If I'm a Fascist, Will You Still Call Me Superman?January 2008
Written by Tiffany E. Speegle (email@example.com)
"I know my fate. One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful, of a crisis like no other before on earth I am not a man. I am dynamite."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, III
The purpose of this paper is to reinforce the important link between the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the Nazi Party, and propagandist Superman comic books published from 1938-1945. I have identified Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch as key to understanding his philosophy and its relation to Nazi Germany and American popular culture during the Second World War. I will focus specifically on Nietzsche's attitudes towards Jews as directly expressed and otherwise implied in his key works, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, On the Genealogy of Morals, and The Will to Power. I will also assess how these relate to Adolf Hitler's ideology in Mein Kampf, and how Hitler and his Nazi Party misused Nietzsche's philosophy. In addition, I will relate Superman comic books published during World War II as American manifestations of these Nazi misinterpretations of Nietzsche. The paper will be divided into four parts.
First, I will examine what I call the three tenets of Nietzsche's philosophy: the Übermensch, master-slave morality, and the will to power. The will to power is considered by many to be the core of Nietzsche's philosophy. However, for the purposes of this paper I will begin with the Übermensch and trace my way back to the will to power. The Übermensch, commonly referred to as the "superman" or "overman," is crucial because not only did Hitler use this philosophical concept in particular to justify his immoral battle for the "master race," but Hitler's own misconception of Nietzsche's Übermensch was also being fed to the American youth in the form of a hero with a red cape and blue tights.
Second, I will explain how and why Hitler and the Nazi Party believed themselves to be the embodiment of Nietzsche's Übermensch. I will examine particular pieces of Nietzsche's philosophy, touching on the previously established three tenets, which the Nazis included in their indoctrination of the German people. I will explain how Hitler concluded that the Nazi Party was the manifestation of the Übermensch, tracing through the perceived anti-Semitism within Nietzsche's concept of master-slave morality to its beginning with the notion of the will to power and Hitler's "Triumph of the Will."
Third, I will examine similar principles and motivations which are presented within a curious historical context in the comic book adventures of Superman. These comic books were originally written by two Jewish teenagers, and yet strangely parallel the Nazi vision of Nietzsche's Übermensch. Originally, these young authors sought to provide Superman comics as the Messianic Jewish answer to the Second World War. However, they ended up creating a "superman" much like the one Hitler envisioned - a man with the will to superpower, and a warmonger who constantly implemented violence as a means to triumph over racial minorities and those who were genetically inferior.
Finally, I will discuss the areas of Nietzsche's philosophy that clearly contradict the misinterpretations of the Nazi Party and the untouchable actions of America's Superman. In particular, I will point out Nietzsche's hatred of anti-Semitism and his love of mastery over oneself, rather than mastery over others. These two facets are vital to understanding Nietzsche's attitude towards the Jews, who are perhaps the most common denominator linking Hitler and the Nazis to the American Superman and his comic books.
The Three Tenets of Nietzsche's PhilosophyThe Übermensch
The Übermensch is a very important Nietzschean concept, even though it makes a minimal appearance in any of Nietzsche's writing. Despite this, the Übermensch is especially important when discussing the Nazi Party's use of Nietzsche's philosophy, since they used this concept in particular "to promote and justify the cause of a pure, Aryan 'master race'" (Pearson 2005, 83). But in order to understand the true meaning behind Nietzsche's Übermensch, one must understand the context and implications of his 1883 masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Historically, Zarathustra is better known as the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, or "he who can manage camels." Zoroaster taught that the universe was held together by the struggle between two spirits: good and evil, or creation and destruction. The prophet foretold of a time when good would finally overcome evil and prevail over all (Pearson 2005, 86).
In Nietzsche's work, Zarathustra descends from his home in the mountains into the market-place and tells the common people, "I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome" (Nietzsche 1969, 41). Zarathustra warns of "The Last Man," who no longer takes risks or questions his existence, but merely remains content with his life as it is. "The Last Man" is dangerous because he does not realize that, as a human being, he is a bridge rather than a goal. The goal, according to Zarathustra and Nietzsche, is the Übermensch, and all human beings should risk walking across the bridge that is humanity in order to reach this goal.
More likely than not, Nietzsche meant the Übermensch "to be the ideal aim of spiritual development more than a biological goal" (Higgins and Solomon 2000, 47). Nietzsche does not necessarily think that humans could ever physically evolve into such a person, since it is such an ideal and since he has never seen a real Übermensch. The concept is what is most important, and this spiritual overcoming is something that Nietzsche certainly wanted humans to strive to achieve.
