That Which Shall Not Be Named

From Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ Making Light

Actually, it’s just now occurred to me what our Guantanamo policy adds up to. To summarize our positions:

• For our own purposes, or for no purposes at all, we assert that we have the right to take captive people who fall into our hands, hold them incommunicado, and transport them to distant countries, if we so desire.

• We can do anything we please with our prisoners, and keep them as long as we like—for the rest of their lives, if it comes to that.

• We may transfer ownership of our prisoners to other parties.

•  We are not answerable for these actions to any tribunal. We owe no compensation to our prisoners, their families, or anyone else.

From Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ Making Light

Charles Bird at Obsidian Wings asks, "Can we agree that, no matter how the words are weaseled, putting American in the same sentence with Nazis, gulags and the Khmer Rouge has no place in civil political discourse?"

No, we can’t, because Nazism, the Gulag, and the Cambodian genocide all emerged from human decisions, many of which probably seemed reasonable at the time. They weren’t beamed down to the planet by aliens.
- - - - -
Yes, it’s a slippery slope argument. Guess what. Sometimes, you’re on a slope, and you’re sliding.

From Fred Clark @ Slacktivist

I'm trying to follow the logic here.

It's not nice to call people "Hitler." I get that, really. That much makes sense.

Adolf Hitler was a mass-murderer and one of the worst tyrants in human history, so not only is calling someone "Hitler" not nice and not conducive to civil discourse, it's also ridiculously inaccurate. Thus, of course, by equating someone as gravely, devastatingly evil as Hitler with some opponent of yours who is unquestionably less devastatingly evil, you are in a sense demeaning the suffering of the real Hitler's victims.

I get all that. Quite reasonable.

It's the subsequent leap of illogic that's screwy.

Quite a few otherwise reasonable people begin with the principle described above and go on to say that one must never, ever, in the course of any discussion refer in any way to Adolf Hitler or his Nazi regime and one must absolutely never make any comparison between that regime and any other act or policy of any other state or government ever.

Except maybe Stalin. Stalin was so bad, these folks say, that you're probably allowed to compare Stalin to Hitler. But that being the case, the prohibition against comparing all other states and their policies to those of the Nazis is also therefore extended to apply to similar comparisons to Stalin.

Whether you call this "Godwin's Law" or an appeal for "civility" it doesn't make sense.

And it is not just nonsense, it's dangerous nonsense.

This prohibition, as it is currently practiced and enforced, requires that we cloak two of the worst evils in human history in silence. It demands that we never allow ourselves to learn from them. It forbids us from what such evils, in truth, demand: That we constantly compare every state, every policy, every action to their perverse example. This is our duty. This is what we learned, or should have learned, from the 20th century. Humans are capable of such things. We are capable of such things. And we must be vigilant to ensure that we not allow them to happen again.

This is part of the point that Israeli historian Avi Schlaim was making when he wrote: "The issue isn't whether or not we are the same as the Nazis, the issue is that we aren't different enough."

To prohibit any comparison to Nazism in the name of "civility" is absurd. Civility, indeed civilization, requires that such a comparison be kept before our eyes at all times as a signpost, a warning. To keep such warnings silent and out of sight is recklessly arrogant.

From Jeanne D’Arc @ Body & Soul

Can you tell, without peeking at the linked articles, which group of torturers is on our side?

From billmon @ Whiskey Bar

. . . if Durbin had wanted to be completely honest, he could have skipped the rhetorical flourish about the Soviets, the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, and instead pointed out that if we didn't know better, we might think today's horror stories out of Guantanamo and Abu Graib and Baghram were tales told about prisons in El Salvador, Honduras and Argentina thirty years ago-- or South Vietnam, forty years ago.

And if he really wanted to get reckless with the truth, he could have explained the reasons for that resemblance.

But that's probably more truth than even Dick Durbin can afford.

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