That’s a crazy statement, isn’t it? Why would I attack perhaps your most dearly loved person, your mother, by saying that she likes perhaps history’s most hated person, Adolph Hitler? It is indeed crazy! Why then, on what seems to be a daily basis, do we see television commentators (start at FOX “news” and go from there, see the link below) as well as social media friends (and you know who they are – it seems we all have at least one) who will almost instantly jump to the name “Hitler” when talking politics, religion, and social justice? When Hitler isn’t the knee-jerk default it usually ramps up to Code Level Hitler with these words: communism, socialism, SS, Nazi, facist, collectivism, Auschwitz, concentration camp, or anti-American.
Whether your friend or pet “news anchor” moves slowly or jumps in one giant leap straight to the payoff term, it seems too many are too eager to play the Hitler card…again and again (despite the endless yawns and eyerolls of those who know better). Here’s a highlight reel if there are some among us who have been spared the silliness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIr1xn69sT0
The reductio ad hitlerum argument isn’t new. It’s been used for years. Don’t take my word for it – google it. Nearly every politician and person of social influence may find themselves subject to being labeled as Hitler for un-Hitlerish reasons. Take, for instance: Barack Obama, George W., Pope Francis, and even Jesus Christ (I suppose in some sort of time-travel Hitler influence).
Why does this bother me? First, it exalts the sins of hatred, racism, murder, war, and partiality to gain ground in a discussion or argument. Secondly, it exalts and displays the suffering of a race, a targeted minority, broken families, and the innocent in order to gain the upper hand of a discussion or argument. Finally, it takes all the above and makes that which should be considered with utmost gravity and respect and makes it all into trite playthings and trinkets in what is usually inconsequential political discussion by comparison.
Americans bind themselves under a code of law that finds its honor in freedoms guaranteed in our pursuit of happiness rooted in the idea that all men are created equal. I find that comforting. However, as a Christian, my faith goes deeper to insure that not only do I see all men as equal in the eyes of the law, but also in the eyes of God who respects no man. I am to love them as I love myself. The Hitler card isn’t something to be played by those of faith in that frame of mind.
Let’s look at it rationally. The only reason Hitler is used by today’s generation is to appeal to emotions of disgust, hatred, and taboo. If so-and-so is Hitler, and Hitler is to be hated and repulsive, then what you support is also to be hated and repulsive. It’s not used in a historically accurate context nor a context that pleads for that discussion. It’s a jump to extremes that is all too often the case in our social discourse. It’s not usually a fair comparison, but rather an attack on the character of those supporting an opposing viewpoint. Those who see it for what it is classify the use of the Hitler argument as a logical fallacy (google that, too). You may even find that those who are all too eager to play the Hitler card won’t be able to tell you much about the man, the years in which he was a political player, the reason he was a powerful man, any of his works, or what he did that was “so bad” as to think that Nancy Pelosi (or Dick Cheney; insert least favorite politician here) is his current incarnation. Despite the holes in the reductio ad hitlerum argument as a debate technique, look at it on a personal level.
We are of the generation where our grandfathers fought the war. Citing Hitler in political or social justice disagreement of such minor and unrelated consequence lessens that sacrifice and the honor of those who put their lives in the balance to insure the comforts of our current existence in America. It demonstrates a working ignorance of the values of a nation that stopped what it was doing to insure that injustice was stopped. It demonstrates a working ignorance of the amount of death and destruction that had to occur because of the level of injustice in the world. It devalues and cheapens this generation and its legacy.
We are the generation where mass genocide is not a threat in our country. We are talking about the actual slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. We are talking of Nazi government suspicion and the imprisonment of millions based on a citizen’s looks, nationality, and relationships. We are talking about atrocities the likes and levels of which have not been experienced in America since Hitler’s time. We are talking about a legacy created for a race of people that is still spoken of with fear, tears, and solemnity as well as those who sympathize with the plight of those of Jewish faith and descent. We are talking about a legacy of equality that has been threatened in such a way that all Americans must safeguard it with utmost respect and strength. We are talking about direct descendants of Jews who were able to escape with little more than their lives and often times without family, children, and dignity. We are talking about a finely distilled racism that has been abolished in our country in pursuit of supposedly a higher moral framework. Why would we dare bring any of this up in order to tear down another person’s political views, candidate support, or religious discussion? How tasteless, barbaric, insulting, and wrong does one have to be in order to assert a viewpoint in a political or spiritual discussion that is by all history and factual analysis not even comparable? We shouldn’t devalue an entire race in order to say we don’t like the current state of affordable healthcare, gun control, or rule of law. We shouldn’t make the death of millions of innocent men, women, and children nothing more than mere trinkets to played with when talking about the state of gun laws. How embarrassing! Who among us has that lack of shame?
Pulling the Hitler card to evoke the emotion of hatred into an argument is in line with the lack of shame in the current plights of pundits and armchair activists in the digital age. Pro-gun activists bray loudest in the news and on social media in the wake of gun violence enacted toward elementary schools. Freedom of speech activists picket funerals of those lost too soon in battle (and in the name of religion, nonetheless). An unarmed child can be shot dead by an armed man and laws can be made to make murder appear to be a fair fight. Shame has been lost. Everything we don’t like is Hitler; we don’t care who gets hurt because we have freedom of speech. There is nothing wrong with the second or first amendments or the law – but our sense of shame has been lost in a false sense of patriotism, or God forbid, Christian honor. Politicians attempt to make careers riding behind these banners. Christians try to reshape and reinterpret the word of God to fit such situations. Some would rather risk hurting victims of such horror and those who suffer from the legacy of racism and genocide in order to gain the upper hand of an argument. Some would rather fire the buckshot of hatred on social media than speak reasonably, honorably, and without extreme, ballyhooed, apocalyptic, and hypothetical comparisons.
You can’t reason with the victims of the Oklahoma bombing by calling them “McVeigh.” You can’t speak to a 9/11 victim and expect reasonable conversation if you were to compare them to “Bin Laden.” You would have no ready ear by calling a Christian “Judas.” Why would you expect to be considered with any credibility by calling any American “Hitler?” It makes no sense.
So let us look at what isn’t Hitler: healthcare, taxes, a politician who isn’t playing a major role in mass genocide and a world war, a person with an allegiance to the views of one political party or the other, the president (whomever he may be), food stamp administrators or recipients, the elite rich, the elite poor (you know, the ones we like to advertise the most as mooches who have cell phones and buy anything above generic-quality food at the grocery store), atheism, or any religious view that doesn’t advocate hatred, racism, and genocide. There are many things to add to this list. I only list a few things to get the common sense ball rolling.
Things that are Hitler: Adolph Hitler.
For those of us that are of faith, let us entreat those as a mother would her children. Let us season our language as with salt. Let us love our neighbor as our we love ourselves. For those of us that are not of faith, let us entreat with some sense of honor, dignity, and historical accuracy. Remembering that we’re all looking for happiness because we are equal is a good start, too. These traits can be learned through building character as well as taking a simple middle or high school history course in order to learn who Hitler actually was and why his name shouldn’t be thrown around as a commonplace word in the social discourse vocabulary.
Move past hatred with the lessons learned from history rather than threatening what we, as honorable humans, vow will never happen again. Start with honor rather than hatred. Employ respect rather than shame. Make comparisons accurately with intent to progress rather than divide. Honor and dignity are easily attainable if we will only choose to act with honor and dignity.
If that seems too lofty or unreasonable, then we could begin with an even simpler baby step: Stop using Hitler comparisons. It’s tasteless, self-degrading, and asinine.
Love God. Love each other. It’ll clear the confusion.