To further illustrate this idea of man as a bridge, Nietzsche uses the image of the tightrope walker. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the tightrope walker attempts to cross a great abyss extending from the tower of the present to the tower of the future (Wolfe 1964, 547). The tightrope represents man as a bridge between the present and the future, and the tightrope walker is carefully trying to reach the tower of the future, where he will leave the values and guidelines of the past behind and transform into the Übermensch. Meanwhile, a malicious clown (representing the Last Man) shakes the tightrope, causing the tightrope walker to fall to his death. Zarathustra, who has been observing this whole ordeal, retrieves his "fellow innovator's" corpse from between the two towers (Wolfe 1964, 547).
Zarathustra proclaims, "What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal; what can be loved in man is that he is a going-across and a down-going" (Nietzsche 1969, 44). Just as Zarathustra descended from his home in the mountains, the tightrope walker fell into the abyss before he was able to reach the Übermensch. Likewise, humans themselves must fall before they can rise from the ashes like the Phoenix (Wolfe 1964, 546). They must descend from the arrogant and egotistical stance that they are the end-all-be-all of the Darwinian system of evolution. The historical prophet Zoroaster taught that the good of creation would overcome the evil of destruction, and Nietzsche's Zarathustra teaches that humans should destroy the "evil" belief and value systems they once held dear in order to create "good" anew.
This Nietzschean process of destruction and re-creation is called the revaluation of values. In order to complete this process, one must look at the genealogy of morality, as explained in Nietzsche's 1887 work On the Genealogy of Morals. In this work, Nietzsche answers the question, where does morality come from? His answer is that good morals were invented by rich aristocrats, and evil sprang from the plight of the Jewish people in Egypt. Without a doubt, Nietzsche's theory of master-slave morality is another concept that Hitler and the Nazi Party took to heart.
Nietzsche comes to such a conclusion about the origins of good and evil by examining the origins of certain words. He points out that, across languages, the word for "noble" is often very similar to the word for "good," and the word for "common" or "plain" is often very similar to the word for "bad" or "evil." In the first essay, Nietzsche writes:
The most convincing example of the latter is the German word schlecht [bad] itself: which is identical with schlicht [plain, simple] - compare schlechtweg [plainly], schlecterdings [simply] - and originally designated the plain, the common man, as yet with no inculpatory implication and simply in contradiction to the nobility (Nietzsche 1989, 28).
He goes on to explain the German word gut [good] as sharing a direct relation "with the popular (originally noble) name of the Goths" (Nietzsche 1989, 31).
Clearly, Nietzsche's close study of these words denotes a master-slave morality. The rich, well-mannered, and law-abiding nobility stood on the moral high ground, while their simple servants remained oppressed, uneducated, and unsophisticated. According to Nietzsche, human language has made political superiority equivalent to the superiority of the soul (Nietzsche 1989, 31). As a result of this, those who lack such superiority, the slaves of the world, begin to seek revenge on the aristocracy. Nietzsche writes:
All that has been done on earth against "the noble," "the powerful," "the master," "the rulers," fades into nothing compared with what the Jews have done against them; the Jews, that priestly people, who in opposing their enemies and conquerors were ultimately satisfied with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies' values, that is to say, an act of the most spiritual revenge (Nietzsche 1989, 34).
He goes on to explain how this mob-like herd instinct of the Jews has helped them trick society into believing that their slave morality is good and right, despite the fact that it is the root of evil.
It is easy to see why Nietzsche considers the Jews the epitome of a slave morality. For example, Jewish religious holidays are based around historical events of Jewish slavery, oppression, and destruction. Passover is a celebration of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Hanukkah is a holiday spent remembering the destruction of Jersualem by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Maccabean slave revolt in Egypt circa 168 BC. Yom Kippur is a day of atonement during which observers fast, pray and repent for their sins. Each of these central Jewish holidays traces back to either the destruction of the temple, persecution of Jews, or the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt, which plays a vital role in the first essay of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals.
Nietzsche would say that the Jews thrive and prosper through being hated; their religion and lifestyle is based around being hated, and being the object of hatred has perpetually allowed them to seek revenge against those aristocratic do-gooders who have oppressed them. He claims that the Jews have made themselves victims of ressentiment, writing that "the slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge" (Nietzsche 1989, 36).
According to Nietzsche, the Jews are also hypocrites who wish to remain within this vengeful cycle of slave morality rather than give in to "nobler ideals," even though slavery is the very thing against which they lash out. He gives the example of Jesus Christ, claiming that Christ embodied Jewish values and ideals and even offered to the Jewish people the love and redemption they had always sought, and yet "Israel must itself deny the real instrument of its revenge before all the world as a mortal enemy and nail it to the cross" (Nietzsche 1989, 35). By trapping themselves in this cycle of slave morality, the Jews have surrendered themselves to a lack of the will to power, which is the core of Nietzsche's philosophy.
