You can’t turn on Cuban exile radio without hearing a reference to “Munich” and “1938,” both of which shorthand for surrender, appeasement, and malfeasance in the face of an enemy of unspeakable awfulness. The words have been tossed hither and thither once again, last week by the president. It’s not limited to the right either — Anne Applebaum notes that Al Gore implied that the fight against global warming is comparable to the Allies’ struggle against fascism. Forget how the analogies cheapen the the struggle; they also betray an ignorance of history and how the smaller events often have more to say about the present than the grand historical struggles of which pundits are so fond:
I am not, I hasten to add, arguing here against the public discussion of history. If the Nazis were being invoked more generally—in warnings, say, about the unpredictability of totalitarian regimes—they might be a useful part of a number of discussions. Unfortunately, Nazi analogies are nowadays usually deployed in order to end arguments, not to broaden them. Once you inject “Hitler” or “the Third Reich” into a debate, you have evoked the ultimate form of evil, put your opponent in an indefensible position—”What, you’re opposed to a war against Hitler?”—and for all practical purposes halted the conversation.
Invoking the Nazis also changes the tenor of a debate. There may be good, tactical reasons for choosing not to negotiate with Hezbollah or the Iranian regime, for example (the best reason, usually, is that the relevant diplomats are fairly sure that negotiations won’t work). But calling opponents of this policy “appeasers” distorts the debate, giving tactical choices a phony moral grounding. In reality, circumstances do change, even where “terrorists and radicals” are involved, as this administration in particular knows perfectly well.
Fans of Indiana Jones know that “Nazis” is itself shorthand for Dastardly Godless Evil.