The Ethics of Shooting Nazis

The other day, my partner arrived home from work, and asked me a simple question:

“What are you doing?”

“Shooting Nazis,” I answered evenly, as I concentrated on my computer screen.

“What?” she asked, this time a bit more interested.

“Playing Wolfenstein. I felt like shooting some Nazis. Seemed appropriate. Remember my last blog?”

She laughed, but also cocked her head in that way she does when she knows I’m half serious and agrees with whatever I just said. “Oh! Of course!”

The game in question, Wolfenstein: The New Order, is part of a serious of first person shooters that lets you fight Nazis. This one (like some of the others) takes place on an alternative timeline where the Allies did not win the war in 1945. Instead, it is now 1946 and things are not going well. I’m playing an elite commando badass of some sort (I’m always a badass in these games…cause I’m awesome!) single-handedly ruining things for Hitler by taking out all his elite troops.

The game is a bit cyberpunkish, with tech that didn’t exist at the time, like robot dogs that attack you and special weapons that don’t even exist today, much less in the mid 1940s. It’s all in good fun, right? I mean you are fighting Nazis, and who doesn’t know that they are pure evil. In this way, Wolfenstein allows gamers to indulge in violence with less moral ambiguity than many such games. It certainly has a different feel from Resident Evil V, where many people noted that killing African zombies felt more than a little racist at times.

But after the events in Charlottesville, where Neo-Nazis marched openly in the U.S., I’m feeling a strange sense of ambivalence. On one hand, I feel closer to the problem than ever, as though I’m battling a real evil, not just something I heard my grandparents discuss in hushed tones. Nazis still exist, and they still need to be fought! And they are literally killing people. Eat this grenade, Nazis!

On the other hand, a video game simulation of a fight with a fictionalized group of Nazis in an alternate time line feels a bit empty. There are real Nazis to fight.

Then I start to wonder…how do we fight them? What are we supposed to do in order to stop the Nazis in our own society? This is an ongoing debate right now. I see it on the forums I visit. I see it on FB and Twitter. I see people posting pictures of American Nazis getting punched, and I see others arguing against such violence because it will only fuel more.

I don’t know which is the correct approach to take when dealing with Nazis. I know I would forgive someone for punching a Nazi in the face when confronted with their rhetoric. But I don’t know if it does any good. What I do know is that Germans (and others) in the 1930s did not take Hitler and the Nazis very seriously. Some did, of course. But anyone with high school history can tell you that some politicians adopted a policy of appeasement toward the Third Reich, and this proved disastrous.

Turns out that Nazis don’t go away when you ignore them. They don’t just want attention, or for someone to hear their message. They want change. Nazism is an action movement, not a passive one. Nazis don’t wait for the world to move in their direction; they actively believe that the world needs them to make it better. That’s one of their priors—an assumption that only they can see the truth about the world, whether that means Zionist conspiracies or a need for harsh eugenics programs.

In my Biomedical Ethics class, I show the poster below, which was used in Nazi Germany, together with the translation.

Is this the kind of thing that we should ignore? Is it clownish? Is it buffoonery? Is it just trolling, as some alt-right members suggest, meant to get a rise out of people but not really meant to be serious? No. It is none of these things. None of us should be complicit in this. We must speak out, and we must realize that even if this seems like a fringe movement, it must be expunged from our society as the cancer that it is. You don’t ignore cancer. You shoot it with radiation.

Time to return to Wolfenstein and find a radiation gun…..

Literal Nazis Are Marching for White Power in the United States

I shouldn’t be writing this post; I mean it shouldn’t exist. There should be no need for me to talk about a rising movement of literal Nazis in the United States. But here we are. It’s 2017, and as I am writing this blog, there are people battling white supremacists in Virginia, on the University of Virginia Campus. A state of emergency has been declared, after violence erupted in the city of Charlottesville, VA. This includes an incident where a car seemed to intentionally drive into a crowd of people who were protesting the white supremacists, injuring many, and possibly killing at least one person (at the time of this writing, reports are conflicting, but the video is awful….I’ll be amazed if no one is at least seriously injured).

