhelmingly thick, but how could so many Germans have fallen for a berk like that?" Hilter was an early exponent of public relations, but what possessed him to pose in such ridiculous shorts?
It brings to mind Bertie Wooster's summary of a would-be British fascist leader: "Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?" Perish the thought but, contemplating an official photie presenting himself as a statesman, presumably Adolf turned to his adoring Dachshund, Thor, and said: "Yes, I think a pair of shorts and long woolly socks should do it. What do you think?" "Arf!" replied the mutt. And the rest is history. Even if little Thor never got to finish his sentence: "Arf yir heid!"
A republished memoir, Hitler Was My Friend – eh? – by photographer Heinrich Hoffman (long since deid), also showcases images the author took of the flat-haired fiend adopting various demagogic poses. The idea was he'd deploy those that worked and ditch those that made him look particularly absurd.
Historian Roger Moorhouse, who wrote the book's introduction, says that while Hitler seems so obviously a buffoon now, he worked carefully on his image and used it to beguile the gullible back then. Even citizens who thought themselves grounded ended up wired to the Moon.
It makes you wonder about the power of oratory, and perhaps even to be grateful that it doesn't count for much now, in the age of virtuality. It has its good side, of course. But you'll only hear it at real-life party conferences or meetings where the orator under advisement will be preaching to the choir.
The best speakers I've ever heard were probably Labour statesmen Tony Benn and Tony Blair, both a million planets away from anything vaguely Hitlerish. Mr Benn was always beautifully relaxed. Audiences can be more tense than speakers, and he put his at ease with germane and genuinely witty tales.
Mr Blair I saw give a barnstorming performance at a Labour conference in Brighton. I was there in the line of duty, and it was, I think, at the time of the war in Bosnia. His theme was pretty much good against evil, and I'm a sucker for that. He was considered an actor, I know, and I'm your man for gullibility. I've told you of occasions when I covered court cases. I'd hear the prosecution and wail: "Hang the evil miscreant!" Then I'd hear the defence and plead: "For God's sake, let him go!"
But I believe that, down in yonder Brighton, Mr Blair spoke from the heart, and it was marvellous to behold. In the Scottish Parliament, Tommy Sheridan was probably top orator. The First Eck, Mr Salmond of that ilk, is also very good. Since somebody mentioned Nazi Germany earlier, the nation has been amused at the manufactured fuss over Mr Eck's recent use of the word "Gauleiter" about a BBC official.
Those intelligent people on the internet have had fun finding examples of Salmond-hating obsessives in the press quite happily – or ignorantly – deploying the word themselves in the past. Personally, I thought the term French, possibly because of that "Gaul" thing going on at the start.
Thankfully, none of our decent demagogues has the gall to wear lederhosen or, for that matter, footer bags. They're good sorts by and large, and, if they seek to beguile us, that's perfectly legitimate – unlike Adolf Hilter, pouting in his lederhosen, while his Dachshund rolls its eyes and whines.
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