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Enforcing Godwin's Law:

Back in 1994, a friend at a radio station in Colorado asked me to be a guest on a small talk radio show in Alaska. The Alaskan interviewer, who had been told that I was strong supporter of gun rights, began by asking me if I agreed that gun control is a Nazi conspiracy. To his surprise, I disagreed, and said that there were a lot of people who were for a lot of bad gun control laws, but that didn't mean that they were Nazis. Nor, I added, was everybody who supported gun control part of a conspiracy.

The host got angry, and insisted that gun control was a conspiracy, because there the Bible shows that conspiracies are real. If I had been quick-witted, I would have pointed out that the Bible also shows that frogs are real, but that doesn't prove that every animal you see is a frog. However, he threw me off the show before I could make the point.

The host was plainly incorrect, I thought, in his invocation of Nazism, but are there ever circumstances in which commentators can legitimately make analogies to the Nazis? Some people say "never," and for proof, they cite "Godwin's Law." Many of the people who cite Godwin's Law, however, appear not to know what the Law actually says.

According to Wikipedia, Godwin's Law was created by Mike Godwin, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a 1990 Usenet discussion. The Law states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

Note that Godwin's Law does not state whether the comparison is valid or not. However, Mike Godwin says that he invented the law to address "a trivialization I found both illogical and offensive."

Wikipedia explains:

…Godwin's Law does not dispute whether, in a particular instance, a reference or comparison to Hitler or the Nazis might be apt. It is precisely because such a reference or comparison may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued, that hyperbolic overuse of the Hitler/Nazi comparison should be avoided. Avoiding such hyperbole, he argues, is a way of ensuring that when valid comparisons to Hitler or Nazis are made, such comparisons have the appropriate impact.

So there is no "Godwin's Law" against bringing up Hitler or the Nazis. It is precisely because some Nazi/Hitler comparisons are valid that Godwin attempted to prevent the depreciation of the comparison through excessive, improper use. Using Nazi comparisons only when appropriate might be called "Godwin's Policy."

According to the Godwin's Law FAQ, "Abortion and gun control debates always lead to Nazi comparisons." Many of the comparisons in these debates are violations of Godwin's Policy. For example:

"The Nazis were pro-natalist and thought that women's highest purpose was having babies. People who want to ban abortion think the same thing, and therefore they are like Nazis."

"The Nazis killed millions of people, and abortion kills millions of people, and therefore people who are for legal abortion are like Nazis."

"The Nazis were right-wingers who liked to own guns and who extolled the military and people who are against gun control are right-wingers who like to own guns and who extol the military and therefore people who are against gun control are Nazis."

"The Nazis liked strict gun control laws enforced by big government, and so do Americans who like strict gun control laws, and therefore Americans who support strict gun control laws are like Nazis.

There are also many situations in which Godwin's Policy is not violated by bringing up the Nazis. For example, it would be nearly impossible to write about actual Nazi practices involving birth control, abortion, women's rights, gun control, military weaponry, or mass murder without using the words "Nazi" or "Hitler."

In what situations are modern-day comparisons to the Nazis likely to follow Godwin's Policy of being useful, rather than trivial or hyperbolic? There are several obvious cases for which the Nazi comparison is neither hyperbolic nor trivial, even though the case in question may have some significant differences from the Nazis. This list is meant to be suggestive, not comprehensive:

1. When discussing followers and leaders of a political movement that is explicitly founded on Nazi principles or my admirers/allies of Nazism. These would include some, but not all, of the racist hate groups. These also include the Ba'ath parties of Iraq and Syria, since Ba'ath was founded as an Arab nationalist syncretic blend of Nazism and Stalinism.

2. When discussing somebody who adopts the nickname "Hitler," as well as followers and cohorts of such a person. This would include Zimbabwe, where the late right-hand man of the tyrant Robert Mugabe was Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi. It also includes the Fatah Party in the Palestinian Authority, one of whose members of the national assembly, Jamal Abu Roub, sports the nickname "Hitler."

3. People who publish and read Mein Kampf not as an exploration of an evil mind, but because they like its agenda. This group apparently includes a huge number of Arab and Turks.

4. People who attempt to delegitimize the Jewish need for a national homeland by denying that the Holocaust took place. This does not mean that everyone who disagrees with the creation of Israel is fit subject for a Nazi analogy. I am referring only to people who implicitly defend the Nazis by denying the historical reality the Holocaust.

5. People who advocate for (or rule) dictatorships and who simultaneously espouse extreme forms of anti-semitism--as in "God hates Jews" or regret that Hitler didn't finish killing all the Jews.

Even though a comparison may be useful, there will always be differences between the modern subject of comparison and the historical Nazis. "Hitler" Hunzvi was an anti-colonialist who loathed the British Commonwealth, whereas Adolf Hitler was not. The original Hitler wanted African colonies of his own, and was willing to agree to a peace treaty which would have left the British Empire intact, in exchange for British acquiescence to German domination of Continental Europe.

Likewise, knowing that a person or group has a pro-Nazi past is often a helpful predictor of later behavior--but not always, since Anwar Sadat was a pro-Nazi activist during World War II, but later made peace with Israel.

So even if a Nazi comparison can be invoked consistently with Godwin's Policy, there is still room for legitimate debate what lesson can be gleaned from the comparison. For example, it is widely (although not universally) agreed that Neville Chamberlin's policy of appeasement towards Hitler was a mistake. Ever since the early Cold War, there have been people who argued that various forms of accommodation or non-resistance to totalitarians was bound to lead to disaster, as Chamberlin's policies did. Sometimes the anti-appeasement analogy seems to have worked well, as in the U.S. policy of deterring or stopping Communist aggression in Western Europe and South Korea.

In other circumstances, the analogy may be much more complicated. The appeasement analogy was frequently invoked by supporters of American military action in Indochina. On the one hand, the non-Communist government Cambodia was far inferior—in terms of fighting ability and popular support—to the democratic government of Czechoslovakia in 1938, so the Nazi appeasement analogy was inapt.

On the other hand, supporters of American intervention in Indochina, in their frequent warning of a "bloodbath" that would follow Communist victory, actually understated the Nazi analogy, since the victorious Communist regimes in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam all initiated genocides, rather than only killing their known political opponents.

Reasonable people can always debate the persuasiveness of any particular analogy to the Nazis. It is not reasonable, though, for people to refuse to consider what can be learned from history, including the history of Nazism. And it is simply ignorant for people to invoke their own misunderstanding of Godwin's Law as if were a rule that forbade attempts to use the last century's encounter with genocidal tyranny as one of the experiences which can inform our own attempts to meet modern challenges of totalitarianism, anti-semitism, genocide, and other evils.

