Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Playing the Nazi Card

It seems whenever a speaker, usually a politician or media person, wants to make an extreme argument or comparison to something that was terrible, they play the "Nazi card." It is the surefire way to get people to perk up and pay attention. It also serves to insulate the speaker, in as sense, from a measure of criticism because that would bespeak tacit support for the legacy of one of history's bloodiest and most demented regimes.

Well, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (D) did just that in reference to U.S. military personnel, on the floor of the U.S. Senate no less.
And he refuses to apologize for it, apparently.

There is no doubt that the imagery and reality of the Nazi regime in 20th century Germany are among the most disturbing and potent that exist in recorded memory. There mere mention of Hitler, the Nazis, the Holocaust invoke (and rightfully so) feelings of disgust, regret, sadness, loss and shame. This was truly one of the saddest chapters in human history, a turning point of history in the 20th century and a clarion call for the world to remember, "never again."

It is truly a shame when this powerful and sad imagery can be invoked at any time when a speaker finds a gap in his/her rhetoric and feels that they need to drive the point home. No real point or conclusion? Speech lack that final blow that will knock them over? Compare someone or something to the Nazis and they automatically become evil, you are seen as better for pointing out the similarity and that is that, right? It's all just history, right?

This does nothing less than cheapen the meaning and suffering that the Nazi regime wreaked on Europe during their damnable reign. It also, with overuse, lessens the real opprobium that belongs to the Nazis, who become in the process another devalued and meaningless metaphor. Remember what happened, gradually, to terms such as "liberal" and "conservative?" They are utterly meaningless because they were invoked by enemy and supporter alike ad nauseum. This cannot happen with the grim memory of the Nazis.

It also does rhetorical violence to several underlying ideas of history. The primary among these is, despite what George Santayana would have you believe, that history never really repeats itself. Each era and occurrence happens in a particular milieu which must be understood to understand the roots of people and events. There is no simple cyclical nature just as there is no simple linear nature to history. So to compare the Nazis to anyone is a useless exercise because their times and place are different and so were they. It dehistoricizes these historical happenings and makes them meaningless metaphors. This is violence to the present, past and future.

Shame on you, Senator Durbin. I wonder what your Jewish/World War II veteran/Holocaust survivor/historian/human being (really) constituents would have to say to you about this.

Hopefully they will let you know.

NOTE: To contact Senator Durbin:

Send Senator Durbin an email on his website.

Senator Richard J. Durbin
332 Dirksen Senate Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-2152
(202) 228-0400 - fax

OR contact one of his regional offices in Illinois:

230 South Dearborn Street
Suite 3892
Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 353-4952
(312) 353-0150 - fax

525 South 8th Street
Springfield, IL 62703
(217) 492-4062
(217) 492-4382 - fax

701 North Court Street
Marion, IL 62959
(618) 998-8812
(618) 997-0176 - fax

No comments: