The Real Loser from the World Cup
Ja, Guenter Grass was a Nazi

Nein, George W. Bush is not a Nazi

Godwin's Law states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." Fatih Akin, the German director of the rather grueling but not uninteresting Gegen die Wand (English title: Head-On), which won the Berlin Film Festival in 2004, is a walking illustration of Godwin's law.

He had a T-shirt printed up that replaces the 'S' in Bush's name with a swastika, and has been wearing it during a film shoot in Hamburg. It is illegal to display the swastika in any context in Germany, so Hamburg prosecutors are investigating (G). Akin defends his T-shirt in the most recent Spiegel magazine: "Bush's policies are comparable with those of the Third Reich. I believe that in Hollywood, under Bush, certain films have been directed on behalf of the Pentagon, in order to normalize things like torture and Guantanamo. The Bush Administration is gunning for a third world war, I'm convinced of that. In my opinion, these people are fascists."

I don't have much interest in addressing rhetoric like this, because it's poking a stick into a nest filled with dumb and angry wasps. But the "Bush is a Nazi" meme comes up enough that it seems to merit a closer look. The federal Justice Minister under the former German coalition government, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, had to step down after comparing (G) Bush to Hitler in September of 2002. At a conference I recently attended, an American professor from a big, mainstream American university earnestly tried to convince German colleagues that George W. Bush was "worse than Hitler." Germans then tried to convince this American (!) that the comparison was inappropriate, a pretty amusing spectacle.

Two points: (1) The Germans are right: the comparison of George W. Bush with Hitler, or the claim that the Bush Administration's policies are "comparable to the Third Reich," is unfathomably stupid; (2) The claim also plays into some unsavory tendencies in revisionist discourse, a fact which may not be obvious to non-Europeans.

First to the second point, about revisionism. Germany has a public culture of Vergangenheitsbewältigung ("coming to terms with" or "overcoming" the past). The good guys in this fight -- and the vast majority of Germans -- understand that the 13-year Nazi dictatorship in Germany was a supernova of terror, bloodshed, and evil virtually without parallel in modern human history. There are, however, revisionists -- usually, but not always, right-wingers. Right-wing Germans (and Austrians) cannot publicly deny the Holocaust or minimize Hitler's crimes, because that is against the law. What they can do, however, is "relativize" or "trivialize" the crimes of the Third Reich, to use the German words most commonly applied to this practice.

This most often takes the form of comparing Hitler with Stalin. I don't really see the point of this, but I don't find it particularly controversial. If you want to go by the sheer amount of suffering inflicted, they're certainly in the same league. There are other ways, though, to "domesticate" Adolf: by naming Auschwitz in a long series of other "catastrophes" of the 20th century (such as Hiroshima, the Cold War, etc.), comparing Hitler with other unpleasant or controversial leaders, or pointing out that Nazis were not alone in believing certain unsavory things. (Hitler, for instance, really did admire America's eugenics laws).

Now, not all of these observations or rhetorical strategies are in themselves illegitimate. However, if you use them, you must provide enough context so that your audience knows you're not trying to challenge Hitler's claim to the title of History's' Most Murderously Effective Racist Warmongering Dictator. The mildly famous Historikerstreit (G) ("Historian's Dispute") that took place in Germany in the mid-1980s, for instance, started when philosopher Jürgen Habermas' accusation that right-leaning German historians were downplaying the uniqueness of Nazi crimes, a charge against which the historians defended themselves with long, incandescently irate responses. It all makes for fun, sometimes harrowing reading.

Thus, the vulgar "Bush is a Nazi" argument isn't a problem because it's too harsh a judgment on George W. Bush, it's a problem because it's too forgiving a judgment of the Third Reich. If you say that George W. Bush is somehow "worse" than Adolf Hitler, as the poor confused American professor said, you are also saying that Hitler was less morally reprehensible than George W. Bush.

Neo-nazis, and other people with horrible, smelly right-wing tendencies are pleased when this happens. Their favorite meme enters the discourse, without them even having to mention it. Plus, most Nazis, of course, despise the United States. To them, it's a country run by a Jewish cabal of super-rich capitalists which supports the state of Israel and allied itself with the despicable Bolsheviks to destroy National Socialism.  Of course President Bush is more morally reprehensible than Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a glorious leader, while Bush is nothing but the moronic figurehead of a "racially mongrelized" sham democracy which has mercilessly attacked the "noble" Arab race. Keep in mind that right-wing extremists in Germay recently made headlines by burning not only Anne Frank's diary but also an American flag.

