Tag Archives: Nazi

Crying Wolf When There’s a Wolf…

Godwin’s law is an Internet “meme” that recognizes a recurring phenomenon of online argumentation: as discussions get lengthier and more passionate,  a debater will eventually compare someone or something to Hitler. Godwin’s Law provides that when such a comparison is made, the guilty person has effectively forfeited the argument.

Godwin’s Law is recognition that name-calling is not productive debate. An accusation that a person or argument is “just like” Hitler is generally unconnected to any actual resemblance between the accused and Nazi Germany. (In other times, the comparison might have been to Satan or the Anti-Christ.) The person doing the name-calling is using Hitler as a stand-in for “evil” (and by falling back on an ad hominem response, demonstrating the poverty of his or her substantive argument).

As a Jew, I have always found thoughtless, almost casual use of the Nazi epithet particularly inappropriate, because it tends to minimize the historical horror that was Nazi Germany. If everyone you disagree with is a Nazi, then actual Nazis are no longer moral aberrations.

Worse, when you have habitually been describing behaviors with which you disagree as Nazi-like, what do you do when something truly Nazi-like emerges? Will the genuine threat be dismissed, as in the story of the boy who cried wolf?

Which brings me to Sebastian Gorka.

Gorka is a top aide to Donald Trump. He was previously the “national-security editor” at Breitbart, working with Steve Bannon. Bannon, of course, is now President Trump’s top strategist. Gorka’s virulently negative  views on Islam are similar to those of Bannon, the President and most of Trump’s other top aides. As an article in the Atlantic noted, however, those views are far outside the mainstream of scholarship on terrorism and Islam, and experts in the field view Gorka’s qualifications as highly questionable, at best.

Now, Slate has reported on a story uncovered by The Forward.

Reporters Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses found strong evidence that Gorka swore a lifetime oath to a far-right Hungarian group, the Vitézi Rend. The State Department classifies the Vitézi Rend as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II; as such, members are “presumed to be inadmissible” to America under the Immigration and Nationality Act and must disclose their membership on immigration applications. (The organization was banned in Hungary following World War II but reconstituted after the fall of communism.)

Two leaders of the Vitézi Rend told Forward that Gorka is a full member.

The disclosure of Gorka’s ties has been met with demands for an investigation from at least two Senators, and by dark humor on Facebook. (A photoshopped picture of Angela Merkel has her saying, “In the United States, you call it the ‘alt-right.’ In Germany, we refer to it as “why grandpa lives in Argentina.”)

Given the disquieting parallels between how the Nazis behaved as they were coming to power in Germany and the early actions of the Trump Administration, the Urban Dictionary has issued a notice “suspending” Godwin’s Law.

THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

With the emboldening of the Alt-Reich Fascists all over North America and Europe following the election of their cheeto-dusted Fuhrer, Donald J. Trump, The Godwin’s Law is hereby suspended in solidarity with the Anti-Fascist resisters, until further notice.

This time, there may be a real wolf…..

The Nazi Salute…Really?

Students at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis are at the center of a controversy created when they posted a picture showing them making Nazi salutes to social media.

According to the Indianapolis Star,

Students at a private Indianapolis high school are in trouble for making the Nazi salute at the end of a class segment on the German language. It’s the latest example of intolerance and anti-Semitism at area schools….

The photo — taken in a World Languages classroom at Cathedral High School, a private college preparatory school on Indianapolis’ northeast side — shows 15 students holding the German flag and some raising their arms in the Nazi salute, a gesture used during German dictator Adolf Hitler’s reign, usually followed by some variant of the phrase “Heil Hitler!”

When the photo triggered a public outcry, officials of Cathedral released a statement saying, in part “We are having a meeting about cultural awareness with these students and their families regarding the poor choice they made in the picture and how offensive and hurtful this can be.”

Well, sorry, but “Heil Hitler” goes considerably beyond “offensive and hurtful.” Try ignorant and hateful.

I use the word ignorant advisedly, because if I had to guess, I’d attribute this incredible incident to Cathedral’s failure (shared by far too many schools, public and private alike) to actually teach their students history, among other subjects necessary to informed participation in civic life.

A few days ago, several people posted a video to Facebook showing a series of “person on the street” interviews conducted in New York’s Times Square. The young people who were stopped were asked questions that should have been no-brainers: “what countries fought in World War II?” “What was World War II about?” “Have you ever heard of Hitler?” To say that the answers were dispiriting would be a massive understatement. (If anyone has the link, I’d appreciate it; I couldn’t find it, and it really needs to be seen to be appreciated.)

Here in Indianapolis, as elsewhere, the Jewish community–through organizations like the Jewish Community Relations Council–holds annual events intended to educate the broader community about the Holocaust. Survivors–all of whom are now quite elderly, so their ranks are thinning–are made available to speak to student groups and civic organizations. There are books and films and memorials, all with a single focus: to bear witness to Nazi atrocities, in the fervent hope that “never again” will human beings visit horrors of this magnitude on other human beings.

These efforts, however, require fertile ground in which to take root and promote understanding. An uneducated, uninterested and unaware population is impervious to such undertakings.

The best we can hope for in situations like the one at Cathedral is to discover that these young people had no idea what the Nazis did–that they acted out of ignorance rather than bigotry and hatred, and that some mandatory education might open their eyes to the evil they were celebrating.

If not–if they were aware of what the Nazis did and what the salute conveyed–they are frightening harbingers of a new dark age to come, and we are all in trouble.

There’s a reason that many of us who do know our history see incidents like this, and watch voters respond to Donald Trump’s blatant appeals to racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism (he “tells it like it is,” he isn’t “politically correct”) with cold chills and foreboding.

Santayana said it best: those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.

 

Trivializing Evil

Godwin’s law is a term that originated on Usenet, in what we now think of as the dawn of the Internet age. Godwin’s Law posits that as an online argument grows longer and more heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will invoke Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.

When that happens, the guilty person is seen to have effectively forfeited both the argument and the right to be taken seriously.

Mike Huckabee is certainly not the only elected official to have employed this odious hyperbole, but he is a serial offender; he has previously compared both legal abortion and the national debt to the Holocaust. Most recently, he has said that the Iranian nuclear agreement negotiated by the U.S. and six other nations would deliver the Israelis to “the doors of the ovens.”

(Of course, Huckabee is particularly concerned about Israel, because his belief in “end times” theology requires the prior gathering of all Jews in the Holy Land, where we are to be given a choice between accepting Jesus and burning in eternal hellfire. In other words, if anyone is going to incinerate the Jews, it had better be the Christian Zionists.)

We live in a time when language has been so debased that genuine communication is increasingly difficult. Labels substitute for descriptions; words that used to have content are hurled as epithets. But Godwin’s Law identifies an especially pernicious example of this phenomenon, because the easy and thoughtless accusations of “Nazi-like” attitudes and behaviors trivializes evil and blurs critical moral distinctions.

Comparing “Obamacare” to the Holocaust (as several Republican elected officials have done), or suggesting that IRS agents are “like the gestapo” (Maine’s Governor), or claiming that the effort to regulate for-profit colleges is like the Holocaust (GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx)  is more than ludicrous, more than offensive. It is a sign of moral obtuseness so pronounced as to mark the person uttering it as someone unfit for public office.

Or, for that matter, for polite society.