Political correctness is a leash we snap on to each other’s collars in places where we won’t behave if allowed to run free. I believe in political correctness, especially when it is applied to others and stops people from using words like fag, nigger and paki; stops people from paying women less than they pay men; stops people from telling racist or homophobic jokes; or stops them from throwing away puppies in boxes.

Political correctness can be used with even better results when we use it on ourselves; it’s easier to gauge when our own tie is too tight. I recently had to make an adjustment of my own.

Tiny plastic panda bears wearing caps with swastikas were found in Christmas crackers in Alberta and Ontario, and when the first news article about the Nazi Pandas came out, just after Christmas, my mind was immediately made up. The hair, the mustache, the salute, the hat, the swastika: Nazi Panda.

The next day or so, Martin Walpert, head of Walpert Industries, the cracker-making company in Lachine, Quebec, was doing damage control, and a second round of articles appeared in newspapers. They revealed that in China where the pandas are made, the swastika is a much older symbol and means other things besides Nazism.

I felt badly I had forgotten the swastika was a very old symbol. Before it was a fascist emblem, it was many other things, believed to bring luck, long life and money. I had seen the swastika on books about India, published in the 1800s, long before Hitler tainted it. In Nepal, China, Ireland, it had been a beautiful symbol, a great show of movement and symmetry. It’s been found in excavations in Greek cities, in ancient Rome, on Buddhist idols, on Chinese coins from 315 BCE, in Central America.

I looked again at the small black-and-white newspaper photo of the panda. Maybe that was a ball cap. Maybe that was the pandaâe(TM)s mouth and not a small Hitler mustache. The pandaâe(TM)s arm looked just like the raised paw on a Maneki Neko, the good-luck beckoning cat you see in Chinese restaurants and around town.

Chinese trinket designers might not know about Hitler. A few years ago the Hitler Techno Bar and Cocktail Lounge was opened in Pusan, Korea, by a man who was advised that Hitler was associated with Germany which was the birthplace of beer, and a Nazi decor would therefore sell drinks. He had no idea of Hitler’s atrocities.

Just as I, too, had forgotten. My own narrow focus disappointed me. Martin Walpert had brought out a great reminder. I looked at the bear one more time.

I found a clearer shot of the bear on the Internet, and I was shocked again. In the news photos, the shape of the panda’s cap is indistinct. In colour it’s very clear. The cap is yellow and blue and very definitely a military shape. In news photos, there is a blob on the panda’s chest which could be a pocket or a hankie. In colour, it turns out to be a red ribbon holding a gold medal invisible in the news photos.

I no longer have any doubt. As ancient and wonderful a symbol as the swastika might be, this is a Nazi bear. Walpert is saying that maybe ten of these bears slipped into the shipment to his factory.

Where are the rest going?