Archive for March, 2011

Nazi comparisons

March 6, 2011

If there is one thing we have too much of in this world, it’s Nazi posters. Go to any rally in the past few years, whether it be a tea party rally or the recent union protests in Wisconsin, and you are bound to see a reference to Hitler.

It would be bad enough if such rhetoric were limited to a couple of nutjobs, but unfortunately it can be heard on the floor of the House of Representatives. A number of Republicans have characterized the 2010 Affordable Care Act as a “government take-over” of health care. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) said the Republicans’ lies were reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels’s lies, which were repeated so often that eventually the Germans believed them. He went on to say that Goebbels lied about the Jews, which led to the Holocaust. Whether he was insinuating that the Republicans’ lies would lead to genocide here is anyone’s guess.

Jon Stewart raked Cohen over the coals in a humorous segment on his show, which can be seen here. (For Stewart fans, here is his segment on Bill O’Reilly’s incessant and absurd Nazi comparisons)

As Stewart explains, sharing one attribute with the Nazis does not make you a Nazi. “Lying isn’t even what made the Nazis Nazis,” he says.

We would do well to drop all Nazi references, because no one in American politics (or any other country’s politics) is even close to being as bad as the Nazis. That said, it is a perfectly legitimate tactic to force your opponent to explain how his ideas differ from the Nazis. Allow me to elaborate:

The Nazis did lots of things that have no moral significance, such as wearing brown shirts, goose-stepping, saluting, etc. This is not what made them bad. A person can do all of these things without committing any wrongdoing. What did make the Nazis bad, then? What did they do that was immoral? Well, this seems pretty obvious. Killing innocent people is wrong, and they killed a lot of innocent people. Invading another country is wrong, and they did a lot of that, too.

This seems obvious, until you remember that many governments have killed innocent people, and many governments throughout history have waged aggressive wars. This does not mean that those governments are on a moral plane with the Nazis. However, if someone supports the mass murder of civilians in one case, say the bombing of Tokyo, then he must show how his case is different from the Holocaust, or admit that the Holocaust was acceptable, too.

Likewise, someone who supports an aggressive war must explain how his war differs from the German invasion of Poland, or admit that the German invasion of Poland was just (or at least that it was not unjust).

I think it is crazy to compare Bush to Hitler, in the sense of equating the two men. However, if we can agree that both men waged aggressive wars, and what made Hitler bad was that he waged an aggressive war, then we must conclude that Bush is bad, since he performed the act that made Hitler bad. Therefore, it would be perfectly fine to ask Bush how he differs from Hitler, not to imply that he is Hitler, but simply to hear his explanation of 1) why Hitler’s war was bad, and 2) how his war differs from Hitler’s in a morally significant way. We can do the same with Obama and his occupation of Afghanistan.