(Originally published on Ricochet, reprinted in light of the recent Wisconsin recall election bust for the unions and Democrats)
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
— Karl Marx (1818-1883)
And Hitler as farce is upon us. Okay, I’ve broken Godwin’s Law in the title, much less in the first sentence, as the Law states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1” (or for us non-math majors, “Any political argument, carried on long enough, will eventually provoke a Nazi reference”), and this was in full display at the union protests in Madison, Wisconsin.
How else to explain the over-reaching use of Hitler’s image, his name, the Nazi symbol of the swastika in the protests? And not just over-reaching but downright bad history. It makes no sense to equate Hitler and his government with any elected officials in the United States, Democrat or Republican.
But, what exactly is the deal with Hitler and the unions? Just so we have our facts straight, on May 2, 1933, Adolph Hitler, chancellor of Germany, and the Nazis (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) abolished all unions. They did this by seizing all labor union funds, arresting the union leaders and sending them to concentration camps, mandating that the only workers organizations that could exist would be those created by Hitler, and replacing collective bargaining by using Hitler-appointed “trustees” to regulate the conditions of all labor contracts.
Hitler abolished all unions by decree, by fiat, by force, not through the legislative process.
The ill-informed Wisconsin teachers (don’t you know, the Internet is your friend?) and some Democratic legislators (Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee) seemed to think that because Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-majority legislature wrote, as part of their budget repair bill, legislation that restricts collective bargaining and requires public employee union members to contribute more to their health care premiums and pension funds, among other things, that the age of Hitler is once again upon us. “The history of Hitler,” Taylor told a reporter on Feb. 15, 2011, “in 1933, he abolished unions, and that’s what our governor’s doing today.”
As Ed Morrissey at HotAir wrote:
[I]t’s a fallacious argument. Hitler was also a vegetarian who owned a dog. Are all vegetarians Nazis? All dog owners? The Nazis aren’t history’s great villains because Hitler opposed public-sector unions. To equate that with Naziism isn’t just reprehensible, it’s downright ignorant and minimizes the actual horrors of Naziism.
The comparison of legitimate policy debate and legislative action with the Nazi regime (along with all of Hitler’s horrendous atrocities) led the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation to condemn “the hyperbolic use of Nazi and Holocaust references” by protesters in the debate.
But the bigger issue remains: does calling someone a Nazi or comparing them to Hitler mean anything anymore? Or has it become like calling someone a racist? Something that identifies the political proclivities of the person making the remark rather than the person receiving it?
Are we so far removed from World War II that we no longer have any clear picture of exactly what the Nazis did to those they opposed? Is our teaching of history (excuse me, social studies) so weak and superficial that students can actually think that the duly-elected governor of the state, along with the duly-elected legislative branch, campaigning on the issue of reining in the public-sector unions, is somehow reminiscent of Hitler being appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and then making himself Führer in 1934 as he destroyed any group or person that opposed him?
It cheapens any and every argument made on this issue when Hitler analogies are used. I recommend that all Wisconsin teachers (well, all teachers actually) take a remedial course in Western Civ, with particular emphasis on early 20th-century history and the rise of fascism in Europe, before they ever again compare any U.S. politician with Hitler.
Wahrheit über alles.
Truth. Above. All.