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