Nazi fascism is still, somehow, a threat to our freedom and existence. White nationalism has become emboldened, and the looming specter of 1930s Germany now marches our streets with impunity. Enemy flags are held in the hands of so-called Americans as the rest of us stand horrified, wondering how and why this is happening here, in the home of the brave. This past weekend, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the world watched in horror as masses of people marched waving Nazi flags, wearing swastika armbands, and throwing up the Roman salute in the name of hatred and bigotry.
As terrifying as it all might seem, thankfully we have an entire history of cinema to remind us of how to engage with a philosophy as unamerican as Nazism. Even since a small man with small ideas and an abhorrent worldview took over Germany, American cinema has stood in defiance of the same evil who now seeks a safe space within our borders.
There are no shortages of movies and scenes from throughout the span of American cinema that show us exactly what to do with those who would wave the swastika, on our streets or elsewhere, far more than what’s been included here. While no means comprehensive, the five scenes included here serve as a reminder of what we do when we see Nazis.
Aldo Raine’s Speech, Inglorious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s alternate history revenge fantasy offers plenty of fodder to fuel the flames against Nazis and Nazism. Inglorious Basterds exists pretty much for that purpose, and the bombastic director holds nothing back to satisfy our inner cravings for Nazi comeuppance. While scenes like Donny Donowitz playing a game of baseball against a Nazi skull…
…or Hitler getting ripped to shreds by two machine guns while the fires of Hell burn around him…
…certainly give us the warm fuzzies, there’s no scene quite like the introduction of the Basterds to remind us of everything we need to know about Nazis. “A Nazi ain’t got no humanity,” the gravelly voiced Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) reminds his troops, and us. The only way to combat a philosophy as abhorrent as Nazism is with merciless cruelty. By the end of the three minute speech, both his force and the audience are ready for one thing and one thing only: Killin’ Nazis. Sound good? Sir, yes sir!
Dueling Songs, Casablanca
Seventy-five years ago, we knew something that we seem to have forgotten today—Nazis are loud. They make as much noise as they can in an effort to make it seem like they’re bigger than they actually are. No scene in history portrays this as poignantly as this scene in Casablanca. A small group of Nazis have seemingly taken over Rick’s Café, quieting the crowd as they perform “Die Wacht am Rhein,” to the enjoyment of literally no one but themselves. Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is having none of it, and orders the house band to play “La Marseillaise.” What follows is one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history (if not the absolute greatest) and its lessons are applicable to this day. Nazis thrive by quieting the opposition, but an opposition united will always be louder and scarier than anything a Nazi can muster. Unite with who you can and shout them down at every turn. It may be the start of a beautiful friendship.
God’s Wrath, Raiders of the Lost Ark
If anything can come close to Indiana Jones’ hatred of snakes, it’s Indiana Jones’ hatred of Nazis. Half the series find the archaeology professor facing off against history’s greatest villain and doing is level best to do the only thing that can be done when confronted by their evil: punching them in the goddamn face. Like Inglorious Basterds, the series offers no shortage of examples of Nazi punishment, but the best punishment is reserved for God himself. The climactic finale of Raiders of the Lost Ark finds our heroes tied up and seemingly defeated, but Professor Jones has one more trick up his sleeve. Unlike the Nazis, Indiana knows that man is unworthy to see the power of The Lord. As the ark is opened, he simply closes his eyes in reverence while the Nazis, in their hubris, bear witness to God’s power. The result is nothing less than God’s judgment, and serves as a reminder that no matter what rhetoric they might try to hide behind, Nazis are not here to do God’s work.
Captain Von Trapp Shows the Nazi Flag the Proper Respect, The Sound of Music
Based on the true story of an Austrian family who flees Nazi rule, The Sound of Music is more than just a lively musical to enjoy with the family. It’s a parable about standing up for belief in a time of authoritarian repression. In a pivotal scene in the movie, Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) returns to his Austrian villa to find his home covered in flags bearing the Nazi swastika. His reaction is one of any sane man faced with a world that’s gone insane: he tears a flag down and rips it in half. It is, indeed, the most proper way to respect a Nazi flag, the presence of which is a blight on any surface that it hangs. In this moment, we are taught that the best way to stand up against the single-minded goal of fascism is to stay true to ourselves, our values, and our ethics. There is no place in this world for a Nazi flag, and like any piece of trash that litters an otherwise beautiful scene, it’s your moral duty to get rid of it.
“Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, Green Room
Punk rock is about speaking truth to power, and racist extremist groups and neo-Nazis have suddenly been given an inordinate amount of power in our modern world. Jeremy Saulnier’s harrowing work of us vs. them horror, Green Room, is all about finding yourself in the midst of evil’s power as a broke, traveling punk band finds themselves unwittingly playing a show in a neo-Nazi compound. Do they cower? Do they run in fear? No. They do the most punk rock thing they can do and speak truth to the power they find themselves within and open their set with a raucous rendition of the Dead Kennedys classic, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Though it puts their safety in danger, they display the kind of bravery needed when staring down at the forces of fascism. Fascism thrives in silent consent, so be like the Ain’t Rights and refuse them the benefit of your silence. Look ’em dead in the eye tell ’em to fuck off.
Don’t Be a Sucker
Finally, as a reminder, the threat of fascism has always been a concern for America. There are those who would play us against each other, stoking fears for their own benefit, be they political, financial, or otherwise. This 1947 short film from the U.S. Department of War shows us how easy it would be for fascist, authoritarian ideas to take hold. It serves as a prescient warning. It’s not hard to divide and conquer. It’s not hard to fall for rhetoric. Anyone can be a sucker. Keep your wits. Don’t fall for those who would sell you hatred as an answer. The promise of America is the realization that all men were created equal. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.