The Jews in Genealogy of Morals are much like the Last Man in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Like the Last Man, the Jews no longer question why they exist, instead choosing to embrace the triumph of their slave morality over society as an accomplishment. Since they view this revaluation of values as a triumph over their oppressors, the Jews, like the Last Man, remain content within their current lifestyle and thus lack the will to power. In Genealogy of Morals, the Jews are the Last Men, the shining example of a mankind that must be overcome by the Übermensch, who lives by the will to power.
The Will to Power
Nietzsche's concept of the will to power was a response to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's concept of the will to live. Schopenhauer was Nietzsche's mentor, and the will to live was the apex of his philosophy. Schopenhauer's will to live focused on self-preservation, a striving for pleasure, and avoidance of pain (Higgins and Solomon 2000, 216). Nietzsche, on the other hand, puts the will to power above the will to live, stating that "A living thing above all seeks to discharge its strength - life is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results" (Higgins and Solomon 2000, 218).
In other words, Nietzsche means that the greatest human need is the will to power, or more directly, the will to create. In order to create anew, a person must know who they are, which requires a mastery of one's own thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, and talents. One can later use one's imagination and talents to create new works of art, new musical compositions, and new philosophical theories, thus improving the human way of life. This will to create is also needed in order to reject old value systems and create new and better values for the world. So Nietzsche's will to power is really the will to power over oneself, not the will to assert one's power over another. For the will to power over another would require a notion of superiority, and like the aristocrats of the ancient world, one who possesses a notion of one's own superiority reinforces the master-slave morality which Nietzsche hates and rejects.
Furthermore, "many of Nietzsche's examples indicate that self-mastery itself is not the primary goal, but that such self-discipline, and even self-denial, typically aims at some further end, artistry, or virtue" (Higgins and Solomon 2000, 222). Indeed, Nietzsche implies that to know oneself and have mastery over oneself requires one to realize that man is a bridge and not a goal. This "further end" is the Übermensch, and in order for mankind to overcome itself, it must reject the master-slave morality and possess the will to power.
The Nazi Party's Misuse of NietzscheIn 1935, Richard Oehler published his book Friedrich Nietzsche und die deutsche Zukunft, which featured a photograph of Adolf Hitler at the Nietzsche-Archiv in Weimar, staring intently at a bust of the philosopher. Hitler had been elected Chancellor of Germany just two years prior to its publication, and the book provides several fascinating insights that effectively draw Nietzsche together with the Nazi Party. Oehler, a librarian at the Nietzsche-Archiv with close connections to Nietzsche's Nazi sister, published the famous photo in his book, hoping that his readers make such a visual link. Since Hitler did not allow others to photograph or record him without his explicit permission, this photograph from the Nietzsche-Archiv proves that Hitler had "publicly gone on record as having learned something from Nietzsche" (Brinton 1940, 133).
Along with Richard Oehler, Nazi writer Alfred Baümler strove to connect Nietzsche to the Nazis, and for the most part succeeded. In 1931, Baümler published a book about Nietzsche and German politics entitled Nietzsche, Der Philosoph und Politiker. Hitler called Baümler to take a position of professor of philosophy in Berlin shortly after his election, and Baümler's postscripts for Nietzsche's works "were the most convenient and the least expensive and read very widely" (Trans. Kaufmann 1968, 1). His ideas about Niezsche's philosophy and its connection to the Nazi Party were absorbed by a great number of readers both inside and outside of Germany.
The popularity of Nietzsche in Nazi Germany was no mistake; it was a calculated move by German authorities meant to elevate the intellectual credibility of Hitler and the Nazi Party in the eyes of the public. Of course, every good Nazi owned a copy of Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf. Written in the early 1920s while he was imprisoned for a failed attempt to overthrow the German government, Mein Kampf affirmed that Hitler was a very intelligent man, but it simply lacked the literary and philosophical weight of Nietzsche's works. The Nazis decided to include many of Nietzsche's works into their doctrine in order to fill this intellectual gap (Brinton 1940, 134). In fact, the works of Nietzsche became so important to the Nazi Party that Hitler made sure a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra was placed within the base of the Tannenberg Memorial in Poland, along with Mein Kampf, "as a symbol of the invincible German spirit" (Ree 2003).
Crane Brinton, a noted historian of ideas, discussed Oehler's book Friedrich Nietzsche und die deutsche Zukunft at the dawn of the Second World War:
The concept of a new race of Supermen, though Nietzsche himself left it as obscure in form and in detail as are most such eschatological concepts of recent invention, has proved very flattering to an aspiring Nazi élite, who have considered that they were at least making possible the development of a new race of men (Brinton 1940, 138).
