Sympathy for the Swastika

One of the many peaceful iterations of the original Indian swastika, signifying good luck and prosperity.

Ok class, calm down. Return to your seats. Today we are going to cover both sides of the history of the swastika. The good. And the bad.

The true power of history lies in hindsight and context. Keep that in mind.

Got it? Now read on, and learn.

Believed to date back 7000 years to Eurasia, this symbol, sitting square and called the svastika in its native Sanskrit, was and still can be seen in its original form all over Eurasia. The image at top is one of the many variations.

This symbol’s original purpose, it is believed, is to represent the sun travelling across the sky. It symbolized good luck and prosperity. In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism it continues to make a peaceful, all-encompassing appearance.

The swastika crossed the ocean with European and Asian immigrants to North America. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution and up to the 1930s, the swastika was stamped on many items from the bottom of apothecary jars to pieces of machinery.

Up in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario, a town founded in the early 1900s proudly named itself Swastika. More on that later.

However, in 1920, a certain Austrian man – I’ll call him Doof – had a heart full of hate. He infected his followers – I’ll call them the Doofus party – and most of Germany fell for his twisted vision of an Aryan Utopia. The racial purity that Doof sought, in his mind, could only be achieved by wiping out those with so-called impure blood.

Before long, Doof decided to back up his belief of Aryan purity to the wellspring of Arya. He reached into its muddy waters and brought forth the swastika.

Then Doof, a wannabe artist twice denied entry into Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, crafted a simple but striking graphic design. He gave the swastika a thick, bold look, turned it 45 degrees, planted it inside a white circle and then placed both elements on a blood-red ground.

THAT version of the swastika.

He had just weaponized the swastika. Now given an ominous dynamism, this swastika gave the feeling of a great machine grinding to life. A once-peaceful symbol had been turned into one that became feared world wide.

The rest is history. The German war machine, mobilized in all its terrible forms, wrought unbelievable havoc in Europe. Millions died. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and an estimated further 10 million are listed as ‘likely murdered’ by German forces.

Since the end of WWII, this version of the swastika continues to be used by white supremacist groups in the manner that Doof intended it to be used. Artists may use it in their work, but with extreme care. It is with much thought that I put its image in this blog.

On a slightly lighter note, the town of Swastika in Northern Ontario still staunchly refuses to change its name. Despite the town being named in 1908, certain people ignorant of this fact think that the town was named post-WWII in a show of support for Doof. There are still communities in America that bear the name Swastika, named with the same positive intent, now being pressured to change the name.

So next time you see a swastika, take a second look with clear eyes and new knowledge.

By all means, never forget what happened under the banner of the Doofus party.

However, never lose sight of the swastika’s peaceful origins either. Learn to see both sides of the same coin.

Have a great weekend everyone, stay warm!

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