UPDATE: A commenter raises a very interesting point:

1. What about a person who explicitly wanted to form an aliance with Hitler in order to fight British and get them out of pre-State Israel/mandate Palestine in order to form a state of natives of that area?

2. What about people who explicitly admire the person referred to in number 1 and use him as a model of a resistance fighter?

Are either 1 or 2 deserving of "Nazi" or "Hitler" comparisons?

I would venture to guess you or Bernstein would think reference 1 was to the Grand Mufti, and reference 2 is to the PLO. Wrong. I am referring to Avraham Stern in 1 — leader of the Jewish resistance/terrorist group, Lehi (or the Stern Gang). In 2, I refer to, among others, Yitzhak Shamir, long-time Prime Minister of Israel, and hero of neo-cons.

Actually, I already knew that some Jews in British Palestine in WWII had the idea of working with Hitler. I also think it's legitimate, and helpful, to look at that stain on Jewish history. If Jews are going to learn from the past, they need to study the mistakes made by some earlier Jews. How did some people who started out as a legitimate resistance group (in my view) end up trying to fight on the same side of the worst Jew-killer of all time?

Almost every people, including the Jewish people, could usefully examine their own past instances of collaboration (even by a small percentage of the people) with Nazis or other evil regimes.

Like some Jews in British Palestine, Anwar Sadat was also on the Hitler side during World War II. In both cases, their conduct regarding Nazism was cause for serious concern about their future judgment. Sadat and some members of Lehi overcame their Nazi-related errors, and became honorable statesmen.

Justin (mail):
I'm not sure 4 and 5 really fit. As for 5, I'm willing to say it is correct independently (though fits somewhat poorly in your list), but only if you cross out "anti-semitism" and add "anti-whatever." After all, we're only *comparing* things to Nazis, not determining whether they *are* Nazis.

I think its also appropriate to compare things to *fascism* without invoking *anti-semitism*. I don't think this administration accepts any of the tenants of the Nazis when it comes to race, religion, or murder. And, of course, I don't think this administration comes close to approaching the tactics to quiet dissent that the Nazis (or, indeed, any of the fascist movements). However, I think the second part might be more what they can get legitimately self-rationalize, and that this administration in general has nascent fascist tendancies. Is it possible to say that, when that's what I really mean (the textbook definition of fascism, not "fascism is bad and murderous") without invoking Godwin's criticism?
1.31.2006 2:54pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, though. Is it OK to refer to National Review or the American Enterprise Institute as fascist because one of their members is Michael Ledeen?
1.31.2006 2:54pm
Justin (mail):
If you're asking for a serious answer, Defending, the response is of course not, unless you're willing to validate the "Communist roots of the ACLU" bull****. That a member of one is a member of another (and I have no particular idea of Michael Ledeen outside of his par-for-the-course rants, but let's hypothetically assume he's a full blooded member of the American Nazi Party) is *of course* not sufficient to equate the two organizations.
1.31.2006 2:57pm
Medis:
I'm not sure about the boundaries of Category 5. As you later point out, there is a general relationship between totalitarianism and genocide. So, I'm not sure why we would limit Category 5 to dictatorships in particular, nor to anti-semitism in particular (and, of course, the Nazis tried to exterminate some non-Jews as well).
1.31.2006 2:57pm
Sigivald (mail):
You know who else used Godwin's law to stifle debate by invoking it inappropriately? Hitler!
1.31.2006 3:03pm
AK (mail):
The larger problem is that when you start comparing anyone to Nazis or anything to National Socialism, you're making the rhetorical mistake of arguing by analogy. This way lies madness.

Instead of arguing the issue on the merits, you get bogged down on whether Cheney is Mengele or Goebbels, whether the GOP is the SS or just German Army regulars, whether appointing Alito was Kristalnacht or the Reichstaag Fire.

Please, everyone, stop arguing by analogy. It wastes time and never convinces anyone. There are other ways to argue!
1.31.2006 3:06pm
Hattio (mail):
Professor Kopel,
Being from Alaska, I'm kind of curious of which of our esteemed journalist did you have this encounter with? Isn't it sort of depressing that there is more than one candidate?
1.31.2006 3:08pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Justin,

No, I wasn't being fully serious, because I think David Kopel's argument 2 is faulty:

It also includes the Fatah Party in the Palestinian Authority, one of whose members of the national assembly, Jamal Abu Roub, sports the nickname "Hitler."
If it is fair to compare Fatah with Nazis (though originally DK thought Roub was a member of Hamas, so perhaps he meant to make that comparison instead), then the same would apply to a lot of organizations that have prominent members with sketchy backgrounds like Ledeen.
1.31.2006 3:12pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Clarifying my last post, I'm not saying you can't reasonably draw attention to Roub, or Ledeen, but it's the organizational tarring that I think is unfounded.
1.31.2006 3:13pm
KenB (mail):
Precisely because of Godwin's Law, I find that however *justifiable* Nazi analogies might be in any specific case, they are *never* helpful. Godwin has lost his battle.
1.31.2006 3:21pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I don't think you can really analyze Godwin's Law without the annotations:

If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it
wasn't necessary or germane without it necessarily being an
insult, it's probably about time for the thread to end.

o If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it
was vaguely related but is basically being used as an insult,
the speaker can be considered to be flaming and not debating.

o If someone brings up Nazis in any conversation that has been
going on too long for one of the parties, it can be used as
a fair excuse to end the thread and declare victory for the
other side.

Does that answer your question? It's basically an anti-flaming rule for usenet moderators.
1.31.2006 3:24pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Ouch... sorry for the awful formatting... Here's a link.
1.31.2006 3:26pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
David, here's one for you:

1. What about a person who explicitly wanted to form an aliance with Hitler in order to fight British and get them out of pre-State Israel/mandate Palestine in order to form a state of natives of that area?

2. What about people who explicitly admire the person referred to in number 1 and use him as a model of a resistance fighter?

Are either 1 or 2 deserving of "Nazi" or "Hitler" comparisons?

I would venture to guess you or Bernstein would think reference 1 was to the Grand Mufti, and reference 2 is to the PLO. Wrong. I am referring to Avraham Stern in 1 -- leader of the Jewish resistance/terrorist group, Lehi (or the Stern Gang). In 2, I refer to, among others, Yitzhak Shamir, long-time Prime Minister of Israel, and hero of neo-cons.

