Friday, September 1, 2006

The Bush Administration and Godwin's Law

Fixer touched on this the other day, and I'm fleshing it out a little.


On the Internet, there is a dictum known as "Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies," coined in 1990 by a man named Mike Godwin. This law holds that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." Anyone who has spent time on political discussion boards can see that it's true; in any charged debate (abortion, Iraq, Israel, foreign policy), it's only a matter of time before someone compares his opponent to Hitler.

It's commonly understood that once Godwin's Law is invoked, a conversation is dead - and that any person who invokes Nazis almost definitely has failed to make his point. It's what philosopher Leo Strauss, the great inspiration to neoconservatives like Rumsfeld, called Reductio ad Hitlerum - the absurd smearing of any opposing line of thought as "Hitleresque." He may not have been contributing to an online bulletin board, but Rumsfeld's invocation of Nazis and the G.O.P.'s sudden interest in fascism seem to be a perfect illustration of how deep this war's supporters must dig in order to justify a deadly folly.

Perhaps, with Godwin's Law in mind, you'll allow me to indulge in a little bit of Nazi-analogizing. The following comes from a post–World War II interview between Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was allowed by the Allies to speak with Nazi POWs, and Hermann Goering, the Nazi Reichsmarshall. Their conversation took place on April 18, 1946, during a break in the Nuremberg trials, and was recounted in Gilbert's book, Nuremberg Diary:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the 'people' don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

A few days ago, defending the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld quoted World War I-era French leader Georges Clemenceau, who said: "War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory." Maybe there is victory at the end of Iraq. But the cost of the catastrophes is more than anyone, save for a few increasingly isolated members of the Bush Administration, is willing to bear.

Nobody's trying to appease terrorists, but that is what Rumsfeld said we are doing if we oppose Bush's criminal war.

We're not trying to appease the administration Nazis either. We want to jail them.

I wonder if they'll get so desperate they quote Goering and Goebbels directly? Or act like them more than they are doing already.


A BuzzFlash editorial:

Rumsfeld and Bush are Right About Evoking Nazism - But It's the Mirror That They Should be Looking At

Rumsfeld and Bush are on the right trail in bringing up Nazism, but it's because the Goering quote applies to them to a "T."

These are the tools used by dictators to direct the masses into a form of mass hysteria that leads to a population willingly giving up Constitutional powers and individual rights to the incontestable rule of a dictator.

They are asking us to support an affirmative action war agenda for failures: them.

So when Rumsfeld and Bush trot out the latest focus group tested Frank Luntz sound bites about Nazis, they should look in the mirror.

Staring back at them will be the visage of Hermann Goering, Nazi.

I think they'd do well to remember how Herr Goering ended up - dead in jail by his own hand to avoid prosecution and death by hanging.

Upate II:

William M. Arkin in the Wapo:

Rumsfeld's Enemy: It's Us

Rumsfeld stated there could be no appeasing the enemy and any "any moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere."

The "who" Rumsfeld is talking about is himself.

Rumsfeld is the "who" that is right, and everyone who disagrees is not only wrong, but a danger to freedom.

If I were the conspiratorial type, I'd say Rumsfeld was a particular menace to America because in his view of a monolithic and totalitarian terrorist enemy, and in his analysis of the weakness of American society, he can only come to the messianic conclusion that he indeed needs to takeover the country in order to save it. And this might even be worth speculating about were it the case that Rumsfeld reflected the views of those in the military leadership, or were it the case that Rumsfeld could actually engineer such a coup.

But alas, the secretary would get the intelligence wrong, employ too few troops and send tank columns on thunder runs through Manhattan and Hollywood, prematurely declaring victory and then being befuddled about the American desire to recover and preserve its way of life, which is not the Rumsfeld way.

Good OpEd. Please read the rest.

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