Thursday, March 03, 2005

Who's Allowed to Talk about Hitler?

     On Wednesday, Senator Robert Byrd (D) West Virginia made what turned out to be very controversial comments about the rise of Hitler in Germany 70 years ago. He compared a proposed law to eliminate filibusters to the efforts of Hitler (pre-Holocaust and pre-WW2) to solidify power in Germany. Predictably, the Republicans went nuts and demanded that Byrd apologize. Nothing new - political opponents (of both sides) always demand retractions and on rare occasions even get one.
     What drove me nuts, though, was that Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, had to add his two cents, saying that the comparison was "hideous, outrageous and offensive." The ADL had done great work on behalf of Jews worldwide and other oppressed minorities for the past 90 years. Foxman, however, has lately interjected himself into situations that don't call for it and have given (IMNSHO) the ADL a bad name, much like the ACLU has gotten recently. A) You need to choose your battles. If you run around every day waving your sword and running in circles like a chicken with your head cut off, you lose credibility and develop a "crying wolf" syndrome. When it really matters, you won't get the attention you deserve. B) This was not "hideous, outrageous, and offensive". In general, Hitler was. The Nazi party was. Lots of things in the 30s and 40s were. But there is real history there with the rise of power, of leaders and nations that we cannot and should not ignore.
     The Jewish mantra is "Never Forget". The idea is that we must be ever vigilant to prevent another Holocaust. I agree. Understanding how Hitler and the Nazi party were able to do what they did is a crucial element of that. Foxman is turning the ADL into a martyr organization and should not be condemning historical discussion.
     Look, I hope most people can understand why making a comparison like PETA's "Eating meat is a holocaust" ad campaign is inappropriate because it trivializes the real horrors of the Holocaust. But Byrd was not comparing the filibuster law to the holocaust, nor was he comparing Democrats to the suffering Jews of the holocaust. Right or wrong, he was making a historical comparison of the political events that led to the greatest tragedy in the 20th century. Don't we owe it to ourselves to at least examine these ideas? This shouldn't be a partisan argument - we all need to critically examine things happening on both sides to ensure our continued freedom and to be able to make educated decisions about our own future.
     P.S. I happen to believe Democrats are usually better at this introspection than Republicans and are more willing to criticize their own party members, which is one reason why they have far less unity than Republicans do.
     Post Note: In the news recently, a Chicago Judge found her husband and mother murdered. Police suspect white supremicists. The ADL has been monitoring white supremicist websites and has found that they have been celebrating these murders and hoping for more like them. THIS is what the ADL should be doing!

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