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Godwin's law or the nature of horror

By mirleid in Op-Ed
Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 03:50:46 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

After having read a post the other day, where somebody mentioned Godwin's Law, I started thinking about what is there so special about Hitler's deeds specifically (and Nazi Germany's in general) that makes it the ultimate thread killer. Just to make it clear, I am not trying to defend anybody or anything (certainly not Nazism); I am simply trying to identify the nature of the horror that we all feel when Nazis/Hitler are brought up in conversation.

For starters, and to put things in perspective, please have a look at this page on death tolls of the major wars of the 20th century. After that, please also have a look at this page on world famine.

As we can see, the sheer number of people murdered by the Nazis is not sufficient to explain the horror. There were other conflicts in the 20th century that generated comparable body counts. Famine kills over 8 million people all over the world every year (3 quarters of them children under 5 years of age). Famine is not mentioned anywhere as an ultimate thread-killer.

Would it be the systematic approach to slaughter that Nazi Germany undertook regarding Jews, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals and other "undesirables"? Again, that does not satisfy me: the Turks did the same thing to Armenians around WWI, and, more recently, the Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda also did it. The Armenian or Rwanda massacres are not mentioned anywhere as an ultimate thread-killer.

Another possible reason would be the ideologically controlled version of society that Nazis aimed for, coupled with their complete stifling of dissenting opinions and expansionism (the Lebensraum syndrome). Well, we've got China around, and being compared to Deng Xiao Ping is not mentioned anywhere as an ultimate thread-killer.

Violence inflicted upon civilians on occupied territory? Don't think so, we've had the French doing some of the same in Algeria in the late 50's and 60's, the US in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and Indonesia in East Timor. Use of slave labor? Nike footballs and trainers are consumer articles sold all over the world, and at least until as late as 2001, produced in conditions that amount to using (and profiting from) slave labor (according to this National Labor Committee report and Responsible Shopper).

The list could go on forever. At first, I was thinking that it would probably better not to add my own opinion to the article, so as allow people to vote on it solely based on the merits of the discussion that it might start, and not on the approval/disapproval of what I think. But, since this is Op-Ed, here goes:

  • Vae victis, meaning something like "Too bad for the vanquished". They lost the war, and, the worthiness of their methods/deeds/political thought aside (there were people on both England and the US that thought that Hitler was right), history is written by the victors, and actions like the fire-bombing of Hamburg and Dresden needed to be seen as justified.
  • As a perceived buffer zone between Western Europe and Stalin's communist expansionism, Germany needed to be reorganized in such a way that Western Powers could be confident that the German rulers that would come would "play along" with them. The only effective way of doing this was by completely eradicating the Nazi ruling class and institutions, and replacing them with "trusted" personnel. Demonizing helped in justifying the means by which this was achieved.
  • The Allies, and more notoriously, England, signed a treaty with Hitler (the Munich Pact), which paved the way for all the atrocities that were to be done in Czechoslovakia. This created a lot of bad conscience on the Allied side.
  • But what I think that really did it was the fact that the Nazis demonstrated that otherwise normal, sensitive, polite and intelligent people can be made to look the other way when their neighbors are taken away by the Gestapo in the middle of the night, and even rationalize the fact to the point of saying that that person was breaking the law simply because he/she was a Jew. Those were the same people that lived in the neighborhood of concentration camps, and later reported that they did not know anything of what was happening there. In order for people to feel justified in saying this, the Nazis had all to be (no doubt that some of them were) brutal, violent, sick persons that forced everybody else to do what they were told.

So, if you think it's worth it, let the games begin: what is it, in your opinion, which makes being compared to a Nazi so abhorrent to everybody?


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Nazis are the ultimate bad guys because
o They killed shitloads of people 8%
o They create the "Final Solution" concept 32%
o They tried to impose their views of the world and their way of life on others without being asked to 20%
o Everybody else says so! 15%
o Hitler had bad teeth and a stupid mustache 13%
o What are you talking about? Hitler's my hero!!! 10%

Votes: 59
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Godwin's Law
o death tolls of the major wars of the 20th century
o world famine
o National Labor Committee
o Responsibl e Shopper
o England
o US
o Also by mirleid

Display: Sort:
Godwin's law or the nature of horror | 80 comments (70 topical, 10 editorial, 1 hidden)
You know the really terribly part of the WW2? (2.16 / 6) (#2)
by psychologist on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 07:57:13 AM EST

It was the pinnacle of the scientific racism of the early 1900s. The germans decided that they were the master race, so just attacked the world.

There was no reason for the carnage, just a misguided believe that the German people must rule over the rest of the world.

But not just limited to that - the lesser races had to die or be condemned to eternal labour under german rule. This isn't science fiction, this is something your grandfather may have fought for.

We are only so far away from this time. The humans of that day are the direct fathers of the humans of today - this world war of ideology can very well happen again.

Close... (none / 0) (#6)
by wiredog on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:29:41 AM EST

The idea of the 'German Master Race' predates the 1800's. The 'scientific racism' may have given the more educated among them an excuse, but culturally science had little to do with it. The anti-semitism at the heart of it dates back to the Roman Empire.

Can't sleep. The clowns will get me.
[ Parent ]
WWII happened... (4.00 / 3) (#18)
by orsino on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 09:59:43 AM EST

... for the same reason 90% of all wars happen:
For the guys in charge it is an excellent way to remain in power and extend it.

WWII happend because Hitler and his gang wanted to gain and, later on, keep their power, the same for Sadam and the Gulf war. All the slaughter in Africa and former Jugoslavia happens mainly because the local dictators/warlords could never remain in positions of authority if the situation were allowed to cool down.
Those people usually find enough helpers who stand to profit themselves and if it's only by avoiding decent work. Just look at the history of war and who usually profits directly from it, its always the leaders and their pals/followers, never the common people.

The incentive for the plain masses is merely incidental. Usually it contains something about the opponents being inferior (racially, politically...) and often the need for or claim to some territory.

The really interesting question is why people (any people) are ready and willing to follow almost any nonsense, no matter how idiotic, cruel or inhuman, if it is only shouted loud enough at them, wether it's "Kill those worthless Jews/Hutus/Albanians/..." or "This land (godforsaken, worthless heap of rocks) is ours!" or anything else equally stupid.

As for why Hitler is the thread killer: He has the most "bad guy" publicity (and he deserves it). Germany fought two huge wars and in both of them ended up as complete and utter looser; no wonder a bad name sticks.
Anyhow, usually the winner gets to write the history books. Stalin for example wasn't that much better than Hitler but he was on the winning team and therefore could manage his own publicity.


[ Parent ]

Thread killer (4.66 / 12) (#4)
by bil on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:12:56 AM EST

The Nazi's are the ultimate thread killer because they are (normally at least) so utterly off topic that the thread has become irrelevant to the discussion at hand. The other reason is that they are normally invoked as a flame against another poster to the thread meaning that the thread has descended into personal insults and is therefore not worth reading any more.

The question of why the Hitler/nazis have left such a mark on the worlds consciousness, far more then, say, Pol Pott and Stalin is an interesting question however, due to the mechanised nature and reasons for it possibly. No one could avoided being Jewish, whereas you could, in theory at least, avoid being an enemy of Stalin. Or maybe its just because we know more about Hitlers crimes.


Where you stand depends on where you sit...