The point is that references to Nazis in the Israel/Palestine conflict is quite unhelpful and only causes a loss of credibility for the person making the comparison. Especially when that person uses loaded terms such as "the so-called Palestinians." And before you tar me with an anti-Israel brush, I would venture to guess that I have spent more time in modern-day Israel, and done more to help its existence. I am a unapologetic Zionist --- though one who is not so ideological that I would deny that there are a people called the Palestinians, and that they do have rights (regardless of the fact that other Arabs use them as pawns in a little game; we Jews should not be comparing ourselves the the leaders of the Arab world, but to our own ideals as taught by our liberal religious values. I would make the same point for those who criticized Dick Durbin by noting that the Bush Administration has been "better" than Stalin and Hitler -- i.e., who cares that's not a relevant comparison).
1.31.2006 3:28pm
rbj:
Defending,
until recently (and with lots of arm twisting) Fatah's stated aim was the destruction of Israel, and even after, they continued to pump out propaganda on par with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They were/are anti-Semitic as an organization, as per their founding constitution. That is a far different cry than an organization that has A member who is out there.

Another analogy: The Roman Catholic Church is anti-pederasty, even though some priests engaged in it (and others covered it up). NAMBLA, however, is pro-pederasty, just by its name.
1.31.2006 3:29pm
Ken Arromdee (mail):
Is it possible to say that, when that's what I really mean (the textbook definition of fascism, not "fascism is bad and murderous") without invoking Godwin's criticism?

Fascism is so closely associated with being bad and murderous that calling someone a fascist for a lesser offense is almost always a smear intended to associate the target with being bad and murderous.

It's like asking "can I burn a cross on a black person's lawn without trying to race-bait". Sure, it's possible, but anyone who claims to be doing so is probably lying, and even if they're not, nobody's going to believe them.
1.31.2006 3:30pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
The mention of the Cambodian genocide as a justification for US policy in Indochina is ironic, and shows ignorance of the fact that the US supported Pol Pot during that period.
1.31.2006 3:30pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Reminds me of the day here where the police got tired of biking "demonstrators" whose demonstrations against auto use took the form of riding abreast of each other and tying up the road. The police pulled them over en masse and ticketed them. One, a deputy county attorney, was quoted as saying "this is just the Nazis."

My response was that, the way I'd heard it, the Nazis did a bit more than handing out moving citations....
1.31.2006 3:32pm
JG (mail):
People who advocate for (or rule) dictatorships and who simultaneously espouse extreme forms of anti-semitism

Surely not just anti-semitism, but also other Holocaust-inspiring anti's such as anti-Gypsy and anti-gay beliefs.


[DK: Sure. The examples in my article aren't meant to exclude other possible examples. As with anti-Jewish statements, the most extreme examples of hatred (e.g., "All Gypsies and homosexuals should be killed", rather than "I never invite Jews, Gypsies, or homosexual to my social events") are the most compelling
1.31.2006 3:32pm
Jaime non-Lawyer:
The Nazis believed that 2+2=4. So I guess we're all just like the Nazis.
1.31.2006 3:37pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
When discussing followers and leaders of a political movement that is explicitly founded on Nazi principles or my admirers/allies of Nazism. These would include some, but not all, of the racist hate groups. These also include the Ba'ath parties of Iraq and Syria, since Ba'ath was founded as an Arab nationalist syncretic blend of Nazism and Stalinism.

Although I find myself in the awkward position of defending the Ba'ath, I will only to note that this is incorrect. The Ba'ath definitely have fascist/nationalistic roots, but they are not modeled after Nazism, but after more general European fascism. And so were the direct precursors to the modern-day Likud party of Israel. They were admitted fascists. As to the point about Stalinism, again this is true to a degeree. But it is also true, to the same degree, that the modern-day Labor party of Israel was also modeled after Stalin and Lenin, to a degree. And many adherents of the Labor party in the 40's and 50's idolized Stalin (until they found out about his atrocities).


Again, the point is not that Labor and Likud are as bad as the Ba'ath (either the Iraqi or Syrian variants which are not the same, despite the neo-cons' common misunderstanding of that), any reasonable and serious person would admite that they are not; the point is that the analogy you make is unhelpful and misleading and it gets us nowhere. Under your logic, comparisons of Israel's Likud to Nazism would also be fair. But it's not. If you want to criticize Hamas and the Ba'ath, there are plenty of reasons for doing so. But it is unnecessary, and frankly hurts your argument considerably, when you invoke Nazis or Stalinists. As a person who knows more about these subjects than you most probably, I will be (and have been) unable to take your views seriously in other areas where you know much more than I. And this is because your analogies to Nazism is just over-heated rhetoric which is not serious. How can I take you seriously when you speak on your expertise, like gun control? The answer is I can't. Thus, to repeat: this is why such analogies are not helpful.

For this same reason, I cannot take seriously the constant reference to "Islamo-fascists" that one sees in such supposedly respectful publications as the Weekly Standard. Islamists, of the al-Qaeda breed, are not "fascists" -- all they have in commmon with fascists is that they like to kill a lot of people. There are countless reasons to dislike al-Qaeda and bin-Laden; but using the term "Islamo-fascists" only makes me not take seriously whatever else people who use the term have to say, which is unfortunate, because they may have something good to say that would convince me they were right. But I shut off on hearing the term.

1.31.2006 3:43pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Comparing things to nazis is like writing your Eng101 persuasive paper on legalizing drugs. Sure it might be relevant, but no one wants to hear that again. Be original.
1.31.2006 3:43pm
Joe B. (mail):
In addition to your hypothetical cases in which comparisons to Nazism are appropriate, it should be noted that the sector of Nazism can also be a useful rhetorical antidote to those (most frequently liberals and leftists) who utter seemingly benign platitudes about "valuing a diversity of opinion" or "respecting the exercise of free speech", and do so without qualification. That is, if the person or persons who employ such generalizations really believes them to be absolute, then do they feel compelled to sit and listen politely while some moron with a swastika armband rants about the greatness of Hitler or the inevitable triumph of the master race? If they then concede that the free speech rights of such an individual might be recognized without being respected in any way, they then may be asked whether there are other groups or individuals that one might shun without being labeled intolerant, bigoted or narrow minded.
1.31.2006 3:47pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Godwin was also, I think, a little upset about being reminded that he shared a policy position with the Nazis--hence Godwin's Law.

