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April 26, 2006

You Better Not Disagree With This, YOU NAZI

Since I just pointed out that everyone is Hitler, I should add that I actually don't have any problem with Nazi comparisons per se. In fact, they sometimes can be useful.

My perspective is that human nature always remains the same. Extreme human behavior occurs when human traits that are always there—at all times, in every society and every person—become expressed in an extreme way.

Thus, the Nazis were not aliens. Terrifyingly enough, they were people not all that different from us. There is a tiny little Nazi inside both you and me.

But these dangerous human tendencies are often difficult to perceive in their less virulent forms. Thus, it's easiest to understand them by looking at extreme cases like the Nazis.

For instance, the Nazi genocide had a particular theme, which was: we have an enemy within our nation, which is allied with our powerful enemies outside our nation. Therefore, we must strike at our internal enemy before they destroy us!

Indeed, this is the theme in all genocides of which I'm aware. It was the case with the Armenian genocide, in which the Armenians of Turkey were purportedly working with Russia to destroy the Ottoman Empire. It was the case with the Cambodian genocide, in which internal class traitors were working with the Western imperialist running dogs. It was the case with the Kurdish genocide, where the filthy traitorous Kurds were working with their dirty allies the Persians to destroy the Iraqi nation. And while I don't know anything about the Rwandan genocide, I'd bet a lot of money that was the story there too.

That's the context in which we should understand things like this famous September 16, 2001 statement by Andrew Sullivan:

The middle part of the country--the great red zone that voted for Bush--is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead--and may well mount a fifth column.

It's not right, obviously, to say Andrew Sullivan is a Nazi. However, it's completely legitimate to point out he was playing a jazzy improvisation on Nazi, Turkish, Khmer Rouge and Baathist themes.

Moreover, it's important to point this out. Nazi Germany wasn't a delightful law abiding republic one day and the nightmarish symbol of all human evil the next. Its transformation was a gradual process...a gradual process which started with statements like those of Sullivan.

Now to be fair, those first dangerous seeds were planted in a society that was (hopefully) much more fertile soil than the U.S. today. Still, it really is worthwhile to push to make statements like Sullivan's beyond the pale. If bringing up the Nazis helps do that, it's fine with me. It's much better to bring them up before rather than after the construction of the death camps.

(For an example of what I'm talking about, see here.)

"A Tiny Revolution: Your Source for Careful, Legitimate Nazi Analogies Since 2004"

Posted at April 26, 2006 09:25 AM | TrackBack

Without arguing with your central thesis I think there is another, older brand of genocide which simply consists of one tribe conquering another tribe outside itself--instead of branding them as the Alien within, they are branded as the barbarian/monster/savage without. Like the genocide of the Native Americans. The genocide of Bangladeshis was technically the "enemy within" kind, but it was really this older kind. We probably hear less about this older kind because it was, previously, more successful and more traditional. Shed a tear for the Neanderthals? Go Team Cro Magnon!

Posted by: Saheli at April 26, 2006 12:10 PM

Is that an "Inheritors" reference, Saheli? Don't start with that William Golding shit.

Posted by: Sully at April 26, 2006 12:21 PM

Just as long as you don't equate genocides. That's the difficulty with these days--everyone's political and very few are historical. The Holocaust was different from the extermination of the Native Americans. Morally, both were wrong, but you have to see the differences.

There are some people who want to say that what the Germans did to Soviet soldiers was the same as what they did to the Jews and internal dissidents. The fact is that both are crimes against humanity, but they weren't both the same act. And however wrong war crimes are, there's a difference between the crimes committed against foreign combatants and those committed against helpless, noncombatant civilians. The more we act like the Holocaust was part of everyday history, the easier it becomes to reproduce.

Posted by: at April 26, 2006 12:48 PM

OK, I'll bite. How was the Holocaust different from the "extermination" of Native Americans?

Posted by: at April 26, 2006 01:04 PM

Never heard of William Golding or Inheritors, so no, Sully. Me and my friend ToastyKen were talking about this not too long ago, and I'm basically stealing from him.

Posted by: Saheli at April 26, 2006 02:06 PM

I generally agree, but we all know that very few of these kinds of thoughts actually lead to concentration camps. Which ones deserve our scorn and energetic efforts to push the thought "beyond the pale"?

To put it another way, I can promise you that right now somewhere in the right-wing blogosphere they are pointing out a lefty quote that they are certain -- CERTAIN! -- will lead to Soviet gulags very soon if it is not challenged by all true patriots and lovers of liberty.

