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Time to repeal Godwin's law?
September 20, 2002 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Time to repeal Godwin's law? Ward Sutton's most recent cartoon makes an explicit link between Dubya and Hitler that some might call a cheap shot (and the cartoon, admittedly, is kinda weak since by the second panel you can see where it's going). But he's not alone: Germany's justice minister, who oughta know something about Hitler, made the same comparison in all seriousness. This isn't your standard "worse than Hitler" rhetoric; there are clear tactical analogies that are above and beyond the cynical strategies of most other global politicians this century. Or are they?
posted by soyjoy (50 comments total)

 
This is gonna be ugly...
posted by Irontom at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2002


Put aside for the time being the political issue of name calling against Bush. The article posted raises an interesting proposition, as suggested by Jesse Helms--we will punish Germany (collective punishment) by taking American troops out of that country, thus depriving the German economy of lots of money.

But what the hell are we doing with so many troops in Germany and in Europe anyway? Who is the potential enemy? Certainly not Russia any longer.

How many countries can you name where American military has bases?
posted by Postroad at 8:05 AM on September 20, 2002


In the time honoured words of mark and lard..... No Need.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2002


According to Reuters the minister now denies making the remark at all.
Daeubler-Gmelin said she had not made the remark, and Schroeder said he was glad to hear this. Government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye said Schroeder believed the minister, who was to hold a news conference later on Friday.

"The chancellor has made clear that anyone who draws such idiotic comparisons has no place in his cabinet," Heye said.

Daeubler-Gmelin called the U.S. ambassador to say she had been misrepresented, but Stoiber urged Schroeder to fire her.

Stoiber's catching up again because of this. *Insert lame joke about Bavarians at the gates*
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2002


  • Bush didn't plan his Kristallnacht, whatever the conspiracy loons may say.
  • Bush hasn't outlawed opposition parties.
  • Bush is not positioning himself as a tyrannical demigod ruler.
  • We still have a system of checks and balances, and if Bush is still up for election in 2004, and impeachment before then if he does anything awful.
  • And, most importantly, cartoonists are free to turn out stupid schlock like this without having brownshirts come knocking on their door. (And, no, being told that you should "watch what you say" is not the same)
I don't think Godwin's law is in any danger.
posted by jammer at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2002


But what the hell are we doing with so many troops in Germany and in Europe anyway?

The adage goes something like this: "To keep Russia out, America in and Germany down".
posted by cx at 8:13 AM on September 20, 2002


I think George Bush probably loves being compared to Hitler. As long as his critics make fools of themselves with statements like that, then his position on Iraq appears all the more rational.
posted by Beholder at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2002


"Bush-Hitler comparison raises furor"
A wonderful opportunity for a pun goes by the wayside...
posted by trharlan at 8:21 AM on September 20, 2002


yeah postroad - "must seriously consider moving U.S. forces out of Germany.."

anyone know of any country that has armybases all over the world ?
posted by dabitch at 8:21 AM on September 20, 2002


Um... does Germany have any room to talk?

This, from the BBC:

"The creation of Israel was the culmination of the Zionist movement, whose aim was a homeland for Jews scattered all over the world following the Diaspora. After the Nazi Holocaust, pressure grew for the international recognition of a Jewish state, and in 1948 Israel came into being. "

... and isn't Israel at the heart of all the problems, and one of the main reasons we were attacked in the first place?

So, technically, this is all fallout from Germany's actions in World War II... right?

So, shouldn't they be quite a bit mousier and apologetic at this juncture?
posted by zanpo at 8:22 AM on September 20, 2002


any.. *other* country that has... dang.

yeah cx, but is there really such a threat from russia still? [and wouldn't bases closer to that target as you do have already, suffice?].
posted by dabitch at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2002


dabitch: Depends on how many bases you need to qualify for "all over the world."

Britain and France for starters, though...
posted by Cyrano at 8:34 AM on September 20, 2002


dabitch: anyone know of any country that has armybases all over the world ?