It is important to note that not everyone in Germany realized that Hitler was shipping Jews to death camps, performing medical experiments on the mentally handicapped, and otherwise striving to create his version of the Übermensch, or the German "master race." The Schutzstaffel (SS) and Sturmabteilung (SA, or Storm Troopers) were among these élite who were most convinced that this warped version of the Übermensch could be achieved, or that they, along with the Führer, had perhaps already arrived at such a goal.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler penned a chapter aptly entitled "The Strongest Is Mightiest Alone." Here, he criticizes the German working-class citizens who band together, wallow in the injustice that their employers have imposed upon them, and seek to compromise with those in positions of authority in order to achieve better wages and working conditions. He writes, "And thus the folkish state above all will never be created by the compromising will of a folkish working federation, but solely by the iron will of a single movement that has fought its way to the top against all" (Hitler 1971, 517). In other words, Hitler wants any group of pure-blooded German workers to rise up against all injustice and prove to themselves and to others that they are, indeed, a superior race who can fight itself to the top against any obstacles. Of course, in order to inspire the German people that they were superior to all other men, Hitler needed his "means to an end": propaganda.
Now consider the military training of the SS, Hitler's own übermenschen, where "men were instructed in their glorious mission, to create a New Age, a New Order, a New Man and they swore vows which proclaimed their allegiance to an 'irreversible superhuman destiny'"(Taha 2005, 15). Hitler first trained these men to believe that they were the best, and then trained them to propagandize in such a way that the German "folk" would believe that they were also übermenschen; they were also the best, the brightest, and the most superior race. This ideology is what led to the birth of the National Socialist German Workers Party, more commonly known as the Nazi Party. Hitler believed very fervently that this propaganda empowered his people, but in reality it enslaved them and became an ironic manifestation of master-slave morality.
In Friedrich Nietzsche und die deutsche Zukunft, Oehler portrays the Nazi swastika as superseding the Christian cross, which embodies slave morality:
The Cross [Kreuz] as sign against health, beauty, sense, bravery, intellect, kindliness of soul - against Life itself. The Swastika [Hakenkreuz] as sign for health, beauty, sense, bravery, intellect, kindliness of soul - for Life itself (Brinton 1940, 145).
This is, perhaps, the greatest Nietzschean interpretation of the swastika. One of the many reasons Nietzsche despised Christianity is because it lauded a God who willingly suffered, who turned the other cheek, and above all, who could be killed. To Nietzsche, Christ was the incarnation of the cowardly slave morality of the Jews, as well as the incarnation of their hypocrisy. He preached that suffering was the path to righteousness, a notion that the Jews had always loved, and they repaid him by nailing him to the cross. Nietzsche is famous for saying "God is dead," because it is easy to kill a God who is so willing to allow himself to be crucified by his own people, a God who is slave morality incarnate, a God who lacks the will to power, and who is human, all too human (Nietzsche 1989, 35).
The Nazis had a simple answer to this problem: they took the Christian cross, and they broke it at each end. The Cross was a sign of weakness and death, but the swastika was a sign of strength and "overcoming" death. World War II erupted in Germany because the people refused to accept the reparations that the Treaty of Versailles forced upon them after World War I. The German people did not allow themselves to become slaves to the rest of Europe's economy, nor did they allow themselves to look for the good in such slavery. They refused to bear such a cross; instead, they broke it.
However, Nietzsche does not necessarily believe that Christianity is evil in itself, but rather he believes that it has been tainted by its Jewish influences. Nietzsche considers this a disappointing mixing of the races, or in his own words, "a blood-poisoning," claiming that the Jews gave birth to Judeo-Christianity "out of the 'spirit of revenge,'" or the slave morality (Santaniello 1994, 117). So perhaps in the minds of the Nazi élite, destroying the cross was not enough to destroy weakness and slave morality. They must go to the root of the problem and destroy the Jews as well. They must not only wipe out those who practice Judaism, but more importantly those who are ethnically Jewish, even those who do not practice Judaism but have mixed Jewish blood, for these especially are at fault for the weakness of the German people (Hitler 1971, 306).
In Chapter XI of Mein Kampf, Hitler writes that "all great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning," which bears a striking resemblance to the very words of Nietzsche (Hitler 1971, 289). Like Nietzsche, Hitler blames this "blood poisoning" on the Jewish people, whom he describes as a parasitic people who wander from place to place without any real culture, seeking always to sponge up the culture of other races. Hitler even goes so far as to point of the hypocrisy of the Jewish people as expressed by Nietzsche in the first essay of Genealogy of Morals. He asserts that Christ sought to save the Jewish religion when he drove the merchants out of the temple, but "in return, Christ was nailed to the cross, while our present-day party Christians debase themselves to begging for Jewish votes at elections and later try to arrange political swindles with atheistic Jewish parties - and this against their own nation" (Hitler 1971, 307). Nietzsche and Hitler both agree that the Jewish people's own slave morality drove them to crucify the very man who came to save them. The Jews turned against themselves, and as parasites they indoctrinate their hosts with this same hypocrisy and weakness.
