Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Only Human?

I was half listening to some kind of audio hagiography of Margaret Thatcher on the radio the other night as I was drifting off to sleep when they got to the bit about how the 'Iron Lady' was just human like the rest of us.  It's a sequence common to all such biographies - after we've established how tough, uncompromising, hard working and efficient the subject was, (usually adding in how bold they were in pursuing unpopular policies or taking political risks), you get the segment where they try to humanise them, with anecdotes from colleagues about how they were kind to small animals or performed ingognito at children's parties.  In the case of Thatcher, we were presented with the likes of Kenneth Clarke and Matthew Paris telling us, in astonished tones, how Mrs Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, once made them a cup of tea!  Apparently that showed that she was really just and ordinary housewife, even when she was in the midst of destroying the coal industry and creating mass unemployment.  But all that was OK, because she was really human.

To which my response was to think that the same thing could be said of Hitler.  It's well documented, after all, that, even in those dark last days in the bunker, Hitler was always nice to his secretarial staff, regularly taking tea and crumpets with them.  He was also very nice to Geobbels' children, often reading them bedtime stories.  Presumably, following the logic of the Thatcher programme I heard, this somehow exonerrates him from the war crimes that he was responsible for.  I mean, what do the concentration camps and attempted genocide matter - he liked children and was good to the ladies in the typing pool.  Whilst it is always good to remind ourselves that even ruthless dictators are also human beings, it is important to remember that this still doesn't absolve them of guilt.  It's all too easy to demonise the likes of Hitler, turning them into inhuman monsters, as if by dehumanising them somehow seperates them from us, making them 'special cases'.  Establishing that they were still human beings, who still did mundane things like the rest of us, still had feelings, still loved and grieved and cried, reminds us that they aren't 'special cases', different from us because they were inherently evil - they started off just the same way as the rest of us, as ordinary people.  But it doesn't alter the heinousness of their deeds.  In the case of someone like Thatcher, learning that she was 'just human', makes the callousness of her policies even worse.  Sure, she wasn't Hitler (despite my earlier analogy) but she still destroyed a lot of communities and ruined a lot of lives.  Worse still, her policies fatally eroded the better values of our society, putting materialism and personal gain above care and compassion.  All whilst making tea for Kenneth Clarke.   

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home