The Complicated History of the Swastika

Choose to be kind.

I’m going to say, right out of the gate, that when I see a swastika, I see hate, intolerance, antisemitism, death, aggression, intimidation, and terror. You will never see me put a swastika on anything, and if I see one, I’ll do my utmost to have it removed, because it triggers and disrespects people. Full stop.

But according to Wikipedia, until this symbol was coopted by the Nazis in 1930’s, it was meant to convey well-being, auspiciousness, prosperity and good luck in many cultures all around the world. You often see it on Hindu wedding invitations to this day. It’s also used in Buddhist and Jain ceremonies. Even the Navajo used it as a symbol of good luck, but they stopped doing so after World War II.

So, to add to their many unspeakable atrocities, the Nazis took a positive symbol and twisted it into something despicable and evil for so many of us. It’s not right and it’s not fair. But the fact remains.

Read that sentence again. The fact remains.

You might have the best of intentions when you use a swastika. You might be the most mild-mannered, hate-free, albeit clueless person on earth. But it doesn’t matter and it can’t matter, because the symbol has been corrupted, with a few extremely limited cultural exceptions, and it therefore should not be used by anyone, aside from of those exceptions, who cares about the people who may see it. It’s called common decency and consideration.

The reason this is on my mind at the moment is that I just read an article entitled, “Swastikas in the raiments create an uproar among Society for Creative Anachronism fans.”

It seems that the new king and queen of the west coast kingdom wore swastikas during their coronation. This society does living history and cosplay from medieval times, and claims to welcome everyone who wants to participate, regardless of race or creed. Their royal highnesses say they meant no harm, and that they were restoring the symbol to its former historically benevolent meaning.

But in real life, the guy is a police officer in Nevada. He knows all about hate symbols and the harm they can cause. So I’m not buying it, frankly.

And even if I’m wrong, even if these people are as innocent as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, what they did was inappropriate. They could have used any other design in the world for their stoles, but they picked this one above all others. I’m glad they apologized and abdicated their thrones. That’s the very least they could have done.

It seems like a no-brainer to me. If there’s any doubt that your behavior might harm anyone, even if it’s “just” emotionally, then don’t do that thing. Just don’t. Choose to be kind.

So now I’m left with figuring out what image to pair up with this post. The post is about swastikas, so you might assume I’d choose a swastika. But see the paragraph above. I’m not out to hurt anyone. So no. Instead I’m going to find something that symbolizes the very opposite of what hate groups have done to the swastika. Because I want to be a force for good.

Stick that on your stole.

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

4 thoughts on “The Complicated History of the Swastika”

  1. Saw a report that extremist hate groups use of the American flag is altering some peoples view of it as a positive symbol. They are hesitant to display it because it might send the message that they support right wing extremist views. Symbols have the power to convey a deep emotional meaning and message to the masses. We need to be more conscious of their power to spread an evil message. The Nazis appropriated the Swastika by rotating it by 45 degrees. Todays hate groups use multiple variations of our flag to signify their twisted agendas. Better take back our flag before it goes the way of the Swastika. If we allow hate to rewrite our history and desecrate our positive symbols, then we will have learned nothing from the holocaust. Here’s some positive symbols Maybe we should add a symbol of unity to our flag to strengthen it’s positive aspects.

      1. Hate born of suspicions, superstitions and unresolved guilt and fear. When aliens come and divert those fears off of humanity and onto them, (the ultimate foreign threat),,they’ll probably squash us like insignificant bugs. Up side…No more symbols of fear or hate. Down side…no more love.😪 That’s !!!

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