The irony is that while the Nazis used Nietzsche to justify their hatred of the Jews, they themselves took part in the same supposed mob-ization of the German people. Hitler himself was an openly staunch supporter of propaganda and indoctrination, claiming that "propaganda in the War was a means to an end, and the end was the struggle for the existence of the German people" (Hitler 1971, 178). He prided himself on his vast discipleship within Germany, even though allegiance to the Nazi Party was required by law. Hitler plastered the swastika on almost every existing edifice in the country, and by 1939 he had made Hitler Youth membership mandatory for all children above age ten (McDonough 1999, 48). Hitler had the German people convinced that such totalitarianism would guarantee their freedom, despite the fact that it clearly oppressed their freedom. While Hitler railed against the Jews for being an oppressed people who wallow in their defeat and embrace their slave morality, he was making his own people into slaves, treating them as if they were his prized cattle, but cattle nonetheless.
The Will to Power
In 1934, Hitler hired Leni Reifenstahl to direct Triumph of the Will, a documentary about the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg that clearly derives its name from the heart of Nietzsche's philosophy. While philosophers have little evidence that Hitler ever read any of Nietzsche's works extensively, it is fair to assert that he was familiar with the will to power. Nietzsche's concept of the will to power sprung from Schopenhauer, to whom Hitler refers in Mein Kampf (Hitler 1971, 305) In one of the most captivating scenes of Triumph of the Will, Hitler walks through a corridor flanked by thousands of SS and SA soldiers with Viktor Lutze and Heinrich Himmler to place a wreath beneath a World War I memorial. Metaphorically, this deed in itself is the triumph of the will. The Nazis came to power after the Treaty of Versailles forced thousands of Germans into unemployment and required the nation to pay war reparations after World War I. The rise of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich showed that, with the help of Hitler, the German people had risen above economic depression and created a superior new Germany. Placing the wreath at the World War I memorial was a shining illustration of this conviction.
Hitler believed that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and the wreath at the memorial proved that Germany had pulled itself up by its bootstraps. Germany's will to power was also a will to create, and they had created the new National Socialist German Workers Party, which helped provide jobs for those whom the Treaty of Versailles had previously put out of work. Germany suddenly became an industrial powerhouse after years of economic turmoil. Hitler said, "Life is will to power, and satisfaction is in eternal self-overcoming" (Taha 2005, 53). According to Hitler, he and the Nazi Party helped to overcome the old, impoverished Germany and create a new, unstoppable superpower.
Nietzsche did consider the human being's creative abilities the source of the will to power, but he certainly would not have approved of Hitler's methods. The Nazi Party relied far too heavily on propaganda for Nietzsche to have ever considered them creative and truly powerful in their own right. While the Nazi Party was a new creation that helped Germany to flourish in some imaginative ways, such as with the creation of Volkswagen automobiles, the propaganda distributed by the Nazi Party limited the ingenuity of the German people as a whole. It prevented them from making their own unbiased and well-informed decisions, and it certainly prohibited many of them from imagining a world without Hitler or the Nazi Party. Perhaps the creation of the Nazi Party in itself was a perfect demonstration of the will to power, but their unflagging propagandizing squashed the creativity of others and more than likely had Nietzsche rolling in his grave.
Nietzsche in WWII-era Superman ComicsThe Origins of the Superman
America's beloved Superman was not always a hero. Jewish teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of the Superman comic hero, published a story for their own Science Fiction magazine in 1933 entitled "The Reign of the Superman," written by Herbert S. Pine. This "Superman" was a bald madman named William Dunn intent on taking over the world, who bore more of a resemblance to the later Superman's archnemesis Lex Luthor than Superman himself. Although this villainous story was much different from the later comics that captured the attention of every American, it contained literary and philosophical elements that continued into the later comics.
Five years after Siegel and Shuster published "The Reign of the Superman," the beloved boy in blue tights appeared this time as a hero in Action Comics #1, published in the spring of 1938. One year after that, well before the United States military even set foot on the European front, Superman began his five-year battle against Hitler and the Nazis. He later helps the United States military drop bombs on the Japanese, whom Superman brazenly refers to as "Japanazis," and makes his debut as "America's secret weapon" (Siegel and Shuster 1943, 4).
In 1938, when the new Superman made his first appearance, Nazi storm troops embarked on Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass." They destroyed hundreds of Jewish stores and synagogues, killing around one-hundred Jews in Germany and injuring hundreds more. Siegel and Shuster created Superman as an answer to this problem, a messiah with evident Jewish origins and an undeniable contempt for Nazi Germany. Superman was an alien from the planet Krypton, and his original name, Kal-El, means "vessel of God" in Hebrew (Weinstein 2006, 27). His story closely mirrors that of Moses in the Bible.
