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What Hitler's Supposedly Tiny, Deformed Dick Tells Us About How We View Evil

It's all too easy to blame the Führer's messed-up junk for the Third Reich.
Hitler with a phallic monument

According to a book by the respected historians Jonathan Mayo and Emma Cragie, Adolf Hitler may have had a tiny, deformed penis and only one testicle. This has made the news, but at first, it's hard to see why. Because you knew, didn't you? You always knew. Somewhere in the deep crevices in the back of your mind you've been keeping the incontestable truth that Hitler's dick was tiny and probably kind of weird; it's one of those natural axioms that seems built in to the structure of reality. Shoplifting is basically legal if you don't get caught, Australians are grown in a vat under the bars of chain pubs, your friends all secretly hate you, and Hitler had something seriously wrong with his genitals.


It's even in that old British Army marching song: "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball." How did they know? Had they seen it? They didn't need to: It's just so obvious. Look at how strange the guy was. That fussy little mustache; it's clearly just a mirror. His weird hand gestures, or the those strange baggy jodhpurs he had everyone wear. His furious desire to conquer Europe. This is not a man who had everything to industry standard between his legs. And it's a comforting idea: Messed-up people have messed-up ideas. The world is basically a good place, except for the men with small penises.

Of course, it's not just Hitler. Everyone knows—without any evidence except its bright, searing, tautologous truth—that Donald Trump's is probably miniature. (The cartoonist Eli Valley, for instance, captured this axiom perfectly.) What kind of person goes about erecting big gaudy skyscrapers, and then puts his own name on them, in letters 12 feet tall? You don't need Jacques Lacan to tell you that the signifier is always a replacement for the potency of an absent phallus; just go anywhere in Chicago, and look upwards. This stuff is always funny; it's the same kind of bitter humor with which you look at some idiot with 5,000 times as much money as you have, tearing through town in his Lamborghini, and decide that he's compensating for something.

In 2007, a list started doing the rounds online, purporting to describe every rapper the writer and video model Karrine Steffans said she had slept with, and what their dicks were like. And it all made perfect sense: Of course, Big Boi from OutKast is "bigger and fatter," while Andre 3000 is "long and slim." You can play the same game with politicians, if you want: It's possible to assume with some certainty that Tony Blair's is sleek, streamlined, and revolting, like a single strand of spaghetti, It's possible to assume that George W. Bush's is a perfect cube, that David Cameron's smells of frying bacon. It's a strange way of humanizing them, pulling away their universalist pretensions, like the pornographic satires of the French Revolution, or the inherent republicanism in the fact that sometimes the Queen of England has to use the toilet like everyone else.


Funny as it is, though, this is not good historical practice. So Emma Cragie, one of the book's authors, was forced to give an interview with the Independent in which she clarified that the records only show that Hitler's urethra was placed somewhere on the shaft of his penis, not that the thing itself was necessarily any smaller than usual. For all we know, it was huge. This arrangement, known as hypospadias, is described in the book as a "rare condition," but it's actually relatively common: One in 300 men are affected, and there aren't currently millions of people plotting to seize the German state and take over the world. All this is very sensible, but it looks like a strange and incredible spectacle: a Carnegie-nominated author publicly defending Adolf Hitler from the accusation that he had a tiny dick.

We want to believe. This is why just about every newspaper in the country ran headlines on Adolf Hitler's micropenis, even though the claim wasn't even in the book. Never mind the Hitler's gonads, what does this particular fantasy say about the world we're living in right now? There's something Disney-ish about it. The bad guys are bad because they're deformed; you can spot the villain by his scarred face or the warts on her nose. If Nazism is just a function of Hitler's bad dick, all the thousands of perfectly normal people who willingly took part in the mass exterminations are written out of the picture. (And that's how a worrying amount of the folk understanding of the Third Reich goes: A man had hateful ideas, and others were swept up in them; Nazism is decoupled from its base in class society and the state.)

To overanalyze: As Jacques Derrida argued, the history of Western metaphysics can be seen as the persistence of an ontology of "pure presence," a total and complete being that's closely tied up with the unity of the penis—this is why Derrida's term for it was "phallogocentrism." The micropenis is a defacement or a diminishment of this pure presence; in other words, a disruption of phallic coherence that can be coded as evil.

But that's not the world that faces us today. Evil is everywhere, dispersed and omnipresent—not just in the banks and the government; the food you buy is evil, your clothes are exploiting Bangladeshi children, your phone is fueling wars in Africa and sending workers jumping off the roofs of their factories. You might be evil. It's hard to tell. There is no coherence whatsoever. But Hitler's tiny dick helps solve that problem: It localizes all the fracture and confusion of existence into one damaged object. That mad, dizzying ethical circus we're all trying to push our way through coalesces into something clean and simple, where evil can be identified by its physical traits. But in the end, this is very dangerous. Spend too long thinking like this, and you'll end up concluding that a complete, healthy body is good, and any ugly, broken, or deformed body is a pollutant that needs to be got rid of. And who else had ideas like that?

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