It has become passé to invoke the ghost of Hitler, National Socialism or the Third Reich. Godwin’s law is an adage that says: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” It is inevitable that if Hitler or National Socialism is mentioned an individual will eventually speak up and chirp out, “Godwin!” This means that we have discovered a second so-called law: In any online discussion where Nazis are Hitler are mentioned the probability of someone gleefully shouting, “Godwin!” approaches 1.
This is often accompanied by the phrase “as bad.” As in “this politician is not as bad” or “the state is not as bad.” And for the most part this is true. Most modern politicians are not literally as bad as Adolf Eichmann, nor are the atrocities committed by many states as bad as the Holocaust. The statement is literally true. Yet this statement, along with Godwin’s law, is also used to shut people up and limit discourse.
The literal truth of “not as bad” is also the literal truth in comparing any two states. All regimes, ideologies, and politicians have been distinct and incomparable. Especially many of the world’s most brutal. Yet, the point of history is to compare these events. More importantly it is to learn from past events. If we have developed a level of discourse where no comparison at all can be made to the Nazi regime we effectively wall it off and seal it out; we can draw no parallels, no conclusions and thus can not learn anything from it.
And if we take that approach, if we reject our ability to draw comparisons from the past, how do we ensure that we are not doomed to repeat it?