Other countries do have military bases around the world. But we rarely hear about them on MeFi because the the United States is the Big Bad®.

Arrr. Grrr.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:34 AM on September 20, 2002


...because the the United States is the Big Bad®.
Oh, please. The U.S., at least on its current course, is clearly intent on being the biggest and the baddest of all time. It's just that when other countries call us "bad," our government can only hear the slang sense.
posted by soyjoy at 8:37 AM on September 20, 2002


Other countries do have military bases around the world.

Abidjan, Libreville, Mayotte and Hao Atoll, for the French, Cyprus, Ascension Island, Gibraltar and Diego Garcia for the Brits... Not exactly the Big Leagues.

Kinda apples and oranges, there, Slithey, given that there are, for example, 100,000 US troops stationed in my region alone (NE Asia).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2002


is it groundhog's day again?
posted by Mick at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2002


Bush didn't plan his Kristallnacht, whatever the conspiracy loons may say.

No, but he sure has capitlized on it, hasn't he? How we've gone from being attacked by Islamic extremists to about to attack Iraq, which we've still never proved to have anything to do with the former, still boggles the mind.
posted by kgasmart at 9:05 AM on September 20, 2002


Oh, please. The U.S., at least on its current course, is clearly intent on being the biggest and the baddest of all time.

We've got lots of killing to do if we're going to make that goal.
posted by jbelshaw at 9:07 AM on September 20, 2002


is it groundhog's day again?


why yes, it is, and that Sonny and Cher song is playing too...
posted by Big_B at 9:11 AM on September 20, 2002


Bush hasn't outlawed opposition parties.

Why bother, when the opposition party is working so hard to make itself irrelevant?

"Well, we'll let you attack Iraq, but you have to promise we'll focus the national debate on the economy afterwards, okay?"
posted by Shadowkeeper at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2002



Rhetorically, there's nothing more juvenile than invoking Hitler to denigrate an opponent. Any opponent. It's the exact opposite of thought; it's lazy and humorless as satire; and it's insulting to every person who suffered under nazi rule. I may not trust the current occupant of the White House any farther than I can throw him, but if I'm ever so intellectually bankrupt as to simply compare him to Hitler, MeFi'ers are welcome to strap me down and make we watch endless Hogan's Heroes reruns.

Given all that, here's an interesting question. Will misguided rhetoricians increasingly see a benefit in accusing others of invoking Hitler? (And I'm not necessarily charging that that happened here, just posing the question.)
posted by octobersurprise at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2002


Es gibt einen alten Saying in Deutschland—I wissen, daß es in Texas, vermutlich in Deutschland—that sagt, täuscht mich einmal, Schande on—shame auf Ihnen ist. Dummkopf me—you kann nicht wieder getäuscht erhalten.
posted by stvc15 at 9:23 AM on September 20, 2002


* Bush didn't plan his Kristallnacht, whatever the conspiracy loons may say.

- Kristallnacht came later (1938) the Reichstag fire happened just after his election in 1933. Bush may not have planned his Reichstag fire but there are many shades of grey concerning what members of his administration may have known and turned a blind eye to.


* Bush hasn't outlawed opposition parties.

- No but the US doesn't have any opposition parties which are a serious challenge to Bush - no serious party is polarised from his political views as, say, the communists were from Hitler. The greens are the closest analogy but they don't have enough support to offer a real challenge

* Bush is not positioning himself as a tyrannical demigod ruler.

- In 1933 I doubt many Germans thought Hitler was positioning himself in this way.

* We still have a system of checks and balances, and if Bush is still up for election in 2004, and impeachment before then if he does anything awful.

