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Hitler as the face of evil

By Mamtimin Ala - posted Friday, 21 June 2024

When Hannah Arendt observed Adolf Eichmann at a trial in Jerusalem in 1963, she was aghast at witnessing an average German individual, a bureaucrat, appearing so ordinary and speaking so persistently to defend his position and refusing to take any responsibility for what he individually did-to oversee the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps as a critical figure in the "Final Solution."

What stood out in this trial was not just the banality of evil, as Arendt summed up, as the essence of an embodiment of evil in ordinary bureaucrats unable or unwilling to think critically about the consequences of their actions, but also the crime Eickmann committed not out of inherent malice, pathological sadism, or moral corruption but out of blind conformity to authority-the authority of totalitarianism.

She concluded in her final (and unfinished) 1977 book, The Life of the Mind, "The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil."


The concept of evil has long captivated the minds of philosophers and theologians, intriguing them with its origin, pervasiveness, reality and rationale. Some Christians, like followers of other Abrahamic religions such as Judaism and Islam, have grappled with the presence of evil in a world supposedly created by a benevolent God.

The crux of the perplexity does not lie simply in reconciling a good God with the creation of evil but in understanding how he allows a good person to suffer unfairly and why He "disappears" in the event of the greatest evil happening, as some Jewish victims of the Holocaust lamented in the Nazi concentration camps.

In Christianity, the face of Jesus Christ reveals the imminent fragility of the transcendent God, manifesting divine goodness, boundless suffering, and everlasting salvation. However, the antithesis of good has never been personified with such a grandiose visage. The face of Jesus Christ is often depicted as noble and virtuous. In contrast, the face of evil is imagined as grotesque and vile, with no universal face, apart from some paintings of Satan by some painters historically. Strictly speaking, evil had no face that everybody recognised for a long time.

Without a divine representation of evil, humans have turned to secular and historical figures to bring the concept of evil to light-to our consciousness, communication and reflection. By doing so, they aimed to acknowledge the existence of evil in a tangible form, with a human face, rooted in real-life atrocities and horrors, as opposed to good. In the 20th century, Hitler ticked off all the boxes of these criteria to become the face of evil, allowing people to project their fears, hate, anxieties, dreams, and expectations about how they perceive their world, express their moral values, feelings, and judgments, and imagine the never-ending war between good and evil.

Arguably, Hitler has become one of the most enduring symbols of evil, serving as a timeless benchmark against which the actions of others are observed, evaluated, and judged. This symbol has been used more in politics than anywhere else. However, its use has never been simple, straightforward, or consistent.

Often, it is used, abused, and overused for political gain. For example, politicians from various backgrounds have been likened to Hitler, including American Presidents like Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush, European leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, and Angela Merkel and non-Western heads of state such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, and Hugo Chavez. However, such comparisons are fraught with controversy and ethical concerns.


Ironically and sadly, the actual malevolent politicians who committed nearly identical or worse crimes against humanity and genocide have never been likened or equated to Hitler consistently and adequately, i.e., Xi Jinping. Instead, Xi Jinping, a mastermind of the Uyghur genocide, which is still ongoing in the very eyes and silence of the world, has been praised by others as a "terrific guy."

It highlights the relativistic, selective, and problematic aspects of using Hitler as the only or the most convincing epitome of evil. If the reason for using Hitler as the symbol of evil is based on the number of people he killed, then Mao Zedong or Stalin would be more appropriate for that title, along with others, if it is based on how heinous the ideology that they represented, then Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and among others would be equally suitable candidates for this title.

Furthermore, comparing individuals to Hitler is often done to elicit an intense and sometimes radical reaction towards certain politicians, policies, and political ideologies, committing fallacies of misattribution, hasty generalisation, and confirmation bias. It comes across as a manifestation of intense hatred personified by Hitler's name and image rather than a serious, fair, and valid moral argument, outrage and accusation.

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About the Author

Dr Mamtimin Ala is an Australian Uyghur based in Sydney, and holds the position of President of the East Turkistan Government in Exile. He is the author of Worse than Death: Reflections on the Uyghur Genocide, a seminal work addressing the critical plight of the Uyghurs. For insights and updates, follow him on Twitter: @MamtiminAla.

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