Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Hitler’s Watch”

Once again, I have proven to be a lousy prognosticator when it comes to which posts will generate the liveliest discussions. The Ethics Quiz about the propriety of buying Adolf Hitler’s watch provoked many excellent comments and trenchant observations, and Steve-O-In NJ’s Comment of the Day is certainly among them.

Here it is…


Something as unique and personal as Hitler’s watch probably belongs in a museum, but if a private person owns it, he has the right to sell it. My question is why would anyone want something like that and what would he do with it once he had it? Doesn’t that say something about the buyer? People collect all kinds of odd things, but collecting something like this is odder than most.

As a Roman Catholic, I was brought up on the idea that certain amounts of power remained within certain objects, especially physical remains. That’s why Church altars often hold holy relics, the more important the church, the more important the relics it holds. There was some serious fear when the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris had that fire a few years back that the crown of thorns, supposedly worn by Christ Himself, and the tunic of St Louis, worn by that saintly King on crusade, would be destroyed and with them the physical link to those personages. I don’t think the belief in relics and similar items is unique to Catholicism, I think it was around long before that. Supposedly the tree that Siddhartha achieved enlightenment under, the burning bush where Moses received his mission from God, and the three items that the sun goddess Amaterasu gave to the first emperor of Japan all exist still. You can see the first two if you are willing to travel, the three items are kept at the Great Ise Shrine in Japan and none but the appointed guardian clerics are allowed to see them.

I think that the human belief that after revered or reviled figures are no longer in this world that something of them remains and can be accessed via whatever physical links there are transcends modern religion and goes back to very early beliefs. The belief that certain symbols have certain power is also a very ancient belief, and why, to this day, we all seem to believe that the display of the cross will repulse a vampire or similar creature. Does any of this make logical sense? Not really, but we are humans, not Vulcans, and therefore the feelings associated with these beliefs remain part of us.

Those feelings can be played upon and amplified, of course, and a lot of individuals do just that, to harness them and hopefully lead others into doing as they say or making the leap from feeling to action. Symbols can serve as points to rally around or against and focusing points for causes. That’s why in the various crusades and jihads it was common for the victor to throw down symbols of the defeated.

Supposedly, in this modern era, we are supposed to have moved past giving these symbols inordinate amounts of power. However, certain political figures have found that rallying against certain symbols is a shortcut to power and mob rule. There is a certain level of dopamine rush that goes with feeling like you’re a righteous member of a righteous cause, and  another kind of  thrill that goes with destroying a symbol that someone says is bad. The problem is that, like any other kind of addiction, it becomes harder and harder to get the same amount of high with the same actions. Eventually you graduate to hurting and even killing others that you associate with whatever is opposed to your righteous cause.

There is nothing per se unethical about dealing in historical artifacts, whether they be associated with those were thought of as very good or those who are thought of as very evil. Any unethical actions lie within the use of those artifacts. Would I personally want to own some item that was personally possessed by a genocidal dictator? Not really. Do I have a problem with someone else owning such an item? No. Do I have a problem with such an item being displayed in a museum? No. Destroying the physical reminders of History is ultimately unhelpful.

Do I wonder what the owner or buyer of such an item is thinking? Yes. However, unless I actually discuss it with him, I don’t get to assume he’s a bad guy. Am I going to empower someone who claims victimhood to insist on the concealment or destruction of anything? No. I think the sanctification of victimhood ultimately leads to the pussification of society.

Observations On The Gadsden Flag Controversy

Gadsden Flag

On the Volokh Conspiracy, now featured on the Washington Post website, Prof. Volokh applies his First Amendment expertise to a recent EEOC decision which ruled that a complaint from an African-American that a fellow worker who repeatedly wore a cap with the famous “Don’t Tread On Me” insignia from the Gadsden flag may have created a hostile work environment at the federal agency both worked for. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission called for further investigation, including an interview of the cap-owner’s intention in wearing the symbol, concluding,

“In light of the ambiguity in the current meaning of this symbol, we find that Complainant’s claim must be investigated to determine the specific context in which C1 displayed the symbol in the workplace. In so finding, we are not prejudging the merits of Complainant’s complaint. Instead, we are precluding a procedural dismissal that would deprive us of evidence that would illuminate the meaning conveyed by C1’s display of the symbol.”


1. Now this is the slippery slope. Because murderous racist Dylan Roof posed with the Confederate flag, a tipping point was reached that resulted in the symbol and the flag being effectively and in some respects officially banned. The EEOC had already ruled the wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt constituted racial harassment,. Now the banning of historically significant symbols is threatening to spread to a flag that had no relationship to race whatsoever, in large part because of who has chosen to display it.

2. There is a whole website devoted to the Gadsden flag, from which we learn that…

  • It first appeared in October of 1775, as the British were occupying Boston and the desperate Continental Army was dug in in nearby Cambridge, lacking sufficient arms and ammunition.  In October, a merchant ship returning to Philadelphia from a voyage to England brought private letters to the Second Continental Congress informing it that  England was sending two cargo ships to America loaded with arms and gunpowder for the British troops.
  • Congress decided Washington’s troops’ plight required that those ships and their cargo be captured. It authorized the creation of a Continental Navy, then only four vessels, to take the ships. Congress also authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines. Some of the Marines enlisting that month in Philadelphia carried drums painted yellow, emblazoned with a  rattlesnake with thirteen rattles, coiled and ready to strike, accompanied by the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.”
  • That same December, a citizen calling himself  “An American Guesser,” anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal, saying in part:

“I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, ‘Don’t tread on me.’ As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America…the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America….She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. … she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her..

I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, ’till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. …Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.”

It is generally agreed that the writer was really Benjamin Franklin. Ben had a hand in the design of the flag, since the first use of a rattlesnake to represent the colonies was his own “Join or die” cartoon,


…published years earlier. Continue reading