Stalin (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by chopper on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 12:31:16 PM EST

No one could avoided being Jewish, whereas you could, in theory at least, avoid being an enemy of Stalin.

not if you lived in the Ukraine. wether you wanted to or not, you would've been one of the 7 or so million who Stalin starved to death in the early 30's by cutting off the food supply to the state. apparently, he was afraid of Ukranian nationalism.

anybody with the ability to think for himself was an 'enemy of Stalin'.

give a man a fish,he'll eat for a day

give a man religion and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish
[ Parent ]

Interesting point (none / 0) (#72)
by bil on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 04:52:50 AM EST

I know almost nothing about Stalins Ukranian crimes, I'm aware of the purges of the red army etc in the 30's but not of systemised murder campaigns. Its not a subject that is taught in schools or investigated in TV documentries etc. Which leads to the question of why not. I can see several possibilities:-
  • History was written by the victors, Hitler lost Stalin won
  • The west (I'm UKian) was involved in fighting Hitler, and so its a major part of our history too, whereas the USSR is not
  • The Ukranians havn't managed to bring/ keep these things in the public eye in the way that Isreal has
  • We were allies with Stalin during WW2, and so all our so called ethical principles are called into question if we think about it to much
  • The concentration camps still exist (as ruins) so we can actully see and touch and experiance them first hand (I've been to Auschwitz, but never to the former USSR). This makes for better TV.
  • The holocaust occured to Western europeans whereas Stalin "only" killed eastern europeans
I very much hope the last one is wrong. It worth remebering the gas chambers were tested on Soviet prisoners of war.


Where you stand depends on where you sit...
[ Parent ]

On Godwin (4.88 / 17) (#5)
by zakalwe on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:19:07 AM EST

You seem to misunderstand Godwin's law.  In its original form it stated that sooner or later, every thread would eventually mention Hitler.  A tradition on usenet emerged that stated that when this happened, the thread should be considered dead.

Godwin's law wasn't created because Hitler is the ultimate evil (at least not directly), but because it was the one thing always brought up when trying to label something as bad.  For example, "Grammar Nazi".  Often it is used to refer more to the totalitarian or fascist nature of something, rather than necessarily that it is evil (though there is usually some implication by association) Godwin's law arose not because Hitler was bad, but because he was overused.

Admittedly, this does bring up the point as to why Hitler is the archetyppe for all comparisons to evil.    The reason is essentially the fact that WW2 was an event on a huge scale that involved all the Western nations to some degree, and so the genocides and policys of Hitler got wide coverage because everyone was effected.  Stalin may have killed more people, but there were no other countrys involved, so it did not get the same attention - so Hitler gets the public attention as the number one evil guy.  Things like famine and natural disasters are out of the running because they're not human - how can you accuse someone of acting like a famine.

This is where I'm coming from... (none / 0) (#23)
by mirleid on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:20:38 AM EST

As a Usenet discussion gets longer it tends to get more heated; as more heat enters the discussion, tensions get higher and people start to insult each other over anything they can think of. Godwin's Law merely notes that, eventually, those tensions eventually cause someone to find the worst insults that come to mind - which will almost always include a Nazi comparison.

quoted from faqs.org

Chickens don't give milk
[ Parent ]
Matter of logic (none / 0) (#73)
by PigleT on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 07:47:59 AM EST

Depends. If you see a usenet thread as a debate, then invoking such an "extreme" example to prove a point is a pretty sure way to lose the argument. It's just that Nazis / Hitler have become "the" extreme example - possibly due to a combination of enormity of original mis-deeds, but also media influence (focussing on it instead of other mass-death incidents). People seem to like to fixate on it for whatever reason you can think of... "Lest we forget", indeed.

See http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon/html/entry/Godwin's-Law.html and http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/logic.html to see where I'm coming from.

~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]

Genocide (4.00 / 7) (#7)
by bobpence on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:31:14 AM EST

The overwhelming factor is genocide. The Armenian genocide was largely unknown until late in the last century, and the Rwandan genocide should not have been allowed in a world that had already said "Never again." But the Nazi genocide, conducted largely against a minority that was also oppressed in other European countries and in the United States, is what took the cake.

Americans might feel badly about abandoning Rwanda, as well as our own history of racism, to which some attribute our non-involvement. But we never mocked the Tutsis as a group, never derided them for Messiahcide in our churches, never made them feel like they had to change their name to get by professionally, never accused people of being Tutsi as a derogatory invocation of base characteristics like greed.

Not every Jew who died in the camps first got on a boat and got turned away from literal safe harbor in America. But somehow our own prejudice made us feel partly liable.

People may say that our forefathers killed off the native peoples; but even when they deemed that choice real estate should belong to Europeans rather than be overrun by "savages," genocide was never the agenda. People may say that the CIA is killing African-Americans; but two-thirds of young black men do not get tied up in the criminal-justice system, showing a lack of Teutonic efficiency.

As Americans, we do not do genocide. But we know we have the power, we have experienced the temptation, and we know it should be unimaginable. So we resent those who have not only made it imaginable, but made it real.
"Interesting. No wait, the other thing: tedious." - Bender

Not just the genocide, (5.00 / 3) (#11)
by DeHans on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:46:43 AM EST

but especially the way it was orchestrated. Both the Rwandan and the Armenian genocides were genocides perpetrated on the battle-field. The Germans created extermination camps. It is the unprecedented intentional creation of a destruction apparatus intended to eradicate a human group of the face of the earth that is so mind-boggling and chillng.

[ Parent ]
Pardon me!? (none / 0) (#75)
by decaf_dude on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 10:04:25 AM EST

As Americans, we do not do genocide.

America (US) is founded on genocide of the Native Peoples. But, please, don't let the history facts hinder in your listen-to-me-I-am-so-smart speech...


[ Parent ]
Publicity (4.40 / 5) (#8)
by gazbo on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:44:21 AM EST

That's all it is, plain and simple. The World War affected all of our countries (well duh) and so feelings about it were widespread. There was propaganda, and everybody was told how evil Hitler was.

Of course, he was no more evil than many people, but if you go into the streets and ask people's opinion on Rwanda massacres, many (please don't let it be the majority) will not know what you're talking about.

On the other hand, everyone knows about Hitler, everyone is taught about Hitler, everyone is taught Hitler is evil.

The only other point worth making is that as I mentioned earlier, it affected everyone. It wasn't "just those third world Africans" or "those commies" it was first world countries who were perpetrating and suffering.

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Publicity IS the key (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by Master of None on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 04:39:18 PM EST

Publicity is likely to be the contributing factor as to why Hitler (or Nazi-ism) is so universally used to represent evil, but not quite as you characterized it.

The Germans have a long history of being extremely methodical, and have been know for their thorough documentation of even the most minute of activities.  When the Nuremburg trials uncovered the films created to document the mass burials of dead and still living Jews, the atrocities of the Nazi Regime were proven beyond a doubt (in most people's minds).  The extensive documentation of the horrors of the methodical extermination huge numbers of human beings has yet to be repeated anywhere at any time that I'm aware of.

Threats to the soverienty of much of the rest of the world are what got everyone's attention, but the publicity of what was done to the Jewish people of Germany is what makes Hitler jump to mind as a synonym for evil.
Master of None: Often wrong, never in doubt.
[ Parent ]

Good question (4.66 / 3) (#10)
by wiesmann on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:46:04 AM EST

I honnestly think this is a good question - at least I could not find a easy anwser. In any event it could probably be a very intersting discussion. Albeit I share your fear that it will become a flame war.

