Thoughts on SB 1070 and Nazi comparisons

This cartoon is one of the milder images and comparisons that SB 1070 has sparked.

FOURTH UPDATE: Arno Michaels and Jack Crane weigh in on the topic:

Arno Michaels:

you make great points Jeff, and I agree with you entirely that Nazi comparisons are thrown about far too liberally nowadays. During the Dubya Presidency, I found myself comparing 911 to the burning of the Reichstag. While I still see the validity of such a comparison—primarily in the ensuing power-grab albeit in a much lesser magnitude—drawing lines between Hitler and G.W. Bush is counter-productive at best for those working towards peace, not to mention disrespectful to the human beings who suffered and perished in the Holocaust.

The key differences you illuminate explain clearly how the AZ situation is vastly different from pre-WWII Germany, and how undocumented Mexican immigrants aren’t the same demographic as European Jews. But I do believe that there are prime idealogical similarities that should be talked about, and those would be dehumanization and authoritarianism—two horrific practices that have led to genocide time and time again. Dehumanization is clear; Mexican lives are not equal to American lives. Authoritarianism is what’s being called for to enforce that dehumanization. More cops, more soldiers, more guns, more walls, more prisons, more violence. All in the name of “Freedom.” It’s a very dangerous mixture that should have anyone who really does value freedom concerned. And if we have to remember the darkest of human history to prevent such atrocities from happening again, then by all means lets do so as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible.

thanks again for your insight!

Jack Crane:

I recall Father Dan Berrigan giving an anti-nuke speech years ago, and drawing in the fact that all the terror brought upon German Jews was done “legally,” by heinous laws passed by a democratic republic. And, of course, a nuclear war would also be engaged legally. I agree with Arno, we need to steadfastly engage in debate about whether or not our laws are encouraging, supporting, validating the dehumanization of “the other.” A democratic, liberal, enlightened Christian German nation passed laws against its own citizens that eventually led to the torture and murder of children, parents and grandparents. What might we eventually pass as laws against “illegal aliens?” Is Arizona a dangerous sign, small as it may be, of new draconian national laws on the horizon? And what legislator would protest vehemently against curtailing Muslim-American freedoms? I think Berrigan was ripping away at our law-abiding bones, challenging us to consider that democratic laws can at times lead us to madness and death trains. The complete collapse of humanity (of what makes us human) in Germany in the 1930′s should be a welcome comparison to wrestle with in our own dangerous times.

Can you recommend a thoughtful book on the dark times of Germany in the 1930′s?

THIRD UPDATE: Comments from high school friend Jon Bassett and former student Andrew Lipman:

Jon Bassett:

Jeff, your unwillingness to allow this rhetoric makes you a fascist. Oh wait, a “fascist” is someone who supports a specific political idea pioneered in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. So I guess it makes you “someone who objects when like-minded people get sloppy in their language and thinking.”
Andrew Lipman:

I like the general rule that the first person to compare their opponent to the Nazis in a political debate automatically loses. As repugnant as this law is, the rule still applies here.

SECOND UPDATE:  Comment from my brother Jon Lowenstein:

Jeff:
Thanks for the quick response my friend. I kind of agree that it basically just trivializes the discussion when you compare it so closely with Nazi Germany. The United States government does not have a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against undocumented Latin American immigrants. It does feel damn conservative and that it’s a continuation of the schizophrenic immigration policy that we’ve been witnessing becoming increasingly conservative over the past decade. I also feel that Arpaio who has used the issue cynically for his own political gain, is pretty nasty, but I hear you about the rest. I don’t know that we want to compare it to Nazi Germany, but where might it be compared that is fascistic where this type of anti-immigrant policy has led to further alienation and systematic exclusion?

UPDATE: Comment from high school friend and history professor Michael David-Fox:

Hey, Jeff.