So the analogy delights people who we really shouldn't be delighting. Further, it's not even close to being workable. There are, of course, some parallels between Bush's conduct and some policies or strategies of the Nazi regime, but that's simply because Bush has authoritarian tendencies, and therefore will do some things that call to mind parallels with dozens of authoritarian states, including but not limited to Nazi Germany. Even I've remarked on this before. But to argue any "comparability" between Bush and the Nazis is nothing but a stunt. Permitting the military to finance popular entertainment (which Akin provides no proof of) and pursuing aggressive, militaristic policies is something plenty of regimes have done, including Communist ones.

Akin picks out the Nazis (duh) because he wants to get attention. That this comparison is irresponsible should be obvious. But apparently it's still not, so let's do a little thought experiment. Let's imagine what our world would look like if George W. Bush really were a Nazi.

First, to the foreign policy:

  • Guantanamo Bay would, of course, exist. However, it would be receiving constant new shipments of people, because the initial residents would all long since be dead -- worked and starved to death, and then incinerated in crematoria or dumped in mass graves. Of course, no journalist or lawyer would be allowed on the premises. Except those who had criticized the Administration, and they would last no longer than the other prisoners.
  • The new inmates from Guantanamo Bay -- and the dozens of other camps like it -- would have been swept up during raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in the United States. If they offered the slightest resistance, they would be shot on the spot. Once they were packed off into the transport planes, nobody would ever hear of them again. Their families would receive a postcard a few months later saying they "died in a work accident."
  • Iraq and Afghanistan would be filled with large factories producing consumer goods and materiel for the American war effort. The workers would live in secure camps next to the factories, would work 12-15 hours a day for no wages, and would receive food rations well below what they required to stay in good health. I don't even need to mention that the oil would be shipped directly to the United States, and anyone who questioned why Iraqis were not being paid for it would be sent immediately to Guantanamo, if not simply executedon the spot.
  • To deter insurgent attacks, the U.S. military would round up 50-100 civilians who lived near the site of any attack, line them up against a wall, shoot them. Their bodies would be allowed to rot in the sun for a few days to bring the message home, and then the U.S. military would announce the action and its justification in printed Arabic posters all over the city.

Now, to domestic affairs:

  • Bush would be the unquestioned and absolute leader of the United States. There might still be a U.S. Congress, but it would be no more than a rubber-stamp, and a shift in power would be inconceivable. Bush would have a ruling philosophy called, let's say, Bushism. Under this philosophy, persons of Arab descent would be viewed as inferior and harmful to the human race. They would be locked away in ghettos just outside major U.S. cities; anyone who left the ghetto without authorization would be shot on sight by government guards. Their property, jobs, and all civil rights would be stripped of them. Eventually, all of them, without a single exception, would be shipped to death factories and incinerated. As at Auschwitz, the crematoria would be so busy that their chimneys would have to be regularly unclogged of human fat deposits.
  • There would be no Democratic Party. It would be an illegal organization, and most of its leaders would be long dead. There would only be the Bush Republican Party. Anyone who sought serious career advancement would have to join it. The press, the military, the economic elite, writers, the legal profession, and even the medical profession would all be required to accept basic principles of Bushism. Although prominent professionals might have some leeway to timidly criticize the party line or refuse to take part in discrimination, most would not have this option. If they openly criticized Bush, they would at a minimum lose their jobs, and might well be shipped off to Guantanamo or some similar place, never to be heard from again.
  • Any media outlet that criticized Bush's policies would promptly be shut down by a large, shadowy domestic security agency. Their presses and servers would be confiscated and destroyed by the government, and their editors shipped off to Guantanamo, probably after a brief show trial in which they confessed that they were traitors or spies who deserved nothing better. The public confessions would be secured by torture and threats against their remaining family members.

This cheery little sketch is drawn from my personal Library of National Socialism, which includes such books as The Face of the Third Reich by Joachim C. Fest; Hitler's Justice: the Courts of the Third Reich by Ingo Müller; Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis by Robert N. Proctor; and The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, to name just English-language sources (Fest, Müller, and Bracher are German). I've also read several German books about the National Socialist dictatorship.

As the sketch makes clear, Bush Administration policies are to the Nazi dictatorship as a paper cut is to terminal cancer; as a flashlight is to the Sun, as a glass of water is to the Black Sea. They are not in the same league, they are not even close.

