Those Hitler Analogies: Dumb–and Dangerous

by Dr. Rafael Medoff

Should there be an annual award for “dumb Nazi analogies”?

That’s what the daily blog of New Republic senior editor Andrew Sullivan has suggested, in response to the recent comment by radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger that some U.S. day care centers “sound like something out of Nazi Germany.”

But Dr. Laura faces stiff competition in this contest. The liberal advocacy group recently invited submissions for potential anti-George Bush television ads, and saw nothing wrong with posting two of them that compared the president to Adolf Hitler. One showed President Bush’s face morphing into Hitler’s. The other compared Bush’s efforts to oust Saddam Hussein to Hitler’s efforts to conquer Europe.

Just last week, Brazilian federal judge Julier Sebastiao da Silva declared the new U.S. policy of fingerprinting and photographing foreign visitors “worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis.”

In recent months, similar analogies have been emanating from a wide range of sources. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said increasing the estate tax would reflect “the morality of the Holocaust.” Nobel laureate Jose Saramago claimed that Israeli anti-terror policies have brought “the spirit of Auschwitz” to the city of Ramallah. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Meridiaga, a Honduran archbishop who has been called a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, said that “Jewish-controlled” newspapers are behaving like Hitler by carrying out “a persecution against the Church” by publicizing the misconduct of some priests.

Even Vanity Fair magazine got into the act, by printing a photo of Bush administration adviser Richard Perle sitting in a rocking chair, side by side with a photo of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in a similar pose. The caption: “Separated at birth?”

Such analogies are harmful in two ways.

First, they trivialize the brutal horrors committed by Hitler and the Nazis. The problem with the Hitler regime was not that it fingerprinted foreigners; it was a brutal fascist dictatorship that wiped out its political opponents, stripped non-“Aryans” of their rights, invaded peaceful neighboring countries and instigated a world war which killed fifty million people. The Holocaust was not a matter of taxes being raised or day-care workers behaving insensitively; it was the systematic annihilation of six million Jews.

Second, such analogies grotesquely distort the behavior of the person or government that they are criticizing. President Bush is not a maniacal dictator trying to conquer the world. U.S. immigration officials are not war criminals. Israel has not built gas chambers in Ramallah.

The problem is not just that these Hitler analogies are dumb. People say dumb things all the time. The problem is that they wallpaper over the realities of Nazism and the Holocaust, and obliterate their true meaning in political and historical discourse. Moreover, these outrageous analogies are being uttered by individuals who are widely respected and have access to large audiences. A radio talk show host with a following of millions, an archbishop who could become pope, a Nobel Prize-wining author–they have credibility, and their words carry weight.

Spokesmen for have publicly repudiated the Bush-Hitler ads and expressed regret for having posted them. Will the others who have recently made dumb and dangerous Nazi analogies follow suit?

January 2004