Will Smith — the Hitler flap

Posted on January 2, 2008 at 2:49 pm

It is a shame that Will Smith’s reasonable comments have been taken out of context and he has been forced to apologize.
Here is what he said:

Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today.’ I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming. I wake up every day full of hope, positive that every day is going to be better than yesterday. And I’m looking to infect people with my positivity. I think I can start an epidemic.

I hope he still thinks so. What he was saying is that even people who inflict great evil on the world usually believe that what they are doing is right. Recognizing that is an essential element of understanding the nature of evil and how to prevent it. No one who understood Smith’s point — or who has ever spent five minutes observing his behavior — could imagine he was in any way endorsing Hitler’s actions. Tim Gordon, as usual, has it right: “this is a situation where an actor gave an opinion and the interviewer twisted the context only after he received an answer that left room for further interpretation.”

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8 Replies to “Will Smith — the Hitler flap”

  1. I’ve been a lurker at an Israeli blog for over a year. She’s just an average blogger, commenting personally on life mostly. She did rebuke Smith for his original comment, but forgave him upon his clarification.
    One thing I’ve learned from her blog is that she, and I’m assuming she’s not alone among Israelis, is VERY sensitive to any news article that could be any way construed as being anti-semitic or anti-Israel. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that Israel is one of the most P.R. conscious countries there is.

  2. I think the Smith situation hurts everyone. Actors will be less forthcoming in interviews because they realize anything even remotely complex could be misconstrued, and the public’s opinion of journalists drops another notch (how low can it go?). And this whole ‘gotcha’ game is exhausting, although it’s more often reserved for politicians who don’t say precisely the right thing.

  3. Thanks, Big Dave. I think that one of the consequences of an attempt to wipe out an entire culture is a certain level of sensitivity, especially given the current instability in that region. It is easy to think that your side of the story is not getting out.
    And thanks to you, too, Christian. I share your concern that everyone in the public eye will just stick to the script from now on. That’s frustrating for us as journalists, but it is a real threat to genuine insight and oversight as well.

  4. I think that Big Dave’s Israeli blogger does herself and the Jewish cause a big disservice with this kind of reaction. She blurs distinctions that were once important, and causes people to view Jews as unreasonable and hypersensitive on these issues. It is bad enough that hypersensitive muslims scream over the slightest perceived indignity in a political cartoon. (Remember the school teacher who was just sentenced to jail because her young class named a teddy bear after Mohammed?) I would think Jews would want to draw a bright line between that kind of behavior and their own.

  5. Reminds me of what Albert Ellis, himself a secular Jew, said about Hitler: “I was willing to go to war to knock him off, but I didn’t hate him. I hated what he was doing.” If only more people thought like that.

  6. Thank you Iorek. It sounds like Big Dave’s blogger had the same reaction as the Anti-Defamation League and Tim Gordon’s blog — she accepted Smith’s apology. So that does not seem overly strident.
    And thank you for a wonderfully inspiring quote, Yarvin. It reminds me of Gandhi’s direction to “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” which is often quoted by Christians.
    Last October, a blog called The Anchoress quoted one of my favorite stories from Leo Rosten’s great book People I have Loved, Known, or Admired:
    Lord de l’Isle and Dudley, about whom I know nothing except this (but what a this it is!): In England, after the war, he organized a legal defense fund for German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, who was being tried as a war criminal.
    You can imagine how many eyebrows were raised in London’s clubs when this was announced…
    When reporters asked Lord de l’Isle and Dudley to explain why he had launched this puzzling philanthropy, he replied: Had I met General von Manstein during the war, I would have shot him on sight.” Pause. Muttered “Hear, hear!”s of approval within the press. “I am not concerned with whether Manstein is guilty or note,” milord continued. “I simply want enough money to insure that he will be properly represented in his trial, by a British barrister…I want Britain’s reputation upheld.”
    He wanted England never to have anything to be ashamed of.

    I love that story.
    And I love The Anchoress’ quote from Michael Dukakis during his Presidential run, when he had the opportunity to jump on an opponent who had misspoken.
    Asked by the press what he thought of the remark in question, Dukakis responded, [paraphrased] “I don’t think it’s a big deal; we all misspeak sometimes. Sometimes we say one thing and mean something else. I think we should let it go.” I thought, then, that he was correct and had made a classy response meant to keep focus on issues rather than foibles, and I was proud of him and proud to be a Democrat. The “politics of personal destruction” did not seem to exist back then.

  7. I agree people think they are right even when they are doing wrong. I would extend the principle to say that those who never doubt, never question their beliefs and actions are capable of commiting the greatest evil.
    Yet, conversely and perversely, it is these totally committed people who attract the masses who are unsure of their own beliefs and looking for a strong leader. Hitler not only believed he was right, he never doubted once in his righteousness.
    One of the great principles of my life…and one I am sorely reminded of every winter…is “Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” That and “There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of destruction” are bumper stickers those who prefer their beliefs in convenient epigrams should have pasted on their backsides.

  8. Thanks so much Philip for a very thoughtful comment and for those wonderful quotes. A good reminder for all of us.

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