‘Camp Auschwitz’: The January 6 shirt cannot be condemned in isolation
My Nazi analogy is correct. Yours is not.
That, in a nutshell, if spread any further than it already has, would mark the end of this country as we know it.
There is no trafficking in Nazi analogies that, short of a replication of Nazism itself, reflects truth about the past or security for the future.
We used to be concerned strictly about the past — about truth. Nazi analogies trivialized and falsified the Holocaust, and still do. In doing so, they were inherently wrong and degraded the horror of the event and the inestimable pain of the loss.
We are now concerned about something in addition: the danger to our country. If Nazism is now to be perceived in horrific events, misguided statements, potential analogies or deleterious policies in the United States, then it is more than the language of American society that will become corrupted. Society itself will become corrupted and cohesion will fail.
One of scores of recent cases in point illustrate the danger. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the January 6 attack on the US Capitol to Kristallnacht. His logic is this. The insurrectionists in DC broke glass in the US Capitol. Nazis broke glass on Kristallnacht. Ergo, the January 6 insurrection was like Kristallnacht. Without minimizing the unprecedented violation of January 6 and our own horror over it, the distance between it and Kristallnacht is qualitative and incalculable; and on so many grounds.
First and foremost, the January 6 insurrection failed; Kristallnacht succeeded. The primary reason is that on January 6, the insurrection went against the government. Kristallnacht was perpetrated by the government. However inadequately prepared the relevant American police departments were, when they were activated it was a given that they would put down the insurrection. And they did. At Kristallnacht, it was just the opposite. The government sponsored and spurred the violence.
Second, the insurrection in Washington did not unleash the burning of thousands of buildings throughout the country. Kristallnacht did.
Third, the insurrectionists in the Capitol did not arrest anybody. At Kristallnacht, thousands of German citizens were arrested, of whom many were imprisoned.
Fourth, the insurrection did not follow a five-year period of state-sponsored, explicit designation of a minority as subhuman, a designation communicated in state-sponsored billboards, storefront daubings, radio broadcasts and mass rallies; alongside the dismissal of this minority from employment on every level, from university professor to tailor, whether the employer was a private or public enterprise. All this happened as the lead up to Kristallnacht. None of this happened in the US.
Even worse, the comparison of January 6 to Kristallnacht has the execrable effect of rendering objections to the gross inaccuracy of the comparison as downgrading the significance of the January 6 insurrection. The insurrection is not to be downgraded! Its unprecedented attack on American democracy is reprehensible. Precisely on those grounds, woe to America if the only way to object to an attempt to undermine our democracy is to characterize the attempt in the same terminology that justified and fueled the worst mass murder in human history.
But what about the Big Lie? Did not Donald Trump repeat over and over that he won the 2020 election, that it was stolen from him?
The popularizer of the term Big Lie, Josef Goebbels, who was the Nazi “minister for public enlightenment and propaganda,” said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the state to use all of its power to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the state.”
For something to qualify as the Big Lie, Goebbels lays down three criteria: 1. it must be untrue. 2. its political, economic and/or military consequences must be shielded. 3. dissent must by suppressed by the state.
There are no unshielded consequences of Trump’s assertions. There is no suppression of dissent here. Quite the contrary, the freedom to attack Trump’s assertions and to impeach him are unrestricted and on display for all to see. There is no accuracy in a Big Lie appellation as applied to Trump —an untruth, yes; but the Nazi Big Lie, no. If only this were merely a matter of semantics. If everybody understood that when the term Big Lie is applied to Trump it doesn’t really mean what the Nazis meant, then American politics and culture would not be witnessing an oubreak of Nazi language.
But it is.
Donald Trump repeated the lie that the election was stolen from him. Joe Biden, however, applied “Big Lie” to Trump well before the election. Which is the point: When it becomes OKto use Nazi language, it becomes OK for everybody. It becomes OK in every circumstance.
On the political right, it becomes OKto say, “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the ‘40s.”
On the political left, it becomes OK to say, “Achtung! Papers Please!! Schnell!!” (with a swastika imprinted over the words) on a sign at the State Capitol building in Arizona about an immigration law.
It becomes OKto use Nazi language outside the political realm. It becomes OK for Joan Rivers to comment on a dress worn by a German model and then say: “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.” It becomes OK for anti-vaccine activists tp use a Holocaust era yellow star of David to promote their cause. It becomes OK for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to juxtapose pictures of human concentration camp victims and animal slaughterhouses. It becomes OKto wear a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt during the insurrection on January 6.
All of this is inaccurate and dangerous. It is not OKto use Big Lie unless you want Nazi language springing up all over. Once out of the bag, Nazi analogies become uncontrollable.
They do not discriminate.
They can attach themselves to any political, cultural and social idea or entity.
Either Nazi language is used, or it is not.
Either we become a country thinking of ourselves as fit for Nazi discourse, or we do not.
Either we want this ugliness, or we do not.
Either we condemn it wherever it raises it head, whoever uses it, or we do not.
In 2011, the national ADL condemned a congressman’s use of Nazi language as follows: “Such outrageous Holocaust analogies have no place in our political dialogue. They are offensive, they trivialize real historical events, and they diminish the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust.”
Yet, the national ADL fell silent last October when Joe Biden invoked Josef Goebbels. This is an inconsistency that must be rectified. Either the insurrection on January 6 was Kristallnacht, or not. Either we tolerate “Camp Auschwitz,” or we do not.
Either truth means something, or it does not. Either Nazi language is deeply damaging, or not.
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