One thing I suspect is that this is a westerner thing: i.e the Nazi are considered as the most evil thing mostly in western culture - maybe this is wrong - feedback would be welcome.

One aspect, of course, is that the nazis are convenient bad guys, utterly evil, and are still used heavily by Hollywood. How many movies have you seen where the bad guys are the troup of Deng Xiao Ping, or Nike executives? Nobody is going to sue filmmakers on the behalf of the nazi. Still I don't think the hollywood factor explains everything: there are other recurents bad guys for Hollywood: drug traders, arab terrorists, etc. and none is percieved as evil as the nazis.

What I think is that the nazis strike fear in the heart of the westerner because the nazis did horrors in the western way: systematically, industrialy, using machines, computers, factories, scientific theories, etc... This is the western way of doing things. Contrasts this with Rwanda: a genocide made mostly with matchets.

To be affraid of some sort of evil, we must understand it. The worst evil is the one that blends in our habits, our culture. Try imagining a genocide were all left handed people (or any other miority) in the US are killed by riots of angry people with matchets. Now try imagining the US goverment pushing out some scientific propaganda that left handed people are prone to violence, have genetic predispositions for deviant sexual behaviour and should be re-educated in special camps...

Easy. (4.61 / 18) (#13)
by StrontiumDog on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 08:59:13 AM EST

The Nazis atrocities were carried out in the West, by Westerners, to Westerners, on Western soil. Westerners being just as human as anyone else (despite strongly-held beliefs by some to the contrary), Western suffering carries more weight with Westerners than non-Western suffering. This is the same basic reason USians cannot stop yapping about "the 'unprecedented' horrors of September 11" or Italians about "the terribly unjust loss against South Korea".

Most societies have their own historic horrors and bogeymen. Nazi Germany is the West's.

Good Point (2.00 / 10) (#29)
by wolf on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:02:10 AM EST

Western societies do seem to be more sympathetic to Western injustices. I have heard (but can't confirm) that the number of innocents killed in Iraq due to various conflicts is as high as (if not higher) than those killed during the Holocaust. However, we rarely hear about such incidents because they didn't happen to "one of our own". Instead, things like Sept. 11th are made out to be the crime against humanity to end all crimes against humanity.

[ Parent ]
-1 Godwin (2.25 / 8) (#14)
by DullTrev on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 09:14:45 AM EST

Sorry, couldn't resist the cheap gag...

DullTrev - used to be interesting. Honest.
Because they don't know of any more examples (4.00 / 2) (#17)
by Sopwith Pup on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 09:55:39 AM EST

Uncle Joe's 'score' was far higher - including highly targeted wiping out of sections of society and more general soviet era brutality.

IIRC Hitler himself said 'no-one remembers the Armenians' (genocide by Turkish death march post WW1)

The Nazi's are generally reviled most for the 'efficiency' or even 'german efficiency' with which they are held to have carried out their genocides. However even a light study of 3rd Reich shows that the entire Nazi state was ramshackle in the extreme (Hitlers 'Darwinist' state bullshit) however efficient parts of it were (see IBM and the Holocaust for details of proto-computing (and IBM's) involvement.

I imaging as WWII and Nazi's fall off the map of living history, other examples will be more widely used

Be realistic, demand the impossible

Rwanda massacre (2.00 / 1) (#24)
by CtrlBR on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:27:39 AM EST

Were caused in part by nazism...

One catholic priest took to himself to translate "Mein Kampf" in hutu, replacing jew with tutsi...

Nice result....

If no-one thinks you're a freedom fighter than you're probably not a terrorist.
-- Gully Foyle

What? (none / 0) (#27)
by Greyjack on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:46:50 AM EST

Where did you hear about this?  Sources, please!

Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett

[ Parent ]
I'll have a hard time finding sources in English (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by CtrlBR on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:42:22 AM EST

So here are a few in French, you could test your luck with BabelFish

The actual translation was made by a German missionary and the target language was kinyarwanda.

This is all related in a book named (in French) "Rwanda, l'honneur perdu des missionnaires" (eng: Rwanda, missionaries lost honor).

The book was published by Golias, a kind of progressive catholic think tank, not by zealot anticlericals...

If no-one thinks you're a freedom fighter than you're probably not a terrorist.
-- Gully Foyle

[ Parent ]
Yeah! English sources (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by CtrlBR on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 12:39:42 PM EST

It is no coincidence that Hitler's inflammatory text "Mein Kampf" should have been translated into Kinyarwanda by the German missionary Johann Pristl.

From Civil Wars: Types and causes, issues and threats (beware Word document, Google can convert it in HTML for you).

If no-one thinks you're a freedom fighter than you're probably not a terrorist.
-- Gully Foyle

[ Parent ]
One think is for sure, (3.00 / 3) (#25)
by krek on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:36:14 AM EST

If it had served our governments interests, we would never have found out about all of the deaths. As it was, it served as very good propaganda instead, the holocaust was very useful in demonizing the enemy, and later, very useful in garaunteeing submisivness in the enemy, and even later, in shutting people up when you do not agree with them. Bring up the holocaust and your opponent has lost a signifacant amount of arguing room, since it is taboo to do, or say, anything that may, in any way at all, minimize the holocaust or it's importance. So most people just give up after this clichéd, resistance-be-gone statemnet is used.

Comparisons are wrong most of the times (4.75 / 8) (#26)
by Torako on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:39:57 AM EST

I'm not really sure whether Godwin's Law actually has anything to do with what the Nazis did. I think it is just the fact that most times when people compare events with Nazi happenings it is just a trick to add some pathos to their posts (Note: using word like Nazi and Communist World Danger doesn't give you points in a discussion).

For example, as soon as people talk about privacy rights or some kind of attempted censoring someone comes up with "It's starting now as it did in 1933" which is just plain wrong most of the times. Comparing censoring illegal stuff to some events that led to a huge war and the death of millions is ridicilous and cannot be part of a serious discussion.

In addition to that discussions end because of that, because in most cases you don't want to be the one telling the guy that he is right, because you know what answer you'd get: "That's what they said in the 30's too, that it could never happen" or something similar.

So I guess that's the reason why people have realized that there is no way of having a good discussion with people who exaggerate and bring up the Nazi thing totally without connection to the topic.

Reason: Hollywood (3.44 / 9) (#28)
by theboz on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:59:53 AM EST

While you'll never see a movie that portrays the early Americas as being responsible for the genocide of millions upon millions of Native Americans, who are forced to live in crappy reservations to this day, there are probably nearly one hundred about the Nazis.

This started during WW2 when it was fashionable to be racist and xenophobic (for both the Axis and Allied) so Hollywood got really big into making propaganda films about the various Axis powers. I've seen Bugs Bunny and Popeye cartoons that would be banned today if you switched Japanese/Germans with Arabs. However, the propaganda engine was in full force back then, creating the base for what would continue to this day.

