No Taming This Shrew


Nazi No-Nos

The Post this morning has stolen an excellent Jon Stewart story about the excessive use of Nazism as an analogy for poor government behavior. Senators and Representatives have been comparing the situation at Gitmo (I feel like such a poseur when I write that, but Guantanamo is harder to type.) to something out of Nazi Germany. (The Senate Minority Whip also compared Gitmo to a Soviet Gulag and to the Khmer Rouge. I applaud his use of atrocity synonyms.) While we've had this discussion before (DOWN, Buffalo! DOWN!), I think Stewart and the Post both took worthy stabs at why it's a bad idea to compare things to the Nazis.

First, it's a conversation killer. You can't come back from the Nazi card in a debate because it's so extreme. Wow, our government is consciously commiting genocide throughout a continent while attempting to create a master race and enforcing martial law etc etc etc invading etc etc??? You get the picture. "Godwin's Law" (an internet thing) argues that the person who drops the Nazi Bomb in a discussion thread automatically loses the argument while simultaneously killing all discussion about whatever topic was up for grabs. It's made to be misconstrued. It's what we rhet/comp teachers call a definitional stasis breakdown. "Life begins at conception" has similar rhetorical roadblocking abilitities.

Second, it's an insult to US Troops, and really, it's an insult to the Nazis. They almost took over a continent while decimating a population with hideous facility. Gitmo is a far cry from this. They were super evil. I feel at ease saying that nothing the US has done even comes close to that kind of Evil. Has the US done some bad stuff? YES, OF COURSE IT HAS! But to say it's like we're the Nazis is really looney and, well, inept. Use your words, people. There are other analogies to be made. It's a big world and English is a big language.

And this could get me started about the reductive overuse of "evil" as an adjective and a noun, but I'll cease and desist. I'll just add this from the Post about the transformation of political rhetoric these days:

All of this is consistent with the escalation of political rhetoric in general, says Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown and an expert on political discourse. She mentions the Senate debate over filibusters, in which the "nuclear option" loomed. And conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, who rails against "feminazis." "It's all part of the same verbal inflation," Tannen says, adding that feminists generally refrain from torturing people. (Deborah Tannen is hilarious.)