I saw a swastika painted on a road sign.
Not a big thing, mind you. More of a scrawl than a painting, tucked in a corner of a road sign on southbound Reedy Creek Road in Cary. It's still there, as of this writing. It's been there for about three days now. I didn't take a picture - no point in holding up traffic.
You don't see those much, around here. We in the Triangle are blessed with a rather tolerant community. The three places I've lived for significant periods of time - Northern Virginia, Nashville, and Raleigh - are so welcoming in general that I can honestly say I've never actually experienced any real anti-Semitism. Quite a difference from my mom's family, who weren't allowed to join Pine Bluff (Ark.) Country Club because of their religion. In the past forty years or so, hatred towards Jews and non-whites has faded into social unacceptability...
But, as that road sign chicken-scratch reminded me, it still exists. It's out there in the rantings of people like Pittsburgh shooter Andrew Poplawski. It's out there among the crazy bastards in North Idaho and on Stormfront. And it's out there in some punk with a can of spray-paint on Reedy Creek.
On April 21, Jews commemorated Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance of the crimes symbolized by that swastika. We swear to never forget... but let's face it, folks, we have forgotten, at least until some halfwit scribbles something on a road sign and we're forced to think about what that symbol really means.
Because we've seen the symbol, we've heard the word "Nazi," entirely too much over the past few years. You go to a protest and you see signs like this. Or this. We throw around slogans comparing Bush to Hitler or calling Obama a fascist, as if we could imagine either of those men slaughtering eleven million innocent people in cold blood simply because he didn't like who they were. The swastika and the word "Nazi" aren't symbols of the ultimate evil of hatred and murder and genocide anymore - they're rhetorical shorthands for policies with which we disagree. And that means we have forgotten.
But it's worse. Not only have we forgotten, it means there's no point in remembering anymore. If we're referencing Nazism and the Holocaust to talk about differences in domestic and foreign policy, how the hell could we invoke the memories of the victims of genocide where it really matters, in cases like Darfur, or the budding anti-gay massacres in Iraq?
Maybe it's just the intellectually lazy fringe who have lost all perspective on the Holocaust, and that most people understand what it means to invoke Hitler and the Nazis. But those fringe idiots make us so afraid to do it when it's warranted, so cynical when it comes to such references that when murderous hate and political power converge and genocide threatens, our first reaction when the Holocaust is referenced is dismissal and derision.
So why does it behoove all of us to condemn, in no uncertain terms, the wanton use of references to fascism and Nazism in our everyday political discourse? Because hate still exists. Because we need to preserve the memory of Hitler's victims for cases when that memory might be useful in stopping actual genocide. And because I don't know what that punk on Reedy Creek Road was thinking about when he scrawled that swastika, but I doubt it was the income tax.