So the wife has been a bit sick lately, and I therefore have been checking out lots of graphic novels from the library for her, because when you are not feeling well, you sometimes need some easily digestible reading. Then what happens but that I start catching the sniffles and the aches myself, so I’ve been hitting the comic books a bit myself these past two days.
Among the volumes I checked out were the first three library editions of Hellboy, much of which I had already read years ago, but she likes it, and it’s readable enough. These days, though, years into my study of atrocity and collective violence, I find myself unwilling to suspend disbelief on one rather crucial aspect of the storyline. The first few story arcs regularly feature surviving Nazis who are continuing grand plans laid down at the end of World War II, in league with demon priest Rasputin (of course) and a host of other supernatural types who apparently find enough common cause with these swastika-wearing egos to join up for at least the moment and see about summoning a few primordial chaos powers to cause the destruction of humankind. Now, for the sake of the storyline, I’ll give the writer his Nazi conspiracies and his Lovecraftian monsters and his gun-toting demonic good guy, but one issue keeps bothering me throughout the whole series.
Why are demonic forces always teaming up with the Nazis?
Oh, I understand how modern popular culture has refashioned the Nazi into a standard villain set piece, but if you’re an ancient chaos monster, wouldn’t you survey earth history to try to find the best match for you? I mean, you wouldn’t want to be teaming up with short-lived Third Reich types who could barely manage a decade of rule before everything collapsed down upon them. You’d want to team up with a nice, long-lasting empire who managed to keep hold of large parts of the world for a few centuries and commit unparalleled atrocities without ever being called to task for it.
In other words, if you were a tentacled, gibbering bit of Lovecraftian nightmare-stuff bent upon wreaking destruction, you’d probably want to buddy up with Britannia. Just think of what the British have to offer you:
* Colonization and genocide in the Americas. Numerous historians have noted that, while Indian populations in Central and South America, those parts colonized by inquisitorial Spain and Portugal, largely survived, English (and later American) settlers in North America worked hard to exterminate Indians completely.
* Colonization and genocide in Australia. Yep, British colonists not only helped reduce the aboriginal population to a mere few percent of the continent’s present population, but the massacres on Tasmania were so thorough that no full-blooded Tasmanian survived.
* Colonization and genocide in India. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there occurred to multi-year famines in India that may have killed as many as 29 million people. Normally, starvation due to changes in climate and weather would not be considered genocidal, except that the British administrators were shipping grain out of famine-plagued regions to sell on the world market even as people were starving. Moreover, authorities outlawed all forms of charity or assistance, fearing its affect upon the free market. See, the British connected India to the global market, and thus the famine in India had the effect of making grain even more expensive and less affordable to the native population, but plantation owners were making a mint sending the stuff back to England. Scholars like Christopher Powell consider their actions as amounting to genocide.
* Colonization and genocide in Africa. And you’ve got plenty of choice here, from Cecil Rhodes trying out the gatling gun on spear-armed natives to the establishment of literal concentration camps and rape camps in Kenya in the 1960s as that country tried to kick off its colonial yoke. Oh, and some scholars consider the slave trade a genocidal act, so there’s quite a bit of territory to be covered on this continent.
And how much wreckage has been left in the wake of the British Empire? “India” did not exist before they showed up–it was a slew of separate kingdoms and principalities fused into a political whole under England, but then once you have a nation, it’s hard to go back, which makes the question of who inherits the nation when you leave so fraught with meaning and danger. And then you have fighting to determine which group gets the reins of power. Of course, in India, they decided to split the place up, resulting in the biggest population transfer in history, during which a million or so people died. And what about the Middle East? What about the chaos perpetrated there as the English left behind their lines on maps? And I’ve not even touched into the occupation of Ireland, but the Irish Potato Famine was quite like those Indian famines, with food being shipped out even as people were starving.
All I’m saying is this–if popular culture creators want to add a little bit of realism to their stories about demonic hordes and ancient curses, they should have their otherworldly figures striking bargains with the likes of Queen Victoria or the pickled head of Cecil Rhodes than some charlatan Nazis. When it comes to mass murder and the proliferation of squalor and despair, the Nazis were rank amateurs compared to the British.