I agree that most people that support that nebulous concept of "gun control" aren't totalitarian wannabes. People that argue for a complete ban on private ownership--for example, Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA)--and thus a governmental monopoly on the use of deadly force are either totalitarian wannabes, or living in a fantasy world where unlimited power does not lead to oppression.
1.31.2006 3:49pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The Nazis believed that 2+2=4. So I guess we're all just like the Nazis.
Uh, no. They may well have used 2+2=4 as a pragmatic measure, but some of the "science" that came out of the Nazi era is a reminder that there were no absolutes (other than absolute power) in the Nazi intellectual tool box. Quite a number of prominent scientists of the Weimar Republic managed to adjust to the new government, churning out books on "racial science" and explaining why "Jewish physics" wasn't Aryan.

Absolute truths are a big obstacle to unlimited governmental power. You can see why prominent intellectuals like De Man managed to spew Nazi propaganda during World War II, and then become heroes to the left in the modern era by promoting deconstructionism.

There's a legitimate set of questions that can be asked about how both the writer's preconceptions and the reader's preconceptions can influence what you write, and what you read--but at its heart, deconstructionism's fundamental belief that there are no absolute truths can lead to the most horrendous evil.

Not surprisingly, back in the era in which Godwin's Law came about, Godwin and I were on opposite sides, not only about gun control, but also about this notion of absolutes.

Admittedly, Godwin's a lawyer. I don't believe that they are allowed to believe in absolute truth of any sort. It would interfere with the unflinching and vigorous defense of the client's position, when the client is absolutely wrong.
1.31.2006 3:57pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I always preferred to call people "commies" instead of "nazis" because if they were lefties they considered it a compliment and if they were righties they were just amused.
1.31.2006 4:01pm
Intermarried:
You missed one unfortunate and unfair use of Nazi arguments. I am a Christian man married to a Jewish woman. Orthodox Jews that my wife went to grad school with told her that she's worse than the Nazis because she married a non-Jew.

When religious Orthodox Jews misuse Nazi analogies, it gives others a little more room to do the same thing.
1.31.2006 4:04pm
Wintermute (www):
I felt I had to mention Hitler in my latest self-teaching blog piece, "Propaganda," because other sources led me to his very quotable writings on it. And yes, I made something of an analogy.
1.31.2006 4:06pm
Kovarsky (mail):

(1) Reasonable people can always debate the persuasiveness of any particular analogy to the Nazis.

(2) It is not reasonable, though, for people to refuse to consider what can be learned from history, including the history of Nazism.

(3) And it is simply ignorant for people to invoke their own misunderstanding of Godwin's Law as if were a rule that forbade attempts to use the last century's encounter with genocidal tyranny as one of the experiences which can inform our own attempts to meet modern challenges of totalitarianism, anti-semitism, genocide, and other evils.


(1) sure

(2) agreed

(3) huh? it's "ignorant" because this species of godwin-law-invokers transforms what was originally a descriptive tool (as blog posts approach infinity, nazi analogies approach 100% of dialogue) as a normative one (don't use nazi analogies). sure, it's a bastardization of the term. it's not that unique of a phenomenon though. think about the transformation of "the melting pot" from descriptive theory to "prescriptive ideal" when assimilation became a valued social project in this country.

of course it is "ignorant" in the sense that the people mis-invoke the term as originally understood. but you your use of the term "ignorant" seems much more loaded than that. i suspect strongly that you mean not only "ignorant," but "counter-productive," etc.

and therein lies the problem. people that use the "normative" godwin's-law do so only because that term serves as a descriptive shorthand for what they are trying to say - namely, don't overuse the nazi analogy. but they're not formulating the idea deriding the analogy because there's this misunderstood term out there, "godwin's law," that happens to express it. they're formulating the idea for the analogy and looking for the most convenient way to express it. in other words, it's not as if the presence of the normative godwin's-rule causes the anti-nazi-analogy impulse to be formed; it's just an expression of it.

once you acknowledge that, though, who cares about whether the term they use to invoke that idea is miscast as a normative proposition rather than a descriptive one - you're objection is just to the idea itself right? and case might be out there that the ready availability of a confused term makes it easier for people to formulate the anti-nazi-analogy instinct in the first place, but I hardly think that case is self-evident.



[DK: You're entirely right. "You can't say that" is such a common impulse that if Godwin's Law did not exist, some people would use other words to try to rule Nazi/Hitler discussions off-limits.]
1.31.2006 4:20pm
Seamus (mail):

The original Hitler wanted African colonies of his own



It's been a while since I read Mein Kampf, but I seem to recall that Hitler said there that the wish for African colonies was pretty silly, and that the proper sphere for German colonization was in the East (i.e., in Russia).


[DK: During the Danzig crisis, Hitler claimed that readjustment of the Polish-German border was his last territorial demand, except for restoration of German territories in Africa, which had been lost as a result of WWI.]
1.31.2006 4:40pm
Brian McDaniel (mail):
I think you misunderstand the use of "Law" in "Godwin's Law." Godwin's law is supposed to be a natural law, in the same sense as the laws of physics or Moore's Law. In this sense, Godwin's law is a pointed commentary on internet discussions that carries an implicit rebuke on overuse of the Nazi analogy, but is not itself a prohibiting policy.


[DK: I know that, although some people were merely invoke "Godwin's Law" don't. The "Enforcing" headline is meant to be mildly amusing for an audience with a relatively high % of people who know about both physics and the law. Cf. "Gravity: It's not just a good idea. It's the law."]
1.31.2006 4:43pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Brian - who misunderstands it in that way? I certainly don't think prof kopel does...
1.31.2006 4:57pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I think the term "Nazi," like the term "communist" even when quasi-accurate, is too distracting to the debate, 99.9% of the times.

As to the 0.1% of the time when I wonder whether "Nazi" is appropriate, I submit the case of Ann Coulter. Assuming that we should take what she says seriously (I could be convinced it's all a weird schtick or perhaps psychosis), what do we make of someone who calls for the "physical discipline" of liberals, killing all the leaders of the middle-east and converting them to Christianity, dropping random daisy cutters in the mid-east, and her recent bon mot -- curiously not commented on by folks here interested in free speech and its limits -- that someone should poison the tea of Justice Stevens?
1.31.2006 4:57pm
CaDan (mail):
I am touched.
1.31.2006 5:36pm
danny (mail) (www):
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1.31.2006 5:36pm
Michael B (mail):
A reader determined to be distracted won't require Godwin's Law; by contrast, a reader with some proportionate, historical sense of what Stalin or Hitler represented won't be distracted if a well framed and apt analogy is made with either regime.
1.31.2006 5:49pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
I always preferred to call people "commies" instead of "nazis" because if they were lefties they considered it a compliment and if they were righties they were just amused.

As a "leftie" (at least under the popular Instapundit definition of "anyone opposing the foreign policy of the present US government), I would most assuredly NOT take you referring to me as a commie as a compliment. In fact, given my family's history in the former soviet union, I would be tempted to punch you in the nose.

