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Apr 19 2010

How inaccurate Nazi comparisons fuel anti-Semitism

It will definitely not be among my most controversial statements to say that Adolf Hitler was a bad person. It will similarly be unobjectionable to say that Nazi-ism is and was a deplorable and horrifying philosophy and practice. No-one aside from the handful of anti-Semitic nutjobs who deny the Holocaust believe that Hitler or Nazis are a positive force in the world.

However, in colloquial parlance, Nazis and Hitler are bandied about so wildly inaccurately that we’ve lost sight of why they are bad. Let’s take a look at the philosophy of Nazi Germany under Hitler:

  • Totalitarian regime
  • Advocated the mass slaughter of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Catholics, mentally and physically disabled
  • Practiced ghettoization of ‘undesirable’ members of society
  • Preached a doctrine of race chauvinism, with the intent of the destruction of all but the racially “pure”
  • Attempted to spread this doctrine by force across the entire world

This is not good stuff. Nothing on this list can be counted as a positive trait. Any movement that seeks the mass slaughter of people based on a doctrine of chauvinism and is spread by force of arms should rightly be compared to Hitler and the Nazis. It is absolutely right to draw comparisons between such practices and the horrors of the Holocaust.

You know where it’s not right? When talking about health care.

President Hitler signed a shockingly similar bill with similar tactics used to get it signed….threats,  harassment,  false promises,  intimidation, invented crises.  Gee….did Obama take lessons from Hitler?

Excuse me, WHAT? Dr. Laurie Roth seems to think that using unethical political tactics (and I’m not saying I agree even with this characterization) to sign policies into law is tantamount to being in league with Hitler.

First of all, understand Hitler was a brilliant, charismatic speaker who said things in style, lied through his teeth and manipulated whatever he had to, to get a vote and power…

Obama also seduced 60% of the nation, congress and most the media into not asking real questions and just believing his countless lies.

Hitler wore black socks. Obama has been photographed WEARING BLACK SOCKS! The similarities abound.

The question here that must be asked is as follows: is Obama similar to Hitler in any of the characteristics that are important? Namely, is he (openly or covertly) advocating the mass murder of a group of people based on ethnic or political affiliation? Is he declaring an expansionist war agenda in order to accomplish said mass murder? Is he jailing and shipping off political dissident groups to internment camps? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then I think your trial separation with reality has gone on long enough and you should just file the divorce papers already. If you answered ‘no’, then the question becomes whether or not the comparison to Obama is a fair one, or if you’re just using the spectre of Hitler and the Holocaust as a cheap and frankly tactless way of manipulating the emotions of your audience.

And before we get too smug here on the left side of the aisle, shall I remind you of the anti-Iraq-war protests of only a few years ago? Ringo remembers.

It seems as though we’ve taken the above description of Hitler and the Nazis and boiled it down to the first bullet point: Nazi = totalitarian regime. While nobody would suggest that totalitarian regimes are good, that’s not the only reason why Nazi-ism was so horrible; it’s not even the primary reason why Nazi-ism was so horrible. Look down the list – forced imprisonment, genocide, unjust war-making, all fueled by an underlying racist doctrine. The atrocities committed by the Nazis under Hitler were the worst that the developed world had ever seen, and possibly the worst in all of history.

It does disservice to the memory of the millions of people who have died at the hands of the Nazi philosophy to trivialize its inherent ugliness as mere totalitarianism. Most feudal monarchies were totalitarian, but many positive things came out of them. There are admittedly few examples of totalitarian regimes that were good for the world, but much fewer are the examples that can be aptly compared to Nazi-ism – perhaps Russia under Stalin, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan, and even these last few are not at the hands of totalitarian rule but of brutal military rule.