It seems to me that the difference is the power/influence of the person making the point. Andrew Sullivan is an influential blogger, but most Americans still have no idea who he is. And it seems to me that the right has mastered the art of pulling up a quote from a liberal professor at Podunk U or an actress playing activist and claiming it's what all liberals REALLY THINK. I am not interested in playing that game.

Of course, when a government official makes these comments, it's scary, but they're usually smart enough not to reveal the extreme parts of their agendas (i.e., until the concentration camps are already built). Or they know how to dress the comments up to seem reasonable (see John Yoo).

So what scares me is when a Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly makes these kinds of comments, because now they are reaching millions, and because these guys spend a lot of time carefully considering the talking points they can broadcast, and how it fits into the larger political agenda.

Andrew Sullivan, e.g., could eventually get nervous about torture or the war and oppose Bush, because he's relatively small potatoes and independent. But Rush Limbaugh knew he had to calm down the right-wing base a few days after Abu Ghraib became known; hence he took to the airwaves with the sickening "fraternity pranks" crap.

The sad part is that while it is not terribly difficult to undermine or counter even a prominent blogger (e.g., that rightwinger hired and almost immediately fired by the Washington Post), we have seen that the right-wing media guys are untouchable as long as they keep their niche market happy.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at April 26, 2006 02:23 PM

I'll give just one way--one was a war of expansion, the other a war on one's own citizens covered up by a war of expansion. One can quibble all one wants about how it was defended, but the Jews were infinitely more integrated with German society than the various Native American peoples were with the Yankees. What annoys me here is that people see two terrible acts and historically conflate them. Similarly, people see the Japanese crimes against POWs and equate them with crimes against civilians, and it's incorrect. They're two different acts, though both are wrong. The notion that the same attitude led to all these atrocities is foolish, misleading, and dangerous.

Of course, I got the original post's point and I hate to argue when I think the post was correct, but all the same we have a tendency to make every crime against humanity into the Holocaust.

Posted by: at April 26, 2006 03:45 PM

So. An "extermination of a people in a war of expansion" is less immoral than a "war against one's own citizens covered up by a war of expansion"? That kind of hair-splitting is offensive.

Posted by: at April 26, 2006 05:04 PM

The DIFFERENCE between the Holocaust and the Indian wars, Native Americans, IS WE'RE STILL DOING IT TO THE INDIANS. Sadly, as always, nobody seems to mind, well, except the Indians. p.s. I live 14 miles from the Rez. I see it every day.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 26, 2006 05:46 PM

I hestitate to enter into the argument between by and by, but I'm on the side of the by who says, by the way, that it's offensive to use the Holocaust to downgrade the horror of other genocides.

Yes, the Holocaust was unique and one of the worst crimes in history. If someone wants to say the worst of all, I won't object. But it's morally offensive to go on and say "How dare you equate the trivial genocide of group X compared to the really really evil genocide of group Y. Genocide X was historically unique and truly truly evil, whereas the extermination of Y involved all sorts of mitigating circumstances and really was just one of those mass murders that sensitive souls should yawn at."

Posted by: Donald Johnson at April 26, 2006 07:10 PM

In the introduction to a book I recently read about Hitler's psychopathologies, the author pointed out the resistance in some quarters against any kind exploration of Hitler's psyche because to understand what made Hitler what he became would somehow humanize him and thus make him sympathetic.

I think the ban against Nazi comparisons works along a similar track. The idea behind "Don't call me a Nazi, I'm not that bad" can only be enforced if you don't know how bad the Nazis were and how they got to be that bad.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at April 26, 2006 10:20 PM

I didn't say "immoral" or "moral," and I didn't talk about "horror." Once you start psychoanalyzing atrocity, you've got to have some proof beyond your emotional standards.

Posted by: at April 27, 2006 01:13 AM

Genocide-comparing usually ends up in explanations of the Holocaust so broad that this event becomes (just) a culmination of certain racist and supremacist tendencies in all of Western culture.The "Gernmannness" and "Hitler-ness" of the Holocaust get lost. To the flesh tortured or the human being destroyed, what difference does it make? But to those looking at the origins and meaning of the Holocaust and other mass murders, it does matter.

Posted by: donescobar at April 27, 2006 09:57 AM

hedgehog makes a great point, and we sometimes forget how complicated an effort it was to "de-Nazify" Germany while trying to keep them on our side in the early days of the Cold War. The West did indeed do a lot to showcase Hitler's evil, for obvious reasons, but Germans also had incentives to demonize Hitler as a way of coping with the entire country's responsibility for Nazi crimes.

