A Hitler for Everybody

by Rick Segreda

The idea for this essay came to me while surfing on an Internet bulletin board. Somebody posted a message, stating that he was gay, and that his family treated him just like Hitler treated the Jews.

My gut reaction was not sympathy, but resentment. When I think of Hitler and the Jews I think of concentration camps, gas ovens, and children used in inhuman "medical experiments." I posted a response, asking if his family had tortured and murdered him. "Statements like that," I added, "trivialize the Holocaust."

Other participants disagreed, arguing that gay men and women in the United States are victims of social prejudice, just like Jews were during the Third Reich.

Rather than continuing to engage on the knee jerk level of debate, I logged off, gave my initial posting some thought, and amplified my ideas on this subject.

I guess what disturbs me most about the use of Hitler as an analogy by any political group is that seemingly everybody does it. The National Rifle Association routinely mentions that Hitler banned the use of private gun ownership, implying that gun-control advocates are Nazi's. Presumably those who call for efficient mass transit are therefore fascists. Dr. Laura Schlessinger recently stated that the long-term goal of publicly funded daycare was to have children reared by the government rather than parents, "just like the Hitler Youth."

Of course, the use of Hitler as an analogy, adjective, metaphor, and simile has long been a tactic of the left as well. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was described by the 1960's counterculture as a war criminal on par with Adolf Hitler for not proposing an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. AIDS advocate Larry Kramer has frequently compared the Reagan administration's AIDS policy to the Hitler's Final Solution.

Nowadays, the most commonly used Hitler comparison is with Slobodan Milosevic. He did coin the phrase "ethnic cleansing" to justify consolidating his power by purging Serbia of all Muslim men, women, and children.

But is the Hitler comparison apt? Writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel addressed this question in a Newsweek essay. He acknowledges that there are frightening parallels with the forced deportations of innocent civilians and the mass graves. But he makes an important distinction. Milosevic may intend to purge Serbia of all Albanian, Croation, and Bosnian Muslims, but does he intend to have their populations liquidated once they are driven out of Serbia, or call for the elimination of all Muslims? He describes Milosevic, whom he once met, as cold-blooded, and supports the NATO action, but even here, Wiesel draws the line at calling Milosevic another Hitler.

This is what distinguishes the specific horror of Adolf Hitler in history. More people died under the communist collectivization efforts of Stalin and Mao, eight million and 35 million respectively. And the rape and pillaging of the Congo under King Leopold of Belgium early in the century, also eight million. But for Hitler, mass genocide was an end unto itself.

Hitler did not murder Jewish men, women, and children just for the sake of greed or rigid adherence to a political program. He did scapegoat the Jewish community as a means of achieving political power in Germany. But once in power in Germany, France, and Eastern Europe, a comprehensive murder program was enacted that served no further political or economic gain. There is nothing like this in history either before or since.

In conclusion, my point is not to diminish the other gruesome horrors of man's inhumanity to man in this century or past centuries, or regrettably future centuries. Rather that to use "Hitler" as a catchall analogy and adjective for all other political and social traumas, we diminish the very uniqueness of Hitler's horror, and lose out on a grim lesson as to what depths man can sink.

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