Since the Nazis are a symbol of evil and the Holocaust appears to be one of the only historical reference points people have, these kinds of comparisons come up too often. However, the late 1920s comparison, it seems to me, refers to a climate of increasing antisemitism that worked in favor of National Socialism. One might think this comparison carries more weight, but the fact is that many countries today, liberal and illiberal alike, allow police to check passports or documents. And much “racial profiling” and abuse does occur, as with people from the Caucasus living in Moscow, for example…Uh-oh–communism!

ORIGINAL POST:

I wrote last year about comparisons between President Obama and his efforts to pass health care reform efforts and Adolf Hitler’s genocidal reign.

I found the comparison offensive, said so, and urged people who were doing so to stop immediately.

The recent passage of SB 1070 in Arizona has elicited another round of Nazi Germany comparisons.  Rather than making Gov. Jan Brewer a latter-day Hitler, though, these pieces have focused more on the bill’s substance, saying that its insistence on a category of people producing papers evokes the early years of Hitler’s regime.

Others have asserted that the bill’s passage heralds a new era of Jim Crow.

Despite my vehement objections to the bill and the increasingly conservative and punitive approach state and local governments are adopting in the absence of federal immigration reform, I must say that I find the comparisons inaccurate.

Here’s what I wrote last night to my brother Jon after he asked my opinion:

“Hey, bro,

Thanks for the note.  The Nazis did not come to power until January 1, 1933, so the 20s comparison doesn’t work.  They also were the national authority, whereas Arizona is a state and Obama has spoken out against the law, so that diminishes the validity of the comparison, too.
My sense is that people on the left are advancing the idea that the necessity of having papers to prove one’s legitimacy as one step toward a gradually creeping fascism.
As you and I have discussed many times, while we may not like the laws on the books, undocumented folks are here illegally, while the Jews of Germany, like many of our family members, were citizens who had fought and died for the country.
A final difference is that the Jews at most were 1 percent of Germany’s population, while Latinos in general, and in Arizona in particular, are a much bigger part of the population.
This is all to say that, while I disagree strongly with the law and can see on some level how people might make the argument about this being Germany in the late 20s, I don’t put much stock in it.  In fact, I would say that the Nazification argument is made far too easily and often, and that many times the people who do this trivialize the Holocaust and display their lack of historical knowledge.”
Agreements? Disagreements? Does the percentage of a population or the democratic process that preceded the law change in any way its substance?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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11 responses to “Thoughts on SB 1070 and Nazi comparisons

  1. you make great points Jeff, and I agree with you entirely that Nazi comparisons are thrown about far too liberally nowadays. During the Dubya Presidency, I found myself comparing 911 to the burning of the Reichstag. While I still see the validity of such a comparison—primarily in the ensuing power-grab albeit in a much lesser magnitude—drawing lines between Hitler and G.W. Bush is counter-productive at best for those working towards peace, not to mention disrespectful to the human beings who suffered and perished in the Holocaust.

    The key differences you illuminate explain clearly how the AZ situation is vastly different from pre-WWII Germany, and how undocumented Mexican immigrants aren’t the same demographic as European Jews. But I do believe that there are prime idealogical similarities that should be talked about, and those would be dehumanization and authoritarianism—two horrific practices that have led to genocide time and time again. Dehumanization is clear; Mexican lives are not equal to American lives. Authoritarianism is what’s being called for to enforce that dehumanization. More cops, more soldiers, more guns, more walls, more prisons, more violence. All in the name of “Freedom.” It’s a very dangerous mixture that should have anyone who really does value freedom concerned. And if we have to remember the darkest of human history to prevent such atrocities from happening again, then by all means lets do so as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible.

    thanks again for your insight!

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Arno, for your typically thoughtful and insightful comment. I actually mentioned you by name today, so we must be in synch.

      Hope all is well with you, your family and your projects.

