Stop comparing every leader to Adolf Hitler

Alex Belz

Last week, I was surfing the internet when I came across a disturbing image. It was a picture of a billboard in Iowa that depicted President Barack Obama, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, all with their respective types of socialism neatly labeled beneath their pictures: “National socialism,” “Marxist socialism” and, in Obama’s case, “Democrat socialism.”

The sign turned out to be a billboard the North Iowa Tea Party put up last summer. The sign was removed after several groups, including Holocaust survivor groups, Obama supporters and even fellow Tea Partiers, who strongly objected to the comparisons. While I’m glad the creators of this sign decided to take it down, I have to wonder why it was even put up in the first place.

The monumental stupidity of the sign should be obvious to anyone who views it or reads about it –– yet what makes me truly sad is that to some people, it isn’t.

Melissa Pinskey/NW

Critics of both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama have compared the two to the Third Reich and Hitler. In the modern era, it seems, calling someone a communist or a tyrant is not enough. Instead, people are recalling the very real and recent history of our grandparents and great-grandparents. They are trivializing the suffering of the 12 million people who were systematically killed under Hitler, as well as the estimated 60 million people who died as a whole during the war.

Accusations of tyranny are nothing new. When a citizen decides to critique their government, cries of totalitarianism seem inevitable. Anything from a new tax to a law allowing government wiretapping to a war no one supports can and sometimes should be referred to as tyranny. But what makes the modern cries of tyranny different from those of citizens of the past is that the modern cries always seem to reference a very specific tyrant –– namely, Adolf Hitler.

In 1953, an academic ethicist named Leo Strauss coined a term called reductio ad Hitlerum. The term demonstrates a fallacy in argument, when one party claims that a certain policy will lead to or is the same as one implemented by Hitler or the Third Reich. The fallacy is that this will somehow “prove” that the original policy is completely undesirable.

For example, someone arguing against devout Christianity might point out in an argument that Hitler was a devout Christian, therefore Christianity is wrong. Or that because Hitler used the automobile industry to help get out of the Great Depression (by creating Volkswagen,) then bailing out the auto companies in order to get out of the recession is wrong. The implication in these examples and many others being that, of course, these policies (religion, bailing out auto companies) can only end in genocide – because that’s what happened with Hitler, and anyway, no one wants to be called a Nazi, right?

What’s worst of all is that, at some point, these comparisons might actually be necessary.

Some day in the future, someone who legitimately does embody some terrifying mixture of totalitarianism and racism might come into the limelight to really seize the reigns of power – and when someone tries point out that he is just like Hitler, his supporters will just shrug it off, because every leader seems to go through a “he’s Hitler” phase.

The truth of the matter is National Socialism ended when Soviet troops captured Berlin in 1945. This refusal to let it die, this compulsion of so many to constantly compare presidents and world leaders to Hitler and Nazism, is just wrong.

Not everyone who makes a new tax law wants to become Führer. Most of them just want to make a new tax law.