Keeping the Holocaust in Perspective
All comparisons to Adolf Hitler are not equal. Kristina Vanden Heuvel's March 26 Outlook article, "Had It With Hitler," left out an important part of the argument -- relevance.
Many reasonable people are concerned, even frightened, by government infringement on civil liberties in the name of security: reprisals against political opponents (the outing of Valerie Plame); spying on U.S. citizens without warrants; condoning torture; intimidating the press and government employees against whistle-blowing; and sifting through the Library of Congress to reclassify declassified documents. Similarities between these actions and the tactics of "domestic security" police such as the Gestapo and the KGB used to squelch public debate and political opposition are worrisome.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), author Michael Crichton, Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), entertainer Harry Belafonte and humanities professor Camille Paglia made provocative yet relevant comparisons that ask, "Are we headed down a path that will do serious harm to free speech, civil liberties and human rights?"
But the quotes from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) seemed designed to insult and discredit an idea or person. Mr. Norquist compared support for the estate tax, a mundane domestic political issue, with the Holocaust, a monstrous crime.
I am not ready for a ban on the "H-word," but I am ready to ask public officials to refrain from being careless and vindictive.
As historians of the Holocaust, we applaud the appeal by Katrina Vanden Heuvel for an end to the use of Hitler analogies by public figures and pundits. Such analogies trivialize the Holocaust and undermine efforts to educate the public about the real nature of Adolf Hitler, Nazi Germany and the murder of 6 million European Jews.
Comparing one's opponents to the Nazis has become all too prevalent in contemporary discourse, whether by politicians or writers trying to score rhetorical points or by political partisans or government officials trying to delegitimize Israel. We agree with Ms. Vanden Heuvel that the time has come to "declare a ceasefire on such demonizing rhetoric."