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Swastika: Good Luck Symbol

Many years ago my Dad was showing me some coins and knick-knacks he had. One item, a token from a 1930-something Boy Scout National Jamboree, caught my attention. On the obverse side of the token was, naturally enough, a picture of a Boy Scout on a horse. On the reverse was a great big swastika. Dad can’t locate the coin now, but it was very similar to the one pictured here, recently posted on ebay:

Boy Scout Token Obverse

Boy Scout Token Obverse

Boy Scout Token Reverse

Boy Scout Token Reverse

What was the symbol of Nazi Germany doing on a Boy Scout token? Well, with a little reflection one realizes that the token pre-dates the prominence of the Nazi Party. Looking closely at the token, you’ll see other good luck symbols: a four-leaf clover, horseshoe, wishbone, and something I can’t make out. (Anybody know what that is?) Actually, the swastika has been a symbol of good luck, happiness and prosperity to a number of Eastern, Western and Native American cultures. [1]
Apache Basket

Apache Basket, Glen Isle Resort

At left is an Apache basket I recently photographed, part of the collection of Native American artifacts at the historic Glen Isle resort in Colorado.
Picture of Navaho Man, Miramont Castle

Picture of Navaho Man, Miramont Castle

Another example I recently came across is this picture of a Navaho man, hanging in the Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs, Colorado. The caption states the symbol means “rolling log” in Navaho culture. Not sure why that would be at the top of this picture. Check out the amazing variety of cultures that have used this symbol over the centuries on this page. It’s use dates back thousands of years, but so great was the tragedy inflicted on the human race by the Nazis that the good luck symbol they adopted for their party emblem is now in most Western cultures seen exclusively in its role as the emblem of the Nazi party and more recently, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. In Germany, the swastika is illegal to display as a symbol of “unconstitutional organizations”, a law enacted as part of that country’s denazification efforts following World War II. [2]
Catalog Image of Bf-109E with Swastika Replaced by Diamond

Catalog Image of Bf-109 with Swastika Replaced by Diamond

Restored Bf-109E with Swastika on Tail

Restored Bf-109E with Swastika on Tail

Restored BF-109E in Germany, no Swastika

Restored BF-109E in Germany, no Swastika

To take an example of how strong the stigma is and how difficult it seems to be for our culture to deal with it, let’s look at three representations of a classic Luftwaffe fighter, the Messerschmitt Bf-109E. Model airplane kit builders see advertisements for Luftwaffe aircraft model kits with the tail emblem blotted out, morphed into a big black diamond, eliminated or replaced with the black cross of the wing and fuselage insignia. (Hopefully the swastika decal is still in the kit for those who can handle authenticity.)
Even more amazing to me is to see full-size restorations and replicas of Luftwaffe aircraft with no swastika on the tail. Normally, aircraft restorers have an overriding passion for historical accuracy, but the quest for absolute authenticity apparently can’t always compete with the swastika’s stigma in Western culture. The sample Messerschmitt Bf-109E with the swastika shown correctly on the tail was flown in the Yankee Air Museum Airshow 2005. The restoration shown with no Swastika on the tail appears on a .eu (European) Web site. The aversion to even acknowledging the swastika in an historical context is not universal. The swastika continues to be used in its original positive context in Eastern cultures, but its stigmatization in the West prevents us from thinking of the symbol in anything but the “Nazi” context.

Vox’ Take: In some places, “political correctness” has trumped historical truth. That’s a shame. I think it would be very hard for most of us in Western cultures to ever think of the swastika in the positive context it once held, but I don’t think it helps to pretend it never existed. To understand history, we need to always look at the unvarnished truth.

Sources:
[1] Swastika and Cross, Swami B.G. Narasingha
[2] Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, Wikipedia
[3] Swastika, Wikipedia

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