Forgive me if you meant this as a joke, but it does not appear that you did, as your opinion is quite common among today's self-described conservatives.

1.31.2006 5:54pm
Joshua:
Annotation of Godwin's Law, as quoted by Daniel Chapman:
If someone brings up Nazis in any conversation that has been going on too long for one of the parties, it can be used as a fair excuse to end the thread and declare victory for the other side.

Until now it was my understanding that this was Godwin's Law - that you know your side has lost the debate when you or someone on your side makes a Nazi comparison. I also concurred (and still do) with Brian McDaniel's understanding of the word "law" in this context.
1.31.2006 5:58pm
Carolina:
Somewhat off-topic I suppose, but count me as one of those who disagrees with the conventional wisdom regarding Chamberlain's policies towards Nazi Germany that you mention in your post.

When the relative readiness levels of the British and Nazi militaries are examined, a different picture emerges. The strength of the British military, especially with regard to aircraft, increased substantially during the year leading up to war with Germany. Had war with Germany begun a year earlier, it is likely the Battle of Britain would have turned out differently.

I don't know enough about Chamberlain to know if this factored into his reasoning, but regardless, his policy of appeasement gave the British aircraft industry enough time to give the RAF a fighting chance vs. the Luftwaffe.


[DK: It's certainly a legitimate argument. Military historians who disagree would say that Hitler's army gained at least as much in the extra period before the war. Most importantly, the German officer corps seriously considered overthrowing Hitler when he was on the verge of war 1938 (as they had also been considering in some previous brinksmanship episodes of his). By 1939, the officers corps was not interested in doing so.]
1.31.2006 6:01pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Hitlers a strange name..did it totally die out with him in the bunker? I remember a "Hill Street Blues" episode where there was a great young standup comedian but he couldnt get picked up cause his name was "Vic Hitler" and he wouldnt change it out of pride. I remember a story about a black nationalist a few yrs ago who named his child "Adolf Hitler X" but thats not the same..
1.31.2006 6:49pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Off topic:

After her 11-year-old son was suspended for twice bringing a loaded handgun to school, Linnea C. Holdren, 43, said the matter was pretty much beyond her control. "I can't lock up his guns," she told police. "They belong to him, and he has a right to use them whenever he wants to use them." (The boy was expelled in January, and Holdren, who is a teacher at her son's Shickshinny, Pa., elementary school, has been charged with felony endangerment.) [San Jose Mercury News-AP, 12-18-05; WYOU-TV (Scranton), 1-18-06]
1.31.2006 7:04pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I do really like that fact that Mike Godwin has made it to the big time with his law. Couldn't have happened to a more interesting guy. First met him at a BBS (Bulletin Boarding Systems) convention at the Broadmoor in Co. Springs in the late 1980s. He was a recent UT law grad, and I think had just gone to work for the EFF.
1.31.2006 7:06pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
One problem that I have with the constant comparison of conservatives with Nazis is that the Nazis were socialists. Racist socialists, but socialists, none the less. Ditto for the Fascists.

As probably most here know, Nazism was the ideology held by the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, commonly called NSDAP or the Nazi Party). There is a lively debate going on right now at wikipedia.com concerning whether they were indeed socialists or not. F. A. Hayek in his book "The Road to Serfdom", publishing contemporaneously to both Nazism and Fascism, sure thought that both were just other forms of socialism.
1.31.2006 7:23pm
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
Mr. Hayden has, in my view, hit the nail on the head. An all-powerful state is an ideal that is both socialist and nazi . The exact opposite is classical liberalism, which is one of the foundations of modern conservative thinking. Another foundation is Burkean thought , as well . Hayek , too, is a foundation of modern conservative thinking.
1.31.2006 7:41pm
Milhouse (www):
What is the source for the claim that Avraham Stern wanted to form an alliance with Hitler? I've never heard that, and it's an extraordinary enough claim that it requires convincing proof. All I know is that he opposed forming a temporary alliance with the British in order to fight Hitler; all that means is that he considered them roughly equal threats, not that he would have done the opposite.
1.31.2006 8:13pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Millhouse, go look it up -- I'm not going to do your work for you. It's very common knowledge he wrote a letter to Hitler in 1943 I believe, but definitely in the midst of the war when Hagana and Irgun had set a truce with the British to concentrate on fighting the Nazis. Frankly, if you did not know that, you didn't know much.
1.31.2006 8:22pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Milhouse, here's a hint. Google. I tried "stern lehi hitler" and got plenty of hits referencing it. I am quite confident I know much more about this than you, and frankly that you did not know about this pretty infamous incident shows that you probably know little.

pwned
1.31.2006 8:26pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
I tried Greedy Clerk's Google search and couldn't help noticing that the first page of results contained links to Wikipedia, 'Jews for Allah', and Al Jazeera, none of which strikes me as likely to be a trustworthy source of information on a controversial subject involving (alleged) Jewish misdeeds.

GC should provide a link to some specific reputable source instead of telling others to "go look it up" and "if you did not know that, you didn't know much". Otherwise we may suspect that he's the kind of person who thinks that the number of sites containing some fact (or 'fact') is significant. It's not. To give a simple example, a Google search for "Xeno's Paradox" gets 14,800 hits, every one of which is in error. (Well, maybe a few of them are joking.) The man's name was Zeno, with a Zeta, not a Xi, and anyone who thinks he was Xeno is simply wrong -- perhaps confused by erotic dreams of Xena the Warrior Princess. Yet thousands of people think the paradoxer was named Xeno, and say so on the web.

If the allegation about Stern is well-established, it shouldn't be hard for Greedy Clerk to give evidence, and it's not unreasonable for those of us unfamiliar with the early history of Israel to ask for a link or two.
1.31.2006 8:57pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I think the reason why the rightwing gets so upset about the Nazi comparison (and sometimes even claims that the Nazis were socialists and a movement of the left, "see, it's in their name") is not that we (us liberals) believe that Republicans are ready to round up all the Arabs and start cranking out new batches of Zyklon B, but that we see a creeping growth of fascism in this country that is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Germany in the late twenties and early thirties.

Go over to the further rightwing sites and see how often the leftwing commenters are called traitors and unAmerican. Even the president, especially the Vice President, and members of Congress, are all too willing to question the patriotism and loyalty of anyone who questions or disagrees with them. More and more the executive asserts power which he asserts is unchecked by the courts and the Congress while the Congress refuses the check his power and judges are appointed who believe in an unchecked executive.

