The despicable U-Boat watch.

The conventional wisdom debunked.
Dec. 15 2006 6:15 PM

Mr. Hitler, Do You Have the Time?

The despicable U-Boat watch.

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So, I can understand that one man's historical artifact is another man's sheer horror. Still, I wonder how anyone could stand having an Andy Warhol silk screen of Mao Zedong on the wall. Warhol executed it back in 1971 to 1972 and it goes for a pretty penny nowadays—$17.4 million, at Christie's just this year. Warhol was a political dunce and probably when he did his Mao screen, he was unaware that the man was not merely Mother Jones in drag, but a genuine ogre who was personally responsible for the deaths of millions—with millions more to come in the nearly incomprehensible Cultural Revolution. Beyond that, and just for the record, he was a slob—unwashed, unkempt, and a serial deflowerer of smilingly reluctant young girls. There is no way I can look at Warhol's Mao and not think of these things and wonder if any of the people who own one are familiar with Mao's history. Would they own a Warhol Hitler print, if he had done one? How about an early Pol Pot, in profile, of course?

Clearly, I am some sort of fuddy-duddy. The U-Boat watch, created by Italo Fontana, apparently sells well enough for it to go for almost $3,000. But, just as clearly, the name resonates with the people who buy the watch—otherwise, why not call it the Nautilus or the Calypso Sun? That is the part that bothers me—they accept the watch on the same amoral terms as those who ran the U-boats themselves—self-described brave men working at the tough business of war and not, in their own turtle-necked-Das Boot way, complicit in the deaths of millions. The people who buy a U-Boat are a special sort. They can spend thousands on a watch but, fundamentally, they cannot tell you the time of day.

Richard Cohen is a columnist for the Washington Post.