Thursday, October 11, 2007

The German Salute

In Nazi Germany, what we think of the Heil Hitler gesture was officially called The German Salute. The Nazis wanted Germans to think that greeting their friends by holding their hands up palm out and saying "Heil Hitler!" wasn't Nazi but typically German. A common joke among Germans at the time was that the real German salute was the surreptitious look from side to side to make sure no stranger was listening before speaking frankly with a friend.

I read about that while researching my novel Budspy, and I recognized it instantly. To me, it was The South African Salute, and I had seen it while growing up in Apartheid* South Africa.

I remember once watching my father and a neighbor circling around each other verbally at the beginning of a conversation. It turned out that they both wanted to attack the government, but they couldn't just come right out and do it. Instead, they had to sound each other out, make sure the other guy wasn't a government supporter who might inform the government about treasonous talk. Eventually, they each decided the other guy was safe, and then they launched into anti-government vitriol. As I remember, the starting point was that the postman was late that day, but complaints about the postal service quickly moved on to passionate agreement that the government was generally worthless.

That was in a police state. Remarkably, South Africa in those days still had a fairly independent press and judiciary. Well, how about us? We're not a police state at all, right? We're free, a great democracy, the light unto the world, the shining city on the hill. But people in our broadcast media have said that they won't even criticize Bush family members because that could look "unpatriotic". Fourth Estate? Hmph. They're an adjunct of the White House Office Of Propaganda. Our courts have become a stronghold of vile rightwing undermining of democracy. They don't defend us against oppression, they rationalize and uphold it.

This is what we've become. The German Salute and The South African Salute have become The American Salute.

* That's pronounced apart-hate**, not apart-hite.

** Because the suffix is Afrikaans, not German, and in Afrikaans the ei dipthong has a long a sound***, not a long i sound.

*** Because it does, that's why.

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