Hitler, as an unqualified example of pure evil, is often used as a standard by which one can judge other lesser forms of evil. People of all stripes and political persuasions refer to Hitler and his Nazis in their speeches. But as time moves on, and the memory of Hitler’s actions becomes more faded, caricature begins to replace reality. Once reality is replaced by caricature, the meaning of the evil that was Hitler becomes obscured. The obscuring of the history of the Holocaust has lead some to abuse the term and its significance.
Last week, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote an article that sheds light on the complexity of this issue. Hier discussed how society should refer to one of the greatest evils of all time. In the article entitled, Nothing since can (or should) be called a Holocaust, Hier attempts to make some clarifications. Unfortunately, Hier compared “apples to oranges,” and so weakened an otherwise noble position. Concerning the misuse of the term “Holocaust”, Hier correctly wrote:
The Holocaust was a watershed event in the history of mankind, in which 6 million Jews were exterminated — one-third of the world’s Jewish population. But today the word is used in ways that cheapen it.
Last fall, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida spoke on the House floor about the need for universal health care, saying that Americans die every year because they lack insurance. “I apologize,” he said, “that we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.”
Sadly, Hier’s point was obscured when, instead of discussing the term “Holocaust” as his article’s title implied, he expanded his critique to include all comparisons to Hitler’s bullying political tactics. Hier wrote:
Last week, Sarah Palin criticized President Obama’s handling of the BP crisis in a tweet to followers recommending they read an article by Thomas Sowell that compared Adolph Hitler’s use of a financial crisis to give himself dictatorial powers to Obama’s role in creating the BP escrow fund.
Thomas Sowell’s article was not an example of political hoopla, but rather an academic discussion of whether or not our government is moving towards a strong armed socialist model with similarities to the tactics of the National Socialists. Human beings must compare and contrast their actions against previous examples. This is how we live and learn, how we “never forget.” If we are forbidden from comparing modern aggressive socialist tactics to those of Hitler’s National Socialists, how are we to defend against the possibility of repeating history?
Hier is correct that we should not compare a loss of welfare funding to the Holocaust, but we need to examine whether the current body politic is acting in ways comparable to other darker periods of human history.