Newspapers nowadays carry numerous columnists, whereas once the sole opinion piece was the editorial. I have my favourites, being those demonstrating wit, intelligence and a fresh tangent on events, one such being the Herald's Paul Thomas.
But a fortnight back, he lapsed with a ridiculous condemnation of Dotcom's possession of a signed copy of Mein Kampf. This, he suggested, reflected poorly on Dotcom's character. That was ridiculous. Co-incidentally, shortly before this silly Dotcom beat-up, a news item reported that Mein Kampf was about to be republished in America. As my copy was borrowed some years ago and, like every borrowed book in history, was never returned, I was pleased to read that.
With the rise of Nazi Germany, Churchill warned Mein Kampf deserved intense scrutiny for while no one would have anticipated the Holocaust extremity, Hitler did rant on about the need for a greater Germany through eastward expansion. But I certainly agree with Mussolini's condemnation of it as boring and cliche-ridden.
I had a copy as in its multitude of impacts, WWII was arguably the most momentous event in human history and if Hitler hadn't been born it would not have occurred. So I sought an explanation why the most civilised and civil people in the world succumbed to him. Mein Kampf was not the answer and I doubt it had much impact on Germans. So too, before he was finally rolled, I read Gaddafi's little green book, this aping Mao's little red book, possession of both being de facto compulsory in their respectful nations. Both are rubbish, while the banalities of Gaddafi's meanderings reinforced my never-ceasing amazement at the ability of absolute clowns to gain control of nations.
I'm a book lover, and author-signed copies - of which I have hundreds - are specially treasured.
In the case of the Hitler-signed Mein Kampf, Dotcom has a rare curio and one suspects that if he wasn't German, Paul would not have written as he did.
The fact is, books on Hitler, particularly semi-pictorial ones, sell and sell, he being of enduring fascination to the world, as epitomised by the British university history teachers' association bemoaning at their annual conference a few years ago that so many doctoral students wanted to write their thesis on Hitler.
Every street market and bric-a-bac shop throughout central Europe is crammed with Nazi memorabilia; I suspect much of it newly manufactured. But here's the interesting anomaly. Probably if Dotcom possessed a bust or statuette of Hitler, he'd be history. So why the difference?
In my library there's a heavy brass bust of Stalin, these for sale throughout Russia and eastern Europe. It's a novelty piece sitting adjacent to my Russian section's several dozen Stalin books, including his own turgid output. Likewise a bust of Mao, available throughout China, alongside my Mao biographies. Adjacent to my desk is a cabinet on top having dictionaries, an atlas and my own books, book-ended with a 20cm-high Lenin statuette. All three were evil buggers responsible for millions of deaths and yet all are socially acceptable in the curio sense.
Not long ago in Budapest, I visited an antique and bric-a-bac market and there in the identical alloy and size to my Lenin, and probably from the same factory, was a jackbooted Hitler, perfect for the other bookend. I didn't buy it, knowing the nonsense I'd endure, and there's the anomaly, for somehow it's a step too far. Yet it's acceptable for busloads of tourists to daily stand on the podium in Nuremberg where Hitler's rallies were held and be photographed giving a Nazi salute.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, I was in Mongolia. For six decades the Russians had banned any mention of Genghis Khan but now they were flat out, Genghis Khanning at speed, on their banknotes and everywhere except postage stamps which would be seen abroad. Genghis Khan united Mongolia but his fame, or more accurately infamy, rests on his appalling plundering and murdering for sport across Asia and Eastern Europe. For this he's a hero, which Hitler most certainly isn't in Germany.
Paul's criticism of Dotcom was silly, although not the first time I've encountered such irrational connectivity. Once at a dinner party at a likeable lefty academic's home, I remarked on his having only four of Waugh's novels. "I know," he sighed, "but he was such a shit," which in many ways he was. On another occasion, also a dinner party, I remarked on Greene's latest novel and was promptly condemned by a well-known broadcaster for reading a Catholic writer. Should we not read Sir Vidia Naipaul for his undisguised contempt for what in private he calls niggers? Should we condemn police museums for their macabre collection of murder relics? To do so would reflect closed minds, tantamount to book-burning.