We may be living in the worst period of Holocaust denial since the Nuremberg trials. I’m not referring to the twisted morons who insist that the Holocaust never happened the way the Monty Python guys insisted the parrot wasn’t dead. I’m referring to the legions of Holocaust deniers in the Democratic Party, on the Web, on college campuses, in the mainstream press and, most acutely, in my e-mail box every morning, who reduce to the Holocaust to a triviality.
In America today - never mind Europe and the Middle East - ostensibly sophisticated and enlightened people see nothing particularly controversial about comparing George Bush to Adolph Hitler and the United States of America to Nazi Germany.
The examples are everywhere. Vanity Fair magazine asks if Richard Perle and Joseph Goebbels were “separated at birth.” Whole Web sites are dedicated to the most astoundingly stupid and superficial comparisons between George Bush and Hitler (they both liked dogs, for example).
At every event protesting war, Bush, America, this, that and the other thing, one can find pictures of various administration officials in SS garb or bearing Hitler mustaches. On the Web, leftwing forums like Democraticunderground.com overflow with insubstantial people bolstering their self-esteem by pretending to “speak truth to power” to the unfolding Nazification of America.
Putatively intellectual magazines, like the leftwing Nation and the New York Review of Books, feature articles that are more measured in tone and more nuanced in style than the hysteria one hears from C-Span callers or rabble-rousers at Howard Dean events, but the upshot is still the same.
James Traub, writing in The New York Times last June, detailed the trendiness of the Bush-Hitler comparison: “That’s grotesque; and the fact that is has achieved such currency among what the French call the bien pensant is vivid proof that in much of the left, 9/11 and its aftermath have increased the visceral loathing not of terrorism or of Islamist fundamentalism but of President George Bush.”
But no one seems willing to name this grotesquery plainly. It is, simply, Holocaust denial (not to mention slander against Bush and America).
If your son is murdered and I claim that it never happened, I am denying the existence of a crime. But if your son is murdered and I compare that tragedy to losing your car keys, that is a form of denial, too. And this is precisely what the “Bush equals Hitler” crowd is doing.
The Nazis murdered millions of men, women and children. Their victims weren’t “collateral damage” in a war, and they were not executed after a long and fair trial. The Nazis sent their victims to gas chambers and ovens in boxcars. Nazi scientists injected dyes into the living eyes of small children to see if they could be made “Aryan.” They made soap out of people.
What on earth has George Bush done that deserves such comparisons? What could he possibly do?
If you’re going to call the man a Nazi, show me the children with tattoos on their arms. Show me the stockpiles of emaciated corpses. Show me files cabinets full of memos detailing how Bush and Cheney plan on disposing of millions of dead American citizens killed with poisonous gas.
If you can’t show me any of these things - and you can’t - then stop calling the man a Nazi. Because when you say he’s no different from Hitler, you are also saying that Hitler is no different from George Bush. And that means that Hitler’s crimes were no worse than George Bush’s “crimes.” And whatever you think of what George Bush has done or might do, if you think any of it is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust, you are in effect saying the Holocaust really wasn’t that bad.
This isn’t a partisan point. I would make the same argument if Al Gore were president. I loathed Bill Clinton as president, but I always took pains to chastise conservatives who compared him to Stalin or Hitler. As bad as Clinton’s behavior was, only a man in leave of his senses would compare it to the systematized and bureaucratized mass-murder of millions of people. The same goes for Bush.
To what should be their enduring shame, leftists have a particular problem understanding this point. In their do-gooder arrogance, many on the left assume that anyone who stands in their way must not be merely wrong on the facts, but evil in their hearts. And, worse, they have a very difficult time differentiating between evils.
My favorite example of this moral myopia comes from a few years ago. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said of the Contract With America: “Hitler wasn’t even talking about doing these things.” And his colleague, Rep. Major Owens declared of the new Republican leadership in the House, “These are people who are practicing genocide with a smile; they’re worse than Hitler.”
If you believe such nonsense, just get it over with and say the Holocaust never happened at all. Because at least that form of Holocaust denial admits that if it “had happened,” it would have been a really bad thing. Saying the Holocaust is no worse than tax cuts or some such doesn’t even give the victims of Nazism that dignity.
Jonah Goldberg is editor at large of National Review Online.