The Modeler's Bane
How Dangerous is the Swastika?
Since 1945 the swastika has been banned in Germany, where symbols, songs, pictures, slogans and even greetings associated with the Hitler era can earn the offender a stiff fine or even a prison term.
Of course the swastika was hardly unique to Third Reich Germany. Centuries before Hitler adopted it as the symbol of his political movement and, later, of the state, it was familiar around the globe. It was used by the ancient Hellenes and Celts, and displayed by North American Indians, while in India it was revered as a sign of good fortune and prosperity. The word itself comes from the Sanskrit for "well-being."
The German government isn't alone in banning the symbol. For some years now, model enthusiasts have noted its conspicuous absence from plastic model airplanes and other Second World War military equipment models made by some of the leading kit model makers.
During the Second World War, the swastika emblem appeared on the tail fins of German aircraft as well as on the battle flag used by German land and naval forces. In northern Africa, vehicles of the famed Afrika Korps bore a special emblem with a palm tree and a swastika.
Often, though, the symbol is missing from models of these items. Some leading kit model manufacturers, including Revell and Lindberg in the US, and Heller in France, apparently banned the swastika from their products as early as the 1950s. (note 1) But until just a few years ago, one could purchase a Hasegawa model of the Messerschmitt Me-109 fighter, or of an Afrika Korps half-track, with a swastika appearing as a matter of course in the decal markings.
In recent years, the symbol seems to have disappeared from more and more model kits, both foreign and domestic, and even from the kit box covers. In the case of Academy Minicraft's Korean-made 1:72 scale model of the Me Bf-109E fighter plane, the tail swastika has been replaced with the black cross (crux quadrata) that routinely appeared on the wings and sides of German war planes.
A model Me-109 fighter plane made by Heller-Airfix-Humbrol (a French-British amalgamation) simply leaves out the swastika symbol altogether. The Airfix company produces a 1:72 scale model German patrol torpedo boat (or "E-boat") with a battle flag in which a First World War Maltese cross replaces the swastika. Certain older model kits produced by the Heller company of France and the Hasegawa company of Japan have been reissued with the swastika marked out. For example, a Hasegawa model kit of a German Afrika Korps vehicle includes a decal emblem with the characteristic palm tree, but with a diamond replacing the swastika.
What's behind this censorship? The Senior Manager of Product Planning for Revell-Monogram, one of the largest US model kit manufacturers has explained that's because "in Germany it is a national law that this insignia can not [sic] be used, for any reason." However, in 1997 Revell-Monogram revised its policy. In response to "many complaints," the company restored the swastika on all model kits destined for the non-German market. (note 2)
These days one can find model kits available with and without the emblem. Thus, during a visit in early 1998 to a large hobby shop in Ohio, one model enthusiast found the following German Second World War aircraft kits: (note 3)
- 1:48 Me Bf 109 -- Revell
- 1:72 Fw 190A-8 -- Revell
- 1:72 Me 262A -- Revell
- 1:72 Me Bf 109G-10 -- Revell
- 1:72 Me Bf 110G-4 -- Revell
- 1:72 He-111 & P-47B -- Lindberg
- 1:72 Me 109G -- Hasegawa
- 1:72 Fw 190A -- Hasegawa
- 1:72 Fw 190D -- Hasegawa
- 1:72 Ar 234 -- Rovex
- 1:48 Me 410B-1 -- Revell
- 1:72 Ar 240C-02 -- Revell
- 1:48 Me Bf 109E-3 -- Hasegawa
- 1:48 Me 262A-1a -- DML
- 1:48 Bf-109G-6 -- Fujimi
- 1:72 Do 335 B-6 -- DML
- 1:48 Me 262A-2a/U2 -- Trimaster
- 1:48 He 111H-22 -- Revell
- 1:48 He 111 -- Revell
- 1:72 Ju 88C-4/C-6 -- AMT/Ertl
- 1:72 Me Bf-109E -- Academy
- 1:72 Me 262B -- Hasegawa
If censoring the swastika emblem from model kits inhibits the resurrection of National Socialism or "fascism," why hasn't a similar ban on authentic markings been imposed on model kits of Second World War Soviet or Japanese aircraft, warships and military vehicles? Perhaps no one believes there's any danger of a resurrection of Soviet Communism or Japanese imperialism.
As a matter of course, models of war-era Soviet "Stormovik" or "Yak" war planes or Soviet naval craft have unabashedly displayed the Communist red star or hammer and sickle emblems, while models of war-era Japanese war planes or naval craft have similarly displayed the battle flag bearing the Imperial rising sun emblem.
Only models of German aircraft, flags and vehicles have been affected by the ban on authentic Second World War markings.
Even more absurd, the double standard censorship isn't confined to swastikas. Recently a Wal-Mart store in Porter, Texas, hastily removed toy German soldiers from its shelves after receiving a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League. The manager of the store abjectly apologized to the powerful Jewish-Zionist organization for having offered the Elite Toy Command Series Field Marshal Erwin Rommel German Soldiers.(note 4)
Amazingly, the passage of time has brought not a lessening but, in general, an increase in such silly suppression. There was less fear and suppression during the first three decades after the end of the Second World War than there is today.
Even in the case of toys, fidelity to historical accuracy is sacrificed on the alter of "political correctness." In these final years of the Twentieth Century, devotion to "democracy" requires such petty distortions of historical authenticity.
1. During a telephone conversation on Nov. 23, 1998, Mr. Jim Sniffen, a buyer for Orange Blossom Hobbies in Miami, Florida, spoke of marketing of kit models going back to 1956. He told Daniel D. Desjardins (of Waynesville, North Carolina) that Revell and Lindberg in the US, and Heller in France, have apparently not used the swastika in their model kits for several decades. An exception is the Revell-Monogram's "Pro Modeler" series. Also, a Heller kit (No. 229) of unknown date owned by Desjardins shows that the company did employ the swastika at one time, but at some later point released this kit with the offending symbol crudely marked out.
2. Letter of April 9, 1998, to Daniel D. Desjardins (Waynesville, N.C.) from Edward F. Sexton, Senior Manager of Product Planning, Revell-Monogram, Inc., Morton Grove, Illinois. Desjardins received no reply to similar letters about the company policy regarding use of the swastika on model kits sent to Hasegawa Seisakusho Company, Ltd. of Japan, to Lindberg Model Company of Toledo, Ohio, and to Heller, S.A., of France. One buyer for a major hobby shop in South Florida suggested to Desjardins that the German government implemented its ban to suppress Nazism, further expressing the view that such a ban was probably both rational and necessary.
3. Lovely Treasures Hobby Shop, Fairborn, Ohio, in early 1998. Note: DML is a Hong Kong company. Fujimi Europa, of Brussels, Belgium, is headquartered in Toro Shizuoka City, Japan. Trimaster company is in Fujieda-City, Sizuoka 426, Japan. AMT/Ertl company is based in Dyersville, Iowa. Rovex is a United Kingdom company. Academy Minicraft is a Korean company. Lindberg is copyrighted by Craft House Corp. of Toledo, Ohio, but is associated with CE Dexim Hobby-Artikel GmbH of Kirchlengern, Germany.
From The Journal of Historical Review, March/April 1999 (Vol. 18, No. 2), page 34.