Taking a handful of characteristics, out of context, from the Nazis or Hitler, finding similarities to modern events and then forging specious equivalence between those events and the Nazi philosophy is belligerent intellectual dishonesty. Worse than that, however, is the fact that as the word “Nazi” gets applied to everything under the sun that one person or another doesn’t particularly like, the real meaning and context becomes diluted. The consequence of this is that we begin to forget the dark scourge of anti-Semitism that allowed such a philosophy to propagate on a global scale. As I showcased recently, anti-Semitism is still alive and well both internationally and here in Canada. It doesn’t need to be helped by down-playing the horror of its history.

It seems appropriate at this point to say something about anti-Semitism. I have no particular allegiance to any religious group; I find them all distasteful at best, and destructive at worst. I fully recognize that Jewish people, and the Jewish faith is no better or worse than any other, except insofar as its adherents tend to be less militantly violent and intolerant than Christians, Muslims, or Indian Hindus. I highlight this particular race chauvinism (anti-Semitism) not only because it’s topical but because it’s pervasive. I am not claiming that anti-Semitism is philosophically better or worse than any kind of racist philosophy (although it has the longest history and is perhaps the most widespread). I am opposed to the idea of group identification based on religion, since religious expression is highly varied and is almost entirely based on superstition and nonsense. However, I am more opposed to the idea of violently exterminating a group of people based on group identification or shared belief. I am also opposed to intellectual dishonesty and the degradation of history to serve the agenda of the forces of stupid.

So the next time you hear someone compare Obama or Bush to Hitler, or call someone else a ‘grammar Nazi’ or, in the case of one friend of mine, receive the fascist salute from a student because they don’t like your teaching style, I’d invite you to remind them that totalitarian as Nazi Germany was, that’s not the biggest criticism to be levied at them. I’d also invite you to offer to slaughter their families if they want their characterization to be more apt.

2 comments

  1. 1
    Chris

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I’ve been thinking on writing about this selfsame subject for awhile. I have to agree with what I take to be your key point – that overuse, and indeed, misuse of terminology leads to the dilution of meaning. I would add to your argument that the passage of time is also a factor. I can’t imagine that anyone in the 5-10 years following the war would have used the word “Nazi” to criticize Truman’s or Eisenhower’s efforts towards health care reform. I daresay the pain associated with the word would have yet been severe due to the close proximity of the events tied to it. We are, though, creatures with short memories. It’s not surprising that the weight of the word has been diminished by the intervening 65 years.

    Another critique I have is the mixing of wrongheaded terminology. We have accusations of Nazism, Fascism, and socialism being thrown out in the same breath. While one can draw a correlation between the ideology of Nazism and the method of governance that is Fascism, they are most definitely not one and the same. While the Nazis billed themselves as the National Socialist party, my reading of historical fact indicates that the two ideologies were in actuality diametrically opposed.

    I am an avowed lover of words. I so love to be awash in them that I took time out from “real life” to acquire a writing degree. Thus I pay, perhaps, an inordinate amount of attention to the meaning of the words we use every day to communicate with one another. While I don’t expect all and sundry to revere “The Word” to the same degree that I do, I do expect people to think about what they’re saying, and to understand the content and impact of the message they’re trying to convey. I fear I expect too much…

  2. 2
    Cluisanna

    North America specifically and the world generally has an unholy obsession with Hitler. He is held up as the ultimate Antichrist, basically an embodiment of evil, while nobody bothers to learn any lessons for the future. (I.e. It is not only possible, but apparently relatively easy, for a whole country to be swayed by extremely hateful and militant ideology.) I think it has something to do with the fact that North Americans like to see themselves as the good guys, which has resulted in the USA being at war continually since 1942.
    Also, I wanted to point out that you might want to include “political opponents” or something similar in the list of murdered/detained people, which is imho extremely important – after all, this is basically the definite marker of something being deeply wrong with a government, and was one of the earliest signs of the horrors of the third Reich. Also, I never heard of Catholics being killed for being Catholics, especially since you don’t mention Protestants (the big German churches, i.e. Catholic church and Evangelic church, where actually pretty chum with the regime), whereas Jehova’s Witnesses were directly targeted.

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