Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Feb. 4, 1960
February 4, 2010 | 2:00 pm
The Mark of the Beast Is With Us Once More
I don't rattle too easily. But the other day I managed, in the vernacular of Elvis Presley, to get all shook up.
Coming out of the house, I noticed my young son using his index finger to idly etch a perfectly proportioned swastika onto the fogged window of the car I own in a kind of loose partnership with the Bank of America.
It was an awkward moment. I should say something. But what? I could hardly get angry or horrified. And yet I didn't feel I could let it pass without comment.
The situation was a little like a father groping for the right way to approach a son who was ready to be indoctrinated about the birds and the bees.
Actually, it was more than just a little like that. There are other, less pleasant, facts of life than the birds and the bees. Maybe my kid was ready to face them.
"Why did you do that?" I asked, pointing.
"That?" Kevin shrugged. "I don't know. Just goofing around."
"You know what it is?"
"Sure," he told me. "It's a whatta-you-call-it? A swastika."
"What does the symbol stand for?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" he said. "The symbol?"
"I mean what does a swastika stand for?" I explained.
He studied me suspiciously for a moment, then said: "You know. It's a German thing. Like Hitler, and all that."
"And what about Hitler?"
"He was a rat," Kevin replied.
"Why was he a rat?"
Now he looked at me impatiently. It was plain to him that this was some sort of a test. And he wasn't in the mood.
"I don't know," he said. "Because we had a war with him."
"Do you know why we had a war with him?" I asked.
"No," my son answered. "I mean, not exactly, I don't. He was just a bad guy, I guess."
He shifted his feet uneasily, "Listen, pop," he said, "you're not sore, are you? I was only goofing off."
I told him I wasn't sore.
"Okay if I go now?" he asked. I nodded. He mounted his bike and got quickly away from his obviously senile old man.
As father-son confidences go, it wasn't much. But one thing was very clear. To my kid, and I suppose to his peers, the swastika is just a vague symbol of the "bad guys." Like the black sombrero in the western.
And, I don't know. I don't know if you sit a kid down and tell him the outrageous crime and horror story of the swastika. It would be so much more pleasant to let them live without ever having to know about the nightmare the world dreamed before they were born. Pleasant. But, I'm afraid, impractical.
The cruel fact is that they have to know. A decade and a half has passed since the Great Paranoia swept the earth. And there are ominous, ugly signs that the sickness might be spreading again. So, the kids who didn't live through it before have to be forewarned.
They have to know that the swastika is not a device for harmless mischief. It's the symbol of monsters who cooked 4,000,000 human beings to death in sadistically ingenious gas ovens. It's the badge of brutes who bayoneted babies in front of their parents' eyes, whose idea of a night on the town was to go to Unter Den Linden and mercilessly beat up any aged Jews they could find.
Germans Were Wild Men
It's the mark of people who condoned the use of hundreds of Polish women as guinea pigs in the vilest kind of "medical research" imaginable. Women whose bodies were opened, stuffed with broken glass, refuse, dirty rags, then sewed up again so that Hitler's physicians could learn what kind of diseases they could create in them.
Today's kids have to be told about it in every filthy, gory detail. I don't relish telling it to mine. It's the kind of story that might make him sick to his stomach.
But if it does, it might also make him aware enough to grow up determined that the same story can't happen again in his time.