Like Jochebed, who sent her first-born son Moses down the River Nile to avoid his murder in Egypt, Kal-El's parents placed him on a rocket ship for Earth at the dawn of their planet's destruction. Just as Pharaoh's daughter Basya rescued Moses and raised him in her foreign land, Jonathan and Martha Kent found baby Kal-El and raised him as their own in rural Kansas. Moses kept his Hebrew origins a secret for a long time, and Kal-El took the name Clark Kent to disguise his extraordinary powers and alien heritage. Clark Kent worked as a bumbling reporter for The Daily Planet; Moses spoke with a stammer, and often asked his brother Aaron to speak for him (Weinstein 2006, 27). Moses parted the Red Sea and turned his staff into a serpent, while Superman performed miracles of his own, running faster than a locomotive and leaping tall buildings in a single bound.
For children and adults living in the terror of World War II, Superman had the potential to save all of humanity. After all, he had been a child immigrant to the United States, like many of the Jewish children who fled to the United States from Europe on the Kindertransport. While Hitler busied himself stripping Jews of their German citizenship in 1939, Superman traveled to a place almost identical to Nazi Germany to save his love interest, Lois Lane, from a firing squad in Superman #1. Perhaps when he darted in front of that bullet and gazed into the gunpowder explosion surging from the barrel of the rifle, he became like Moses staring into the burning bush, when God said, "And now, go and I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people the children of Israel out of Egypt" (Weinstein 2006, 26).
However, if Superman did lead the children of Israel out of Egypt (or in this case, Germany), he did it at the expense of his own integrity and self-control. During World War II, Superman became, if nothing else, a supremacist, a propagandist, and a warmonger. He fought the Nazis with fists of fury, all the while falling victim to their own ideology and their gross misinterpretation of Nietzsche's philosophy.
For many years, comic book fans have speculated whether Siegel and Shuster studied Nietzsche and incorporated his philosophy into Superman comic books. Generally this theory has been completely dismissed, though it is clear that World War II-era Superman comic books, in particular "The Reign of the Superman" story, contain many of the Nietzschean elements that are often misinterpreted by the public, and especially by the Nazis. The language used in "The Reign of the Superman" is remarkably similar to the language of Nietzsche, whose name was certainly still floating in the air in the early 1930s. In addition, these comic books have provided curious social commentary on race and politics, two issues that were pertinent to Nazi ideology.
For example, the story "The Reign of the Superman" begins in a bread-line during an economic depression that occurs sometime during Prohibition. Professor Smalley, a brilliant chemist with cruel intentions, picks out a vagrant in the bread-line named William Dunn for his latest experiment. He drugs Dunn with an alien chemical, which turns Dunn into a being of superior physical and intellectual strength, and he becomes known as "the Superman." Curiously, the chemical also causes Dunn to lose his hair, a similar fate to that of the later Superman's archnemesis Lex Luthor in Superman #10, published in 1941. Dunn also possesses super-hearing and super-sight, both powers of the later Superman.
William Dunn plans to take over the world by inciting a second world war at a peacemaking conference of the International Conciliatory Council. Here emerges the origin of the racist language that plagues many early Superman comic books:
Chinaman and Jap, Frenchman and Englishman, American and Mexican, all smiled genially at one another. They saw that for the first time in the history of the globe, all races were to be joined into one tremendous, everlasting fraternity (Pine 1933, 7).
Ironically, Siegel and Shuster chose to demean this "tremendous, everlasting fraternity" by using the degrading term "Jap," similar to how the later Superman uses the term "Japanazi." Today, the term "Jap" is considered a serious racial slur, and the use of the term could very well be considered hate speech, ranking upwards with Hitler's use of the term "Jew."
In "The Reign of the Superman," Pine also refers to the will to power, or at least what Hitler and the Nazis might describe as the will to power. Later in the story, a reporter named Forrest Ackerman tracks Dunn down in an attempt to expose his nefarious plan for world domination. Ackerman runs from Dunn's laboratory in fear after discovering a pool of dried blood, but strangely finds himself driving back to the lab after starting his car in the opposite direction. Pine writes that "he had been brought here under the power of the Superman's will" (Pine 1933, 8). However, this "Superman" did not possess the will to power over himself, which Nietzsche intended, although he did possess the will to power over others, like the Nazis and their inane misinterpretation of their preferred philosopher.
Dunn was an Übermensch indeed, just not the Übermensch that Nietzsche proposed. Fortunately, thanks to Ackerman's prayer for "the Omnipotent One to blot out this blaspheming devil," Dunn realizes the wrong that he has done and repents in a truly Judaic fashion, sending himself back into poverty and the bread-line (Pine 1933, 8). There is certainly a moral to this story of "The Reign of the Superman," and although it sends us sailing into the era of World War II Superman comics, it is not without its own bigoted attributes.
