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The Rhetorical Risks of Invoking the Nazis

June 01, 2005

Re "The Irresistible 'Nazi' Taboo," Commentary, May 27: We have never argued that there should be a taboo against using the terms "Nazi" and "Holocaust" in the public sphere, as Jonathan Chait suggests. Yet we have had to constantly remind our political, business and cultural leaders of the need for greater sensitivity and selectiveness when invoking the Holocaust and the Nazis.

We believe that there is an appropriate time and place for recollecting the evils of Hitler and the important moral and historical lessons from that era.

Although it is always somewhat risky to have any direct analogies to the uniqueness of the Holocaust, it is clearly appropriate and important when such horrific events as Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur take place. However, the trend has been for public figures to debase, abuse and twist Nazi and Holocaust terminology to make a political point or to attack political rivals. In recent months, prominent members of Congress, several state legislators and others have used comparisons to the Holocaust to wage political attacks.

Such comparisons are wholly inappropriate and serve to diminish the meaning of one of history's most horrific manifestations of hatred and anti-Semitism.

It is essential that we continue to teach about the important lessons of the Holocaust. Except in those extreme cases of genocide, politicians, pundits and others bear a responsibility to steer clear of Nazi imagery when attempting to make political hay. Otherwise, the ideal behind the imperative "Never Again!" will lose all meaning.

Amanda Susskind


Pacific Southwest Region

Anti-Defamation League

Los Angeles


Even when Republicans express themselves in ways that merit our revulsion, there's always a Chait to provide a mitigating spin. In an effort to rescue Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) from being "flayed" by the (obviously liberal) media, Chait offers a pabulum of moral ambiguity. What he fails to note is that all too many Republican supporters have been demonizing liberal Americans (Democrats) for years.

In the same May 27 issue of The Times, we read of Bobby Burchfield, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's attorney, dismissing the lawsuit against his client "as part of a left-wing 'jihad' against DeLay."

It is no accident that many Republicans and their supporters have taken to goose-stepping behind the rhetoric of extremists like Rush Limbaugh, who first coined or popularized the term "feminazi." It's my feeling that the real danger lies not so much in the epithets being flung at the left but in a real and growing fascism gnawing at the core of our national psyche. In all the bluster and rhetoric, our attention is being misdirected from a host of very troubling issues.

Tadek Korn

Laguna Beach

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