The opportunity to cultivate shock value in order to sensationalize and push home a point is often utilized, even if it means trivializing the brutality of one of the most inhumane governments in modern history — Nazi Germany.
A couple weeks ago, a letter to the editor published in the Ventura County Star used this exact tactic. The letter was written in response to one of the paper’s editorials that expressed support for Michael Schiavo’s choice to remove the feeding tube of his vegetative wife, Terri, whose death has become a topic of national debate.
The letter’s author commented, quite ignorantly and illogically, that those who have argued in support of Terri’s husband’s choice, such as the author of the Star editorial, would have been valued additions to Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine.
But this type of ridiculous throwing around of the “Nazi” reference simply for the sake of the powerful image it cultivates is not rare.
Comedy shtick has often included references to such people as “soup Nazis,” and those who support assisted suicide have at times been accused of allowing their minds to start down the same slippery slope as members of the Third Reich.
But the reality is that such casual and largely inaccurate references to the policies of Nazi Germany trivialize the inhumane brutality millions of innocents suffered under the Third Reich from 1933-45.
These loose comparisons disrespect the 11 million, including but not limited to, Jews, homosexuals, political dissidents, gypsies, and the disabled, who perished as a direct result of Nazi genocide, as well as the millions more who died in the violence of World War II.
As far as Schaivo’s situation is concerned, under Nazi Germany, the government would have been the entity to determine whether she lived or died. In the United States, her husband made the choice.
The only true government intervention in this situation came not from those who supported Michael Schaivo’s choice to end his wife’s life, but from those who wished to preserve it, including U.S. congressmembers who passed emergency legislation requiring the courts to further review her case.
What the person who wrote the Star letter to the editor is referring to is the Nazi’s euthanasia system, under which the disabled and mentally ill, including those who weren’t even in comas or vegetative states, were deemed useless in the development of a “master” or “superior” Aryan race, and were therefore murdered. Schaivo’s situation is in no way comparable to such atrocities.
Ward Churchill also jumped on the bandwagon when he called certain businesspeople who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns” for helping carry out U.S. economic policies that were, he said, exploitative to economically disadvantaged regions of the world. Adolf Eichmann, logistical head of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution,” organized the arrest and mass transport of Jews to Nazi death camps.
While Churchill’s point that the economic exploitation he believes these businesspeople carried out led to suffering and death of third-world citizens is perhaps reasonable, he, like most others who throw around Nazi references, likely chose that particular example for the shock value and powerful emotion the “Nazi link” would stir.
As far as U.S. policy is concerned, I agree with the assessment that President George W. Bush and his conservative administration have cultivated an atmosphere of fear following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and that certain legal actions, such as the creation of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, unjustly chip away at our civil liberties and personal freedoms.
However, I will not go so far, as some have done and continue to do in casual conversation, to make anger-induced comparisons between the United States and Nazi Germany, nor will I compare Bush to Hitler.
Clearly, as much as many U.S. citizens may disagree with Homeland Security legislation, the pre-emptive strike on Iraq or the increased meshing of religion and politics, by no stretch of the imagination can we deny that we are a far cry from being a fascist or Nazi-like society.
We can freely say we detest Bush’s leadership without fearing incarceration or death. We can choose to practice any faiths we wish, or freely chose to be atheists. In our national Congress and state legislatures, policy is openly debated, and disagreement is perhaps what comprises the very heart of our democracy.
Additionally, our society has many leaders who have at one time lied to their people, unethically utilized propaganda, and wrongly attacked or invaded other nations, as many say Bush has unjustly done.
But this does not make them, or Bush, Nazis.
Perhaps what we must realize, especially this month as we honor Holocaust remembrance and the 60-year anniversary of the Allied victory, is that there are other ways to make political or ethical points powerful besides comparing whatever is in question to the policies enacted under Nazism.
Nazi references should only be used when they are truly called for and when the users can accurately attest to the logic behind their statements. It is insensitive and ignorant to exploit the murder of millions and the horror we still associate with these actions simply to sensationalize an argument or illicit gasps of shock and awe.