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History of the Swastika

By themalsters3396 Apr 23, 2015 1262 Words
Mallory Harris
L. Trewick
ENC 1102
22 March 2015
History of the Swastika
Most people associate the swastika with Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Because of this, it has become a symbol of hatred and violence. However, the symbol known as the swastika has been in existence for three thousand years, and a variety of cultures have used it in a variety of ways. The initial meaning of the symbol was a positive one, and some cultures looked at the symbol as a religious emblem, similar to a cross, but it also symbolized good luck and power. The symbol has been used throughout history to decorate everything from buildings and temples to pottery vessels and even military uniforms. Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group who may eventually become the new face of said cultural practices, passing the illusion that certain cultural practices are authentic to them. Cultural appropriation is the act of copying another people's culture to the extent that it may eventually seem authentic to the mimicker. For decades fashion magazines, Television advertisements and music videos have been exploiting the traditions of various cultures in order to make money. In turn, these singular representations perpetuate stereotypes and minimize vast cultures as singular monolithic ideas. The lines between personal property and public domain are becoming increasingly blurred as more people become connected by the Internet. In her article, the main point Rachel Kadish makes is that, "If your face isn't private property, what is?" (Kadish 262). She is referring to the self-portrait of her cousin, Noam Galai. After he uploaded the picture to his Flickr account, it was then downloaded by tons of people, who represented the work in ways he had not intended. Some even sold T shirts and prints of the picture for their own personal profit. Theft of digital property is nothing new on the Internet, and for some reason, stealing data doesn't really feel like stealing. Ever since the invention of the Internet, people have been downloading illegal copies of games and programs. The point is, it is very hard for anyone, even corporations, to maintain control of the distribution of their data. The swastika has become a visual ideograph to many as it was appropriated from meaning luck, life, love and light, to a very dark, hateful meaning. The swastika is a symbol used by of one of the most hated men on Earth, a symbol that represents the slaughter of millions of people and one of the most destructive wars on Earth. But Adolf Hitler was not the first to use this symbol. In fact, it was used as a powerful symbol thousands of years before him, across many cultures and continents. The word ‘swastika’ is a Sanskrit word (‘svasktika’) meaning ‘It is’, ‘Well Being’, ‘Good Existence, and ‘Good Luck’. The swastika is also known by different names in different countries - like ‘Wan’ in China, ‘Manji’ in Japan, ‘Fylfot’ in England, ‘Hakenkreuz’ in Germany and ‘Tetraskelion’ or ‘Tetragammadion’ in Greece. Unfortunately, the Nazis were so effective at their use of the swastika emblem, that many do not even know any other meaning for the swastika. After men wearing swastikas on their uniforms systematically killed millions of people under swastika flags, the symbol became one of genocide, fascism, and racism, and any other connotations it might have had were lost in the West. Much like the mustache that Hitler wore, the swastika is pretty much off limits, though some people are trying to rehabilitate it. In 1920, Adolf Hitler decided that the Nazi Party needed its own insignia and flag. For Hitler, the new flag had to be "a symbol of our own struggle" as well as "highly effective as a poster" (Mein Kampf, pg. 495). On August 7, 1920, at the Salzburg Congress, the red flag with a white circle and black swastika became the official emblem of the Nazi Party.In Mein Kampf, Hitler described the Nazis' new flag: "In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalistic idea, in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic" (pg. 496-497). How most Americans view this symbol is far removed from its history. If most Americans traveled to India and saw swastikas adorning everything from front doors to food carts, they would probably be shocked and appalled. Most would not understand the symbol is an important religious symbol in the country, and it is used to bring good luck to families and religious temples. American culture has recognized the swastika as a symbol of hatred and intolerance for decades. Since many Americans do not take the time to research history and culture, they simply assume their knowledge or beliefs about a symbol are the only truth, which can lead to very inaccurate assumption. Noam Galai’s screaming face is the perfect example of how one photograph, one symbol, can mean a whole different world to different people. Noam’s screaming face went viral and instantly became the face of many things internationally, all without his permission. Ironically his face, the face of a nobody from Jerusalem, became the face of anti-Ahmadinejad protesters; which is pretty funny considering if they knew he was from Jerusalem they most likely would have killed him. It is quite strange how one image can almost change the world. One image can speak for so many different people and different beliefs. Digital media in the form of music, pictures, and videos can be created much more cheaply and easily now; so many more people are uploading their own intellectual property to the web. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr of course are hugely popular, with millions of people visiting them every day. Most people make their uploads available to the public, too. That means anyone can come along and access this media and download it then use it however they want. That is just the nature of things on the Internet, and perhaps some people do not realize the implications of uploading media they assume will remain relatively private. In addition, Rachel Kadish says that "There's something glorious and terrible about a world in which a picture of one's face can sweep around the globe this way, part of a human chorus changing us for better or worse" (Kadish, 262). Indeed, it is true that the Internet tends to have almost as many bad things as there are good. It is very hard to draw a line on the Internet when it comes to certain things, especially violating one’s privacy. Many argue that if you post something on the Internet it becomes free to anyone who wants it. But the original creators of the swastika had no Internet three thousand years ago, so who is to defend their privacy? They had no control over who took their spiritual symbol and dehumanized it. The swastika, meant to represent good luck and well being, has been completely destroyed and is shamed on. Adolf Hitler was the cruelest man to walk this Earth and he was able to get away with stealing such a beautiful image. Cultural appropriation has had a very harmful effect on the culture’s being used for inappropriate things.

Kadish, Rachel. "Who Is This Man, and Why Is He Screaming?" Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. 255-64. Print.

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