Commentary: Can We Dial Back the Hitler References?

February 9, 2017

There is a form of argument in logic called reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity), which attempts to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous conclusion. A variation of this is called reductio ad Hitlerum (reduction to Hitler), which is the attempt to invalidate another’s argument on the basis that the same view was held by Adolf Hitler. (This, by the way, is a logical fallacy.) One might think that this is a modern innovation given all the Hitler-invoking going on in recent years but the term was in fact coined in 1951.

Here is an extremely abbreviated list of Hitler comparisons:

  • Fidel Castro compared Reagan to Hitler for bombing Libya;
  • Yugoslavian president Tito compared LBJ to Hitler for air raids in Vietnam;
  • Rep. William Miller compared LBJ to Hitler because of some of his “Great Society” reforms;
  • Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called Richard Nixon asking for a recount in the 1960 elections “Hitler-type” tactics;
  • “Except for Adolf Hitler’s extermination of the Jewish people, the American bombardment of defenseless peasants in Indochina is the most barbaric act of modern times” – Sen. George McGovern;
  • “If the British had not fought in 1940, Hitler would have been in London and if Democrats do not fight in 1968, Nixon will be in the White House” – Vice President Hubert Humphrey;
  • “(Barry) Goldwater’s acceptance speech had the stench of fascism. All we needed to hear was Heil Hitler” – California Governor Pat Brown (San Francisco Mayor Jack Shelley added that Goldwater strategists got their ideas out of Mein Kampf);
  • When President Obama did not join other world leaders at a unity rally in France in 2015, Rep. Randy Weber unfavorably contrasted him with Hitler (“Even Adolph [sic] Hitler thought it more important than Obama to get to Paris”);
  • “(President George W.) Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler also used” – German justice minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin;
  • “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s” – Hillary Clinton on Vladimir Putin;
  • “You are the new Hitler” – Muammar Gaddafi on the United States;
  • “The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected” – Kurt Vonnegut;
  • “Mrs. Clinton backed the crime bill and then called our young people super predators. Of course she apologized, but just a minute. See, Hitler could’ve said to the Jews after Auschwitz, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Would that be enough to satisfy you?” – Louis Farrakhan

The practice even dates back to when Hitler was still around. FDR said that Wendell Willkie used “Hitler tactics” by constantly repeating propaganda.

Republicans say it about Democrats, Democrats say it about Republicans. The US says it about other nations, other nations say it about the US. Everyone is compared to Hitler for everything. Searching online, I found that Hillary Clinton is like Hitler because her child care plan resembles his “Mother and Child” plan, they both “love abortions” (whatever that means) and they both want to take your guns away. Barack Obama is like Hitler because they both held rallies in outdoor stadiums, both ghost-wrote autobiographies before running for office, followed by second books outlining their political plans, both used their political clout to conceal their birth certificates, and Obama’s “Youth Brigade” is apparently just Hitler Youth repackaged.

Are you ready for this one? It appeared in the New York Times in 1962:

“…President Kennedy surpassed Hitler and Tojo in the savagery and tyranny.”

Even I – who am not a politician – have been compared to Hitler. (The subject is using chickens for kapporos, which is somehow my fault even though I don’t use chickens for kapporos myself.)

Through overuse, the Hitler thing has lost all meaning. Not every comparison to Hitler is a scathing criticism. You know who else was a decorated war hero? A successful military strategist? A mediocre painter? An animal lover? Hitler banned smoking on public transportation – don’t think that wasn’t trotted out when various states instituted their own smoking bans. Similarly, sharing some political ideology (such as anti-immigration on the right or gun control on the left) or personal characteristic (like persuasive public speaking) with Hitler is not proof that the person in question is evil. Remember, reductio ad Hitlerum is a logical fallacy.

Hitler had millions of people killed because of their race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability status and political affiliation. That’s what he did that was evil and that’s what we should focus on. When we invoke Hitler comparisons as our slur of choice, we minimize the enormity of his crimes. Pol Pot can legitimately be compared to Hitler, John McCain and John Kerry can not.

Senator John Glenn said, “It’s the old Hitler business… if you hear something repeated, repeated, you start to believe it.” That may be true in other areas but it’s no longer so in the realm of Hitler comparisons. That old canard has been tossed around so much, it has ceased to be meaningful. It says nothing about the object of the slur. By all means, vote for who you like, protest who you don’t – that’s the American way. But let’s try to dial back the Hitler thing. It’s white noise. All it does is reduce Hitler to another politician that we don’t like for some petty reason. Hitler deserves the full extent of our abhorrence for being history’s worst monster, not being reduced to a mild irritant for sharing some common ground with an opponent in our partisan political squabbles.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.