Sunday, December 13, 2009

Not All Your Enemies are Nazis

(Originally appeared in Lubricated Magazine)
By Brian Polk

It seems that in these dark days of political discourse, you’re either on my side or you’re a horrible person; and there is absolutely no middle ground. From animal rights activists to pro-lifers, from uneducated Fox News-watchers to indignant anarcho-punks, it really doesn’t matter what your political spectrum happens to be. Any way you slice it, your enemies are very, very bad people. And since atrocities like the Spanish Inquisition, slavery, and Stalin’s Great Purge have long been forgotten, ignored, or rewritten as “not as bad as they seem,” the terrible scoundrels that disagree with you have to be in cahoots with a group of bad people that will never be forgotten: The Nazis.

But listen: Not everyone who conflicts with your rigid ideology is a Nazi. Sure it’s tempting, shocking even, to associate your philosophical opposites to the far-right German political group that seized power in the 1930s, sent millions to die in the death camps, and killed millions more on the battlefields of WW2—a war that they were more than happy to provoke when they invaded Poland. And yes, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of overly-emotional, hyperbolic-spewing talk show hosts that have a vested interest in ignoring the truth and fanning the flames of hatred by actively promoting salivating finger pointing. But come on, there has to be a better way. Is it really impossible to quell our emotions and ground our opinions in rationality? What ever happened to intellectual debate anyway?

These days, you can’t sit down to a discussion and reflect on the facts in a coherent, balanced manner. It’s terrible that this type of civility is nonexistent. And if you don’t agree with that, you might as well worship Hitler, you fascist, authoritarian, power-mongering heartless dastard. Why don’t you just kill millions of people? Because that’s what creeps like you are apt to do, isn’t it? YOU’RE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY!!!

Ahem. You’ll have to excuse the outburst; I get very emotional about these things.

Digressions aside, below are just a few groups of people that just don’t know how to debate rationally. They rely on emotionally-charged, mouth-foaming accusations that take facts out of context and shun the greater truth. They aim at the heart and forget about the mind. And worst of all, they equate all dissenters to Nazis—who ironically, attempted to eliminate all dissenters. Weird, huh?

Pro-lifers: Obama = Nazi

According to a haphazardly cropped photograph on the Conservative Christian News website, President Barack Obama is just like Hitler because Obama loves “killing unborn babies.” Of course abortion procedures and the act of killing Jews go hand-in-hand, right? Not according to Hitler, who actually banned abortion in Nazi Germany. But we’re not going for facts here, are we? We’re trying to shock people into blindly hating an African-American president that Hitler would have detested for his darker-than-Aryan skin pigmentation. But I suppose I’m splitting hairs.

Left Wingers: Bush = Nazi
(Type, “Bush = Hitler” into Google and you’ll have a lot to choose from)

So I’m no fan of Bush either, but he didn’t send millions of Jews and other non-desirables to die in concentration camps. And he didn’t invade Poland; he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. (It’s totally different…) Besides, at least one of the worst presidents in the history of the U.S. slightly redeemed himself by significantly expanding aid to Africa and appointing minorities into his cabinet. Hitler definitely didn’t do either of those things.

PETA: Meat Eaters = Nazis

In 2003, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched a “Holocaust On Your Plate” ad campaign that linked meat eaters to Hitler and company. While I agree with PETA that factory farming has absolutely no redeeming qualities and cannot be defended based on its treatment of workers, animals, and the environment, this campaign is a misguided attempt to shock and appall. When you use tactics like this, it totally degrades the purity of the message because you just can’t bully people into agreement by insulting them. Frenzied finger pointing will never get you very far in the culture wars. (If it did, I would be pro-life by now. And obviously, I’m not. Even after bearing witness to huge billboards featuring dismembered fetuses, I am still, and will always be, pro-choice.)

Ward Churchill: Americans who died in 9/11 = Little Eichmanns
(Again, type “Little Eichmanns” into Google and be amazed at the choices)

Ward Churchill didn’t invent the phrase “Little Eichmann,” but he sure popularized it with his essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.” The people in the twin towers, claimed Churchill, weren’t innocent because they played an integral part, however small, in the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians caused by U.S. sanctions. His premise is that Adolph Eichmann and good German civilians—who may not have actively participate in mass killings—didn’t raise a finger to prevent their fellow citizens from being slaughtered by Nazis in their own backyards, and therefore, are culprits in the crimes. He casually ignores the fact that U.S. citizens are a bit different. The latter remained largely and quite deliberately in the dark about destructive policies being wrought around the globe in their names. Had the media inundated American television sets with dying children the way they did during the Vietnam War, I’d like to think people would have a different reaction. “Blissfully unassuming folks,” would have been a better phrase than “Little Eichmanns.” But of course, Churchill definitely wasn't going for anything near a rational approach to the events of 9/11. Come to think of it, when the towers came down, no one offered close to a coherent explanation (except for the usually satirical The Onion:

Peter Gibbons: Bosses = Nazis

“You know, the Nazis had pieces of flair that they made the Jews wear,” says Peter Gibbons, in the movie Office Space. He was referring to the obnoxious uniform his girlfriend, Joanna, had to wear at her job. The quote perfectly illustrates how far we’re willing to go to discredit our ideological opposites—or, in this case, the folks who casually inconvenience our daily routines. Aside from bosses, I’ve heard the term “Nazi” applied to principals, toll booth operators, police officers, concert promoters, right wing talk show hosts, left wing talk show hosts, communists, socialists, anarchists, capitalists, libertarians, centrists, white folks, black folks, Hispanics, gays, straights, vegans, ranchers, bloggers, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, jocks, nerds, dictators, freely elected leaders, rednecks, liberals, conservatives, and pretty much anyone and everyone who has a pulse.

Even though I strongly recommend against it, you can say it about anyone:

“A lot of the Nazis woke up early in the morning. You have to be at work at 7 a.m. What, pray tell, does that make you?”

“Nazis had birthdays. You have a birthday, you damned Nazi!”

“Hitler got his haircut. You cut your hair every few weeks. Nazi.”

“The Nazis ate food, lived in houses, and wore clothes. Since you do all these things, you must be quite fond of national socialism.”

It's easy. Too easy in fact. It's intellectual indolence. George Orwell once said of fascism, "All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword." I would say the same thing about the word “Nazi.”

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