I'll probably be moderated to hell for this, but I'll go ahead and say it. A small number of the victims and children of the victims of the holocaust take advantage of their former victim status. A few of them are in Hollywood, and make crappy movies to make us all feel sick and disgusted about what happened 60 years ago. Personally, I think that the holocaust under Nazi Germany was disgusting, but I don't need it thrown in my face every year with the latest academy award winning film. There are plenty of people that suffered, most of them don't want to have their suffering thrown in their faces over and over. Of the old people I've met who actually lived through it, they are tired of seeing it over and over as well. It's just a drama queens of Hollywood thing, where they blow everything out of proportion and try to make themselves seem more important than they are.

It's nothing new, nor is it limited to the Holocaust, because many others try to make themselves look like eternal victims or some sort of modern messiah who is working to make things better for everyone. It's like when Barbara Streisand ranted about how to save the Earth we should all line-dry our clothes. I'd be willing to bet that she doesn't. Rosie O'Donnell used to rant against guns all the time, but I bet she had armed security guards when she wanted them. Many famous musicians have become drug addicts and either died or suffered because they were drunk or stoned too much. Even though it was their fault for putting themselves in those situations, people still treat them like the victim. If you're a mediocre actor who's been in a few B movies, go check into the Betty Ford Clinic. People will worship you for having the strength to get through your suffering. The Holocaust is used in the same way. Just because someone's grandfather was in a concentration camp, it doesn't mean that the grandson is suddenly a victim of Nazi oppression. You never hear about the Polish and Russians that were not Jews who also suffered in the Holocaust. Why? Because almost everyone has learned that life goes on. I work with a black guy that got a college education and has a decent computer job now. He learned to go on with life and live it, so he's not following Jesse Jackson around crying how the white man keeps him down. I know a guy from Mexico that was living in Mexico City, his dad abandoned him and his mom, his mom struggled to make a living for him. He now is running his own consulting company in the U.S. and is very successful. I knew an old Russian Jew that was suffering oppression, so he came to the U.S. and made a living for himself and was happy. It's good to remember the past, but not to shove it in everyone's faces all the time. There's a point where it's not reasonable to keep your victim status. You stop being a victim and end up being obnoxious. I think that is what happened that brought Godwin's Law to us today. The Nazis are not the ultimate evil, even though they were really horrible. It's just that some people continue to take advantage and try to keep a victim status when the rest of the world has tried to go on with their lives.


You know what's sick? (1.57 / 7) (#43)
by JChen on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 01:16:31 PM EST

Having a big ass Holocaust learning period in middle school. They would shove us into music rooms to learn songs sang by Holocaust survivors. They would make us read boring accounts of death camps and whatnot. Anne Frank was boring and her parents were stupid. Then we get shoved in a bus and were forced to attend some conference for teens on Holocaust survivors. That really blew the switch: sitting for half a day in a stuffy auditorium having to show "respect" for a bunch of old people lamenting how bad it was and how people are "generously donating money to holocaust museums". WTF? Give me a break! It's not the Nazis who were the ultimate crimminals: it's the people who are making a living selling their tears from half a century ago.

Let us do as we say.
[ Parent ]
Well (2.66 / 3) (#45)
by AmberEyes on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 01:53:02 PM EST

If you hate them all so much, and don't care about their suffering, or trying to learn about it to hopefully keep something like this from ever happening again, why don't you just put them all in Zyklon-B gas chambers?

Open your mind and learn something. Those half-a-century old tears might change something in enough people to keep something like the Holocaust from ever happening again.


"But you [AmberEyes] have never admitted defeat your entire life, so why should you start now. It seems the only perfect human being since Jesus Christ himself is in our presence." -my Uncle Dean
[ Parent ]
Keep the Holocaust from happening again? (none / 0) (#78)
by Space Monkey on Fri Jun 28, 2002 at 04:24:49 PM EST

The Holocaust is repeated All the Damned Time. Or is it different when they're not Jews?

Sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice freedom for safety," as Benjamin Franklin once said.
[ Parent ]
Hollywood? (5.00 / 1) (#46)
by anais ninja on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 01:56:09 PM EST

I'll probably be moderated to hell for this, but I'll go ahead and say it. A small number of the victims and children of the victims of the holocaust take advantage of their former victim status. A few of them are in Hollywood, and make crappy movies to make us all feel sick and disgusted about what happened 60 years ago. Personally, I think that the holocaust under Nazi Germany was disgusting, but I don't need it thrown in my face every year with the latest academy award winning film.

I can only think of one Hollywood film about the Holocaust that won an Oscar: Schindler's List. Roberto Benigni (sp?) won for a foreign film (Life is Beautiful), not a Hollywood product. In fact the Hollywood adaptation of that film (the awful Jacob the Liar) is the only other Hollywood film I can recall that has the Holocaust as its subject matter. It's not exactly box office magic.

So where are these Academy Award winning films that are in your "face every year"? Was Gladiator meant to be an allegorical tale? A Beautiful Mind? Crouching Nazi, Hidden Jew?

[ Parent ]

Hmm. (none / 0) (#49)
by Khedak on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:30:16 PM EST

I'll probably get moderated to hell for this, but do you have emotional issues related to feeling sorry for the people who died in the holocaust? Your response seems a tad skewed by that bias, if so.

If people weren't willing to give a damn, then the people seeking "victim status" would quickly go away, as nobody would grant it. I admit, there are probably a few cases where the victim gets ornery and wants people to feel sorry for them. That's the way humans are, we're flawed, and holocaust victims aren't any more perfect than the rest of us. When they get old and depressed, maybe a handful decide to seek attention through victimhood. So what? Other people do exactly the same thing, except that they aren't holocaust victims. Getting people to care about us is pretty much a fundamental drive in humans. Believe it or not, there are a substantial number of people who genuinely feel sorry for holocaust victims, not through guilt or brainwashing, but simply through basic human empathy. As long as these people exist, the process will continue. It's a normal, natural thing.

[ Parent ]
That's not my problem with it (none / 0) (#51)
by theboz on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:35:17 PM EST

My grandfather was in the USAF during World War 2. However, I don't go around claiming to be a WW2 vet. The majority of the people who claim to suffer in some fashion are not the holocaust victims themselves, but the children and grandchildren of the survivors. Even then it's a small minority of people, but they're vocal enough to annoy the hell out of me. I'm all for helping out the actual survivors, and even getting their point of view on the historical and personal experience. I'm just tired of it being done at the expense of everyone else who has suffered or who has experienced something we could learn from. There are modern day problems that may not be as big as the holocaust was, but they are something that the public should be aware of and we should deal with. We don't, but we do keep going out to watch crap like Schindler's List (ok, that is my opinion, I'm sure some people liked that movie but I found it boring and depressing.)

[ Parent ]

Huh? Modern day issues are popular in film! (none / 0) (#60)
by Khedak on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 05:06:59 PM EST

I think that there are a number of true to life drama stories that are about real people dealing with modern day problems. People dealing with problems, modern and otherwise, is at the heart of storytelling in all forms. If you have an interesting story about what your grandfather went through in the air force in world war 2, maybe you could make a movie out of it. Consider every world war II movie that's been made, compared with the number of specifically holocaust movies. So, what exactly is your point? Did Schindler's List really annoy you that much? :)

[ Parent ]
Children of Survivors (none / 0) (#69)
by Bad Harmony on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 03:27:23 AM EST

What if some nation killed 95% of your extended family? How would you feel if your parents told you that you don't have any living grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins?