Let me start by noting that we should not equivocate here. These are people who believe in the ideals of the Nazi movement. The picture above is from this gathering, showing the Nazi salute. There are photos of people wearing Nazi symbols, or even T-shirts with Hitler quotes on them. Those are not literal Nazis are basically still Nazis. They believe in white power and in “taking the country back” from minorities. The people fighting against this group are not just as bad. They are not the other side of the same coin, unless you believe that the people who fought the Nazis in WW2 were just the other side of the same coin, too. Fighting against Nazis does not make you a Nazi. It makes you a decent human being, willing to stand up for the rights of yourself and others.

So how did we get to this point? It’s easy to point fingers at Trump, and I won’t completely refrain from doing so myself. Whether Trump is a believer in this cause or not, he definitely plays on the same fears that this movement represents—fear of the other, fear of difference, general xenophobia. I cannot tell whether Trump actually believes most of what he says, but I do know that his words have an effect on our country. They must. He is the President. When he says that Mexico is sending us rapists, he is playing on fears of immigration. When his son makes reference to a handful of Skittles filled with a few bad ones, he is asking us to consider all refugees as potential threats to our country, with no real way to distinguish them (despite the fact that our vetting is incredibly stringent). These statements play on existing fears, but they also play on fallacies of bias that are difficult to avoid.

Consider this analogy. Suppose that the first time you ever saw a dog as a child, it bit you. That was your first experience with a dog. Because dogs are so prevalent, however, you might get over that first impression. Your friends will have dogs, and you will eventually realize that most of them will not bite you. Your first impression was wrong. Now, suppose that one of your friends has a rat as a pet. Already, you might be thinking “That’s not a pet!” Well, for many people rats are great pets! But they are still pretty rare as pets, at least in the U.S. So, this might be the only one you encounter. Suppose it bites you. That will again be your first impression of this pet, but what will counter it? You may never see another pet rat again.

The same thing can happen in people who only live around others that are similar to themselves. If you live in a suburb, you might be in a neighborhood where, demographically at least, everyone is a lot like you. Maybe your suburb is filled with white, affluent people. But when you watch the news, you see persons of color. What are they doing? This will be your impression of them, most likely, because you won’t have much to counter it. For years and years, African Americans were shown in a bad light in the U.S. They were servants in films, and white actors dressed in blackface to portray stereotypes. Many were featured in racist ad campaigns.

Of course, that’s all in the past, right? Not really. The segregation of America is still happening, and what’s worse (for Nazis, not decent people) is that now there are many more groups of people that have gotten rights that they never had before. This outrages white supremacists who associate American exceptionalism with white people of European ancestry. Some of these people even become members of Congress! Others march in protests like the ones happening right now.

There were analysts that warned that Trump’s victory would be used as a signal to racist organizations that they could now come into the light, and openly say what they once only thought in secret. And here we are. This would be a good time to see how our still relatively new President will deal with the situation. Something must be done. So far, I haven’t been impressed. His first speech, which just happened a few minutes ago (as I write this), indicated the violence issues come “from all sides”, which is basically another false equivalence.

Are there examples of violence from the left? Of course, there are. This isn’t one of them, however, and I don’t recall conservatives trotting out the ‘both sides do this’ language when they were complaining about riots in Ferguson. In fact, here’s what Trump said at the time: “They’re going to riot in Ferguson no matter what”. Perhaps he believes the people of Ferguson are just inherently violent. He did not, however, point out that other people are just as violent, and he has not, yet, called the Nazis in Charlottesville ‘thugs’ as he did the people in Ferguson (and Baltimore, and Oakland….).

But maybe this open violence will finally change something; maybe as a nation we can come together to condemn literal Nazis. Is that too much to ask? LITERAL. NAZIS. Surely we can agree that they should be stopped.