Should we read Hitler’s book?

  • The short answer is ‘no’

 Winston Churchill was a brilliant writer, I’ve been told. In 1953 Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”. This is a man responsible for at least a few hundred thousand deaths; a famine here, a genocide there. Whatever exalted human values he’s ostensibly defended in literature, he appears to have devestated with enthusiasm in real life.

Among his many famous works is his autobiography which describes in detail his early life, his experiences during his military service, and his political ideology. His works are celebrated among the centre-right literary elite in Great Britain and beyond; canonized as indispensible records without which WWII history would be incomplete.

Those wondering why I’d begin an examination of Hitler’s infamous Mein Kampf with references to Winston Churchill, are probably not familiar with Shashi Tharoor’s analysis of Britain’s most famous wartime Prime Minister. Tharoor categorizes Churchill as one of the worst dictators of the 20th century, with about the same amount of blood on his hands as Adolf Hitler.

History is narrated to us not just by the victors, but powerful perpetrators; the ‘important’ people, movers and shakers, who don’t merely write history, but do so in the first-person

This is not untrue. This would be an excellent time to recall the old adage that history is written by winners. Churchill, after all, is responsible for three to four million deaths in Bengal through a preventable famine, as he shipped out the region’s food for military use. Also on his hands, is the massacre in Athens in 1944 which is widely believed to have catalyzed the rise of Greece’s ultra-right forces.

Hitler too was an ‘important’ writer. He began writing his most notorious book while he was imprisoned for political crimes: Mein Kampf, which translates to My Struggle. The book was completed and finally published in 1925, but did not gain popularity till Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. By 1938, Adolf Hitler had been named Time‘s ‘Person of the Year’.

For those who wish to know the contents of this book, allow me to extinguish any curiosity with the following spoilers. If you’ve read your uncle’s Whatsapp posts about an Ahmadi conspiracy to take control of the world, you’ve read Mein Kampf. There’s no real statistical evidence for the ‘Jewish Peril’. It peddles anecdotal evidence for the superiority of his race. He uses the book to humanize himself for the masses, and in extension, make fascism appear more ‘relatable’. Mein Kampf made Hitler quite a bit of money as well: 1.2 million reichsmarks.

For obvious reasons, Mein Kampf is not as widely read as any of Churchill’s works, and it has little to do with the immorality of the former. Churchill, after all, was himself an unabashed white supremacist who saw no foul in a “high-grade race” exterminating the indigenous peoples of America and Australia. Mein Kampf is relatively underread because it’s taboo literature, outright banned in certain countries like Austria and Russia.

There are many who argue that reading this book should not only be destigmatized, it should be essential reading. This argument rarely comes from neo-Nazis, but from neo-liberal devotees of the ‘free marketplace of ideas’. It is in this mythical marketplace that words like ‘power dynamics’ and ‘propaganda’ outright disappear from the vocabulary. All that we’re left with is the just-world hypothesis that the truth has a natural tendency once all regulations on reporting, publishing, and casual opinionating are unconditionally revoked.

At times, the call to destigmatize and unregulate the sales, distribution, and consumption of Mein Kampf come from those who strongly detest his hypotheses. Their interest in Mein Kampf is strictly academic. Those who wish to read the book simply to gain insight into the thoughts of a historically important genocidal maniac, would be reasonably irked by the restrictions on reading his work– whether these are social or legal.

Although a rational case can be made for allowing people to study Mein Kampf, there is no rational explanation for why the book’s distribution should not be regulated. To understand these restrictions, consider the intent behind the creation of Mein Kampf. The book was intended, as stated earlier, to humanize Hitler and make fascism more relatable. For every ten people who read this book for ‘strictly academic purposes’, it would not surprising for at least one to develop empathy for Hitler; to get to the final page thinking, “That kinda made sense”. That, after all, was the purpose of the book. If Hitler could speak from his grave, he would strongly recommend that you read his book.
For academic purposes, there are many books about Mein Kampf. The difference between them and the original book authored by Hitler, is that the former flip the narrative. There is a world of difference between saying that “Zeus is a powerful god” and saying that “The ancient Greek believed that Zeus was a powerful god”. In fact, books about Mein Kampf also re-contexualize Hitler’s thoughts by linking them directly to the real-life brutalities that followed the rise of the Nazi party.

One’s heart sinks at the thought of countless humans like you and I– women and children, farmers and builders, artists and writers– who died unheard, and took their stories and historically-meaningful records straight into oblivion. But heaven forbid, if Adolf Hitler remains unheard. Oh, what a crime against history it would be, if the likes of Hitler and Churchill aren’t allowed to posthumously shout their sides of the story into your ear.

History is narrated to us not just by the victors, but powerful perpetrators; the ‘important’ people, movers and shakers, who don’t merely write history, but do so in the first-person.

I don’t want to hear their perspective. I’d much rather have history be re-told by the victims. I’d rather you hear their stories too.