Conflict is defined as, “ Friction or opposition resulting from actual or perceived differences or incompatibilities.”(Business Dictionary 2016) The main component of conflict, the actual and perceived differences and incompatibilities, are a naturally occurring effect of human learning through experience. Therefore, how different groups view historical events of conflict is greatly determined by their cultural views. Major cultural differences in language, visual representations, and silence can change the outcome of ones perception of a historical event and the narrative regarding the conflict. The effect of these differences can be displayed when looking at the history and current use of the Swastika.
Language can be seen as playing a large part in the transformation of the swastika’s image by different groups over time. Originally, swastika was a word meaning, good luck, or well being, from the language of Sanskrit. The negative view of this symbol was the effect of the German language after World War I which interpreted this definition to mean pure. The people living within German culture would then grow to know the swastika as a symbol of purity, further in history relating it to their cultural idea of an entirely Aryan state. It was this difference in learned definition and association by the German community which can explain how the symbol ended up representing the evil Nazi party while the rest of the world viewed it as a symbol of good will.
Different cultural interpretation of visual representations of the swastika can change the conflict narrative regarding the symbol. In the United States people generally view any image of the swastika as bad or evil. This is due to the fact that we learned from our culture that the symbol is a negative image representing the Nazi party, and nothing else. On the other hand, in Asia, the swastika is still widely used, this is due to the different visual representation of the symbol learned by their culture. The swastika has been a common symbol in Asian culture far before the time of the Nazi’s use of the symbol to represent Aryan purity. This symbol is experienced and learned in Asia by its original definition, good will, so it does not have a negative meaning in their culture unless it is displayed in certain ways. If displayed in the iconic way that the Nazi party branded the symbol, within their flag with a red background, white circle and the partially sideways bold swastika, the symbol would not be recognized as the swastika but as the Nazi flag. This difference in visual representation can cause conflicting narratives about the symbol, a person from the U.S. may be very offended or surprised when visiting Asia to see the swastika symbol so prominent in everyday life.
Silences play a main part in this conflict of narrative. In the U.S. the swastika was first documented and used as the proper definition, good will. Companies produced advertisements with the image on it, viewed with positive meaning, any negative connotation was non-existent as it had not been learned yet. Following the adoption of the image by the Nazi party the proper definition in the U.S. was lost. History changed the significance of the original narrative, this is because, in the U.S., there was no deep connection to the symbol, or facts from the current history to sustain it. The United State’s redefined history following the Nazi parties fall shaped a new deeply rooted cultural meaning of the symbol, that is opposite from other narratives.
The history of the swastika and its use is a great representation of how narratives of conflict are affected by language, visual representations and silences. The symbol is viewed in many different ways, by different cultures, which is due to differences in perception, based on learning experiences, from the select culture. People understand through the cultural lens they were born into.
Black, J. (2014, February 6). The symbol of the Swastika and its 12,000-year-old history. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/symbol-swastika-and-its-12000-year-old-history-001312
Business Dictionary. (2016). Conflict [Def. 1]. In Business Dictionary. Retrieved July 11, 2016.
Campion, M. J. (2014, October 23). How the world loved the swastika – until Hitler stole it. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29644591
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (2016, July 02). History of the Swastika. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007453