24 June 2010

Destiny differs from Fate: Conversations with Adolf Hitler

I often read that we create our own destinies. However, fate is something that happens to us. Fate is a word/concept loaded with a negative connotation. It is something we do not want but a force that pulls us into a certain life. It doesn't depend on choice, opinion, or emotion. It happens and we have to deal with it then and there.

How can someone deal with their fate? [This post is not about death, though that is one of the larger questions troubling my mind. I will come to exploring the concept soon].

A few days back, I retrieved my copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf from my dusty bookshelf. I have recently been interested in reading the stories (autobiographies and letters) of influential people in history. After I finish this book, I will be reading Azad Hind, letters by Subash Chandra Bose. These leaders whether they did something right or not they understood something very crucial about the younger generation and the part they play in a nation, a society, and this entire world. I have been jotting down questions and comments as I read along.

- In the first few words of Hitler's autobiography, I had a recurring block in my head. This is a man hated by all, with evident proof of massacring people in millions. Why should I read his thoughts? Should I read him to know he is a bad man and reinstate my morality? or Could there be any good that I can take out of this reading?

- The copy I am reading is a Master Mind Books publication. The house offers an introduction, to Indian students, in order to defend themselves and clear the air that they do not support Hitler. They call it a 'warning guide' to be read carefully in order to understand India's diversity and the need for unity; and that to ward away from extremism we should be knowledgeable of the revelations of 'wretched souls of incorrigible criminals like Adolf Hitler'. In fact, there is not much left to the reader to form an opinion anymore.

- Why is the Unification of Italy and the French Revolution treated as a story of Nationalism whereas the story of Germany one of terror? Was it just a calculation of causalities or a bias to certain ideologies?

- Hitler wanted to be a painter! I did not know this, even as an undergraduate history student. He left to Vienna after the death of his father to a life of dire poverty. Why is there such a lack of political and social education amongst the youth of today in my country?

- I might have something to learn (also) from this man and his life, like he writes it.

Only two chapters down, I have put together some passages from the book here that made me reflect about myself and gather some strength. I don't necessarily agree to these passages, but they are worth reading.

Sam: What is all this fight for nationalism?
Hitler: It is the 'voice of a unanimous yearning in the hearts of the whole people for a return to the unforgotten home of their fathers'.

Sam: What should I actually be looking for when studying history?
Hitler: To study history means to search for and discover the forces that are the causes of those results which appear before our eyes as historical events.

Sam: We study everything, but what should we set out to be?
Hitler: I was determined to become 'something' - but certainly not a civil servant (that's only what my father wanted).

Sam: Could your determination help me?
Hitler: Obstacles are placed across our path in life, not to be boggled at but to be surmounted.

Sam: Who are the youth?
Hitler: I make a distinction between the wisdom of age - which can only arise from the greater profundity and foresight that are based on the experiences of a long life - and the creative genius of the youth, which blossoms out in thought and ideas with inexhaustible fertility, without being able to put these into practice immediately, because of this very superabundance.

Sam: If I agree to be that kind of youth, what should I do and what should I unlearn in order to live? Should I foremost unlearn my middle-class upbringing? In order to move in society, do I need to sympathize, empathize or understand?
Hitler: The man who has never been in the clutches of that crushing viper [poverty] can never know what its poison is.

These were random questions I asked as I read the book, and from a time long ago Hitler gave the answers he willed to give. I am not here to share what you already know about him or count the Jews he has killed. I am here to question on my own account, in a selfish manner, in order to help myself.

