Send in the Brownshirts

I am always amused by politicians and pundits on TV and radio. They get so worked up, and usually when they start to run out of steam–of witty responses and vicious jabs–they always have one thing to rely on: the Nazis. Bring in the Stormtroopers! It is amusing because they are doing exactly what the Nazis themselves did: that when all else fails, you can still bludgeon your opponent. You can always resort to violence!

But it has a deeper meaning and problem. Those pundits’ remarks betray a misunderstanding of the past by a broader audience. The next genocidal, ethnic-cleansing government won’t be the Nazis. I guarantee it. History repeats itself, but c’mon, not that closely. They rarely pop up overnight with reeducation camps, gulags, and book-burning parties. They won’t sport fantastic mustaches and march around with big boots. And they’re probably not going to be wearing white hoods. They won’t live in volcanoes or wear capes, or be aficionados of opera. Sorry, they’re not that easy to spot. But I think many do actually expect them to be like this. I am annoyed by the outlawing of Nazism. It too misses the point. As if any Nazi worth his salt is going to name his new political party the “Fourth Reich”, and wear red armbands and bash drums. Why is the swastika a banned symbol? Are we ashamed of the truth? The swastika didn’t cause the horrors of what the NSDAP did. The ideas behind it did, and of course, the people who embraced those ideas. By banning it, we give it power it does not deserve.

So when things start to get dicey in a political discussion, please don’t mention the Nazis, because it doesn’t actually prove anything. We sometimes try to bash the heads of our opponents and condemn evildoers of the past in one strike. We think we’re proving something by being gruff and calling the bad guys names. “You’re a Nazi!” may be true, but it doesn’t solve problems, and it doesn’t show that you learnt a lesson from history, or that you even know a Nazi when you see one. They’re so easy to lambast, and for good reason: they lost. They weren’t around long enough to change their own history like other despotic regimes and murderous ideas. By labeling all our enemies Nazis we miss the chance to expose the dangerous ones.

But memories pass with each generation. Less than eighty years after the Nazi regime’s passing, there are relatively large numbers of neo-Nazis in the world, and they’re growing! So yes, I suppose we’re going to repeat history, but only if we have learnt nothing. But to prevent the past from repeating itself, you’ve got to understand that it won’t do the same thing twice. And we won’t stop it by banning Nazism, or by making hate-speech a crime. All those regimes and governments didn’t start killing and pillaging and burning and destroying from the get-go. The death camps didn’t start churning from day one. Far from it, they were the culmination of an idea put into full practice. To stop it, you must meet ideas with ideas, see them, and address them. You must identify them and they must be met and defeated. Veni, vidi, vici.