Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Historical Parallels

Being a fair-minded individual, I decided not to reject out of hand the left's comparisons of Bush to Hitler. None of my high school history classes ever made it very far into the 20th century; we always ran out of year before we ran out of material. So I figured, maybe I'm just too ignorant about Hitler to see the comparison between him and Bush. So I put a book about the rise of Hitler on my reading list, and I've been reading it off and on for the past six weeks. For anyone who's interested, the book is The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans.

I've only gotten about 40% through the book, and I'm out of time to study Hitler right now because I have to review the Lemony Snicket books to see if they could belong on Tiny Princess' reading list. But I thought I'd share my conclusions so far with the class:

Bush is not Hitler.

(side note: one of the quibbles I have with the Left in general is the lack of distinction between metaphor and actual equation, a la calling someone a name is not just like violence or even tantamount to violence, but actually the same as or equivalent to violence. However, most people aren't paranoid enough to claim Bush is actually Hitler reincarnated, so I say "Bush is not Hitler" in the metaphor sense.)

Hitler came to power through violence directed at his opponents. His own party claimed him as their dictatorial leader. The Republicans sanctioned no violence against the Democrats in coming to power, and they do not declare Bush the dictator of their party. (Of course, the violence distinction disappears if you are one of the above-mentioned people who does not distinguish between violence and non-violent methods that accomplish the same aims. But in that case you'd have to condemn Gandhi and King as violent too.)

The environment in which Hitler came to power, too, is different from today's America in many important respects. The Weimar Republic was a fledgling democracy imposed on Germany after World War I. Germany was being forced to pay reparations for World War I, and the people were more receptive to a government like Hitler's. While it could be argued that the American people are receptive to a government like Bush's, that doesn't make Bush's government tantamout to Hitler's. In the Great Depression, the public was receptive to FDR's New Deal, too.

In fact, as I read about Hitler's rise to power, there is one thing I find analogous to it in current events, and that is Iraq. A democracy imposed from outside, receptive to strong leadership, subject to ethnic tensions and wide-ranging political differences... and that would make Moqtada al-Sadr a better Hitler-analogue than Bush.

To be fair, there are some things in common between Bush and Hitler. Both are male political leaders of parties that, on the broad political spectrum, lie on the right side. Both are ideologically driven individuals. But that's about as far as the comparison goes. Hitler's Nazi party was far-right, Bush's Republican party is center-right (and some would say maybe center-left). Bush's ideology has a lot to do with religion, and Hitler's with hate; and no, religion is not hate (although you might argue that in certain cases it is like hate). Bush does not have militias of men in any color shirts ready to fight (with actual violence, not something like violence) for him to stay in power.

My brother belongs to the Bush=Hitler crowd, and before we called a moratorium on political discussion, he drew the analogy on the basis that Bush is going after Muslims the way Hitler went after the Jews. Personally I don't see any of that. Hitler used unabashed anti-Jewish rhetoric in his rise to power and actually believed it; Bush publicly affirms that he thinks Islam is a peaceful religion, whether he actually believes it or not. Hitler started a gradual campaign to round up and eventually exterminate Jews; Bush is creating no Muslim ghettoes, no Muslim quotas, no Muslim curfews, and no Muslim concentration camps. If you think Guantanamo Bay is a concentration camp, you probably need to read more about concentration camps.

My conclusion, therefore, is that people who have examined all the historical evidence and still think Bush is quite a bit like Hitler are likely conflating metaphor with actuality. But if you do that, then you could easily argue that Gandhi, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and the Soup Nazi are Hitler, too. Or perhaps their main point of comparison is that they dislike Bush just as they dislike Hitler, which means they believe their feelings about someone make for more important parallels than actual historical facts.

If you are from the Bush=Hitler crowd, would you please fill me in on how you draw the analogy?