Godwin’s Law states that as soon as anyone compares another person with Hitler, they have automatically lost whatever argument they have made. Earlier this year, there was a spat of accusations that Donald Trump was like Hitler, but these were largely silenced by appeals to Godwin’s Law, and by angry complaints made by Jewish groups that “until someone has killed 8 million people, it is wrong to compare them to Hitler” because such comparisons “trivialized” the Holocaust.
This argument was wrong at the time, and is wrong now, for the simple reason that Hitler wasn’t “Hitler” until the Holocaust occurred.
Nazi death camps (or extermination camps) did not come into operation until around 1941. Before then, there had been concentration camps wherein some people were killed, but there was not any systematic killing of Jews or other groups for the purpose of genocide.
It is helpful to remember what people in the US and the UK thought of Hitler before World War 2 started in 1939, and before the news of the death camps became widely known. In 1938, Homes and Gardens did a puff piece on Hitler called “Hitler’s Mountain Home”, talking effusively about how Hitler “delights in the society of brilliant foreigners, especially painters, musicians and singers. As host, he is a droll raconteur“. However, Homes and Gardens was far from alone in attempts by the western media to normalize or make excuses for Hitler, with newspapers as diverse as the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times telling their readers in the mid-1930s that Hitler provided “a dark land a clear light of hope”. In 1938, Charles Lindbergh, arguably the most popular celebrity in the world at that time, received a medal from Hermann Goering at Hitler’s request, and as late as 1940 he was employing Nazi rhetoric in blaming Great Britain for World War 2. Even some mainstream British politicians were on record as praising Hitler in the mid-1930s (though the smear that Churchill was among them was just that–a smear). Even those critical of Hitler had trouble understanding just how evil the man was. For example, Charles Chaplin in his film The Great Dictator imagined that Germany’s concentration camps were not unlike British holiday camps. He even ends the film by preaching against greed, as though somehow this were in any way a motivation or explanation for Hitler’s actions.
That was all after Hitler had written Mein Kampf, clearly spelling out his motivations, his racism, and his end goals; after Hitler had taken over Germany by illegal means; after Hitler had murdered his own Brown Shirt leadership in cold blood; after Hitler had made other political parties illegal; after Hitler had forced through a whole host of anti-Semitic laws depriving Jews of their rights and property; after Hitler set up concentration camps for his political opponents, undesirables, and Jews; and after Hitler had begun extrajudicial killings of the Jews (though the systematic killings would have to wait). And all of this was widely known, reported, and acknowledged even by the same people who praised Hitler, or who tried to normalize him.
And yet, by the standards used with Godwin’s Law, Hitler could not be called a monster until he had first killed eight million innocent people, something which did not occur until after 1941. Effectively, by the rules being used in the current debate, Hitler was not “Hitler” until after 1941.
Yet, Hitler was the same monster in 1922 as he was in 1941. Nothing had changed about the man. What he lacked in 1922 was merely the opportunity to act out his genocidal fantasies. Hitler’s role as absolute dictator combined with the fact that his country was in a state of war gave him the opportunity, the power, and the means to carry out genocide beginning in 1941. These were the only things that had changed over previous years.
How many other people would behave as Hitler did, if only they had the chance? It does not trivialize the Holocaust at all to say that someone is like Hitler, when in fact they show some of the same tendencies. On the other hand, as history has shown, it can do irreparable harm to normalize someone who is a monster; to pretend that such a person is just another politician, when in fact he is not; to allow such a person the chance to act out his demented fantasies.
To say that Trump is like Hitler is thus to raise the alarm. No, he isn’t like all the others. Yes, he is possibly that dangerous. Of course, we don’t know that for sure because he hasn’t had the chance to prove how dangerous he really might be.
But then again, why would any sane nation give him the chance?
Trump needs to be rejected outright for the demented madman that he really is, before it is too late. While it may be arguable as to how demented and how crazy he really is, I for one have no desire to find this out by handing him the keys to our nuclear arsenal.