They are still figuring out how to do this in Cambodia, Rwanda, etc. It's amazing that the first trials of Khmer Rouge officials are only now getting organized.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at April 27, 2006 01:12 PM

The Rwandan genocide was the product of a hundred years' worth of carefully inculcated ethnic nationalism. Belgian colonialism found it profitable to define two Rwandan "races", the Hutu and the Tutsi; the former, largely peasants and the latter largely herders. In fact, the distinction was almost wholly artificial. The Belgians gave people ethnic identity cards based on the number of cows they owned. More than ten, you were Tutsi, less than ten, you were Hutu. They also made up all sorts of absurd craniometric justifications for why Tutsi were the superior race (e.g. that Tutsi had a bridged as opposed to a bridgeless nose) and made the Tutsi the dominant ethnic group.

Following independence, this position persisted for a while, until some Belgians decided it was time to reverse course, and suddenly switched to supporting Hutu nationalists in overturning the oppressive Tutsi hierarchy. This was replaced with a Hutu dictatorship, eventually under Habyarimana, which indulged a long history of Tutsi persecution and Hutu ethnic nationalism. There's a lot of parallels to be seen between this and any other ethnic nationalist movement - racist demagogues, perception of the majority as aggrieved and historically oppressed, righteously punishing the minority for their crimes against the Hutu. (Also there was a guerrilla army of Rwandan Tutsi expatriates who fled Hutu oppression, the RPF, that was stirring things up and providing further justification for pogroms.)

I've used the past tense, here, but none of this is really over. After the genocide the same conflict continued, precipitating a massive, six-way "civil" war in the DRC which resulted in an estimated 4 million dead. Yikes.

Posted by: saurabh at April 27, 2006 01:58 PM

saurabh, someone was _just_ telling me they read an article that explained how the whole notion of hutu vs. tutsi being a Belgian construct is itself a construct. While I hunt that person down and get a source on that narrative, could you please give me a source on yours? I'm woefully ignorant of Rwanda, just gathering data here. . .

Posted by: Saheli at April 27, 2006 02:47 PM

I'd be interested to read about that. Most of what I know came from the book "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families", by Philip Gourevitch, and sundry articles I've read on the 'net. But I really don't see how it could be a construct. Yes, there's a historical reality in there somewhere, but the modern ethnicities are quite explicitly derived from the Belgian construction - the ethnic identity cards the Belgians created became the definition of ethnicity in the post-colonial regime.

Posted by: saurabh at April 27, 2006 02:53 PM

Okay, so it seems that the source was friends of his going just coming back from a trip to Rwanda wherein they asked lots of Rwandans about this. I realize this sounds suspiciously like an urban legend friend-of-a-friend, so let me say that I am acquainted with the actual people who actually went to Rwanda, just not likely to speak with these people too soon. I can also vouch that these people were unlikely to have had an axe to grind one way or the other and were probably just genuinely curious. That said, I don't think either of them are professional historians or journalists by any stretch, so their impressions can hardly be pitted head-to-head against Gourevitch. Still, it's enough that I'm going to keep an eye out for further references.

Posted by: Saheli at April 28, 2006 01:59 AM

If bringing up the Nazis helps do that, it's fine with me. It's much better to bring them up before rather than after the construction of the death camps.

For the past 5 years I've been haunted by this quote from Milton Mayer's book on Nazi Germany, "They Thought They Were Free" (sorry the excerpt is so long but I think it's worth it):

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter....
To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it - please try to believe me - unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures" that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head....
How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice - "Resist the beginnings" and "consider the end." But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings....
You see, one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to "go out of your way to make trouble." Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none... In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to you colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, "It's not so bad" or "You're seeing things" or "You're an alarmist."
And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.
But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did...
And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying "Jew swine," collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in "your nation, your people“ is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.
Posted by: Cal at April 28, 2006 04:45 AM

Cal, that's a great quote. I have to get that book!

Posted by: Mike of Angle at April 28, 2006 11:22 AM

"So. An "extermination of a people in a war of expansion" is less immoral than a "war against one's own citizens covered up by a war of expansion"? That kind of hair-splitting is offensive."

I hate it when people lose the ability to have rational conversations about difficult topics. Five years of republican rule should show any intelligent person the danger of emotional reaction to situations as opposed to rational contemplation (the kind our founding fathers espoused).

The original poster was in no way saying that the destruction of the many Native American nations was less painful or less morally corrupt than the genocide of the Jews in the Holocaust. He was merely pointing out that a war of expansion against a vastly inferior military (as happened in the Americas) is a different situation than the murder of one's own citizens. That is a fact.

Whether or not that distinction has relevance is debatable. But responding with heightened emotions and a false interpretation of the original posters points is complete and utter worthless BS.