- Fair enough

* And, most importantly, cartoonists are free to turn out stupid schlock like this without having brownshirts come knocking on their door. (And, no, being told that you should "watch what you say" is not the same)

- Fair enough, but consider that free speech has 2 parts a) the freedom to publish what you like without government intervention (which I agree has probably the strongest legal protection in the world) and b) the ability to disseminate what you publish to many people. As they someone said "Freedom of the press is only guaranteed if you happen to own one"

Please note that I am NOT saying that Bush is a moral equivalent to Hitler, only that there is a fairly strong historical analogy between what he is doing and what Hitler did.

BTW: how do you do the italics?
posted by tranceformer at 9:35 AM on September 20, 2002


kgasmart: boggle on over here.
posted by techgnollogic at 9:36 AM on September 20, 2002


is it groundhog's day again?

no, but it may be "goundhog day." you have gotten, haven't you, that this conversation isn't over because the bush administration's actions and positions have not been adequately explained? i'm still waiting for the tie between al qaeda and iraq to be demonstrated, and i'm still waiting for iraq to invade one if its neighbors, and i'm still waiting for mr. bush to explain how he got it in his head that it's ok to go smack someone around just because you're afraid of them.
posted by hob at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2002


tranceformer: like <i>this</i>.
posted by hob at 9:44 AM on September 20, 2002


*cough* Someone doesn't know their history. The analogy to 9/11 would be the Reichstag fire, which allowed Hitler to press German President Hindenburg for dictatorial powers, which permitted him to abrogate liberties by decree, i.e. without a vote by the legislature; later, Storm Troopers, who were party enforcers, were given police powers throughout Germany (they already had achieved semi-official status in Bavaria and other German states). And to ensure a victory in parliamentary elections, Hitler arrested many opposition legislators. It didn't take long for democracy to exist in name only.

Kristallnacht didn't happen until five years later, when Germany began its campaign against the Jews. It wasn't an excuse or ruse, it was an opening gambit.

The "American Reichstag" meme is used by both the left and the right. It's despicable either way. Of course, the left has a longer history of kicking out its own legs of credibility by screaming fascism at every turn, using ever more molehill-like justifications. (These days, all it takes is to criticize a prominent leftist.) Slippery slope arguments aside, I don't see Bush arresting Daschle, while power-tied Republican mobs storm the streets. Even the USA PATRIOT act, which did chip away at certain civil liberties, was duly passed by the multi-party legislature, which is now standing for election.

Incidentally, there's a good deal of confusion about the remarks: early reports in the US, anyway, had the culprit as former defence minister Scharping [Safire/NYT]. If it's a currently sitting minister, that's all the more disappointing. It's irresponsible and childish. Certainly war has been ginned up as a "distraction" by many more leaders than Hitler. Heck, they even said it about Clinton during Kosovo (when by 2002 standards we certainly had no economic worries).
posted by dhartung at 9:48 AM on September 20, 2002


For the record: the United States has numerous military bases in Germany, Britain and Italy. (The largest of these, a cluster of bases in southwestern Germany referred to as the Kaiserslautern Military Community, is the largest permanent settlement of Americans outside U.S. borders.) There are still a couple in Spain as well, I think. There are also a couple in Turkey, couple more in Saudi Arabia, a few others in tiny obscure Arab nations. The U.S. military is building new bases in central Asia, and there's a handful of long-standing bases in Japan and South Korea. There are several more in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico and Honduras in addition to the famous Guantanamo Bay installation).

These are the ones I know of. There are almost certainly more.
posted by gompa at 9:56 AM on September 20, 2002


Let me just check in here and try to clarify my seemingly rhetorical question (original link): Everyone here seems to agree that invoking Hitler in an argument is juvenile and a sign of desperation. And until now, I've agreed with that since before Godwin's law was written (or before I found out about it anyway). But what I find interesting is, at what point, under what circumstances, would that no longer be the case? Surely no present situation is going to be exactly the same as that in which Hitler took over Germany, so the argument "Hitler did such-and-such, but Bush hasn't yet" isn't very strong. When are there enough similarities to justify saying, "hey, this is getting ominous"...?
posted by soyjoy at 10:01 AM on September 20, 2002


