Friday, June 24, 2005

Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, was not alone in recently comparing American behavior at Guantanamo Bay to that of “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings.”

Tarring Bush and Co. with Hitlerian imagery has become a debased parlor game. Politicians and other public figures toss about these charged references, expecting to create a buzz and assuming their audience is as uninformed as they are.

Rep. Charles Rangel, New York Democrat, cited the Holocaust to blast American policy in Iraq: “This is just as bad as the 6 million Jews being killed.” In his upside-down world, the mass murderer is the moral equivalent of those who stop him. Before Mr. Rangel, Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, evoked Nazi Germany to warn about the Bush administration.

An official of the Red Cross lectured that American guards at Guantanamo were “no better than and no different than the Nazi concentration camp guards.” Left unsaid was the logical sick corollary: If the perpetrators of the Holocaust were really no worse than American guards at Guantanamo, then, as is the case at Guantanamo where not one death has been reported, did no one really perish at Belsen or Treblinka, either?

And these people aren’t the only ones to stoop to play this game. There’s also been NAACP Chairman Julian Bond (“The American flag and the Confederate swastika”), former Ohio Sen. John Glenn (“It’s the old Hitler business”), Garrison Keillor (“Brownshirts in pinstripes”), Linda Ronstadt (“A new bunch of Hitlers”) and Al Gore (“Digital Brownshirts”).

Why suddenly does Adolf Hitler pop up everywhere when the Nazis have absolutely no relation with a democratic United States or a humane military?

Time Magazine recently reported that when Mohammed al-Qahtani, suspected 20th hijacker of September 11, 2001, was in distress, he was given a CAT scan and put on a heart monitor. A radiologist was flown to Cuba for consultation.

In contrast, is Mr. Durbin aware the Nazis laid railroad tracks to the very gates of Auschwitz to facilitate its engine of mass death, an industry that would take more than 6 million people? Or can he grasp the idea of 25 million perishing in the gulag — the population of Durbin’s Illinois being exterminated twice?

Note the escalating frustration behind these outbursts. Although an occasional conservative like Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, has stooped to Hitlerian slander, most offenders, such as Michael Moore (comparing the Patriot Act to “Mein Kampf”) or George Soros (saying Mr. Bush reminded him of “the Germans”), are on the left, furious over their inability to affect events.

Since September 11, we have had midterm and national elections, both referenda on the so-called war against terror. Those on the left have lost the majority of state legislatures, governorships, the House, the Senate, the presidency and perhaps the Supreme Court. If normal debate somehow didn’t rile up the somnolent American people, why not try conjuring up the ghosts of Hitler or Josef Stalin?

There is also an asymmetry in these slurs. Few mention there really are monsters and mass killers living among us — the North Koreans who have starved 1 million of their own, Saddam’s reign of terror that may have killed as many, and, of course, the Islamicist murderers who behead, blow up and torture. “Mein Kampf” still sells well in some Arab capitals, not in Washington or New York.

So cowards such as officials of the Red Cross and Amnesty International, and, yes, American politicians, prefer to showboat the purported misdemeanors of people who are civilized and will listen to them, rather than to condemn the horrendous felonies of those who are barbaric and will pay them no heed.

As a result, the bar is lowering. In today’s climate, Alfred Knopf has already published a novel about killing the president. Charlie Brooker writing in the Guardian in London prayed for another Lee Harvey Oswald to take out George W. Bush. Comedians, New York plays and art exhibits also bandy about assassination.

Each time a public official evokes Hitler to demonize the president, the American effort in Iraq or its conservative supporters, cheap rhetorical fantasy becomes only that much closer to a nightmarish reality where the unstable, here and abroad, act on the belief America really is Hitler’s Germany.

We will all soon reap what the ignorant are now sowing.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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