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syria and the holocaust
The Strange Selectivity of the Godwin Police

Sean Spicer’s blundering press conference yesterday, in which he defended the President’s newly activist posture towards Syria on the grounds that “even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons,” was particularly obtuse. But it wasn’t the first time that the Administration has been consumed by a cycle of outrage over the applicability of Holocaust analogies to the carnage wrought by Bashar al-Assad.

In fact, less than three months ago opponents of the Administration were invoking the Holocaust with abandon to attack the President’s new policy banning Syrian refugees from the United States. Activists created a Twitter account named after a ship of European Jewish refugees that the United States turned away and who were later murdered; journalists shared its materials far and wide. Democratic politicians, like Tim Kaine, and TV pundits, like Rachel Maddow, hammered the point home: Turning our backs on the people caught in Syria’s civil war is a moral disgrace comparable to standing by and allowing Jews to be murdered in the Holocaust.

The irony of the latest Spicer scandal is that the hapless press secretary’s botched Hitler analogy was clearly an attempt to do the exact same thing: Invoke the ultimate example of evil in Western history to moralistically defend a more humanitarian Syria policy. It’s hard not to question the authenticity of Spicer’s outraged critics when they too were indulging in reckless reductio at Hitlerum on Syria when it suited the anti-Trump agenda.

Of course, there are differences between the two instances. It’s almost certainly true that more Syrians would be saved by a generous resettlement policy than by a one-off airstrike. While refugee advocates were merely suggesting that the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria was just as bad as the Holocaust, Spicer seemed to be suggesting that it was in some ways worse. And while the administration’s Holocaust-invoking critics on refugee resettlements were not exactly careful with historical facts, Spicer’s misstatement was particularly cringe-inducing.

The truth is that Godwin’s law exists for a reason: Hitler comparisons are almost never productive in political arguments; invoking Nazi crimes has a tendency to obscure the current issues really at play while minimizing the scope of that regime’s crimes. But that standard should be applied consistently, not only against an administration whom much of the liberal establishment has foolishly convinced itself represents the second coming of fascism.

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  • Unelected Leader

    Spicer made the mistake saying something intellectual to a bunch of non-intellectuals. He was clearly talking about the great fear that World War II would see gas used on the battlefield combined with better planes to gas major cities, but it didn’t happen. One of the reasons, funny enough, was that much of the German military relied on horses. At the outset of war, only about 10% of the German military was fully mechanized

    • D4x

      Spicer’s apologies should be enough. “The Nazis Developed Sarin Gas During WWII, But Hitler Was Afraid to Use It” “…By the end of World War II, Nazi Germany had produced some 12,000 tons of the deadly chemical compound, enough to kill millions of people. From early in the conflict, high-level military officers pressed Hitler to use sarin against their adversaries. But despite such pressure, Hitler declined to employ it as a chemical weapon against the Allied Powers. …” April 12, 2017 By Sarah Pruitt

      • Unelected Leader

        That’s right, in fact, the Germans made the first nerve agent as early as 1934. But for fear of gas reprisals, and only 10% of the military being mechanized, the Germans never used it to gas cities. Spicer should have assumed that the corporate press has a high school level understanding of history, and recognize that they would immediately think of Auschwitz. they aren’t very smart people.

      • Beauceron


        • D4x

          Ought to be a Godwin’s Law for deplorable labels…am going to ignore this one, assuming you are a) referring to Spicer, b) are suffering from Upper West Side Syndrome, or c) looking for good Chinese food 🙂

          • Beauceron

            d) just larping as an Upper West sider and teasing you a bit, because you know someone would say it–it’s how Spicer got into trouble in the first place. It was an unfortunate turn of phrase, perhaps. But he wasn’t wrong, and he’s certainly not anti-semitic.

            I thought it was kind of funny….but *crickets*

          • D4x

            Only thing I miss about the UWS is the food. Glad you are now replying in Disqus

    • I learn so much from some of you regulars. TAI should have you all writing, too.

      • ——————————

        There’s a lot of really well-read/opinionated people here.
        I often find the comments better than the articles….

  • Isaiah601

    I hate the fact that Jewish institutions that are supposed to serve Jewish causes became hijacked by Left-wingers and are nothing more than propaganda outlets that think somebody else’s suffering gives them some kind of moral authority. Those people can go f$ck themselves.
    As for Spicer, I get what he was trying to say. Sure, it came out… poorly. There’s a reason Goodwin Law exists. But let’s not crucify a man for an awkward slip of tongue.

  • Mark Hamilton

    “While refugee advocates were merely suggesting that the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria was just as bad as the Holocaust, Spicer seemed to be suggesting that it was in some ways worse.”

    Except that wasn’t what Spicer was suggesting. He was trying to point out that even Hitler didn’t resort to using chemical weapons on the battlefield. I agree that it’s best to leave Hitler out of the discussion altogether, but he was not trying to compare Syrian victims to Holocaust victims, much less saying the Syrian victims have it worse. He was trying to say that Assad is such a POS that he will go places even Hitler wouldn’t.

    • ——————————

      Level-headed people know what you are saying, but the left-wing part of the media will pounce on whatever they can to hurt Trump.
      And besides, the news business is a 24 hour business, but there isn’t 24 hours of news…so they just manufacture stories and present them as ‘news’ to fill up the day….

  • Andrew Allison

    “Invoke the ultimate example of evil in Western history to moralistically defend a more humanitarian Syria policy.” Are you out of your minds? What Spicer, albeit clumsily, said was that what Assad has done is unprecedented.

  • SLEcoman

    It seems to me that Trump’s refusal to allow Syrian refugees entry into the US is a closer analogy to FDR’s refusal to allow Jewish refugees entry into the U.S. prior to WWII, than to Hitler. Similarly, it seems Trump’s idea of creating an alliance of convenience with Putin to defeat ISIS is a closer analogy to FDR’s alliance with Stalin to defeat the Nazis than some analogy to Hitler.

    • James Longar

      The first anology doesn’t work well for me. Jewish refugees didn’t harbor a fringe element that had a stated goal to destroy the very society in which they sought sanctuary. The second anology you make does seem accurate.

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