By all means criticize George W. Bush. Call him a warmonger, call him a war criminal (shouldn't it raise a few eyebrows to know that his allies in Congress are trying to weaken the War Crimes Act?). Point out that he's authorized torture and undermined international institutions and broken international law. Accuse him of misleading the world and the American public to justify the Iraq war, and utterly botching the occupation of that country. Vilify him for whipping up nationalistic sentiment and analyzing the world situation in hopelessly Manichean terms. Make fun of his inability to speak proper English.

But please don't call him a Nazi.

Comments

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Christine

I tried to use the trackback for my blog...but link would not work, so just fyi that I have linked it.

Don

You repeat yourself, Ben. A common ailment of the truly-committed I have noticed.

How long before you see Bush getting to death camps, BTW?

Ben Dover

Of course Bush is not a Nazi. That would rewuire he possess organizational skills and planning far beyond his capabilities.

As for the torture, clandestine jails and authoritative styles ...just give him some more time to warm up.

Ben Dover

Of course Bush is not a Nazi. That would rewuire he possess organizational skills and planning far beyond his capabilities.

As for the torture, clandestine jails and authoritative styles ...just give him some more time to warm up.

Martin Meikleham

Do any of the people who post here ever look into real history i.e. not the history written by the victors of course.For instance has anyone of you seen the Balfour declaration part of the deception that dragged America into the second world war in the first place, and may be none of you have ever heard of the then American ambassador to london tell the british fight your own bloody war because at that time America had nothing against the german people and actually admired their stance against communism,well Churchill and Lord Balfour dragged you all screaming and kicking into it anyway. Why do you think Hitler did not wipe out all the British troops and I do mean all of Great Britains army out at Dunkirk, you know why he spared them because he genuinelly thought that Britain would be a valuable ally in the fight against the Russians. And by the way the Balfour Declaration is a promise by Great Britain to give Palistine to the Jews even though they had illegally occupied it,the deal was for American Jews to influence the American government to enter the war and that bit of treachery has lead to what we now call the trouble in the middle east. I could probably talk for the next six months non stop on the subject but please all posters at least dig a little deeper in your research if your going to make a point.Also look into the Creel Commissions job just before America entered the second world war to see what there job was and it wasnt pretty but at the time you all fell for it just like you fall for all the lies that you government spews out, when someone wants you to die for them and their ideals and I do mean THEIR ideals! and arent willing to die themselves always question their motive. And lastly since the United Nations was formed your precious country has abstained or vetoed every single peace plan and proposal put forward through the United Nations since its inception concerning Israel and the middle east. WHY OH WHY !To compare George Bush to Hitler is silly but to compare the American government to The Third Reich is very easy all that you see today going on in the world is all part of a policy that was concieved between 1947 and 1951 and is still in action today.

Trevor

Don: "I have lived in Germany and been told many times by German friends that mentioning Hitler or facism or nazism in any manner tending to compare anyone or anything in any way - is a profound and deadly insult."

Don, this does not suffice to disprove my statement. While I absolutely respect your German friends' judgement, I would not give it as much credit as to serving as a method on how to interpret HDG's statement.
What matters is not what's customary or commonplace among any given group of people, but what she objectively said. Reading a conclusion into her statements on the basis of customs or confirmed habits is not effectual proof.

My initial conclusion was that from that quote alone you cannot read any integral Bush-Hitler-equation into it. I again stress that I only judge from the three sentences mentioned, not knowing what she had said before in the specific circumstances or in private long before. Maybe she has been or still is a blatant Bush-Nazi-leveller and should be placed under custody. But to postulate that she was no longer acceptable ONLY because of these three sentences seems an undue reasoning to me. Historians should also be allowed to draw comparisons between Hitler and any democratic figure no matter who, to stress that certain behaviour patterns are similar, without being accused of making the respective person a Hitler-reproduction.

Don

Unfortunately cannot agree, Trevor. I have luived in Germany and been told many times by German friends that mentioning Hitler or facism or nazism in any manner tending to compare anyone or anything in any way - is a profound and deadly insult.

Yet for a long time I read or heard about Germans doing just that about the US, most often either US Presidents or the Republican Party. Finally the German Justice Minister did it in quasi-public.

What are we to conclude from this? I think she had been saying it in private for a long time and it just slipped out. And I think that it may well have been a more widespread habit in the circle of her friends and acquaintances; that is the circle of German politicos....