So while I don't like to use the word "Nazi", creeping fascism sure seems to fit.
1.31.2006 9:46pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
One thing I've never really understood about Godwin's law is that it's really nothing more than a truism. For example, "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving X approaches 1." X can be anything. Purple frogs, communists, Grover Cleveland, river beds, carrots, cellphones, etc. You name it. It's kinda like the infitinte number of monkeys typing an infinite time, eventually one will type out Hamlet.

The longer a discussion takes place, the probability of ANYTHING being said approaches one..


[DK: Clearly true. I thought about making the point in my original post, but it seemed distracting. I think the point of Godwin's Law is that on the whole, discussions tend to get to a trivial/hyperbolic use of Hitler/Nazis much sooner than they do Grover Cleveland. I bet if you looked a large sample of comment threads on Usenet, blogs, etc., which have at least 100 entries, the percent with a Hitler/Nazi would be much larger than the percent with a Hamlet or frog entry. If you also include the improper (as discussed in some of the early comments) use of the word "fascist" as a functional equivalent of "Nazi," then the empirical support for Godwin's observation is even stronger.
1.31.2006 10:08pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
I just listened to the SOTU speech, what about comparing modern things to WWII. Where he is referencing Nazis just not by name.
1.31.2006 10:12pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Dr. Weevil/Milhouse (I doubt you are two different people) —- If you are well-studied in pre-state Israel, you are familiar with Stern, and know that the most notorious thing about him was his fantasies of a Nazi alliance. Here is a link (not from a source whose pro-Israel creds can be doubted):

Stern insisted that the struggle against the British remain independent of any political linkage, even to Jabotinsky's Revisionist party. He also vehemently opposed tempering the resistance in any way, and thus, in August, 1940, when the Irgun decided to suspend their attacks on the British during World War II, Stern formed a radical splinter opposition group, known as Lehi, an acronym for "Lohamei Herut Yisrael." He maintained that, even in the face of the Nazi threat, it was the British who posed the major threat to the Jews; doubting the Allies could win the war, he even advocated an alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, believing these ties would assist the nationalist effort in Eretz Yisrael.

Thanks for coming out. pwned. No go educate yourselves and stop bothering me. (Millhouse — typical neo-con who knows nothing about what they write about; I saw his blog.)
1.31.2006 10:36pm
cac (mail):
Greedy Clerk is right - this should be pretty common knowledge among anyone who purports to know anything about Israeli history. I understand that it went a little further than "advocating" an alliance - the Stern Gang actually approached the German Embassy with a letter offering an alliance in Ankara but got no reply. Had the germans not been so blinded by their anti semitism they could very easily have created a jewish civil war in Palestine.

An interesting question is how much Shamir knew about this. He has always denied he knew anything at the time but he was an active anti british terrorist/freedom fighter/resistance (pick your description) during the war and at the very top of the organisation which suggests motive and opportunity. There is an oblique reference in his autobiography to the effect that until 1942 there was nothing between the British and Germans which I took to mean that he at least saw such a view as supportable.
In any case, attacking British troops in Palestine and Egypt when they were the only thing standing between the Wermacht and the Jews of Palestine strikes me as somewhat short sighted, regardless of what one thought about British attempts to be even handed.
1.31.2006 11:11pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Thanks for providing the link you should have provided in the first place. Now if you work on your gratuitously offensive attitude you might have more chance of convincing people that you're right without distracting them with thoughts about what a jerk you are. Only a blog-owner can write "go educate yourselves and stop bothering me" without coming across as exactly that.

If I were "well-studied in pre-state Israel", I wouldn't have joined Milhouse in asking for evidence, but this is not a blog devoted to advanced Middle Eastern studies, so why should that be a prerequisite? And if you weren't too lazy to do basic research yourself, you would know that I'm not Milhouse. In fact, I don't recall having run across him (her?) before, though I may have -- it's not the most distinctive name in the world.
1.31.2006 11:11pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Dr. Weevil --- it's not GC's problem that you were ignorant. If I say in a comment that Italy supported Germany in WWII, I don't need to provide a link. What GC said is apparently pretty common knowledge (I had no idea who Stern was before this) so I think you and the other guy were wrong on this one by demanding a link.
1.31.2006 11:16pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
So CrazyTrain is calling me "ignorant" because I asked for a link, while admitting that he had "no idea who Stern was" himself? That seems a bit hypocritical. I'd at least heard of Stern, and heard that he'd done some nasty things, but wanted to know more about the specifics of this particular accusation.

And Greedy Clerk thinks that Milhouse and I should have found the information through a Google search, though the link he has now provided is not one of the first 40 results for the search string he provided before? Whatever.
1.31.2006 11:34pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
No, Greedy Clerk, you miss the point. I also asked for the evidence, because I wanted to know, and you were too damned rude to provide it.

Here's a variation on Godwin's Law -- call it Weevil's Law: Any participant in an on-line discussion who accuses an opponent of "wanking off" while blogging, writing, or thinking about politics or history can safely be ignored in all future discussions on any subject.
1.31.2006 11:45pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
Interesting discussion! I'd never heard of Stern, and I'm a reasonably well-read guy (though not on matters Middle East). I thought the whole point of this blog was to reach out and share information with others — I didn't realize it was kind of an intellectual gated community.

One remaining question — is that really Greedy Clerk posting? It might just be an obnoxious jerk trying to make him look bad. Can more than one person register the same user name?

- Alaska Jack

PS Prof. Kopel, I share Hattio's curiousity about the identity of the radio host, for obvious reasons. Is there any reason you need to keep it secret?
.


[DK: I don't remember the name. I think it was a shortwave station. BTW, I'm not a professor. I was an adjunct professor at NYU in 1998-99, but I'm currently not currently teaching.]
2.1.2006 2:12am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Joshua writes:
Annotation of Godwin's Law, as quoted by Daniel Chapman:
If someone brings up Nazis in any conversation that has been going on too long for one of the parties, it can be used as a fair excuse to end the thread and declare victory for the other side.

Until now it was my understanding that this was Godwin's Law - that you know your side has lost the debate when you or someone on your side makes a Nazi comparison.


Me too. I understood that mentioning Nazis in a Usenet thread that wasn't about actual Nazis was the analog to frothing at the mouth, or resorting to fisticuffs, in a real-world argument, signalling the end of rational discussion.

BruceM writes:
One thing I've never really understood about Godwin's law is that it's really nothing more than a truism. For example, "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving X approaches 1." X can be anything. Purple frogs, communists, Grover Cleveland, river beds, carrots, cellphones, etc. You name it. It's kinda like the infitinte number of monkeys typing an infinite time, eventually one will type out Hamlet.

