Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The "But-he's-a-great-guy" Syndrome

Just about everyone is gushing at what a great guy in person Pope Benedict is. They say he is humble, self-effacing, witty, etc, etc, and so on. So what! I've always said that everyone is a great guy to some else. In fact he may be a wonderful person all the time, it has little to do with how he'll carry out his office as Pope.

He was the same great guy when he was the inflexible chief inquisitor.

Anyway, I saw a Richard Cohen column today which struck me along the same lines.

The extraordinary film "Downfall" is about the last days of Adolf Hitler in his underground Berlin bunker. The German dictator killed himself 60 years ago this month (April 30, 1945), ending World War II in Europe and, of course, the mass murder of civilians we now call the Holocaust. "Downfall" is a powerful, engrossing film, much praised for showing the often-caricatured Hitler as -- and I am quoting innumerable reviews here -- "a human being." It makes you wonder what, up until now, people thought he was.

In the movie, as in real life, Hitler is nice, considerate, thoughtful and incredibly cruel. He is a mass of contradictions, devoid of conscience -- a mass murderer who, as the Soviet army closes in and his situation gets more and more hopeless, becomes increasingly irrational.


It was the stated intention of the movie's director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, to humanize Hitler and the others in the bunker with him, including his vapid mistress, Eva Braun. "What I hope I've done is complete the picture of what happened -- to make these characters whole in the mind of my generation, so we can really see them as human beings -- granted, horrendous, evil, ignorant and empty -- but still human, because we can't learn from monsters," he said in one recent interview.

And so we learn that Hitler really was good to his dog, Blondi, and kind to his secretaries, and solicitous toward the little Goebbels kids, all of whom were murdered in their sleep by their mother, Magda, so they would be spared life without Nazism.


Pope Benedict is not in the same stratosphere with Hitler. I'm not comparing them. But the point is that pointing to personal charactistics such affability and the like are not grounds for proclaiming Pope Benedict the Second Coming. By all accounts, George W. Bush is a great guy in person, but he'll still go down as one of the worst five presidents in history. He is still an inverterate liar and grossly dishonest person.


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