Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Jonah Goldberg, one of my favorite writers today, discusses in the Washington Examiner the inability of people today to relate to historical context, and why that makes it easier for demagogues to throw around the Nazi-herring as effectively as they do. People today simply have not read nor studied historical events enough to discern the difference.

The Nazis, Soviets and Cambodian Communists murdered millions of entirely — objectively — innocent men, women and children. The Nazis performed medical experiments on children and gassed whole families. Under Pol Pot, merely showing grief for a murdered husband, wife, parent or child was punishable by summary execution. The Soviet gulag earns the top "honor" of having killed the most people — some 15-20 million — most of them having no idea why their own country found it necessary to terrorize and kill them.

Meanwhile, the 500 or so men in Guantanamo may be terrorized, but they know why they are there. They declared a terrorist war against the United States and the West. They openly embrace the slaughter of women and children. They write tracts defending the beheading of "infidels." They defy the rules of war set down by man and their own god. That may not justify some of the alleged abuses committed by the United States in the war on terror, but it justifies many things America's critics call abuses aren't.And it shouldn't tax the intellects of even the Dick Durbins of the world that, say, plucking a child from the arms of his executed mother and sentencing him to a slow death at a labor camp is different than plucking a terrorist from the mountains of Tora Bora and sentencing him to a holding facility where he gets three square meals, a Quran and, during interrogation sessions, a heavy blast of rap music and little air conditioning.

So why is Dick Durbin even partly right? Because of the willful collective historical and moral ignorance of vast swaths of the public and the opinion leaders who influence them. If Durbin read the allegations about depriving prisoners of food or forcing them to defecate on themselves, huge numbers of Americans would think of Nazis (though probably not the Gulag or Pol Pot because such connections require a level of historical literacy too few possess today). And it is undoubtedly true that in the circles frequented by the likes of Durbin — where Howard Dean is a statesman and Michael Moore deserves the Nobel prize for … something — people would automatically think "Nazi."

This is because "Nazi" has become so synonymous with "bad" in our political culture where all bad things must be Nazi-like, particularly if these bad things were (allegedly) committed by the United States. Durbin could have compared the alleged abuses to the behavior of the French in Algeria or even the police in Chicago 20 years ago and been far closer to the truth. But that just doesn't have the oomph he's looking for and it would have had too many people scratching their heads.


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