Tranceformer, while your dialogue is crackling with wit and intelligence, you might try the technique next time using the em tag to enhance the distinction between the two voices. Just so my poor old eyes can keep up! 8-)
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:06 AM on September 20, 2002


dhartung, you're conflating two separate remarks by two separate German politicians. Scharping, who's a busted flush in any case, was reported as making specifically 'anti-Semitic' remarks, blaming the US moves against Iraq on the influence of the Jewish lobby ('anti-Semitic' being the term for anything mildly critical of Israeli interests these days, showing that playing the Likudnik right has long had its own version of the 'fascist card', which has proved much easier to close down debate); the current justice minister was reported as comparing Bush's methods of bellicose distraction to Hitler's. Obviously, it's considered a great way to win an election. Someone should tell Tony Blair.

The problems of accuracy are to be expected, though, when you get your news from Instapundit.
posted by riviera at 10:51 AM on September 20, 2002


Bush is not Hitler. Hitler was not Stalin. Neither one was Napoleon. Bush, however, like any U.S. president (with power over the world's most powerful military force), deserves close scrutiny. More accurately, such scrutiny is required. Reasonable skepticism of a president's plans and criticism of same should never, by anyone, be called unpatriotic or outrageous. That it's happened is a matter of no small worry here.

The bigger worry with me is, however, the following: The president now seems obsessive about Iraq. It still makes little sense to me why Iraq has become the focal point of all news and of Congressional and DOD attention, etc. The "preemptive" strike theory is morally questionable, to say the least. Talk of unilateral action is not only anachronistic, but dangerously stupid, even suicidal.

Can this be changed through well-reasoned but tough criticism, though? Sure. Bush only started talking to world leaders more, and going before the U.N., when pressure was brought upon him and questions and concerns were raised. He needs to answer even more questions, and he should be subjected to even more criticism and skepticism. War is not, say, a fight over tax policy. It's not something you do on a whim.

At the same time, I've read that the least amount of support for unilateral Iraq hawkishness comes from those with college degrees. Without the support of the elite or middle class, Bush will never be Hitler-esque - at least not for longer than a month or two (at which point it would be necessary to, among other things, write a new Constitutional amendment to deal with presidential foreign policy powers).
posted by raysmj at 10:54 AM on September 20, 2002


Bush didn't plan his Kristallnacht, whatever the conspiracy loons may say.
Kristallnacht against whom? Do you mean the burning of the Reichstag? Roughly a year after tha happened, there were no serious doubts about the communists having been responsible for that in the public debate.

Bush hasn't outlawed opposition parties.
You don't really have to be a cynic to see that there are no significant opposition parties (the communists were strong back in Hitler's days of rise).

Bush is not positioning himself as a tyrannical demigod ruler.
Well, you have Ashcroft and the likes for that. ;-)
posted by zerofoks at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2002


Political cartoons make big, broad, slashing, dumb and wrongheaded statements all the time--it kind of goes with the territory. But I at least would like them to be funny.
posted by Skot at 10:58 AM on September 20, 2002


ooops, kind of a double post there. i apologize...


Surely no present situation is going to be exactly the same as that in which Hitler took over Germany, so the argument "Hitler did such-and-such, but Bush hasn't yet" isn't very strong. When are there enough similarities to justify saying, "hey, this is getting ominous"...?

I think what really matters are a similiar connection of political motives and the realization of these motives in concrete politics. For instance, masses of people, even more than in the Holocaust have been slaughtered by the Sowjets and other communist regimes. On the other hand, if Fritz Schniegelwutz in lower Bavaria had the same intentions as Hitler but would stay on his little farm all his life, there'd be no need to draw a comparison either.
Personally, I think there is no real Doppelgänger of Hitler, there never has been, and if the world doesn't want to deevolve into something very, very ugly, there never will be ever again.
posted by zerofoks at 11:14 AM on September 20, 2002


soyjoy: Oh, please. The U.S., at least on its current course, is clearly intent on being the biggest and the baddest of all time.

jbelshaw: We've got lots of killing to do if we're going to make that goal.