54º40' or Fight!
[ Parent ]

It's different (none / 0) (#74)
by theboz on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 09:15:15 AM EST

I know my extended family and would miss them. These people would have never met their extended family, therefore they can't miss someone they don't know. It's like your great grandparents; most likely you never met them, so their death didn't bother you. Also, the people that murdered their extended families are either dead, a few of the remaining are imprisoned, and the majority of people living in that country now are not in any way responsible for the crimes against humanity committed over 60 years ago.

[ Parent ]

The overtness of it... (4.25 / 4) (#30)
by Vygramul on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:10:27 AM EST

The NAZI Party was unique in that it had stated its goals in its founding literature and was overt and obvious about it. Most dictators (and certainly the following applies to the communists) had at least the trappings or some absurd speech about equality or doing the best for all, or whathaveyou. The Brits always said they were trying to educate and bring civilization to its colonies, but that a strong guiding hand was needed for these backwards people. The NAZIs had no such attempts at hiding the shame and guilt behind exploitation and genocide. They simply came out and said it.

The fact that no one could claim they didn't realize what they were doing (I'm not referring necessarily to the genocide itself) and that it was so popular and successful horrifies us.

All this despite the fact that there were no countries where Hitler held ground that didn't have its collaborators. In the US people like to think it wouldn't have happened in America. But the US has plenty of Neo-Nazis, KKK, and 50,000 pre-war members of the American NAZI Party. Pretending there wouldn't have been US collaborators is willful self-delusion.

If Brute Force isn't working, you're not using enough.

German NAZIs were a surprise (3.14 / 7) (#31)
by Vygramul on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:15:17 AM EST

Pre-WWII Europe was much like today: you hear of all sorts of NAZI-like anti-sematism in Belgium, France, and England, but nothing out of Germany. The same was true in 1930. Had you asked a political scientist or sociologist where the genocide of Jews was going to take place, they would likely have said France, or perhaps England. France even had laws that regulated Jews and what their business practices could be.
If Brute Force isn't working, you're not using enough.
The particularity of the holocaust (4.50 / 4) (#32)
by linca on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:20:59 AM EST

What makes the crimes of the Nazi until now quite unique in history (and hopefully for some more time), is the way the genocide of the jews, gypsies, homosexuals, commies and others was done industrially, unlike Staline's famines, Pol Pot's massacres, or the Armenian and Hutu genocides. The Death Camps were literally death factories, optimising the death and destruction of millions of people.

The other factor which makes it somehow unique is the concept of the concentration camp, a place where the detainee regrets his humanity ; using kapos, high death rates, etc... The suicuide rate among survivors has been impressive : One regrets surviving those Death Camps. That is unique ; I am not sure the Gulag in its height was as horrible.

Why the Holocaust is special (4.33 / 6) (#33)
by IHCOYC on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:41:39 AM EST

It seems to me there are a number of reasons why the Holocaust is special, and that make it the standard metaphor for horrific deeds.

First, the Germans were part of the common Western European culture. We admired their science and their music. That an ostensibly civilised nation could be led so drastically astray should remind us of what we are capable of ourselves, in our inmost hearts.

They are close. Theirs was a society in the net of Western mass media in a way that the Siberian gulags or the killing fields of Cambodia or Rwanda are not. Newsreel cameras caught the footage of the concentration camps on film and showed it to Western media audiences.

They adopted the central technologies of Western life as they existed in WWII, from railroads to factories to chemical plants, to the purpose of genocide. It's hard to look at a cattle car the same way after you know.

We are familiar with Jews. There is a historical prejudice against them, but they seem mostly harmless; I'd be more disturbed to learn that my new neighbours were Texans than to learn they were Jews. We just don't understand the ideological or tribal prejudices that drove Russians, Cambodians, or Rwandans to kill each other. Jews are common enough, and ordinary enough, in the USA and in other lands of Western Europe that the idea of rounding them up and killing them seems incomprehensibly arbitrary.
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelæis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit Grignr.
--- Livy

For me it's those SS uniforms.... (4.85 / 7) (#35)
by morkeleb on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:44:06 AM EST

That Deathshead thing on their uniforms was very creepy. This article reminded me of this KW Jeter story called The Glass Hammer though - in which war has become a consumer product (kind've like the super bowl), and tribes of warriors compete against each other. Anyway - a whole industry of psychologists and artists and the like springs up around these different warring tribes to provide uniforms and decorations for their respective tribes. So the psychologists try to understand what subconsciously causes the greatest amount of fear in people, and the artists use that knowledge to embellish the uniforms and weapons of their respective tribes.

That theme shows up in a lot of science fiction actually (The Handmaiden's Tale by Margaret Atwood - the uniforms the handmaidens wore were just one aspect - everyone in society had to wear special uniforms and they were designed to induce a certain psychological order to things).

Another thing about the Nazis was how the government formed an alliance with the health professions - psychologists and medical doctors - to create their whole Master Race thing - and how that was instrumental in carrying out the Holocaust. That always freaked me out - perhaps because my mom is a nurse.

When you get right down to it though - I think the #1 reason the Nazis were so scary (at least in the consciousness of the Western mind), is that German society was the most technologically and intellectually advanced society at the time in the West (before WW II), and it went completely insane - and the reasons why it happened still aren't entirely clear to us. I've heard people say there's something in the character of German people that caused it to happen - but I don't believe that. Most Germans I've met have been incredibly nice polite individuals with a very refined social conscience. The scary thing about what the Nazis represent is that if the nightmare could fall upon the garden spot of Western society, it could fall anywhere.
"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry." - Emily Dickinson
Nazis. I hate Nazis. (4.33 / 3) (#36)
by godix on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 12:14:44 PM EST

The Nazi's were far broader than most other mass murdering governments. Usually you get some bigots in charge that don't like one particular group. Nazis didn't like ANYONE other than themselves.

The nazis treated their violence as if it were an assembly line and they had to crank out the most deaths they could from the system. Pol Pot, Japan in WWII, Stalin, etc, were just as violent; but they didn't treat the entire thing like it was just another industry that should be dealt with in the same way that making cars is.

Because the nazi's treated it this way we also have a lot more documentation of what they did than we do from other groups. People can try to claim, with some success, that Stalin didn't kill that many people but with the Nazi's it's a lot harder to reduce the magnatude of their crimes.

For Europeans, it was in their backyard. This wasn't something done in the far flings of Asia, this was done in their own countries.

For Americans, there was the added horror that this was done by whites to other whites. In other cases racism kicked in, either of the 'Well what do you expect from them?' or 'So what, it's only cambodians' type.

And finally, Germany itself admits what it did. They tend to be very vocal about their past and often bring the issue up in order to show how they're no longer like that. Most other countries this type of thing happens in try to bury or ignore their past instead of confronting it. I'm not critizing Germany here, I respect them a lot for this, but it does bring Nazis to people attention a lot more than say Japans actions in China during the same time period.

Vocal about our past... (none / 0) (#70)
by llogiq on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 04:15:31 AM EST

"Germany itself admits what it did. They tend to be very vocal about their past..."

Well, there is no point in denying, isn't it? If anyone here in Germany denied the evils Nazis did to the jewish population (and others), he'd be marked out and set under constitutional surveillance. And that's good.

However, there is a politicially strong Jew council, which verbally/politicially bashes everyone who asks "I didn't do anything (heck, I weren't even born!), so why am I guilty?", which is not that good, at least in my opinion.