Not really, because Nazis form a halting point. Threads don't grow infinitely because somebody brings up Nazis and folks realize further discussion is pointless before they have a chance to mention purple frogs.

The drunkard will eventually wander past any given radius, but that doesn't tell us that he'll wander past that radius in any particular direction.
2.1.2006 6:57am
Webel_Wabbit (mail) (www):
In my opinion there shouldn't be a knee-jerk prohibition on Nazi comparisons and analogies. Let the reader decide whether a particular reference is relevant or convincing.

Regarding the debate about whether the Nazis were fascist or socialist, the author of the article linked below makes an interesting (and convincing, in my opinion) argument that they were socialist because although they left business ownership in the hands of private owners, this ownership was in name only, as the Nazi state retained all of the substantial rights of ownership.

http://www.mises.org/story/1937
2.1.2006 7:02am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Intermarried writes:
You missed one unfortunate and unfair use of Nazi arguments. I am a Christian man married to a Jewish woman. Orthodox Jews that my wife went to grad school with told her that she's worse than the Nazis because she married a non-Jew.

When religious Orthodox Jews misuse Nazi analogies, it gives others a little more room to do the same thing.


The appropriate response to that gambit (which is usually phrased as "Your children will not be Jewish; intermarriage is destroying the future existence of our people. What the Nazis were not able to do, you are furthering!") is the counter-Godwin: "You are calling for ethnic purity! How is that any better than the Nazis?"
2.1.2006 7:11am
Webel_Wabbit (mail) (www):
The drunkard will eventually wander past any given radius, but that doesn't tell us that he'll wander past that radius in any particular direction.

Of course he'll tend to wander past a radius to obtain more beer. Whether he pursues beer because he likes it or because he's "addicted" to it is an unscientific matter of opinion, unless one tries to make the strange philosophical argument that individuals will often become addicted to something they don't like. You don't often see chocoholics that hate chocolate.

And of course one must examine one's assumptions and agendas in any given situation. In some cases, usually those with a lot of baggage regarding alcohol, anyone who drinks or who drinks more than they is a "drunkard". And also the agendas of those involved - I'm sure lots of people would like to call someone a "drunkard" so they could drink all his beer and claim they were "helping him", "saving him from himself", or "protecting the community."
2.1.2006 7:22am
Seth Finkelstein (mail) (www):
I think a key element is some people are missing the way a rhetorical device has been tied up with what appears to be a mere mathematical statement. It's really all quite clever. It's a kind of "argumentive judo". In any discussion, someone is likely to make an overheated comparison. Or even a comparison that an opponent could claim is overheated. Then, the opponent can pull a switch from debating the merits of the comparison, to the issue of the person's supposed _faux pas_ in making of the comparison. It functions as a way of making debate go from real issues to personal attacks, yet at the same time being able to say one is taking the moral high ground.
2.1.2006 7:45am
Bob Bobstein (mail):
Kopel makes a compelling intellectual case for the enduring utility of Nazi comparisons in some situations, but he has been overwhelmed, I think, by facts on the ground.

Ill-thought out Nazi comparisons are too common, and are the rhetorical equivalent of hyperventilating-- of refusing to engage in debate and claiming victory in an argument by making an emotional assertion.

I think that because of this, Nazi comparisons are only useful if they are detailed and meticulous, rather than hung on a few anecdotes.

Plus, for the reasons Greedy Clerk outlines, even Kopel's limitations open the door to calling the Labor and Likud parties "Nazi." Arguments about the "historical roots" of modern beliefs and institutions are rarely compelling, to me.

People say that America has historical roots in slavery and oppression; what do we do about that? Suppose it were empirically demonstrated that opposition to abortion in the US was instigated by a cabal of racial purists in 1890 who were fearful of the rapid growth of the Catholic hordes. I don't think that it would, or should, impact the deeply-held, genuine views of those today who oppose abortion. I don't believe that most pro-lifers today are basing their views on racial animus.

The comparison is inexact, but my point is that even a correct assertion that some belief or institution has unsavory historical roots doesn't do that much work for us. The burden remains on the speaker to demonstrate that the bad persists in the modern incarnation.
2.1.2006 9:18am
DAWeinstein (mail):
In regard to Mr. Kopel's posting on Lehi's efforts to form an alliance with the Nazis, I am curious what he means by "who started out as a legitimate resistance group (in my view)." If the reference is to Lehi/Stern Gang, it is odd. The Stern Group broke away from the Irgun Zvai Leumi in 1940 precisely because its members disagreed with the Irgun's decision to cease fighting the British during WWII - that is, it was founded on the basis of an alliance (in practice) with the Axis. Moreover, the primary documentation of Lehi's direct alliance proposal to the Nazis indicates an ideological affinity, pledging assistance in the formation of a "totalitarian" state in Palestine. This is "legitimate"?

If the reference to "legitimate resistance" group is to the Irgun itself, it is also peculiar. The Irgun spent the late 1930's, the years prior to the Stern Group's formation, engaging in mass bombings of wholly civillian areas, in actions indistinguishable from those of Hamas today. (See Http://www.forward.com/issues/2003/03.11.07/arts3.html). This is "legitimate"?

I do not disagree with Mr. Kopel's observations that individuals may change, or that views once held should not disqualify their holder from playing a positive historical role later. (Although the fact that Shamir never repented his support for Stern, and even named the town of Cochav Yair after him make it more difficult for the "stain" on his background to be erased.) But the confrontation with history should be full and honest - and a full and honest accounting is incompatible, it seems to me, with a view of the pre-1940 Irgun or later Stern Gang as "legitimate" resistance movements.


[DK clarification. Stern split off from Irgun which had previously split off from Haganah. Irgun separated from Haganah in 1931. Irgun split again in 1937, with about half its members returning to Haganah. It was the Irgun remnant, Irgun Zeva'i Le'umi, which attacked Arab civilians. I agree with you that those attacks in the late 1930s were illegitimate. For background on Irgun, see:
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/irgun1.html and
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/irgun.html ]
2.1.2006 10:01am
Lynn B. (mail) (www):
For those who might not bother to follow the link, DAWeinstein's source for the above is apparently Israeli revisionist (small r) historian Benny Morris, who has built his career upon exactly such creative interpretations. It bears noting that the Irgun's "mass bombings of wholly civilian areas" (which were no such thing) were in direct retaliation for the wholesale murder of Jewish civilians (well over 300) in the Arab riots of 1936-39.

Moreover, it's a gross oversimplification to claim that the Lehi's refusal to stop attacks against the British in no way reflected an alliance with the Axis. The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.

