A favorite tactic to get Americans and Europeans ready for another war is to liken some foreign “enemy” to Hitler, no matter how ill-fitting or absurd the comparison. But once the Hitler slur is slung all rational debate ends, as Danny Schechter explains.
By Danny Schechter
The ISIS gang makes great enemies. They dress in black, wear Halloween masks, wave flags, act viciously, and cut off the heads of journalists. Never mind that the Saudis beheaded ten dissidents on the night that journalist Jack Foley became first American victim of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. We didn’t know the Saudi victims and didn’t want to embarrass our ally. But chop the heads of people we do know and you are asking for a drone up your keister.
Nothing like a grotesque atrocity to pump up Vice President Joe Biden to vow to chase ISIS “to the gates of hell,” a war cry designed to get the Christian Right behind him since ISIS detests Jesus too. President Barack Obama’s vow to destroy and “degrade” ISIS did not have the same populist appeal.
Never mind the role we may have played in training and funding this latest face of Islamic terror (when ISIS was trying to overthrow the Syrian government); the group has managed to do what few maniacs have, unite Iran and the United States on the field of battle. The scary presence of ISIS has also buried all discussion of the failures of U.S. policy that destroyed Iraq and assisted the emergence of ISIS in the first place. (The group originated as “al-Qaeda in Iraq” in response to President George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.)
When you don’t understand the culture of countries you invade, it’s easy to demonize what springs from those invasion. And, just in time, since al-Qaeda had lost its sting and fear appeal, we needed a new enemy to detest, and, poof, here they are!
It is a bit trickier giving Russian President Vladimir Putin the same treatment, not just because “the facts” and factions in the Ukraine, including oligarchs, real Nazis, democrats and demagogues, are harder to define. And, also because Americans are not that familiar with the country’s latest savior, the billionaire “Chocolate King” Petro Poroshenko.
Ukraine is a harder conflict to sell. It’s complex: you have got the East and the West, a blizzard of languages and minorities, and the fact that it seems clear that Putin has not been calling all the shots even though we want to portray the situation as if he is and has.
So what to call Putin to make him really scary? Let’s recycle a name that is more evil than bin Laden, more memorable than ISIS and one that everyone in England of a certain age, certainly, and the U.S. hates.
How about Hitler? Can we get that monster to goosestep across the world stage one more time? When you say Hitler, you don’t have to say much more.
Who can we get to make Vlad seem really bad? How about British Prime Minister David Cameron? He will do anything to sound like Churchill and get his puss in the papers. Cameron reached into his little book of historical clichÃ©s to compare the mistakes made by the West in Munich in 1938 with those being made now. Even the debaters at the Oxford Union would see this parallel as a stretch.
Here’s how it went down, at first in secret, then as a leak. Reported the Guardian: “David Cameron has told European leaders that the west risks making similar mistakes in appeasing Vladimir Putin over Ukraine as Britain and France did with Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the second world war.
“In a heated debate about the crisis behind closed doors in Brussels on Saturday, the prime minister told an EU summit that Putin had to be stopped from seizing all of Ukraine, according to La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper, which obtained details of the confidential discussion.”
Wow, a British politician reviving the despised memory of a dead German leader in an Italian newspaper. “We run the risk of repeating the mistakes made in Munich in ’38. We cannot know what will happen next,” Cameron was reported as warning.
No, he did not make any mention of the U.S. corporations that funded the Nazis, or the fact that it was the Russians, not the Brits, who stopped their blitzkrieg or, for that matter, all the Nazi war criminals who escaped prosecution (often with the help of the U.S. government).
Owen Jones of the Guardian was disgusted by what he read in his own paper. “Here we go again,’ he wrote, adding, “The west comparing its latest enemy number to the German Fuhrer has been a standard tactic for decades. When Egypt’s General Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain’s prime minister, Anthony Eden, compared him to Hitler, while Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell opted for a comparison with Benito Mussolini. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic was the Hitler of the late 1990s, and the US dabbled with describing former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in these terms too.
“On the eve of the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein was repeatedly compared to Hitler, with Donald Rumsfeld even casting George W Bush in the role of Winston Churchill. The media abounded with such parallels in the build-up to the Iraq disaster, with one Telegraph article headlined ‘Appeasement won’t stop Saddam any more than Hitler’ and even suggesting Iraq could bomb Southampton. On either sides of his rapprochement with the west, Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi faced the Hitler treatment, too.
In and of themselves, these comparisons are self-evidently ludicrous.”
But, why let historical facts get in the way in a conflict that seems to have real Hitler lovers in the ranks of Ukraine’s hard-right bully boys, the very people Putin has been denouncing. Talk about twisting reality inside out.
JP Sottle writes that this tactic has spread across the ocean: “when it’s time to fire up the Great American Fear Factory for another ‘lobbying blitz’ and bellicose ‘product launch’, America’s policymakers conjure up the darkest star of human history. They say ‘Hitler’. Evoking Hitler is the foreign policy equivalent of yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”
How did this all start? Listen to someone who has been paying attention to the details. Former AP reporter, Robert Parry of Consortium News reports facts, not contrived historical comparisons, in addressing how the crisis in Ukraine began:
“The original lie behind Official Washington’s latest ‘group think’ was that Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated the crisis in Ukraine as part of some diabolical scheme to reclaim the territory of the defunct Soviet Union, including Estonia and other Baltic states. Though not a shred of U.S. intelligence supported this scenario, all the ‘smart people’ of Washington just ‘knew’ it to be true.
“The once-acknowledged though soon forgotten reality was that the crisis was provoked last year by the European Union proposing an association agreement with Ukraine while U.S. neocons and other hawkish politicos and pundits envisioned using the Ukraine gambit as a way to undermine Putin inside Russia. In other words, from the start, Putin was the target of the Ukraine initiative, not the instigator.”
The Guardian’s Jones appealed to the public that’s heard it all before. “Let’s resist the Hitler comparisons, which intend simply to shut down any reasoned discussion, to demonize all those who are not hawks, and to ratchet up tension,” he asks. “Soon enough, though, western leaders will settle on a new enemy number one, and the Hitler comparisons will begin all over again.”
Sure, it’s pathetic, and cynical, but, wink, wink, what’s a little Seig Heiling! among friends?
News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at newsdissector.net and works on Mediachannel.org. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.