The Nazi Logo and the Swastika

swastika swaskika2

The image discussed in this blog is the Swastika, also known by such names as Flyfot, Hakenkreuz, Gammadion, etc. The swastika is an ornamental form of a cross, with each of its arms equal in length, protruding at right angles in a clockwise direction. It’s a twisting shape of interlocking right angled, four prong arms. Without considering the inner white spaces, the four black arms form a perfect square. The logo incorporates other elements like the white circle into which the swastika is centrally placed diagonally to form a diamond shape. White spaces between the interlocking arms form rectangles that are slightly wider than the width of the arms. The black swastika and white circle are centrally placed inside a bright red rectangle whose length is slightly longer than its height. This was the emblem of the National Socialist Workers Party (Nationalsozialisten) abbreviated Nazi.

This political logo was designed by none other than Adolf Hitler when he was put in charge of the fledgling party in 1920. Aware of the need to unite the party and nation around a strong visual symbol, Hitler sought out something that would resonate with the people. Germany was reeling from blows inflicted by war and badly needed reassurance. The answer came in an ancient good-luck insignia.

Until then, the swastika had existed for over five thousand years and was well-recognized as a good fortune symbol around the world. To be certain, it’s still a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and other eastern religions. To create a logo for the Nazi party, Hitler appropriated the swastika. Not only did disenfranchised Germans need good fortune going forward after the great war, they needed an easily recognizable symbol to rally around. Also refereed as the “hooked cross”, the swastika is believed to have been used in Neolithic Eurasia.

According to Nazi theory, the Aryan nomads of India had used the swastika in the Second Millennium B.C, and Nazis thought themselves to belong in that ancestry. It’s difficult to make the connection, but Hitler somehow decided the swastika had been eternally anti-Semitic. Elimination of Jews became the clarion cry, a means of achieving ‘racial hygiene’. Transforming a symbol of good luck into one of evil, Hitler projected frustrations of his country towards innocent victims.

Firstly, propaganda was calculated to woo unemployed workers. Economic woes of post war Germany were blamed on Jews. Whoever was responsible for economic hardships was Germany’s enemy and needed to be dealt with ruthlessly. Anti-Semitic notions quickly caught on among unemployed middle class workers. The Nazi logo elicited more hypnotic barbarity than WWI propaganda posters. Adrenalin was high among Hitler’s followers. The Nazi logo seemed to evoke a sense of power and direction. It was bloodbath for the perceived enemy, resulting in the slaughter of an estimated six million Jews!

In his book Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler himself summarizes both the swastika and the philosophy embodied in its composition and design. “In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the Nationalist idea, and in the swastika the vision of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man.” Previously, the swastika was symbolic of the sun’s movement. A day is the space between sunrise and sunset, a period that provides new opportunities. In Hitler’s usage, the new opportunity was to destroy a perceived enemy in order for one ethnic community to achieve its economic goals.

The Nazi logo is arguably the most dreadful and nauseating symbol of the Twentieth Century. It’s impossible to look at it without conjuring up the dreadful holocaust of WWII. It should serve as a teaching aid on the power of symbols, of graphic design, and indeed of the printed page. Designers and artists should be aware of these realities and tread carefully to ensure artworks don’t evolve into devouring ogres.

Sources

“Adolf Hitler Biography Military Leader, Dictator (1889–1945).” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Holocaust Memorial Council, 02 July 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

“MEIN KAMPF by Adolf Hitler: Volume 2, Chapter 7 – The Struggle with the Red Front.” MEIN KAMPF by Adolf Hitler: Volume 2, Chapter 7 – The Struggle with the Red Front. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

“The Swastika: A Sign of Good Luck Becomes a Symbol of Evil.” Holocaust Teacher Resource Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

 

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Keep Calm and Carry On

170px-keep-calm-and-carry-on-scan“KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON” was a poster design originally created in 1939 as a series of three motivational posters from the British Government’s Ministry of Information, in order to boost public morale during WWII. The poster was printed in a run of 2.5 million copies, but the government deferred them to storage for use after a potential air raid, and they were never actually hung or distributed. After 1945, all of the prints in storage were destroyed to make pulp (for new paper) and very few of these original prints remain. This design only became an icon of popular culture more recently, when the design was rediscovered, and redistributed on a worldwide scale in the early 2000’s. This image has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that you have probably already seen it printed somewhere on something today. Although Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd. holds a trademark for this exact slogan, the slogan and graphic style have been countlessly replicated, parodied and imitated since the original design’s resurgence in popularity.

The poster design features a bright red background, and the slogan “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON” is printed down the majority of the page in a bold, sans serif typeface. Each word sits on its own line, and the text maintains the same point size throughout, aside from the conjunction “AND,“ which sits in-between the other four lines at half the point size. The leading is consistent between all five lines of text, although the letter spacing is a little sloppy. The Tudor Crown, an emblem of the British State, sits on top of the text in the upper middle portion of the composition, as if it is resting on the head of the two EE’s in “KEEP.” The text is centered, and the O’s and C’s have very rounded letterforms. The crown icon and text are white against the bright red background, resulting in a highly contrasting image.

This poster is really interesting because it can be discussed in terms of significance and effectiveness in design from two separate eras in graphic design history: first from its origin as a piece of British propaganda from WWII, and then again with its resurgence and widely appropriated design as a quintessential piece of the postmodern era. Although this design was never utilized for its original purpose, the poster falls in line with typical agitprop of Britain’s WWII poster design. In the event of a catastrophic air raid, the poster was intended to send a message of reassurance from the government to the public, while bolstering loyalty to the crown. Through the message “keep calm and carry on,” the government was urging citizens to remain calm, complacent, and loyal to the crown amidst the atrocities of war. The crown is literally placed on top of the text, and the shape of the text on the page creates a form that alludes to a British soldier. The bright red background also associates with the red uniforms and stoic resilience of the royal army. Although the Ministry of Information toned down their messages a bit after WWI, the other posters of this series were still criticized by the public as sounding manipulative, or patronizing, and were not favorably received.

When a surviving original poster was rediscovered in an old bookstore in London, it became so popular that the “Keep Calm and Carry On” design has come to resemble what is quintessentially British. In the true spirit of postmodernism, this historical design was rehashed, parodied, and used commercially out of its original context with great success. The slogan and Tudor Crown combination have been appropriated for countless other applications. I believe the design is effective today because it still represents the idealized British character and renowned regalia of the British military, but with a more light-hearted sentiment due to its context and commercialization. Today, people can buy this message on a tote or coffee mug on their own free will at retail outlets worldwide.

 

Fowler, Brittany. “Brits May Roll Their Eyes at ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ – but Here’s Why They Secretly Love It.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 23 June 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. <http://www.businessinsider.com/the-surprising-history-of-keep-calm-and-carry-on-2015-6&gt;.

Hatherley, Owen. “Keep Calm and Carry On – the Sinister Message behind the Slogan That Seduced the Nation.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 08 Jan. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/08/keep-calm-and-carry-on-posters-austerity-ubiquity-sinister-implications&gt;.

“Keep Calm and Carry On.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Nov. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On&gt;.