Friday, June 10, 2005

The zombie of Hitler's corpse is eating people's brains

Last week, inspired by this post, I discussed how quick politicians and pundits are these days to make fallacious comparisons to Hitler or the Nazis, pointing out that such comparisons are generally poorly thought out and serve more as a means of demonizing one's political opponents rather than making a serious comparison. I also noted that "argumentum ad Nazium" (a.k.a. the Hitler card") was once a favored tactic mainly of the left, but that right wing hacks like Rick Santorum had unfortunately now adopted, making weak Hitler/Nazi/Holocaust comparisons the bad historical analogy that hacks of all political stripes love to indulge in these days. (Remember the lead-up to the Iraq War and all the "Saddam Husein=Hitler" comparisons?)

Now, I find out that Democrat Charlie Rangel has joined in the fun, comparing the war in Iraq to the Holocaust:
It's the biggest fraud ever committed on the people of this country," Rangel told WWRL Radio's Steve Malzberg and Karen Hunter. "This is just as bad as six million Jews being killed. The whole world knew it and they were quiet about it, because it wasn't their ox that was being gored."
Oooh boy. OK, the Iraq war was, in my opinion, a horrible mistake that has gotten the U.S. involved in an open-ended counter-insurgency action that will last many years, has cost nearly 1,700 U.S. soldiers and probably ten times that number of Iraqis their lives, and is likely to cause all sorts of harm to our military capability over the long haul. However, it is most definitely not the equivalent of the Holocaust, not by any stretch of the imagination. When asked to clarify, Rangel added:
"I am saying that people's silence when they know terrible things are happening is the same thing as the Holocaust, where everyone would have me believe that no one knew those Jews were killed over there."
Hmmm. So Charlie didn't exactly compare the Iraq War to the Holocaust, at least not directly; he just compared the public reaction to the Iraq War to the the public's indifference to the Holocaust, thereby indirectly implying that the Iraq War was as bad as the Holocaust. Way to go, Charlie! Don't let that Republican hack Rick Santorum upstage you or Robert Byrd when it comes to idiotic Nazi analogies!

As you can imagine, the conservative blogosphere has jumped all over this, with Chrenkoff, Michelle Malkin, McQ, and Polipundit weighing in. (I don't recall if they were as indignant when Rick Santorum made his boneheaded Nazi analogy, but somehow I very much doubt it.) I also note that, while castigating Charlie Rangel for his fallacious Holocaust analogy (abuse that Charlie richly deserves), they generally let Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League off the hook for his own questionable Holocaust analogy made in response to Rangel:
"It is so outrageous that I think he owes an apology not only to the families of the victims of the Shoah, but he also owes an apology to the soldiers who are fighting for freedom. If the world had recognized the evil of Hitler early enough - just like we're confronting the evil of terrorism and fundamentalism now - then maybe the 6 million wouldn't have died."
Oooh boy. Again, Saddam Hussein was not a good guy. He was a very bad guy who killed lots of his own people. But the equivalent of Hitler? No. Ditto "terrorism," al Qaeda, and "fundamentalism" when compared to the Nazi regime.

One of the rightwingers proposed a rather questionable solution, however: The Bipartisan Anti-Inflammation Pledge of 2005. The pledge states:
I pledge for the length of my public career:
  1. To never compare a politician to Stalin, or a prison to the Gulag, unless millions of said politician's countrymen have been starved, murdered, worked to death, or otherwise killed, for the sole purpose of establishing a worldwide revolution or in the service of Communism.
  2. To never compare a politician to Hitler, unless said politician has dissolved Congress, usurped power totally, murdered political opponents, attempted to rule an entire continent through invasion, and instigated a war that has engulfed the entire world.
  3. To never compare any event whatsoever, anytime, anyplace, to the Holocaust, perhaps the most evil event in humanity's lifespan.
This is simplistic and a bit disingenuous in that it appears intended to preclude all such comparisons, except under very limited situations. (Note the mention of gulags, which is a clear allusion to Amnesty International's comparing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to a gulag. Ask yourself: Why limit such comparisons only to detention camps run by Communist regimes? Why would comparing a mass detention center in the service of a non-Communist regime not be appropriate?)

Since my original post on this topic, I think I've come up with (I hope) a better idea. Whenever someone makes a Hitler or Nazi comparison, be it "Bush=Hitler" or "Hillary=Hitler" or "Whomever=Hitler" or a questionable Holocaust comparison, don't just accept it or shrug and walk away. Pin down the person making the analogy. Ask him what, specifically, he means! Make him justify the analogy with history, facts, and logic. Ask him specifically what similarities and what historical events lead him to make that analogy. At least 95% of the time, you'll get either no answer (and you'll hopefully make the idiot making the analogy very uncomfortable); a meaningless "because X is as bad as Hitler," "because X got us in a war," or "X is like the Holocaust because lots of people are being killed" kind of an answer or an obviously fallacious answer like Charlie Rangel's or Abe Foxman's. The other 5% of the time (or usually way less), you may get something as thoughtful as David Neiwart's essays (not as long, of course). If interviewers who encounter such analogies from politicians they're interviewing would consistently, calmly, and insistently ask followup questions demanding justification and pointedly asking why the politician being interviewed chose the Hitler/Nazi analogy rather than another, a lot of this silliness would disappear. It wouldn't stop the bad analogies in political speeches, but it might make TV and radio political punditry just a little less annoying by making politicians acutely aware that they will be called on it when they use Nazi comparisons. At the very least, it would make politicians making such overheated analogies squirm on the air a bit, and that's always a good thing. In fact, maybe we could even have pundits invoke Godwin's Law. Now that I would like to see.

