To my ever-deepening disappointment, I’ve noticed this image macro floating around. It is only one flake in the blizzard of misinformation that is social media, but of the flakes that have landed on my tongue, this one has complex flavor that carries distinct notes of bullshit.
The image compares Hitler and Leopold side-by-side along with figures relating to their respective genocides.
The most glaring and immediate problem here is the representation of the numbers; this image compares only genocide-to-genocide, and only numbers-to-numbers with no other context. Take into account a war large enough to be considered a “world” war, and the total number of bodies that Hitler is responsible for easily doubles.
Speaking of world wars, they not only happen to be the primary reason that we learn about Hitler, they’re also why we don’t learn about Leopold. People were outraged about Leopold’s atrocities in the Congo while it was happening, up until being embroiled in WWI brought the focus back home.
We learn about WWII as Americans because not only is it a fundamental part of our nation (and the world)’s history, but Hitler’s rise was supposed to be a cautionary tale. We learn about WWI because it set the context for WWII.
While it’s true we didn’t really learn about the raping of Africa in school, this image does more finger wagging than it does informing. Consider that the easily-recognized Hitler is aptly centered and Leopold is cut off for some reason.
Ostensibly this makes a reverse Google Image Search more difficult- not that I tried. No names are used, either. For an image macro that is supposedly critical of uncirculated information, it needlessly creates barriers to that information.
The first time I saw the comparison of Hitler’s genocide to other genocides was a video from the hideously named “Free Thought” Project, a digital smokestack of alt-right conspiracy propaganda. The video was released immediately after the White House’s wink-and-nod to anti-Semites on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Here’s where things get insidious: it may not have eluded you that there is another comparison being made by the image- 10 million European (white) lives vs. 15 million African (black) lives.
Aside from the misrepresentation of numbers, the specification of continents creates a clear target and medium through which this meme can propagate; PoCs and/or anti-racists.
The question “Who profits from this?” is among the best-known critical thinking tools, and it’s probably what you’re actually going to ask yourself in lieu of the image’s vague “Why?”
One of the answers you’re supposed to come up with is “white supremacists”. I’ve already laid out a simple and less outrage-inducing answer as to why Leopold is not taught in American schools, but there is a third interpretation that might not have occurred to your innocent mind.
The second answer people are supposed to come up with is “the Jews who control the media”. Yep. This is secretly a conspiracy meme.
If you wanted to make a meme about white supremacy there are myriad more sensible- and more honest- subjects about which to crudely MSPaint.
What’s going on here is an abuse of Socratic Method; by providing incomplete information, the innocent (sometimes ignorant) reader will get a different answer based on their own personal biases. Anti-racists see white supremacy, and conspiracy theorists are going to see “the Jews did this” to raise Hitler’s profile despite the disparity in numbers.
The alt-right has two prongs; white power and conspiracy thinking. It’s well-documented that due to succumbing to the very same logical pitfalls, a conspiracy theorist will embrace more theories over time, even if they contradict each other. If you’re into conspiracy theories, buckle up; you’re already on the road to anti-Semitism.
While asking questions is an admirable past–time in my awesome opinion, one should keep in mind that many questions have simple, readily available- and usually boring- answers. If a question gets asked as though there is no answer, the presence of the question itself casts mystery on the subject. After all, “just asking questions” is the fuel for Joe Rogan’s anti-science clown car.
So with its veneer of progressivism and ‘just asking questions(TM)’ attitude, Hitler vs. Leopold is appealing to both extremes of today’s political climate, making for high virality potential. The Schroedinger’s Conclusion going on here also serves to further polarize its viewers.
The greatest weakness to my position that this image is propaganda is ascribing intentionality. The author is anonymous and this could easily have been slapped together by a PoC/anti-racist.
If that’s the case then I believe this is secondhand propaganda; a result of the “Free Thought” Project’s quiet tribute to White House #45’s All Genocides Matter speech.
The FTP uses marijuana legalization posts as its honeypot technique, appealing to … well, pretty much everyone. Everyone including those interested in preventing weed from being used to round up Black people to make shit for Victoria’s Secret.
The FTP then uses mystery-mongering… maximizing use of ellipses of course… and touts whistleblowers- which are by the way one of the primary reasons grand conspiracy theories mathematically can’t exist- as somehow “proof” that grand conspiracies do exist. Occasionally they’ll eke out something that really tips their hand, but that’s the point. They want you to like their page for all their progressive pro-pot posts so they can sell the alt-right to you direct.
You don’t need to share it. You just need to see it.
If Hitler vs. Leopold was in fact created by a PoC, it means that the FTP’s alt-right propaganda isn’t just working, it’s working spectacularly. Memes are the M.O. of the alt-right, however, and if you ask them, “Hitler did nothing wrong”. If this were made in innocence then I’m blown away by the amazing coincidence that the image also just happens to misdirect your attention like a stage magician.
We’re not actually done with the “who profits” question. The “Why?” is posed about Western curriculum. That’s where your attention is being directed, and that’s where your “who profits” question is going to go. You’re supposed to assume that either white supremacist power structures or “The Jews” are responsible for this seeming injustice in the American education system.
Take a step back, though, and ask “who profits” from the image itself? Who benefits from favorably comparing Hitler to any other historical figure? Who benefits from /casting Adolph Hitler in a favorable light/? Perhaps more gut-twistingly, who profits from further polarizing the United States?
It takes two seconds for this two-picture and twenty-word image macro to be digested. It’s taken a veritable wall of text to dissect it.
As the esteemed writer and gourmand Jonathan Swift once wrote:
“Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…”
Learn critical thinking. Teach critical thinking. Wise up today because last year is already too late.
Discuss issues like this in our Conscious Intersectionality Social Interest Group on Sundays at 9pm EST!
RSVP to join weekly calls on Conscious Intersectionality
Photo Credit: Getty Images