Adolf Hitler’s watch, shown above, recently sold at auction for over a million dollars. (The auction house had been expecting more, between 2 and 4 million.) The sale provoke some angry rhetoric online: many believe that it is unethical, indeed immoral, to acquire, keep or sell artifacts from Nazi Germany. In several countries, putting such things up for sale is illegal.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this:
Is it unethical to sell or buy Hitler’s watch?
My mind is a teeny bit open on this issue, but where I stand now is: No, of course not.
At worst, this is an Ick Factor situation, where the fact that some people have a strong emotional reaction to conduct makes them conclude that the conduct is wrongful. I’m not even certain “ick” is justified. History is a record of the human race, and it should be maintained, studied, and thought about. The people who want all Nazi artifacts destroyed or quarantined are in the same censorious, historical airbrush-happy category as the people responsible for banning the Confederate flag in Civil War battlefield gift shops, and those who want to tear down the statues of every important American figure who was a slave-holder.
Full disclosure: I have a bias here. My father, a WWII veteran who fought in Europe, came home with a lot of trophies from his various battles. He had a German Luger he took off a prisoner, several Nazi Army ornamental knives and swords, and articles of clothing, including military headwear, all with the Nazi insignia on them. He carried and used captured German binoculars throughout the war (he said they were far superior to the American model); I took them to baseball games. It wasn’t until I turned them over to my son that I noticed the tiny swastika on the hinge. I also have the spoon from the field utensil kit Dad used in Europe; it has the Nazi emblem too, though I never noticed it when I used it camping with my Boy Scout troop.
Our basement play area in Arlington, Mass. had rooms separated by brilliant red, ceiling to floor curtains. It wasn’t until many years after moving to Virginia that I learned my mother had made them out a giant Nazi flag my father brought home.
Objects aren’t evil; it’s the people who use them in the course of doing evil things who should be shunned. The theory that Nazi artifacts encourage and enable evil is the product of emotion rather than ethical analysis. It is akin to superstition.
But I am open to being convinced otherwise.