This past weekend, I took the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum while I was in Washington, DC. As I recall, one of the earliest exhibits was devoted to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. The Nazis’ repeated use of antisemitic propaganda eventually gained a foothold in a nation recently shamed and defeated in World War I. But to say the very least, there are no words, no reasonable justification for the unspeakable and horrid evils that the Nazis perpetrated upon the Jews, the handicapped, homosexuals, and various other groups in the Holocaust. If anyone has the chance to see this museum, I would highly recommend it. One of many benefits of visiting a place like this is having a chance to put our current state of affairs in perspective.
As a conservative, it has always bothered me when someone on the left evokes Hitler or the Nazi party in comparison to someone on the right. Since such a tactic has been employed by some on the left, I suppose I might have even used it as well. But rarely is this ever truly justified, and if I have used this type of rhetoric in a trivial manner, I readily apologize,.for by employing such a comparison, either the legacy of history is distorted or the most hateful of insults is being delivered.
To accuse someone, of either political persuasion, of being similar to Adolf Hitler or the Nazi party is to diminish the nature of what actually happened. When Ward Churchill refers to those in the twin towers on 9/11 as “little Eichmanns,” he erodes the legacy of Adolf Eichmann. When anyone refers to tea party demonstrators as “brown shirts,” they essentially belittle what the “brown shirts” actually were. And yes, even when Ann Coulter compares Obama to Hitler, Hitler is trivialized. But also, when Ann Coulter is compared to Hitler, Hitler is trivialized once more. As much as it may upset my friends on the right, when Obama is given a Hitler mustache, we are no better than those who put said mustache on George W. Bush. Neither makes a valid point. Both accusations make the bearer of such a message into a discredited fool.
Have we watered down the nature of this history so much or are these comparisons truly sincere? If someone is well aware of what happened in Nazi Germany, and they proceed with such an accusation, it had better be founded with reasonable facts or it is nothing more than a rude and hateful insult. Certainly, it is the rightful nature of our free republic to allow such speech. The right of those to employ this type of rhetoric is without question. But the imprudence of this misuse of history cannot be denied.
However, if there are reasonable and factual comparisons to be drawn with Hitler or the Nazi party, they should be done with the utmost care, if not avoided altogether. We are to learn from our history in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. If we demean the truth of our history, we begin to dissolve the severity of these mistakes. This is something we cannot afford.
So, instead of employing self-destructive comparisons and emotional distractions, we should debate issues on the grounds of fact and merit. Otherwise, neither we nor those with whom we disagree will benefit.