My previous post was published the night before I had to meet my dean and know the fate of my college life. It was on that same night that I retrieved this book from my shelf. As I read, I was not taking a liking to Hitler, but clearly removed him out of the context and read it like a novel. For pure historical criticism, I might have to reread this book in a different manner. But, probably in the world of reading, criticism is not the goal. Here's a passage about reading by Hitler:

Page 27/28: Chapter II Years of Studying and Suffering in Vienna, Mein Kampf -
I know people who read interminably, book after book, from page to page, and yet I should not call them "well-read people." Of course they 'know' an immense amount; but their brains seems incapable of sorting and classifying the material which they have gathered from books. They have not the faculty of distinguishing between what is useful and useless in a book; so that they may retain the former in their minds if possible skip over the latter while reading it, if that be not possible, then -when once read- throw it overboard as useless ballast. Reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Its chief purpose is to help towards filling in the framework which is made up of the talents and capabilities that each individual possesses. Thus each one procures for himself the implements and materials necessary for the fulfillment of his calling in life, no matter whether this be the elementary task of earning one's daily bread or calling that responds to higher human aspirations. 

Such is the first purpose of reading. And the second purpose is to give a general knowledge of the world in which we live. In both cases, however, the material which one has acquired through reading must not be stored up in the memory on a plan that corresponds to the successive chapters of the book; but each little piece of knowledge thus gained must be treated as if it were a little stone to be inserted into a mosaic, so that it finds its proper place among all the other pieces and particles that help to form a general world-picture in the brain of the reader. Otherwise only a confused jumble of chaotic notions will result from all this reading. That jumble is not merely useless, but it also tends to make the unfortunate possessor of it conceited. For he seriously considers himself a well-educated person and thinks he understands something of life. He believes that he has acquired knowledge, whereas the truth is that every increase in such "knowledge" draws him more and more away from real life. 
...On the other hand, one who has cultivated the art of reading will instantly discern, in a book or journal or pamphlet, what ought to be remembered because it meets one's personal needs or is of value as general knowledge...Should some practical problem suddenly demand examination or solution, memory will immediately select the opportune information from the mass that has been acquired through years of reading and will place his information at the service of one's powers of judgement so as to get a new and clearer view of the problem in question or produce a definitive solution. 
What did I choose to take with me on Monday morning? What have I taken further on for myself from these brief conversations?
On Monday morning, I lazed around a bit, made myself tea and finally got myself out of my house. I found a C51 and set out to college. Contrary to my other visits to college to sort out my scene, this morning was serene and free of trouble. I felt like I wanted nothing and expected nothing. I had been told that I might not have to attend classes and only finish exams, the previous night.  I reached, waited and waited, till the Dean finally saw me. We eagerly looked through my files and papers. My fate was announced: You have to repeat a semester. I was not teared up, hyperventilating, or stressed out. I had a brief out of body experience. I was looking at myself smile at the Dean and thanked him for everything, without a single trace of sarcasm. I walked out of college in a dazed manner. Fate happens. Smile at it. Live with it. This might sound cliche, but the relief one feels when the fate is smitten by a smile is extraordinary.

About reading, Baba (my father) has always told me to keep a notebook while reading a book to jot down what our mind wishes to take from it. There is hardly any difference between what he taught me and what Hitler reiterates here.

This series, X Questions History, is in fact my notebooks and my questions that go along with my readings, and what I wished to take from it. These questions will multiply the more I read about history, society and culture. It will be shared with you here in this section. It is a simple window into how my mind wanders and the conversations with these books.

Only three chapters down with Mein Kampf, will be back with more conversations.


Daughter of the Night said...

Nice one. Interesting... always wanted to read Mien Kampf. Just to see for myself. Consider another side to the famous Hitler- his own side... or as much of it, as he would have us know,with perhaps a few inadvertent scraps of insight as well.

But I would like to add to the reasons for reading. There's reading for the sheer joy of it... for the experience of it. And that, I believe, is a flow. Not something that can be jotted down... whatever sticks, will stick... the rest... it doesn't really matter. enjoy the beautiful ride!

Daughter of the Night said...

Very interesting... Have always wanted to read 'Mien Kampf' to get the other perspective on it all- Hitler's... or at least as much as would have us know, with hopefully a few opportunities to read between the lines...

But as to his reasons for reading, I have another... which I personally believe to be the supreme one: Reading for the sheer joy of it. A journey in thought, and imagination on the wings of the authors words... a flow. What sticks for later, may stick... but much does not, and it does not matter. For it was there for the ride.