Trevor

For the record, I want to stress that what Herta Däubler-Gmelin said did not - in my view - amount to "Bush is like Hitler" or "Bush is a nazi".

Here's the quote:
"Bush will von seinen innenpolitischen Schwierigkeiten ablenken. Das ist eine beliebte Methode. Das hat auch Hitler schon gemacht."
"Bush wants to draw off attention from his internal political problems. That's a popular method. That's what Hitler already did, too."

In my view, these three sentences alone do not amount to equating Bush to Hitler. They do not equate to saying Bush is a nazi, either. The sentences do not contain any judgement about Bush's policy or mindset. HDG merely interpreted the current situation and drew a comparison, without making a statement on the quality of either of the persons. By saying "that's a popular method" she actually emphasised that her statement was meant to be neutral. Why is it impossible to interpret that statement as not more than abstract comment on two political figures, only because one of them (Hitler) was the worst and deadliest dictator of all times?

Also, let me say that I was relieved that she stepped down, not because of what she said but because she was doing a really bad job as minister of justice. And, let me add that I despise the Bush-Nazi T-Shirt Mr Akin was wearing. The t-shirt is a shame.

Don

"The quantity will come in the year 2017 or so. Google "Bush fascism" and you will find plenty of valid concerns."

This is amusing because it is so brutally stupid. The US has been accused of becoming fascist since 1948 at the latest. 58 years into the onset it still hasn't happened. There are no similarities between Hitler and George Walker Bush except in the fevered imgination of the more unhinged leftists. Just as there were no similarities between Hitler and Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton before him. Despite the loud clarion calls of previous generations of those made mad by the collapse of Stalinism.

Nevertheless it would be an overreaction to institutionalise these poor unfortunates. Allow them to discharge their passions to an uncaring sky on a soap box on Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, and maybe go to poke fun and throw peanut shells.

Hendrik

Hello, is this discussion still going on? I can't believe the article has so missed the point of Bush/Hitler comparisons.

a) That Bush hasn't achieved a death count of 6 million yet is obvious. The question is, what is to come? People have understood that you have to recognize such dangers in advance, because the night the Gestapo is knocking on your door, it's too late. So we don't want to know whether Bush is like 1940's Hitler, we want to know if he's like 1920's Hitler. In order to do that, we have to look at the more fundamental things, such as motives, methods, the overall *quality* of the matter, not the quantity. The quantity will come in the year 2017 or so. Google "Bush fascism" and you will find plenty of valid concerns.

b) What's more important, we are indirectly comparing peoples here, not their leaders. Is 2006's USA like 1920's Germany? Characters like Bush and Hitler exist all the time. Healthy societies don't let them rise to any power. 1920's weakened Germany was fertile ground for the seed that was Hitler. Bush's rise to his current position is a sign of a weakening of American society.

Do you know why people occasionally get colds? They say they 'caught' a virus or some bacteria, but that's bullshit. In our bodies and our immediate environment there are bacteria and viruses for all sorts of diseases all the time. A healthy immune system holds them at bay. If our immune system is weakend, due to stress, freezing, vitamin deficiencies etc., the viruses take over.

Ironically, you only have to look at some of the earlier postings in this blog about what's wrong with American society. The question now is, what might weaken an already weak American society to the point that it succumbs to the next dictator? I've seen doomsday warnings from health crises (obesity and diabetes) over energy issues (peak oil), economic ones (credit bubble, trade balance) to social ones (poverty), that I can't judge as a layman, but that seem sufficiently plausible to me. Take your pick.

And, in the spirit of the article, comparing Bush and Hitler by numbers, here's another statistic for you:

Number of nukes held by:
- Hitler: 0
- Bush: 10,000

Cheers

Hendrik

jim

Great article. But I have to point out there's a typo in the 9th paragraph that would be funny if the subject were less serious.