[ Parent ]

Shouldn't this discussion be over?? (3.75 / 4) (#38)
by notafurry on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 12:34:10 PM EST

Anyway, there's a rather simple answer:

As we can see, the sheer number of people murdered by the Nazis is not sufficient to explain the horror. There were other conflicts in the 20th century that generated comparable body counts. Famine kills over 8 million people all over the world every year (3 quarters of them children under 5 years of age). Famine is not mentioned anywhere as an ultimate thread-killer.

First, the body count comparison isn't valid. 8 million soldiers dying in a war isn't as horrifying as 8 million civilians systematically murdered in gas chambers. Hell, 8 million civilians killed in a war - through carpet bombing, infrastructure destruction, famine, disease, what have you - is not as horrifying.

The difference is that one group is killed, and the other group is murdered. One is simply a group of lives which have ended. In the case of the soldiers, they (for the most part) chose to be there, risked their lives for their country and lost the gamble. That's an overly simple and cold way of looking at it, but it's true. Civilian deaths are almost unavoidable in modern warfare, even when both sides are trying to minimize such deaths. As a result, "collatoral damage" might be shocking and terrible, but at the same time, in our own minds it's equated to an auto accident writ large. It isn't that they were targetted, that someone somewhere decided these civilians had to die - it's simply that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Holocaust - and therefore the actions of Hitler and the Nazis - is far, far worse. That wasn't death, it wasn't an accident, and they weren't soldiers who chose to fight for their country. That was murder. Stalin killed millions in the labor camps and through bad policies, and the truth has been hidden for fifty years - the truth will probably never be known, and he's not exactly remembered fondly by many. Hitler, on the other hand, is the greatest mass murderer in recent history, and that makes him the greatest boogeyman we know.

On the other hand, famine, while regrettable, is not something we can assign fault to. No one makes the conscious decision to create famine, and famine itself can't make the decision to kill this child and leave that one. We can't get angry and we can't assign blame - it's in the same category as an earthquake, you can't prevent it from happening. Sure, you can feed Somalia - the Sudan then will simply be the next site of famine, instead.

But the real question you're asking is, why is Godwin's law true? The reason for that is quite simple - when Hitler or the Nazis are raised as a point in debate (unless the topic is propaganda, government, or World War II) it's a sign that at least one of the people in the debate is no longer thinking rationally and arguing from a point of logic, but instead is resorting to emotion - and that's a good time to end the debate, before it degenerates into a flamewar.

We sure can assign fault (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by autonomous on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 12:48:34 PM EST

Much of the fault of third world suffering can be assigned to the IMF and the countries that control the IMF. Their standard operating policy kills the local economy, and leaves a group of uncertain, unhappy, unworking people. You should take a look at some of the cases the IMF has abused poor countries who just need money to build infrastructure. I believe there is a documentary on jamaica floating around if you can find it. Very informative.
-- Always remember you are nothing more than a collection of complementary chemicals worth not more than $5.00
[ Parent ]
Batpucky (none / 0) (#42)
by notafurry on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 01:00:25 PM EST

Simple minded cretins and media personalities like to assign blame for third world problems.

Reality is more complicated. The problem in the third world is too many people and not enough resources, complicated by a lack of infrastructure and the capital to build it. You want nations which are already struggling to compete with each other to build the third world into additional competition, which isn't going to happen. Alternatively, you want the wealthy nations of the world to buy food and supplies for the poor, which will have exactly one result - more mouths to feed the next time around. There is no "correct" answer, there is no easy way out, and there is no one group or entity to blame. Why don't those nations have infrastructure and resources? Because the western nations which found them didn't build any. Why didn't they? Because it would have been prohibitively expensive and simply resulted in more competition. Why don't they now? Because it would be prohibitively expensive and simply result in more competition.

[ Parent ]

I see (none / 0) (#77)
by autonomous on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 02:29:56 PM EST

So what your saying is that because of political reasons, political groups like the IMF, backed and directed by the western world are breaking down real progress in the third world (because that wouldn't be an extra developed market, that would be competition) and acting like hand out men to exasterbate the problem (by damaging local farmers who can no longer sell their crops to starving people, because the starving people are eating on us). But yet, no blame can be assigned. I almost believe you. I think if we repeat "Its not our problem" enough, it'll be true!
-- Always remember you are nothing more than a collection of complementary chemicals worth not more than $5.00
[ Parent ]
I agree generally (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by shrike7 on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 01:28:37 PM EST

However, there have been interesting studies on famine that essentially link death tolls with the quality of government in the effected area. An example would be the harsh famine that struck Africa in the 1980's. Everyone knows that food output dropped something like twenty percent in Ethipia and Sudan, and that there was catastrophic loss of life there. What less people realize is that there were even worse food shortages elsewhere-notably Zimbabwe and Botswana-with very little loss of life. Why did this happen? To quote P.J. O'Rourke, 'the difference is that the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan did not care if certain segments of their people starved to death, while the governments of Zimbabwe and Botswana did.'
[ Parent ]
Murder vs Kill (4.00 / 1) (#53)
by mirleid on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:45:27 PM EST

I find it hard to distinguish between the organized, systematic killing of civilians (and, at times, military personnel) by the Nazis from organized, statistical killing of civilians (and, at times, military personnel) by the Allies. I am specifically talking about stuff like the rationale behind the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg.

The acknowledged goal of Air Marshal Harris and his Operation Gomorrah (nice name, by the way) was to win by lowering the morale of the civilian population to a point where fighting was no longer an option. Further testimony can be found here.

So, actions like the deliberate bombing of civilian population centers is, to me, as much a deliberate, planned, systematic action as rounding people up in a sealed room and gasing them.

Chickens don't give milk
[ Parent ]
Godwin's intention and Nuremberg (4.75 / 8) (#40)
by Netsnipe on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 12:44:17 PM EST

There is a misconception out there that the purpose of Godwin's law is to kill threads, or a game in which who is the first to invoke it. Stoll's variation (which bil) has pointed out already is that by the time a thread makes a Nazi or Hitler comparison, its relevance to the parent and usefulness is over.

So before anyone else carries out discussing the law, I'd like to refer you to Mike Godwin's own explanation in this 1994 Wired article. Coming from perspective of an online counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Godwin found that the then all too frequent Usenet Nazi comparisons:

"...trivialised the horror of the Holocaust and the social pathology of the Nazis. It was a trivialisation I found both illogical and offensive.

So, I set out to conduct an experiment - to build a counter-meme designed to make discussion participants see how they are acting as vectors to a particularly silly and offensive meme...and perhaps to curtail the glib Nazi comparisons."

mirleid does have a point, however in asking why the atrocities are more abhorrent to everybody than others in the 20th century. My opinion comes down to the historical and geopolitical consequences of World War II. After the defeat of Germany, the captured remnants of the Nazis were put on trial by the victors at Nuremberg which set a precedent in world history for enshrining the concept of 'Crimes Against Humanity' and reinforcing 'International Law.
Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, observed that one of the most important legacies of the Nuremberg trials was that they documented the Nazi atrocities "with such authenticity and in such detail that there can be no responsible denial of these crimes in the future and no tradition of martyrdom of the Nazi leaders can arise among informed people."

Bringing War Criminals to Justice

More than anything, with the above in mind, is why I believe the Holocaust is in the forefront of most of our minds is the extent to which it has been imprinted into the Western psyche and the "never again" mentality that is propagated by many. There have only three atrocities this century which have had International War Crime trials, the Holocaust, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Out of these three, the Holocaust resulted in the most casualties and created a new nation as well.

