There’s an internet adage known as Godwin’s Law or Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies that states that the longer a topic of discussion goes on the greater the chances of comparisons to Hitler and the Nazi’s become. This concept is similar to Reductio ad Hitlerum coined in 1953 by political philosopher Leo Strauss. If you want to criticize something in a big way – play the Hitler card.
Of course there can be valid comparisons to Nazi Germany but I try not to quickly resort to that tactic. Sometimes, however, the Hitler card is laying face up on the top of the deck. Not long ago, a photograph of a US Marine Scout Sniper unit in Afghanistan circulated that showed the squad proudly posing in front of a US Flag and what appeared to be a replica of the Nazi SS flag. Sure, the stylized SS in the form of lightning bolts could stand for Scout Sniper but they really should have chosen a different font. I’m curious about the ignorance of military history of the unit. While I can’t pronounce it, I know a Schutzstaffel when I see one and so did the Marine unit's forefathers who served in World War II.
A developing story, also in Afghanistan, involves the outrage and violence following the burning of Korans at the Baghram air base in an incident that occurred Feburary 21. The details of the event are sketchy with the compulsory “full investigation” already in the works, that no doubt will be irrelevant by the time it’s concluded. For now, the official story is that literature from the prison library that was deemed possible to incite violence was collected for the burn pit and some Korans were snagged by mistake. NATO spokesman, German Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, said, “Somewhere in the chain of command or right down to the personnel who has given the order to dispose of this material, somebody did not recognize the importance and the nature of the material, which right from the beginning should have led to the involvement of cultural advisers.”
Let me see, German military officer, book burnings, cultural significance? It seems that Herr Jacobson and others are missing the bigger picture. Book burning may have been all the rage in Nazi Germany to protect the Reich from “offending” ideas, but it's probably not the best imagery to project today. This is especially true if you are an occupying force trying to “win the hearts and minds” of the people.
Symbolism is a powerful force. Most Americans have difficulty understanding violence in reponse to blasphemy “crimes” such as burning someone’s holy book. Then again, I have a problem understanding those who would become violent upon seeing a certain hand gesture. After more than a decade in Afghanistan, the West has shown an incredibly slow learning curve in regards to Muslim culture.
Our president sent the Afghan president a letter apologizing for religious materials that were “unintentionally mishandled.” It sounds like a sideways apology from the White House. Yes, we apologize for it happening, but not for causing it to happen. It’s a variation on the theme of collateral damage excuse – sometimes things get destroyed that weren’t planned on.
Nevertheless, there is no apparent concern from Obama about book burning in general. While that doesn’t make him a Nazi, it does suggest another example of historical ignorance which can invoke the George Santayana saying that states, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”