zack

Andrew, I enjoyed your post and found it to be very enlightening in many ways. The question at hand is a difficult one to answer in the context which you seek to see it asked. If you asked any American severley dislikes G. W. Bush like myself, I would bet that they would agree that he is a Nazi. (You must remember most Americans are not as informed or well educated as yourself or other intelectuals. We are somewhat of a lazy society who is more consumed with television, pornography, and avoiding responsibilities. That is why Bush is in the White House). Americans these days don't pay attention to History, let alone much else. Mostly, they don't even know what a Nazi even really is. In general, to Americans I imagine the word Nazi means something like "people who follow a leader who took away peoples rights, governed people unfairly, started wars to secure things like lies and cheats, creates wars and ulitmately killed millions of Jewish people for some weird reason." Or the other would be "stupid, poor, rednecks who tote around the Confederate flag, have mohawks and shaved heads, and where scary clothes that have swastikas on them". Americans don't know what a Nasi is. In our context George Bush is surely a Nazi, he just wears a nice suit and sits at the White House.
As for him being worse than Adolph Hitler, I think that is questionable. However, I do know that Bush's abilty to project power in our time is far greater than Hitler's was in his time. So that leads me to believe that aside from killing millions of innocent Jews, he's a lot worse than just a "paper cut compared to cancer". George Bush's Administration and the GOP have done far more damage to our global security and well being as humans than Hitler ever did. Bush has sytematically undone everything that was good, ignored everything that needed attention, and provoked what need to be left alone. His energy policies alone will have far reaching impacts in the future than Hitler ever could have dreamed of. George Bush is the leader of the most powerful nation in the world with an influence that can be felt in every square in of he globe. So if you ask my opinion I would say, in context of today's time George W. Bush is worse than Adolph Hitler. What makes it even worse is he calles it Democracy.

I am right

Look, the comparisons are not implying that Bush is a post 1938 German style Nazi. The point is that the behavior of the Bush administration is similar enough to Hitler's behavior as he consodilated authoritarian control to make us "dumb angry wasps" realize that we need to nip it now.

unaha-closp

A lot of people support Bush and calling Bush a nazi means calling them nazis by association. This is a horrible personal insult unjustifiably leveled against a great many people.

Lisa

Andrew, I think this is my favorite post I have ever read on your blog. As I began reading, I thought I would not appreciate this post, as I firmly believe the Shrub (as we call the "small Bush" here) is evil and, well, has hurt a lot of people. But your points are all well taken and you have won me over. I think Bush is but a mere shadow of Hitler not because Bush isn't that bad, but because Hitler was really, really, really bad, which relates to your "if Bush is worse than Hitler wasn't as bad" theory.

The main differences I see between the two are these:

(1) Bush's consequences, in terms of sheer numbers of innocent dead people, cannot approach Hitler's numbers in that category; and
(2) Bush is very much working toward having a sovereign executive branch, but his methods differ from Hitler's so far in that he is much more subtle and "behind the scenes" than Hitler was.

Marek Moehling

I concur with every line except for nitpicking on this one:

>Right-wing Germans ... cannot publicly deny the Holocaust
>or minimize Hitler's crimes, because that is against the law

Who's to prevent right-wingers on legal grounds from describing, say, Hitler's aggression on Russia as outright legitimate self defense? As a layman I'd say it's wrong, but not penalised. And why shouldn't they glorify the night of the long knives as a justified coup in the party's interest? That's not even wrong, somehow, just disgusting. Possibly you got carried away a tad, giving foreign readers the wrong idea on the state of civil liberties over here.

Don

Are you sure Geedub isn't a Nazi? So many people seem so sure of it - particularly in the US. Tenured professors, yet!

Can 50,000 tenured academics be wrong? I think not. The Germans colleagues should smply ignore what they think they know and bow to superior authority.

As for the term 'fascist': surely this is a synonym for a member of the GOP. Or of the Christian right - not that there is a difference of course....

Stefan Scholl

The story has 7 up and 7 down votes at the moment. = 0 points. :-(

http://reddit.com/info/d6hf/comments

Ligia

Fistly, I would like to inform that my comment about Polish Punk Rock is misplaced on another post:"Getting tired on Sir Simon". If Adrew could correct it I would be grateful and the beloved Joysters would understand the little note I´ve written about the eastern European Punks.

But the subject here is the following:"Gegen die Wand" is one of my favourite movies: although the movie is about reckless people, there is some poetry in their "boldness". On the other hand, the was no fun to see Mr. Akin t-shirt. He should stick to german-turkish affairs.

bodoro

das ist ein toller Beitrag!

bodoro

das ist ein toller Beitrag!

ukzg

Thanks for pointing out the ridiculousness of that comparison. As you say, one may disagree with President Bush's decisions and plans, but calling him "Hitler" is almost libellous.
As for Akin: however good and important his work may be, in my eyes the shirt was just a publicity stunt.

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