Other atrocities such as those of Stalinist USSR only resulted in the de-Stalinisation program of Krushchev which was internal only to the Soviet Union and thus limited the exposure of his atrocities. Famine on the other hand can be much easily blamed on nature and not resulting as high degree to the hand of man. So in conclusion, the Holocaust is so much more abhorrent because it was had far reaching global consequences and its condemnation was far more universally exposed.

Andrew 'Netsnipe' Lau
Debian GNU/Linux Maintainer & Computer Science, UNSW

A quick question.... (none / 0) (#61)
by Cuchulainn on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 05:09:55 PM EST

In line with Robert Jackson's reasoning, what do you think of the lack of accountability for such atrocities as the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo (to name what are probably the two most widely known)? It is this lack of accountability which does seem to be pounced on by neo-nazis and apologists of Hitler's regime as some sort of proof that the holocaust wasn't as bad as people made out. Do you think a gap was left by not being slightly more non-partisan on these issues?

Let me try to avoid people trying to slap me with a troll tag by emphasising that I do not agree with the above whitewashing of history (i.e. the neo-nazi version). I've just not studied history in as much depth as some people here and have always wondered whether the answer for the above question was the stereotypical one of the winners being able to write history or whether it was a combination of the prevailing zeitgeist and perhaps some limitation (in the legal sense of the word, not in some broader moral sense) in the remit of the Nuremberg trials.
If so don't worry about it, stuff you eat when you're drunk doesn't count, just like stuff you say and people you sleep with. - Parent ]

What's ironic is... (4.00 / 3) (#47)
by buck on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 02:06:26 PM EST

the fact that Germany prior to WWII was experiencing an economic boom which kept the Nazis out of political power. This was, at least in part, due to monetary assistance from the Allies, the U.S. in particular, and a postponement in collecting war reparations. While the economy was in good shape, the Nazis were basically ignored. What killed it all was the Stock Market crash in the U.S., heralding the Great Depression, and the U.S. called in its debts. Germany's economy promptly went south. The Nazis gained newfound political power, and the rest is history.

“You, on the other hand, just spew forth your mental phlegmwads all over the place and don't have the goddamned courtesy to throw us a tissue afterwards.” -- kitten

visibility due to the victims (3.00 / 1) (#54)
by khallow on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 03:15:10 PM EST

The reason that the Holocaust dominates all other genocides of the 20th century is twofold. First, I think the Allies (US, Russia, England, France) used the Holocaust for propaganda both during the final stages of the War and during the occupation afterwards. For example, it's probably helped weaken the neo-nazi movement in the aftermath (although totally losing a big war hurt more).

Second, about half the victims were Jewish with plenty of relatives in the various countries. Such organizations as the Anti-Defamation League have succeeded wildly at converting the Holocaust into an enduring legend of the Twentieth Century. Also Israel has used the Holocaust as a uniting factor for Jews in Israel and worldwide.

Finally, Hollywood did play a big part in this process. While few movies are about the Holocaust specifically (I recall "Schindler's List" and "Jacob the Liar"), occasionally you will see a reference to the Holocaust (eg, a psychologist in the movie adaptation of Stephen King's "The Dead Zone" though that came directly from the book). Also, kicks at Nazi's are still going on. Steven Spielberg (an obvious example) has directly at least three movies that have the Nazi's as the bad guys. I'll let you guess who the stormtroopers of the evil Empire are modeled after in Star Wars.

There are many movies where Nazis execute people and do evil stuff. For example, "Von Ryan's Express", "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", "The Dirty Dozen", the before mentioned Spielberg films, etc.

There's a few films about white supremacists or neo-nazis. Let's see: "Dead Bang", "Cobra", "Pulp Fiction" (the Bruce Willis part), "American History X", "The Sum of All Fears", "The Boys from Brazil" (should be topical again, about young Hitler clones I think), and "The Holcroft Covenant". Also, the reference to "seperatists" in "Attack of the Clones" is relevant since the only people called separatists (at least in the US) are often also categorized as white supremacists.

As a last remark, I've seen virtual shrines to the Holocaust in malls in the US. No other such crime has ever been given that kind of visibility.

Anyway, sorry for the tangent there. If a portion of the entertainment/advertising complex were related to the Camobidians who died in Pol Pot's reign, then we'd be hearing all about that (eg, "The Killing Fields"). These guys are like anyone else, it's abstract until it happens to someone you know.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

What I find horrible (4.50 / 4) (#55)
by epepke on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 03:29:56 PM EST

This is an interesting, thought-provoking thread.

Here's what I find particularly horrible about the Nazis/Holocaust. It's not the eight million civilians and two million prisoners of war murdered, though that's terrible enough. It's not the efficiency, either. It's the fact that, within a span of less than two decades, the most highly educated population on the planet reverted to something worse than complete barbarism. Remember that at first, and for quite a long time, half the intellectuals in Europe thought fascism was the best thing since sliced Marmite.

That's what makes it a powerful, cautionary tale. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter how well educated and progressive and liberal and intelligent you are, you are no more than two decades from hell. All it takes is for somebody to find the right angle.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

a lot closer than that (4.33 / 3) (#59)
by khallow on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 04:58:56 PM EST

When one looks at genocide, one sees a very disturbing thing. First, as noted in the prior article the killing is generally very swift and efficient. Turkey killed most of roughly 1.5 million Armenians (and those that tried to shelter them) in about two years (1915-1916). Germany didn't seriously start killing until the invasion of Poland in 1939 and the death camps came a couple years later. Ie, most of around 10-11 million people died in six years. The USSR under Stalin killed 7-10 million Ukrainians in 1932-1933. Both the USSR and China have killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million people each. I doubt most of these deaths would be considered "genocide" since the intent in large part wasn't to exterminate a particular ethnic group. Later, Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia killed at least 1.7 million Cambodians (roughly 20% of the population at the time) over 4 years (1975-1979). In Rwanda, at least half a million people were killed in a little more than three months.

Also disturbing is that the genociders often learned quite a bit from previous genocides. For example, one of the political advisors to Hitler witnessed first hand the Armenian genocide. I'd speculate that Pol Pot probably had knowledge of both the German and USSR genocides (he studied in Europe in 1949-1953). Certainly, the majority of the deaths were due to starvation which also was a hallmark of the Ukraine genocide. Finally, I couldn't verify it, but apparently the ringleaders of the Rwanda genocide borrowed from the German genocide. It was claimed even that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was translated (not sure into what language) with "Tutsi" being substituted for "Jew". Finally, a quote from Hitler:

Hitler said to his generals on the eve of sending his Death's Heads units into Poland, "Go, kill without mercy . . . who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians."

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Nature of the horror in a thread... (4.50 / 2) (#58)
by blixco on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 04:58:05 PM EST

I've always felt that bringing up Nazis / the holocaust in a thread was self-defeating because of the *nature* of the arguments. I would approach such threads (back in USENet days) with fear and loathing of the content of the arguments, and not necessarily of the subject. The subject *is* fearful, but that's de facto among most educated people. No argument there, unless you're a neo-Nazi or a holocaust revisionist. The bad part, then, was watching the thread degenerate into either a rascist screed, or watching it just die, because no sane, rational person would argue pro-Nazi on USENet back then...unless they were trolling or one of the aforementioned neo-Nazis / revisionists.

