My last blog entry about racism in the early L.A. punk scene got quite a bit of feedback and I'd like to clarify and expand on one of the subjects: the use of the swastika by punks.
Ever since reading the Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank when I was about 10 years old, I've had strong negative associations with the swastika. It's pretty much inextricably connected with the horrors of the Nazi regime in my mind. Even to this day, when I'm watching an Indian film and the swastika image appears, I have to remind myself that it is an ancient symbol and appeared in various cultures throughout the world long before it was employed by the Nazis. Unfortunately, for my generation and our parents, it was redefined during the middle years of the 20th century.
Some people mentioned wearing the swastika as a way to take away the negative power of the symbol. I understand that idea. I suggested in another blog that we might choose to redefine sexist or racist terms by using them in a way which empowers, rather than demeans, the subject. However, the Nazi emblem of the swastika is something much more than an epithet. Unlike derogatory language, which we seek to eliminate, the Nazi swastika and what it represented should not be eliminated, precisely because we need to remember what it once meant. For the same reason that we do not raze Auschwitz and sow the ground with salt, we must not try to do away with the Nazi swastika's negative connotations. We must remember that part of history, not redefine it. To use the swastika merely to shock people is to trivialize the meaning of that symbol. With each trivialization, we lose a little bit of that memory until it becomes a distant reality, another page in the history books which are filled with lessons that we never seem to learn.
I'd like to say that I understand the interest in Hitler and the Nazi regime. I've long been interested in Nazi history and I've read quite a few books about it; I even took a course in college about it. I grasp the incredible power of their imagery. Hitler and Goebbels were, for lack of a better term, fascinating personalities to me and the way the Nazi Party rose to power and orchestrated a bid for world domination is still astonishing to me. There is a great deal to be learned from studying that period of time. Even though it was and remains a fascinating period to me, I was never tempted to wear a Nazi swastika. Everytime I see it, it makes me uncomfortable and a little bit angry. I know that there were punks who wore it precisely for that reason, to provoke and shock, but there were others - like the Clash - who felt that it was inextricably linked to the Nazi attempt to eradicate an entire race of people and that it should not be taken lightly. Joe Strummer once said, "I think people ought to know that we're anti-fascist, anti-violence and anti-racist. We're against ignorance." I agree with that statement and I think that using the Nazi swastika simply as a joke (Prince Harry) or as a means of shocking people (Sid Vicious) is wrong. To put it succinctly, I'll use the words of my pal, Phranc: "Take off your swastikas, you're making me angry!"