March 13, 2008
The other ‘N- word’
Few words have the power to upset individuals and corrode a conversation more than the N-word. Its very use short-circuits rational discourse. Thrown around with frequency in certain circles, the N-word provokes and torments, gaining totemic power with each use.|
The N-word I refer to is, of course, "Nazi."
Over 60 years after the end of World War II, the N-word and its relatives, the F-bomb ("fascist") and the H-bomb ("Hitler"), continue to wreak havoc on our language and political discourse.
For years, leftist critics have been quick to brand their rightwing opponents as fascists and spiritual heirs of der Fuhrer. Just months ago, the cultural critic and erstwhile Democratic political consultant Naomi Wolf published an entire book dedicated to the proposition that America is sliding toward fascism.
Lately, the right has gotten in on the act. Members of the Bush administration have branded Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a modern-day Hitler. And Jonah Goldberg, an editor at National Review, has published a book with the subtle title, "Liberal Fascism."
Ironically, what Goldberg denounces as "argumentum ad hitlerum" is the very form of rhetoric he engages in. Only he says that such fascistic behavior is the domain of the left and not his beloved right.
Unfortunately for Wolf, Goldberg and others who let the N-word fly and drop F-bombs, their logic is deeply flawed. Although Socrates was a man and Hitler was a man, Socrates was not Hitler.
Writers like Wolf and Goldberg may argue that they are trying to learn from history in order not to repeat it, but labeling Ahmadinejad "Hitler" or Bush a "Nazi" or the entire Democratic Party since Woodrow Wilson a fascist movement sheds only heat and no light on the topics and cheapen the terms themselves.
In addition, these labels are not mere descriptions, but calls to action. For example, if Ahmadinejad is Hitler and Iran is Nazi Germany, then there is no question whether we need to strike Iran. And, if Bush is a fascist, then armed resistance is imperative.
For Jews and supporters of Israel, the use and abuse of these terms (not to mention the A-bomb, "apartheid," and the other H-bomb, "Holocaust") is particularly troubling. When critics of Israel label it the new South Africa guilty of committing a Holocaust, it precludes any reasoned discussion of the conflict or potential solutions. Instead, Zionism becomes racism, and the Jewish people must be denied the right to fulfill their national aspirations.
Amos Oz has warned against failing to differentiate between degrees of evil. I would go one step further and caution that use of the N-word, F-bombs and H-bombs represents the evil of banality and demonstrates a failing to understand both the past and the present.
When one starts on the track, there really is no stopping: school uniforms are fascistic; reverie for natural splendor is Nazi-like; and any charismatic demagogue becomes Hitler.
Instead of reaching for incendiary metaphors and historically inaccurate labels, we should strive, in the words of Pasternak, "to call each thing by its right name."
Neither Ahmadinejad nor Bush is Hitler. The new left was not the Gestapo. Neocons are not Nazis. And Israel is not South Africa.
However, whether Los Angeles' traffic is the devil incarnate is no longer even a question.
Jordan Susman is an associate at the law firm of Holme Roberts & Owen. He has written numerous articles for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and the Orange County Register. Before moving to Los Angeles, he was a Voice of Israel foreign desk correspondent in Jerusalem.