Thus, the thread becomes impossible to enter into. The fear and loathing associated with such a quick and brutal death of a thread was not unique; you can hush entire rooms by simply saying "Hitler was a great leader." But no one will want to enter into that debate nicely, calmly, rationally. Thus, alt.flame. I was in alt.syntax.tactical, and we used Godwins law many, many times to simply shut people up. They fear the argument, they fear the fact that someone actually may support the evil side. Add to that the laborious nature of many neo-Nazi arguments ("try to convince this brick that it is, indeed, a brick"), the fear that the truth would not prevail in the argument (due to whatever poster's misguided, though honorable, intent), and you have a dead thread, an "uh oh, here we go again" feeling, and a general lack of faith in either side to make their point.

My grandfather fought in WW2. He doesn't talk about it at all. He does talk about the camps, though. My grandmother said that the footage of the camps was the first time she had ever seen death like that, killing on a massive scale, women, children, men, old, young, whatever. It was so terribly shocking that it took her breath away. She feels she will never recover from those images. The death in those camps justified, to both, the horrors of the war, and the brutality that they both faced at home and abroad. The pictures, the reports, the letters home all had unprecedented impact. The original French documentary had footage that no one could even imagine back then, media being so much more innocent to the violence we are steeped in now.

The echos of that horror are still with us, obviously, and create the air of hatred around the Nazi label. Hell, at this point the meme is so entrenched, it wouldn't surprise me if it's become an inherited memory, the swastika standing out in our heads as a symbol of all that can go wrong with modern, western, industrial, enlightened countries. "This Could Be You, and don't you forget it."

Society was different back then, war was different back then, but the mechanics were the same, and we can easily extend our thoughts of Nazism to the opressors around us, and even trivialize it to stop a discussion...something my grandparents would not imagine ever doing, since the Nazi label is the same, to them, as calling someone the Devil, the same as accusing them of crimes more heinous than I can ever imagine (imagine someone posting, mid-thread, "child rape is good!").

Some arguments are polar. This is one with a heavily weighted side. Bring up abortion in any thread, or protests in a k5 thread, and you'll get a similar reaction. In the end, I just hope that use of the Nazi label doesn't begin to detract from the impact of the reality surrounding the holocaust. I don't think it will, but these days....you just never can tell.

ps. this was something of a disconnected rant, I apologize.
The root of the problem has been isolated.

Soap Opera Devil (1.00 / 1) (#62)
by chbm on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 07:00:20 PM EST

Hitler has become the soap opera incarnation of Evil. While the whole Holocaust thing has been hamered over and over again in TeVe and film I don't think I ever seen a teledrama about Deng Xiau Ping (spelling ?) or Indonesia - most likely cause the victims are worlds apart in terms of Power. Comparing someone to Hitler at least shows your poor grasp of history.

Also, you rarely see stuff about how the Spanish systematically massacred the South American peoples or how the USAians built a country on top of violence and bloodshed. Instead what you see is Holywood drivel about how the indians were Evil and the settlers were Good. You can bet if Hitler had own the war comparing someone to Churchil would be a sure conversation killer.

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --

You All Remind Me of Nazis (none / 0) (#63)
by icastel on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 07:12:16 PM EST

<FLAME>Hitler Lovers</FLAME>

And, of course, I'm just joking ;)

-- I like my land flat --
It's the sum (none / 0) (#64)
by Licquia on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 07:23:13 PM EST

Notice that, in the list of "other atrocities", not one of the example regimes repeats.

I'm sure that repeats could be found (for example, Mao was more of a killer than Hitler). I wonder, though, if a single regime could be found in the 20th century that could tick off all of the line items on the Nazi atrocity list.

My short list of possibilities: Stalin's USSR and Mao's China. I doubt that there are many people who don't feel at least a little of the same moral revulsion with those two that they feel with Hitler.

The reason Nazi comparisons are everywhere... (4.50 / 2) (#66)
by PTBear on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 09:22:06 PM EST

is that the Nazis documented everything they did to an obsessive degree. The information is so pervasive that a friend of mine always calls the History Channel the "Nazi Channel". She jokes that they should get rid of the "H" on the bottom of the screen and replace it with a swastika.

Just about everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the history of the Nazis. You can be assured that if you make the comparison in a post, it will be well understood. You really cannot say that about any other oppressive and evil regime. All of the others (Russia, China, etc.) have been very secretive about their atrocities and take great pains to hide the evidence. Also, if you try to use China and Russia comparisons in a post, many (if not most) people will not know what the hell you are talking about. That, IMHO, is why Godwin's law rings so true.


"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

-Attributed to Sigmund Freud

a scary consequence (5.00 / 1) (#67)
by TheLogician on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:17:47 PM EST

The industrialization of genocide and the propaganda machine greatly contributed to the demonizing of Nazis. Although the holocaust was one of the greatest horrific events ever carried out by humans, what I find scary the degree to which we dissociate ourselves from Nazis.

I wish less effort would go into ridiculing Nazis, and more study would be done on how a society can turn in such a dramatic way. By distancing ourselves from Nazis, we are essentially refusing the possibility that such an event could happen in Canada, The United States, or some other country in Europe. I would like to think that I could never commit such attrocities, but I think that is the naive all-too-common approach to the situation. Were the Nazis really a collection of less than desirable human beings, and others around the world were more civilized and compansionate? I somehow doubt that possibility and I think that the propoganda only adds to it.

Some propaganda posters for context:

Perhaps you might like to (none / 0) (#80)
by kitty vacant on Thu Jul 04, 2002 at 04:30:19 PM EST

take a look at 'The Roots of Evil' by Ervin Staub
Go on... Give us a snare rush!
[ Parent ]
Why is it popular? (none / 0) (#68)
by xriso on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 02:50:19 AM EST

It's popular because it's popular.
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
The Milgram experimant (5.00 / 2) (#71)
by llogiq on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 04:23:30 AM EST

(As documented at [http://www.cba.uri.edu/Faculty/dellabitta/mr415s98/EthicEtcLinks/Milgram.htm])

After WWII, Stanley Milgram asked what factors led to the possible rise of such a regime. His experiment demonstrated that it could also have been built in the land-of-the-free-home-of-the-brave USA.

I saw videos from the experiment, and they are the most terrifying thing I ever have seen.

The Milgram electricity experiment (none / 0) (#79)
by texchanchan on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 12:53:03 PM EST

Yes, those videos are horrifying. However, once you've seen them, do you think you'd get suckered into doing what the man in the film did? Showing those things to students is a good way to prevent them acting like that--which was the point of making the movies, I suppose.

[ Parent ]
It's not how many of your people died... (5.00 / 1) (#76)
by decaf_dude on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 10:16:14 AM EST

...but how good your PR is afterwards. As many have rightly pointed out, have you heard of the Tutsi Genocide museum? How about the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Week? Is anyone aware of a stream of movies picturing Big Bad Stalin's Soviets exterminating innocent helpless...

The main reason, IMNSHO, the Nazi Germany is so reviled is that they lost a war that cost so much so many. If Hitler hadn't started the Eastern Front, Godwin's Law would have never existed. And so many other things too...


Godwin's law or the nature of horror | 80 comments (70 topical, 10 editorial, 1 hidden)
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