I'm just a bit too young to recall either Hitler or Stalin in the flesh -- Hilter, of course, didn't survive WWII ("they say"/s) and Stalin was dead before we got us a teevee at our house, so the only time I saw images of them was in the newsreels and the propaganda movies -- which were ubiquitous in those days.
I've written many times about American propaganda in the 1950s-- primarily anti-Communist/anti-Soviet -- but it's hard to imagine what it was like if you weren't there or don't recall living through it. People who have no memories of those days like to think we're living in the most oppressive and propagandized era of American history, and it's just not so. It's laughable, really. Practically every previous era in American history has been worse when it comes to matters of oppression, conformity and propaganda.
That's as may be, and it doesn't mean we are not living in a heavily propagandized, surveilled and controlled society. Of course we are. The point is that, as bad as it is, this isn't the worst of all possible worlds, and it isn't in part because we have so many informational tools -- and the freedom to use them -- which we didn't have in the 1950s and early 60s, and if we have any critical thinking skills at all (sometimes I wonder), we are far more likely to recognize propaganda as such now than we were able to then.
The question is whether we can think critically any more and whether we can ask the right questions when we question authority.
Since the advent of the horror show called The Great and Glorious War on Terror(ism), Americans have once again been immersed in propaganda which has involved some of the most egregious lies and deceptions we've been subjected to in generations, lies and deceptions leading directly to international catastrophe after catastrophe.
One of the recurring features of this propaganda campaign is the declaration that this or that dictator who must be removed is the modern equivalent of Hitler or Stalin, sometimes elided into a hybrid creature: "Hitler-Stalin" or "Stalin-Hitler" depending on whether the Evil One is more Nazi or more Communist.
Right now, the prime candidate to be the modern "Stalin-Hitler" is Vladimir Putin, "dictator" of Russia, aka the "Soviet Union." It's hilarious in some ways. I saw Ray McGovern defending Putin and Russia on DN! last night, but referring to the "Soviet Union" quite unconsciously as if it still existed. People of a certain age do this all the time. They cannot let go of what they were socialized and propagandized to believe in earlier times, and the notion that there is no Soviet Union any more doesn't compute. McGovern ran the Soviet Desk at the CIA under Bush the Old, and even though he didn't see the Soviets as enemies then and he doesn't see Putin as an enemy now, he's unable to let go of the "Soviet" images he was immersed in when time was.
Many anti-Putinists and anti-Russian commentators, especially on the so-called "left," seem more than eager to pretend that Putin is a reincarnation of Stalin who wants to re-constitute the Soviet Union entire or in stages, and his "invasion" of Ukraine is "only the first step." Well except for the others. Before this one. That is.
In fact, there was a fellow droning on and on about this very thing while McGovern was trying to figure out what's wrong with saying "Soviet Union." It was funny and sad at the same time.
As far as I'm concerned, Putin is not Stalin and he's certainly not Hitler. The comparisons and conflations are stupid. The Soviet Union no longer exists, it's gone, and there is no way I know of to reconstitute it, especially given the fact that a) Russia today is far more in sync with its Tsarist predecessor, and b) it is suffused with religious nonsense.
They hide Lenin's Tomb during parades in Red Square, as if the Communist era never happened. That seventy years has been largely erased from Russian history -- except when it is convenient to recall it, typically as something too horrible to believe. There is no going back to Stalin, let alone Lenin. The idea is absurd.
Instead, if anything is a revival in Russia, it is a semblance of the last phase of Tsarist rule, say from Alexander III through Nicolas II as if, somehow, WWI had never happened and the Revolutions that followed had not succeeded.
That's what I see in Russian culture and psychology today. It's imperial, yes, but not at all what our propaganda interests want us to believe it is. It's not Soviet, it's not Fascist. It's royal and imperial, something we haven't seen on the world stage since the collapse of the British Empire.