Superman #10 is a significant comic first and foremost because it introduces readers to a bald Lex Luthor, which originated with William Dunn in "The Reign of the Superman." However, it is also significant because it focuses on events surrounding the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and it establishes the caped hero Superman as a surprising manifestation of the Nazi vision of Übermensch. The 1936 Olympic Games posed a perfect stage for Hitler to discharge Nazi propaganda on a global scale and uphold German-Aryans as the physically superior "master race." Hitler hired controversial documentary filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl to construct a propaganda film at the Olympic Games, which was released in 1938 under the title Olympia.
In Superman #10, Siegel and Shuster introduce the Man of Steel as "foe of all interests and activities subversive to this country's best interests" (Siegel and Shuster 1941, 52). The story begins with the editor of the Daily Planet dispatching reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane to the Dukalian-American Sports Festival. Dukalia is a fictional country of arrogant Caucasians who believe that they are "superior to any other race or nation," led by a man called Wolff who closely resembles Adolf Hitler (Siegel and Shuster 1941, 53). As soon as Clark is out of sight, he changes into his Superman costume, for he suspects that "this festival is but the front for an organization fomenting un-American activities" (Siegel and Shuster 1941, 53).
Superman takes offense to the supremacy of the Dukalians, exclaiming "Let's see just how superior you really are!" He swoops down from the sky, using his superpowers to show his own American superiority over the Dukalian athletes, once even threatening to break a Dukalian athlete's neck (Siegel and Shuster 1941, 53). In another feat of dramatic irony, Superman rebukes the superiority complex of the Dukalian people by showing off his own anger-fueled superiority complex. This is the moment when "Superman, the literary child of Jews, became on pulp paper what Hitler could not create even on the ashes of millions of flesh-and-blood Jewish children: the ubermensch" (Weinstein 2006, 25).
Like William Dunn in "The Reign of the Superman," the World War II Superman that children loved in comics like Superman #10 was certainly an Übermensch by Nazi standards, although definitely not by Nietzsche's standards. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and comics enthusiast Michael Chabon recognizes the paradoxical villainy of this World War II-era Superman:
There was a sort of irony in the fact that these characters, many whom had in that period, in the Golden Age, evolved to fight the Nazis, were themselves very much in the Nazi ideal. The idea that you can solve problems through physical strength, by being stronger and more dominating, more powerful, that is fascism. That's it. That's the essence of fascism. I don't think the creators of the superheroes or the kids who were reading at the time were the slightest bit aware of it (Hopkins 2005, 11).
Perhaps Superman demonstrates this irony best in Superman #21, when he overhears a Nazi plot to destroy American artillery and takes matters into his own hands. When the opposing forces fire radioactive missiles towards the United States, Superman flies to the rescue and stops the missiles in their tracks, only to turn around and use his super-strength in order to "give the devils a taste of their own destruction" (Siegel and Shuster 1943, 14). As a result of his actions, several buildings are completely destroyed, although there is conveniently zero mention of any casualties. Even if Superman left the civilians or military personnel relatively unharmed, he still committed a violent act of sabotage by means of his superior physical strength. Two years and eleven issues after his superior show of strength at the Dukalian-American Sports Festival, Superman makes yet another hypocritical appearance as the Nazi ideal of the Übermensch.
Although Superman himself became the very manifestation of the Nazi Übermensch, he simply could not seem to escape the slave morality that, as Nietzsche would say, existed inherently within him as a result of his Jewish creators. One might argue that, through use of physical force and domination, Superman sought to overcome the wartime oppression forced onto the American people by external powers, namely the Germans and occasionally the Japanese. However, during World War II Superman was nothing if he was not a propagandist, using his own comic book adventures as a means to the end of uplifting the American spirit and calling it to war, much like Hitler's reasoning for war propaganda in Mein Kampf. These comic books were used for "gathering the herd," as it were; thousands of Americans read as Superman encouraged them to donate money for war bonds, give blood, and recycle materials that could be used in the war effort.
Busts of Hitler stood all over Germany during the Third Reich, and on the cover of Superman #16, Clark Kent basks in the glow of a giant bronze statue that has been erected in his honor in Metropolis. With a smirk on his face, he walks with Lois Lane brimming with pomp and circumstance, obviously proud to be the all-powerful apple of the people's eye. On the cover of Superman #21, the same comic in which Superman flings bombs onto Germany like Zeus tosses lightning bolts, a group of painters busy themselves emblazoning a huge portrait of the Man of Steel onto a city billboard. A few years after the Second World War ended, China's own dictator Mao Zedong seemed to follow after Superman's example, having his face recreated on walls across the country.
