Cheapening the Specter of Hitler

It’s depressing that in 2010 the chambers of the EU are still echoing with Nazi jibes

Opinion | Christian Cummins | December 2010 / January 2011

You sense details like facts and fairness aren’t very important to UK Independence Party MEP Godfrey Bloom, a prominent denier of anthropogenic climate change and the man who, here in Strasbourg, celebrated his appointment to the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality with the infamous:

"No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age."

He might think he is a crusader against the yoke of political correctness, but that doesn’t forgive imbecility. Bloom was also filmed at last year’s Copenhagen UN climate summit congratulating the French government for sinking the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 – an incident which now embarrasses France greatly and in which photographer Fernando Pereira lost his life.

With such a track-record then, you might think the MEP would have lost his ability to shock. But to the delight of his tiny euro-sceptic party and the consternation of almost everybody else he has topped it all by interrupting a speech by German Social Democrat MEP Martin Schulz by shouting out Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer which translates as "one people, one empire, one leader," a Nazi propaganda campaign to build support in Austria for the Anschluss. Bloom refused to apologize and bizarrely justified his remarks by referreing to how his father used to fly Spitfire fighter planes in the Second World War.

It’s depressing that the chambers of the EU still echo with Hitler jibes in 2010. The now 27-bloc has its origins in a peace project, aimed at leaving the tragedy of the 1930’s and 1940’s firmly in the past. Union Jack-waving nationalists hate to be reminded of it, but, in a 1946 speech, their beloved icon of bulldog British-ness Winston Churchill called on Europe to "build a kind of United States of Europe" saying it was imperative to "re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom."

Still, this wasn’t the first time that Schulz has been hit by Nazi jibes, and it’s not only obscure British MEP’s who seem still afflicted by what can only be described as Teutonophobia – a fear of Germans. A couple of years back Italian MP Silvio Berlusconi told the German MEP that he would be perfect to play the film role of a concentration camp guard.

Neither is Godfrey Bloom the only politician to use the name of Hitler to make political capital. Even the Germans have been banding it about. Thomas Strobl, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party was forced to grovel for his job this month after inappropriately comparing an opponent with the Austrian-born dictator; and this a few years after a junior minister was forced to resign after opining that George W. Bush had "acted like Hitler" by invading Iraq. The opinion wasn’t particularly original, of course, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had been regularly denouncing  Bush as Hitler for months, and Ayatollah Khameini of Iran, who presides over an openly anti-Semitic state, had been doing it for years.

But the transplanted Texan can’t complain: he enthusiastically used the epithet himself to rally his country for a disastrous war in Iraq by likening Saddam Hussein to the demagogue from Braunau, while for Bush’s defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it was not his boss but Hugo Chavez who resembled Hitler.

Where will it all end? Barack Obama, equally famous as infamous for his mild manner and love of consensus, is regularly likened to Hitler by Republicans (and not just by the lunatic Tea Party fringe). Here in Austria, preposterously, people trying to make inroads in protections against passive smoking, a global killer of 600,000 annually according to the WHO, are accused of being likened to Hitler’s henchman by a frightened tobacco lobby.

These insults are ridiculous. As Frederick H. Schümann wrote this month in Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin, we should be clear on the parameters of Hitler comparisons. If your enemy started a world war and attempts to exterminate entire ethnic groups then you can compare him (or her) to Hitler.

If not you are cheapening Hitler’s specter and doing a massive injustice to his millions of victims. Grow up.

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    the vienna review December 2010 / January 2011