All of which goes to prove a corollary to Godwin's Law: As an online discussion involving comparisons to Nazis grows longer, the probability of accusing Jews of Nazi-like behavior approaches 1.
2.1.2006 10:53am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I think the reason why the rightwing gets so upset about the Nazi comparison (and sometimes even claims that the Nazis were socialists and a movement of the left, "see, it's in their name") is not that we (us liberals) believe that Republicans are ready to round up all the Arabs and start cranking out new batches of Zyklon B, but that we see a creeping growth of fascism in this country that is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Germany in the late twenties and early thirties.
In what sense?

1. There has been some violence and intimidation in the last two presidential elections--but almost entirely by Democrats and farther left allies. Admittedly, tire slashing, forced entry into Republican Party offices, and Molotov cocktail use in San Francisco isn't at the same level as the street violence of Nazis and Communists in the late Weimar Republic, but look at who is doing this.

2. Perhaps you are referring to the economic crisis that helped to revive the National Socialists in 1931 and 1932? Except that the economic downturn that started in April of 2000 was never all that severe, and is, in any case, completely gone down.

3. Are you referring to the political instability of the late Weimar Republic? Except that we have not had that. Democrats would be overjoyed by that, because it would mean that they would be able to occasionally get control of the White House, or one of the two houses of Congress.

4. Are you referring to the gun control measures adopted in 1928 and 1931 by the Weimar Republic to disarm the National Socialists and Communists? We've had quite the opposite. Democrats have consistently pushed for more gun control; Republicans have weakly pushed for repeal.

5. Perhaps you mean that the population has become increasingly upset about moral decadence, and are therefore more willing to listen to those who argue for family values? This is certainly true--and notice who has been pushing for moral decadence, not just through democratic processes, but insisting on having the courts impose it. It makes you wonder what would have happened if the Weimar Republic had been a bit more willing to listen to the masses, instead of urban elites.
2.1.2006 11:03am
DAWeinstein (mail):
In regard to the post of Lynn B. above, two points:

1. I am not sure what "creative interpretation" of Mr. Morris's (whose politics have taken a turn to the right in recent years) she is referring to. The fact that the Irgun in the late 1930's engaged in mass, indiscrimnate bombings of civillian Arab areas is not in dispute. If she does not wish to believe Morris, take a look at this sympathetic site by a former Irgun member, http://www.etzel.org.il/english/index2.html, and scroll down to the section on David Raziel. You will find the following: "After Ben-Yosef's execution, the Irgun launched a series of operations against the Arabs. The central acts were the explosions in the Arab markets of Haifa and Jerusalem. On July 6, 1938, a member of the Irgun, disguised as an Arab porter, went into the Arab market in Haifa, placed a large parcel beside one of the barrows in the center of the market and left. Shortly afterwards there was a heavy explosion, which killed 21 Arabs and injured more than 50. A week later a similar incident took place in Jerusalem. A member of the Irgun concealed an electric mine in the Arab market in the Old City. It exploded shortly after the end of the prayer service in the mosque, when a large crowd had emerged onto the street. Eight Arabs were killed and more than 30 injured."

Lynn B. characterizes these acts as retaliation for acts of Arab violence - undeniable as well - against Jewish civillians. It is unclear to me how the random murder of men, women and children (and this is what occurred) counts as legitimate retaliation for violence against other civillians. I would hope that virtually all readers would condemn them both. But perhaps I am mistaken.

2. As to Lehi, for those who wish to see the language of their overture to the Nazis (which includes support for a "New Order in Europe"), made shortly after the group's formation, look at the wikpedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Gang (Or for those not inclined to trust wikpedia, go to Joseph Heller's definitive history on the group.) The group made far more serious efforts at an alliance with fascist Italy, as well.

Here is the point: At the time of the Arab revolt, the vast majority of the Jewish settlement in Palestine adopted a policy of Havlaga, or restraint. A small group - the Irgun - took to mass killings of civillians. Around the beginning of the Second World War, the vast majority of Jews in Palestine and elsewhere gave their all in the anti-Axis effort. A small group - the Stern Gang - sought an alliance with the Axis. None of this is in historical dispute. So why on earth does anyone apologize for, and even lionize, these groups?
2.1.2006 12:27pm
Lynn B. (mail) (www):
DA - You are quite correct that members of the Irgun executed terrorist operations, including several bombs in public markets, against Arab civilians. I would certainly not attempt to apologize for or justify those actions (although I do believe they should be placed in context) but neither would I characterize them as "mass indiscrimate bombings." Nor would I draw the conclusion, as you apparently have, that this negates the legitimacy of the Irgun's resistence effort ab initio. (That was the point of your comment, was it not?)

The documentation of Stern's overtures to Hitler are interesting. Its principal proponent appears to be Lenni Brenner, with considerable support from Israel Shahak and Avi Shlaim, none of whom I would rely upon. It's also gotten quite a lot of play at Counterpunch and various neo-Nazi webites. (And, no, I do not trust Wikipedia - I will look at the Heller reference.)
2.1.2006 1:06pm
Dodd (mail) (www):
I think the reason that, 15 years after it was coined, Godwin's Law is seen by many as a proscription is that a good many online communities have formally or informally adopted Daniel Chapman's annotation as just such a rule. As has been mentioned tangentially above, it was quite common even before the Web for Godwin's Law to be applied such that the poster who fulfilled it was considered to have lost and the thread ended.

I have to add also that, having been reading him for years in the blogosphere, seeing someone call the exceptionally erudite Dr. Weevil "ignorant" is extremely amusing. Even the extraordinarily well-educated cannot know everything; that's why providing a link is generally considered to be good form - and carping when asked for one and hurling ad hominemns at the one who asks to be bad form (that only diminishes the hurler).
2.1.2006 1:50pm
Dracs Spago (mail):
The Nazi charge is merely the adult version of "your mother wears combat boots!". It is similar to the charge of "racist!!" made when one is losing the debate.
Both are designed to make one look more intelligent without resorting to the "combat boots" charge, but rarely excuses the accuser from sounding any less childish.

Another favorite is, "...well, be that as it may..." which is analogous to "don't confuse me with the facts."
2.1.2006 10:16pm
Waldensian (mail):
I would suggest a category 6: People who suggest that disfavored (one might say discrete and insular) minorities are to be considered subhuman.

This attitude is not so rare as you might think. Consider the comments of "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher regarding mentally retarded children:

http://www.wsf.org/family/news/mahercomments.htm

I submit that Maher's comments are precisely the kind of statements a Nazi might make, and that it is entirely appropriate to compare his views to those of the Nazis.
2.3.2006 12:20am