The N and H Words

The racist term for African-Americans has become so unacceptable that nowadays it is often referred to as the ‘N’ word, just to avoid the full pronunciation of the hateful term. There is another ‘N’ word that the St. Louis Jewish Light uses very sparingly in making comparisons to contemporary events: “N” as in “Nazi,” with its evil siblings, “H” as in Hitler or “H” as in Holocaust.

When is it appropriate to compare current events and people to Hitler and the Nazis and to describe extreme atrocities as similar to the Holocaust? In recent days examples of each usage—one appropriate and the other inappropriate—have made headlines.

First, Secretary of State John Kerry, in making his case for a military response to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s proven use of a poison gas, has directly compared Assad’s actions to those of Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany and Saddam Hussein of Baathist Iraq, both of whom used poison gas against their own people. Kerry’s stirring words have been compared to the World War II speeches of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when he witheringly assailed Hitler and the Nazis during the London Blitz and later for his crimes against humanity. Mass killings, like the 800,000 killed in 1994 in Rwanda or the 300,000 killed in the Darfur region of Sudan — and the more than 100,000 now killed at the hands of Assad’s thuggish troops – can indeed be accurately described as “genocidal.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the egregious misuse of a Nazi-Hitler comparison by State Rep. Holly Rehder, a Republican from the Sikeston area, who compared Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s public relations efforts opposing a controversial tax cut bill, HB 253 (which may be up for veto override vote as early as today), to Hitler’s Nazi propaganda techniques. Rehder drew that inappropriate comparison in her latest weekly Capitol Report e-mail to her constituents last Friday.

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“My degree is in Public Relations,” Rehder says in her email, adding, “one point that was hammered home throughout my study is that ‘Perception is Everything.’” She goes on to say, “This tidbit has been proven for years, if you will remember propaganda served as an important tool to win over the majority of the German public during Adolf Hitler’s rule. I say this to remind you that you simply cannot take one side’s viewpoint and proclaim it as the gospel. It behooves us to research both sides of a debate before weighing in.”

Contrast Rehder’s use of Hitler comparisons with those of Kerry. The Secretary of State’s intention was to liken the indiscriminate killing of tens of thousands of Syrians with the conduct of Hitler and his minions. Rehder is linking Jay Nixon’s political disagreement with her party’s position on a tax cutting bill to the tactics of the man responsible for the Holocaust. One is a reasonable analog, the other disgusting and grossly misguided.

The Rehder comments did not go unnoticed by local Rep. Stacey Newman, D-87, who found them highly insensitive and inappropriate. In a letter, Newman indicated that “Your comment was completely insensitive to those families throughout our state who have been forever altered by this horrific event in world history.

“Your policy differences with our governor can be in no way comparable to the propaganda of Adolf Hitler.”

When the world is confronted with clear evidence that in 2013 innocent civilian men, women and children have been gassed to death or made to suffer agonizing injuries from chemical weapons, it is entirely appropriate for our Secretary of State, John Kerry, to invoke memories of the dangers of being silent as occurred too often during the Holocaust. It is quite another thing to take a cheap shot at a political opponent by comparing perfectly legitimate communications tools to Nazi propaganda.

We believe that citizens of the Show Me State of Missouri are wise enough to know the difference, and that elected officials should know better.