It’s often bandied about in internet flame-wars that “the first person to mention Hitler loses…”
I’ve been trying to figure out why this phrase has gained such traction among reasonable people. I’ve decided there are numerous reasons for it and some are quite valid but I also think it’s important that no one shy away from the use of an excellent historical analogy when and where appropriate.
The problem is that quite obviously few people really understand when such an analogy exists and when it should be proffered.
To make an effective analogy between Hitler and the Third Reich requires great specificity and precision of thought. Broad brush strokes and histrionic hyperbole don’t cut it.
With this in mind, I’d like to suggest the possibility that there’s a certain theme that’s beginning to be seen in the contemporary rhetoric vilifying homosexuals that’s spewing from the far religious right.
First, however, please allow me to explain something very important about Hitler’s Third Reich. What I’m going to say is key to understanding the Nazi ethic: The Nazis had a biological model of nationhood which very effectively medicalized hate – and legitimized it.
In brief, they compared the body politic (the state) to the human body and just as it makes sense to amputate a gangrenous limb from the human body in order to save the body’s life so too, in a state of mental cultural and national derangement, it can be made to appear rational to amputate from the national body all those pathogens that would sicken, weaken, and eventually destroy a nation.
The Nazis made “race hygiene” – rassen hygiene – a national moral crusade to save the Aryan race and the Fatherland.
The pathogens the Nazis identified and then isolated from the body of the state were people, not microbes: Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, and socialists.
Nazi propaganda, which was all encompassing and included radio, print, movies, movie trailers, and school books, hammered home a toxic stew of pseudo-science (eugenics), social Darwinism, and Aryan mythology that justified aggressive social engineering codified through public health policies.
The Nazis persecution of homosexuals was as vicious as everything else they did. Immediately after grabbing power in 1933 they launched attacks on homosexuals and their organizations.
Gay men were particularly subject to harassment, arrest, incarceration, castration, and death. Gay men were of no value in the Nazi world view; they were seen as weak, unable to be soldiers, and because they were seen as biologically defective and dangerous culturally the Nazis did not want them to breed even if they chose to do so because homosexuals were seen as producing inferior stock.
Of course, the vilification of gays is not new — but what is now new here in America is how it is being medicalized in public discussions about public health and safety.
Not only are we hearing vitriol about how gays pervert and subvert culture and national security, we’re beginning to hear how homosexuality is a public health menace.
Believe me: This kicks the crazy up a notch.
I won’t repeat who has said this and where but there have been several leaders on the far right who are now parroting the exact same language used in the Third Reich.
I’m not Chicken Little, and I’m not running scared but I am watching this very closely. Might I suggest you do likewise?
(BTW: I highly recommend Robert Proctor’s works on the subject of Nazi doctors and rassen hygiene; also the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an excellent section on the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.)