10 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 6/10/2005 4:22 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

The trouble is that this strategy would only really work with the most naive comparisons. Most uses of the argumentum ad nazium (http://www.fallacyfiles.org/adnazium.html) are more invidious.

Educated people, at least, would rarely make a direct, through-and-through comparison; it's easy to take apart someone who says 'Blair is like Hitler', as the comparison is so patently ludicrous. A more sophisticated rhetorician, however, might say (for example) 'Blair's seeming ability to have absolute faith in the rightness of everything he does betrays a moral certitude that, at times, might almost remind one of the certitude of a Hitler or a Mussolini'. This is just as guilty of the Argumentum ad Nazium, but is couched in such a way as to make any such challenge more difficult. The fallacy lies in the Hitle comparison per se rather than in historical laziness - our (hypothetical) rhetorician is not saying Blair is like Hitler in any other respect than his moral certitude (which may or may not be defensible).

To push the metaphor further than that by demanding that the speaker demonstrate that Blair, say, has indulged in ethnic cleansing would be to fall for a straw man.

Imagine a different parrallel: imagine that a journalist remarked that a corrupt politician cad been caught 'like a small boy with his hand in the cookie jar'. To demand that the journalist demonstrate that the politician still wet the bed and believe in the tooth fairy would be ludicrous.

The Hitler Card - like any sauch bad company rhetoric - is an argumentative bad move of itself and should be regarded as something which automatically weakens a person's position. It is rhetoric (and poor rhetoric, at that), not argument.

 

At 6/10/2005 5:20 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

Addendum: it's just occurred to me that you've been looking at the Hitler card as fundamentally a question of weak analogy, and that's what your strategy is designed to deal with. Nazi comparisons usually are bad analogies, of course, but I would suggest the bad company element is both more fundamental and less amenable to destruction through your strategy. I guess that's what I was trying to get across above. But I'm tired and inarticulate.

 

At 6/10/2005 6:18 AM, Anonymous Jon Henke said...

I don't recall if they were as indignant when Rick Santorum made his boneheaded Nazi analogy, but somehow I very much doubt it.


In our case, you'd be wrong. For that matter, Polipundit wrote about it, too.

I went back and looked to find out how many on the left were critical when Senator Byrd made his Hitler comparison. Via Memeorandum, I could only find two who addressed it...and both defended Byrd.

 

At 6/10/2005 7:04 AM, Blogger Orac said...

OutEast: Point taken, but the argumentum ad Nazium is not always a fallacy, as the discussion in my original post went on about for quite some time. However, it is usually a fallacy. In political debate, it is usually a technique of ad hominem attack, as you point out. My proposal is more to call people on it when they make such idiotic comparisons.

John Henke: Point taken, but I remember when it happened and I browse a fair number of conservative sites (although I only just discovered yours). The silence was notable. I also note how no one seems to have criticized Abe Foxman for his rather dicey invocation of the Holocaust in defending the war on terror.

 

At 6/10/2005 7:32 AM, Blogger Orac said...

It just occurred to me that fallacious invocations of the Holocaust are a tactic that could make up a post of its own. Of course, whenever anyone uses the Holocaust politically, they are in essence using the Nazi analogy, just indirectly by implying that whoever is doing the evil that is being compared the Holocaust must be as bad as Hitler.

Of course, invoking the Nazis and the Holocaust is not always inappropriate. As one example in which OutEast is not quite correct, take the case of Holocaust deniers. I have yet to encounter one who is not an anti-Semite, and many of them are Nazi apologists. Is it wrong to bring this up? No, because it's not a fallacious comparison.

 

At 6/10/2005 8:29 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

I totally agree that there are situations in which references to and comparisons with Hitler are appropriate; however, I would not call this 'playing the Hitler card' or 'employing an argumentum ad Nazium' as these are names for the fallacy, not simply for the use of references to Hitler in debate.

 

At 6/10/2005 8:32 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

Incidentally, I loved your idea of pundits invoking Godwin's Law:

'Yes, well that's killed this interview. Over to Mark in the studios...'

 

At 6/10/2005 10:19 AM, Blogger Orac said...

It would be even better if somehow Godwin's Law could result in a politician's microphone being turned off the instant he or she makes a Hiter/Nazi/Holocaust allusion. ;-)

 

At 6/10/2005 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

was once a favored tactic mainly of the left, but that right wing hacks like Rick Santorum had unfortunately now adopted

I'd go back a little further - it was quite common for right-wing politicos in the 50s and 60s to compare this week's "not our bastard" to Hitler (not least to justify the support for the various "our bastard" figures). Nasser was a particular favourite in the UK. Hell, it started at least as early as June 1945, when Winston Churchill pissed away his credibility by saying that the Labour Party would form a Gestapo force if it was elected. This implied "Attlee=Hitler" notion was particularly diastrous because Churchill had made Attlee his deputy during the War, and indeed had only held onto the premiership after Dunkirk thanks to the people he was now comparing to Nazis.

 

At 6/10/2005 10:35 PM, Blogger Orac said...

Point taken. I rather suspect that which side favors the Hitler analogy more switches every so often, depending on what's going on in the world. For example, I noticed more right-wingers starting to use it two years ago during the runup to the Iraq War. You know, "Saddam=Hitler."

However, during the '60's through '90's, give or take, I'd say that Hitler analogies were mainly the province of the left.

 

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