It is time for people in this country to act like adults, and not look for ANY opportunity to be offended. We have real problems and issues to deal with. Leave your emotional baggage where it belongs - in your church/therapist's office.

Posted by: at April 28, 2006 11:46 AM

I have to say I don't agree with the Native Explanation either.

We killed the NAmericans because they were "inferior" just like the jews, romas, cripples, homos and russians were to the Nazis.

Don't forget the fact that there were many genocides far worse than the ones you pointed out. There were many carribean nations that were 100% wiped off the map by european conquerors simply because the europeans needed the land, or because the Natives weren't making good slaves.

Genocides can take many forms. But I understand you are trying to make a point about those that attack within instead of outward.

Posted by: Tony at April 28, 2006 11:56 AM

"I'll give just one way--one was a war of expansion, the other a war on one's own citizens covered up by a war of expansion."

I'm sorry but if we are splitting hairs, the overwhelming majority of Jews killed in the Shoah were not Germans they were Polish and other Europeans. As a matter of fact, German Jews were no longer classified as German "citizens" before the Wannsee Conference (final solution) began.

Posted by: Zman at April 28, 2006 12:07 PM

I have searched on google for "100 million", "500 million" "native americans" killed by the evil colonial nazis, and there are sites that make these claims. That's funny because there were not 500 million people in all of world before 1900.

Ultimately, you have a responsiblity with your own life, ironic tales about "hope" and "humanity" and especially "god" or "g-d" is not going to help you from passing on your genetic line or leaving any other legacy.

Nobody weeps for the countless germans or evil slavs slaughtered by the Zionists. Eww, they were "heteronormative" "Amalekites".

Posted by: UnconsciousBushismOftheBloggerLeft at April 28, 2006 12:12 PM

A good book on the subject is American Holocaust
by David Stannard
Oxford University Press, 1992.

Posted by: at April 28, 2006 12:32 PM

Would "that kind of hairsplitting is antithetical to intelligent discourse" be better? Arguing about who had the "worse" genocide is where the real BS lies.

Posted by: at April 28, 2006 01:01 PM

some really good points made here. the book "Explaining Hitler" I believe was referred to above and I want to second it as a great survey of the fields of thought, then and now, that surround the Nazi mystique. All the more so, because it is readable by anyone--not a piece of scholarship. That Milton Mayer quote is amazing. Thanks.

The factor that changes any comparisons of genocides to me is technology. First, it allows an unprecedented shaping of opinion and the magnification of the opinions of very small groups that lack any legitimate authority to speak for any other than themselves. Hitler used radio and movies like no one had been able to before him. Second, the technology of killing has made "whimsical" decisions of mass murder immediately implementable. Third, since WWII, we have lived 20 minutes away from nuclear destruction. It's like the sun's gravity well, pulling all of these arguments into it.
Ideology merely justifies the use of technology to "serve". If Truman or Eisenhower were alive today, they would be horrified by the cavalier way nukes and war threats are used. In this sort of pervasive corruption, mass killing seems to me to be inevitable. That is the issue. Not the efficacy of any label for killing lots and lots of people.

Posted by: goodfoot08 at April 28, 2006 01:33 PM

"however wrong war crimes are, there's a difference between the crimes committed against foreign combatants and those committed against helpless, noncombatant civilians. The more we act like the Holocaust was part of everyday history, the easier it becomes to reproduce."

It's already horrible, without being unique. And yes, it needs to be remembered, but not as a freakish singularity.

1.Col Cavalry Guy: "Seargent, leave the women and children alone. I like Indians-- I wanna hug them."

"yes sir."

2.General Serbian Guy:"Remember, only armed Bosnian muslims in those mass graves."

"you bet!"

3.some Roman senator:"remember Scipio, only burn down and salt the earth around Hannibal's barracks. I see big things in store for the Carthaginean tourist industry."

"oh, ok."

4.Some European King:"Remember Pisarro, just steal the Inca's gold. No senseless killing."

"oh, man!"

5.A: "I keep forgetting. Are we killing Hutus or Tutsis?"

B:"were Hutus, so we kill Tutsis."

A:"Who do the Tutsis kill?"

B:"They kill Hutus."

A:"Then we better get them."

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at April 28, 2006 08:01 PM

Don't forget "THE WHITE MANS BURDEN" to bring civilization (Democracy) to the naked savage. Good for at least a few 100,000 deaths.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 29, 2006 06:56 PM

About the U.S. being less fertile soil for eliminationism: Yes, for now. After a currency and/or real estate crash, anger and violence could come much closer to the surface. Not that we have anything to worry about on those fronts.

Posted by: hedgehog at April 30, 2006 03:44 PM