In October 1945, TIME magazine published an article in which American Jesuit philosopher Walter J. Ong actually called comic books "a herdist phenomenon" where "everything is centered on one man - the leader, the hero, the duce, the Führer." He pinpoints Superman in particular, claiming that "the Superman of the cartoons is true to his sources he is a super state type of hero, with definite interests in the ideologies of herdist politics [preaching] the cult of force" ("Are Comics Fascist?" 1945). The Nazis, for one, agreed with Ong, albeit for quite a different reason. In April 1940, Hitler's SS published an article about Superman in their weekly newsletter, Das Schwarze Korps. The article accused Siegel and Shuster of pushing their Jewish agenda by defaming the Nazi Party and poisoning the American youth "who don't even notice the poison they swallow daily" (Weinstein 2006, 25).
The Will to Power
Basically, the SS accused Siegel and Shuster of propagandizing, which would have been a fair criticism had the Nazis not been using the exact same herdist tactic. The Nazis used war propaganda to convince Germans that they were part of a superior race, while in comics such as the aforementioned Superman #10, Superman used war propaganda to ascertain that any "un-American activity" was "inferior." Both parties establish a superiority complex, which Nietzsche would despise for making others feel inferior and thus furthering the old master-slave morality.
This is the World War II Superman's will to power, and its flaws are simple, since he is a character who rarely exercises true self-restraint and instead sets out to prove his dominance over others. This is the most common, and the most basic, misinterpretation of what the will to power really is. Perhaps in Superman #21, instead of purposely ricocheting bombs onto a German community, he could have pushed aside the American superiority complex for a day and instead tossed the missiles into outer space where they would have been harmless. Not only would he have been exercising mastery of himself, which Nietzsche would have liked, but he would have also been using his innate talent and gift of super-strength to prevent destruction. Through establishing American superiority and dominance, Superman propagates a master-slave morality and thus squanders any chance of being a true Nietzschean Übermensch.
ConclusionSimply put, the Nazis were not übermenschen, and the comic book Superman is not the Übermensch as far as Nietzsche is concerned. However, the comic book Superman is almost the picture perfect definition of what the Nazis wanted the Übermensch to be, which laces with irony every Superman comic book published between 1938 and 1945. So why did both of these hopeful übermenschen each fail to be the true Übermensch? They each failed for the same reasons: 1) Nietzsche's Übermensch does not strive to maintain dominance over others; 2) since Nietzsche's Übermensch does not strive to maintain dominance over others, it does not promote master-slave morality, and 3) those who seek to dominate others and fail to restrain, control, and master themselves ultimately lack the will to power.
The Nazis used Nietzsche as their intellectual spokesperson because he disliked Jews and referred to the German people in Aryan terms such as "the magnificent blonde brute" (Brinton 1940, 136). However, there are obviously aspects of his philosophy which the Nazis conveniently overlooked. He criticized the German people often, going so far as to call them his "enemies" because "for almost one thousand years, now, they have tangled and confused everything they have laid their hands on" (Brinton 1940, 141). This in itself seems like an uncanny prophesy foretelling that the Nazis will eventually "tangle and confuse" Nietzsche's own philosophy. To make matters worse, Nietzsche goes on to say that "the Jews are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe the Jews could now have the ascendancy, nay, literally the supremacy, over Europe" (Brinton 1940, 143). In other words, the Jews are in a prime position to take over because "a race of such men of ressentiment is bound to become eventually cleverer than any noble race" (Nietzsche 1989, 38).
Hitler admitted this himself in Mein Kampf, writing that "in these long years there was only one who kept up an imperturbable, unflagging fight, and this was the Jew. His Star of David rose higher and higher in proportion as our people's will for self-preservation vanished" (Hitler 1971, 329). It appears that Hitler despised the Jews for the same reasons that Nietzsche admired them, although Nietzsche's negative attitudes towards Jews were based upon "a whole set of prejudices natural to a middle-class German intellectual of that decade" and not raging anti-Semitism (Brinton 1940, 137). Indeed, Nietzsche disliked the Jews for maintaining a slave morality, but he was far from an anti-Semite. Heinrich Haertle, a German author who has traced the Nietzsche-Nazi connection, calls Nietzsche "an anti-anti-Semite" (Brinton 1940, 143). Nietzsche may have disliked the Jews, but he certainly did not hate them; in fact, he hated those who hated them. After all, if one seeks to abolish the slave morality, then it makes no sense to hate a people who thrive on being hated. That will only help the slave morality to flourish.
The Americans helped the slave morality flourish as well, and they managed to do it by turning a Jewish character into a Nazi ideal. In an effort to gather Americans behind the war effort, Siegel and Shuster took to methods of propaganda very similar to those used by the Nazis and turned America's youth into an oblivious herd. Superman did not have the will to power or the will to create; he had the will to destroy and the will to dominate, and the will to continue the master-slave morality. In 1938, when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster dared to call their iniquitous hero "Superman," Friedrich Nietzsche rolled over in his grave. His own German people failed him once during his lifetime and again during the Third Reich, and the American people just rubbed salt in the wound. It looks like poor Nietzsche might just have to wait another hundred years for the coming of his Superman.
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