      Jeff

  2. I recall Father Dan Berrigan giving an anti-nuke speech years ago, and drawing in the fact that all the terror brought upon German Jews was done “legally,” by heinous laws passed by a democratic republic. And, of course, a nuclear war would also be engaged legally. I agree with Arno, we need to steadfastly engage in debate about whether or not our laws are encouraging, supporting, validating the dehumanization of “the other.” A democratic, liberal, enlightened Christian German nation passed laws against its own citizens that eventually led to the torture and murder of children, parents and grandparents. What might we eventually pass as laws against “illegal aliens?” Is Arizona a dangerous sign, small as it may be, of new draconian national laws on the horizon? And what legislator would protest vehemently against curtailing Muslim-American freedoms? I think Berrigan was ripping away at our law-abiding bones, challenging us to consider that democratic laws can at times lead us to madness and death trains. The complete collapse of humanity (of what makes us human) in Germany in the 1930’s should be a welcome comparison to wrestle with in our own dangerous times.

    Can you recommend a thoughtful book on the dark times of Germany in the 1930’s?

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Jack, for your comments and response to Arno. I appreciate the points that both of you make about dehumanization and legality as well as the very real possibility of similar types of legislation being passed in other states (Jon said tonight he had heard that 10 other states are considering similar measures.) These are in many ways the central source of concern about this legislation.

      I don’t want to be too caught up in historical distinctions, and it is important to note that Germany’s fledgling democracy, which had only been in place for 14 years, effectively ended the day that Hitler came to power in January 1933. While he did gain power through democratic means, he moved immediately to consolidate his power, murder his political opponents-this happened shortly after his regime began-and issue a series dictatorial proclamations that had the effect of law and that led to the dehumanization Arno describes in his comment. So, while Father Berrigan’s insistence that one not be comforted by the fact of legality and instead look, as both Arno and you suggest, at laws’ substance should be heeded, I am simply saying that Germany ceased to be a democracy when Hitler became Chancellor. Beyond that, I am also saying that I do not believe that the Arizona legislators have as their goal the murder of all Latinos in the same way that Hitler articulated, as early as the end of World War I, that objective for Jews. These are very real and qualitative differences that make me feel that the comparison is not an accurate or appropriate one, even as I oppose the law and very much respect the points both Arno and you have made.

      I’d recommend taking a look at Martin Gilbert’s The Holocaust, William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Lucy Dawidowicz’s The War Against the Jews, or Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of European Jewry to get oriented to Germany in the 30s and 40s. I’ve not yet read Saul Friedlander’s history, but have heard that it is outstanding. Each of these works is a tome and they are worth taking a look at when you have a chance.

      Thanks again, and regards to your family.

      Jeff

  3. TheRumpledOne

    SHOW ME YOUR PAPERS?

    We do NOT need immigration reform. We need immigration ENFORCEMENT! I have to show my ID when I board a plane and I am paying. Don’t you think people looking for government handouts should show ID proving they are here legally?

    Simple question:

    What happens if someone jumps the fence and wanders around a gated community without an ID? I am sure a resident of the community calls the cops saying someone that doesn’t look like they belong here is roaming the streets. The cops arrive. They would ask the wanderer a few questions. And since the wanderer does not have a valid reason for being inside the gated community, the cops would escort them out, wouldn’t they? Isn’t a country, like the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, a “gated community”, too?

    We should treat immigrants like Mexico does:

    At present, Article 67 of Mexico’s Population Law says, “Authorities, whether federal, state or municipal … are required to demand that foreigners prove their legal presence in the country, before attending to any issues.” That would simplify things. We do NOT need immigration reform. We need immigration ENFORCEMENT!

    WAKE UP AMERICA AND SMELL THE HYPOCRISY

  4. I guess you need to ask yourslef what sort of world you want to live in; one where gates and walls separate people and armed government agents enforce things, or one where people cooperate and care for each other, no matter where they’re from, what language they speak, or what color their skin is.

    I choose the latter scenario. YMMV

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks for the comments, Arno and Rumpled One.

      I am with Arno on this one and wonder what other people think.

      Jeff

  5. Pingback: ¡Bienvenidos a la Vida despues de odio: numero cinco! | life after hate

  6. Pingback: ¡Bienvenidos a la Vida despues de odio: numero cinco! | My Life After Hate

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