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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

hitler for the observer.jpeg

Watch out for Hitler

I — an opinionated overzealous younger version — once called a hospitable and inspirational professor friend a noisemaker. The audacity! It was the heat of the moment in a political exchange. I know he forgave the mistake.

“This one is young,” he must have reasoned, like all elders do when young people spew nonsense. The thinking at that point was that all academics shout with no power. But I was wrong. Ideas matter. They always have. Wrong and bad politics alike today everywhere is born of people who listened to and read certain people and ran with their ideas, however half-baked or ill conceived. But academics, like the politicians they inspire, grow. When either stops growing, society pays the price. Where “private” individuals pay private prices for their ignorance, political leaders often grow at the expense of whole societies. That leaders should be (quick) learners then cannot be overstated.

When the Israeli state started to organize itself to respond to the Hamas onslaught (I resist the temptation to say reaction. I can no longer call it a reaction. Hogwash. 1,200 lives. No. It was cold-blooded murder. That much is clear.), the head of the United States government was quick to make it rain. It wasn’t enough that they had underwritten the Israeli state for quite a while. No. He made it rain with such enthusiasm. 34,000 bodies, a Netanyahu threatening to leave the leash and an Iran later, they want to act surprised. They knew the end. They just lacked the courage to admit it. Leadership takes courage — moral courage. Now they are regretting. [South] Africans told them loudly it’s genocide. Everyone sees it. If you don’t agree with the technicality. The murder category should help. They see the images. They see the lives. The monstrosity. They see it. But it’s not new. Where’s the bridge between the previous paragraph and this one? There’s none. Ideas matter. Leaders should learn quickly. That is the point. This ideas matter.

Why should we care when our states act erratically, imperialistically on our behalf and in our name? In the Congo, the UPDF plundered the DRC at some point. Ugandans are now paying. Kagame’s men are now in the DRC. America is everywhere. Even in Botswana. For what? They know best. Why should we care about imperialism and violence committed in our name? What happens when we remain complicit in crimes our states commit on our behalf? What effect does it have on our collective psyche? On our national hearts if you believe in such things?

Aimé Césaire warned us:

“They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal [the general called the Palestinians that], accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal. It is this result, this boomerang effect of colonization that I wanted to point out.”

I don’t take pride in saying doom, and I’m not suggesting anything by this article. But I empathize with those who say to the American or Israeli state, “not in our name.” They know Césaire. They’ve heard him. Violence does not spare the perpetrator. You legitimate colonialism, violence and colonial violence, and in doing so you create your own Hitler. The boomerang. It soon turns on you. We almost saw him at the Capitol. It is not that far-fetched: “that no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization — and therefore force — is already a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally diseased, which irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment.”

Cesaire’s point was simple. Hitler did to Europeans what Europeans had done to ‘other’ people all over the world for long. They shouldn’t have been shocked. It was only a matter of time. Had we paid attention to Cesaire (who teaches him at Notre Dame?), we would know that every time we allow our state to act erratically, immorally in our name, we feed Hitler, we placate him, appease him, we rub his belly, and as Malcolm X famously or infamously said, depending on the side your conscience allows, when he – Hitler – steps out of Landsberg, the chickens do eventually come home to roost. My words carry power. This is no prophecy on the fate of the U.S. It cannot be. It must not be. But it’s unfolding in the South. We bicker about it. The other. The other. They are coming for us. For our jobs. For our dreams. For our children. What do we do? We shudder. We are scared. We can’t sit idly by, can we? So what do we do? What’s the program? That should be the question.

If you want to be a force — force for good — why not arm twist the powers that be into heeding Edward Said – a singular national identity between Palestinians and Israelis, he advocated. Said wrote in 1999 like it is today. Most recent analysis of the protracted challenge feels like plagiarism or bad mimicry in light of the piece. For enlightened persons, certain parties are really bad students of history. Where does all the violence lead if you don’t see it through to its logical conclusion? 

Jumbled words. Words, words, words. How else do we opine on this than let the spirit of the surrealists takeover? 

In the much longer “man in the arena” speech, Roosevelt narrates a story with the moral: "Yes, my friend, and if you will steal for me then you will steal from me." He further warned:

“Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tries to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest.”

If we permit them to continue, they will soon turn on us. Pamper a child today and tomorrow you will pay the price when he turns on you. What did the English say? Something about training the dog that ends up biting you. We can’t risk Hitler. We shouldn’t.

Do we blame the American for his self-preoccupation? How do we account for the lack of accountability? Society is complex, yes. Class interests, yes. The race question, yes. What is happening there is complex for some, yes. Their political leaders have hoodwinked them, yes. What of the university student? What’s the excuse? Too many parties? We are busy with our books? Must the world stop for us? Should we stop for the world? Of course not. But something must be done. This fact must be acknowledged. We must be interested in the American state. The body count is a lot. It can’t be ignored. We must be interested in ensuring this is no longer the case. I talked to my father recently. He told me the same concerning Kenya’s State House. Those who are there won’t always be. We must have an interest in it. We must. We should. We owe it to humanity. To our children. To those who bear the brunt now. 

Hitler knocks. We won’t let him in. 

Olemo Gordon Brian

Olemo Gordon Brian is a junior at Notre Dame studying political economy. He is currently studying abroad at SOAS University of London. He is deeply interested in Africa's development and the emancipation of man. You can contact Olemo at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.