Nonsense. The United State is steeped in blood we've shed, from the genocide of native peoples, through slavery and the Civil War, to the millions killed by U.S. troops in this century.

And if we're not at the top yet, we're hell-bent on getting there. Rah. USA #1. Rah
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:18 AM on September 20, 2002


Foldy: Dunno if this was your intent - somehow I doubt it - but when I click your "getting there" link, I get a message from the White House site saying that the file has been permanenly moved. But get this: The URL given for the new location is that very page, the one saying it's moved - shades of Goedel! What was the content of "nss.pdf"?
posted by soyjoy at 11:32 AM on September 20, 2002


try again, soyjoy, works for me.
posted by betaray at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2002


fold_and_mutilate: Now you're getting it. Just Rah a little louder next time. Thanks.

(nb: You're right, I meant Reichstag, not Kristallnacht... I had just climbed out of bed when I wrote that first post)
posted by jammer at 12:09 PM on September 20, 2002


Nope. Can't get it. Weird. Must be the proxy server or something here at wor - er, uh, at this location I'm currently writing from. I'll try it again when I get hom - er, back to my other computer.
posted by soyjoy at 12:17 PM on September 20, 2002


But we rarely hear about them on MeFi because the the United States is the Big Bad®

Err, not to mention the world's only true superpower, the largest military, and has a long history of using its military might to control and change sovereign nations through covert arming to outright military action. Start in latin American and work your way towards the middle east and asia, I'm too lazy to look up the links for you.

It would behoove mefites, especially American mefites, to admit and understand the US is the exception and not the rule when it comes to foreign policy and international action. It would be pretty shameful if the US didn't get its fair share of criticism because many mefites are Americans. I think its pretty condescending to suggest the criticisms of the US are groundless because of a hypothetically unearned reputation of being the "big bad."

As far as the cartoon goes the Reichstag analogy works and the rest are over-the-top political cartooning. Using Hitler will always seem inappropriate because we as a society have a need to demonize him. If we took him as an example of corruption and nationalism gone wild then we wouldn't see him as almost a supernatural force of evil anymore, but as a cautionary tale of politics gone very, very bad.

Interestingly, Hitler is often labeled 'evil' (a term grounded in the supernatural), just like America's current enemies. Assuming the moral high ground instead of looking at the facts, the conflict of interests, the history, and the politics of one's enemies is bound to only make one ignorant and reactionary. Perhaps this comic expresses more than it intended to.
posted by skallas at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2002


I believe Bush is, albeit slowly, positioning himself as a godlike figure. The first step towards that is abrogating the reality--diffusing the image of Bush as a bumbling fool. This is quite obvious when one sees how the media are handling his celebrated gaffes nowadays. When he fucked up last week trying to get out "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" the local Fox channel covering it ignored the mistake, and the New York Times went even further--they turned his gaffe into the soundbite that gravely "set the tone" over how the US was going to respond to Saddam's weapons offer. Another early sign is how the media tried to tie Bush's physical fitness to the fitness of the nation, like a divine monarch. Or how the Washington Post says with a straight face that one thing Bush inherited from his mother was her "quick wit." Or Dana Millbank saying Bush is Andrew Jackson reborn--anyone who knows any American history knows how patently false that is. Jackson is around as far away, presidentially speaking, as one can get from the boy born with a silver foot in his mouth. There's a strong connection here to doublethink. Jackson should make people think of the "corrupt bargain" that kept him out of office once, and his populist stance...in other words, if one was bored enough to look for modern parallels, Gore. By stealing that ideological spot for Bush, they're attempting to further validate his presidency.
posted by jbrjake at 12:53 PM on September 20, 2002


When he fucked up last week trying to get out "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" the local Fox channel covering it ignored the mistake.

So, does having Iraq-Arming Bush Senior as President count as the 'once' in that saying?
posted by riviera at 12:56 PM on September 20, 2002


According to the 2000 Department of Defense Almanac the US has the following military assets:

1. 1.37 million Active duty forces (as of March 1999), 1.35 million Ready and Stand-by Reserves, 703,000 Civilian Employees (as of Jun 1999)

2. 519 fixed facilities covering 18 million acres and Presence in more than 140 countries

3. $270 billion authorized for FY 99

A summary of actual foreign military bases is also available. If you are interested there are/were 61 US military bases outside the US.

The information contained in the Defense Almanac was compiled by the staff of the American Forces Information Service from various official sources within the Department of Defense. The almanac contains, Military funding, rank and insignias, administration, bases, general statistic about the US Military Armed Forces and the DoD.

FYI
posted by infowar at 12:59 PM on September 20, 2002


I think we should just choose our presidents the way we choose our popstars . . . American-Idol-style elections might get us some better candidates.
posted by Emera Gratia at 1:10 PM on September 20, 2002


the story of post-WWI germany is probably the most compelling and tragic of all time(or perhaps it just seems that way because it occured in living history). hitler showed the majority of a modern, western people were fundamentally susceptible to appeals to emotion, repetitious propaganda, nationalism, and jingoistic militarism. his speeches before he attained power were almost always the same. but his weak arguments were never really the point. they were just a tactical pretext for his real motive -- the attainment of total power and then of a wildly deranged megalomaniacal foreign policy.

the unsettling thing about bush is that he has a perfect tactical pretext to attain his own unclear foreign policy vision. and he doesn't seem shy about using it.
posted by illiterati at 1:11 PM on September 20, 2002


The minister makes a big history mistake: Hitler didn't need a war to divert attention from his domestic problems (he had everything under control), the war was the instrument to attain his political goals (read "Mein Kampf" for details).
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 2:40 PM on September 20, 2002


riviera: How generous and kind of you to use the loaded term "conflating" rather than the appropriate one, "confusing". My bad. Clearly Glenn simply meant to link the two stories via Fleischer's objection, and the string of denials/rebuttals/reiterations in both cases would make anyone look twice. Yes, I see now there are two cases of German politicians being accused of making preposterously tasteless comparisons! How could I possibly have misunderstood?

jbrjake: You're pulling our legs, right? Or you just read 200 pages of Lewis Lapham.
posted by dhartung at 12:59 AM on September 21, 2002


Actually, dhartung, I'm only too happy to use the term you regard as 'appropriate', and confirm that you were indeed utterly confused by the substance of the story. I actually used 'conflated' since I was worried that you'd have one of your little hissy-fits if I questioned your air of omniscience.

I see now there are two cases of German politicians being accused of making preposterously tasteless comparisons! How could I possibly have misunderstood?

We can draw our own conclusions on your Reaganesque confusion, but clearly the intentions behind the Holy Writ of Glenn are not to be questioned. As for the 'tastelessness' of the comments: it's - well, duh - a matter for one's personal taste. (As opposed to the substance, which appears designed for domestic consumption, a bit like Bush's homeboy crawfisherry.) But chacun à son goût, as they say in the Land That Must Be Hated.
posted by riviera at 1:37 AM on September 21, 2002


Hitler comparisons are a lame, ideological crutch.

The America is EvilTM crowd ("World War 2? Did we really have to fight that?") doesn't realize that their rhetoric of America being the only country to ever do bad things is just as silly as the America Is Oh, So GoodTM crowd that believes America has never done anything wrong ("Vietnam? Woulda been just fine if them hippies hadn't gotten involved!").

Bush is stupid, moronic, etc. That said, he is not Adolph Hitler.

Just for once, try to have two thoughts in your head. It's fun, I promise.
posted by owillis at 7:50 AM on September 21, 2002


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