Thursday, October 1, 2009

Judgment Day

On this day 63 years ago, 21 Nazi leaders were found guilty of and sentenced for crimes against humanity.

In the years to come, the public wearied of the Nuremberg trials. It was the first tribunal, the one whose verdict was handed down on this day in 1946, that dealt with most of the surviving Nazi leaders — one was tried in absentia — and that was what mattered to most people. Subsequent trials dealt increasingly with those who plausibly could argue that they were following orders.

But with 21 convictions (there were a handful of acquittals), the public's desire to hold someone accountable for the Holocaust seems to have been satisfied.

It's all so clear in hindsight.

But I suspect that, if time travel was possible and any of us could return to the early 1930s, when Hitler seized power, we would find it difficult, if not impossible, to persuade the Germans of that time that they were anointing those whose acts would lead to the Holocaust.

Appearances can be deceiving.

That was the great deception of the Nazis — the "big lie" of which Hitler spoke. "The great masses of people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one," Hitler said, "especially if it is repeated again and again."

I've heard it said that, because Barack Obama has a knack for public speaking, he is Hitleresque. Hitler, some rightfully say, seduced the German people with his oratorical talent. But to suggest that a president is carrying out an agenda similar to Hitler's because he has a way with words condemns any leader whose words inspire others.

Americans are still inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and, from more recent times, Ronald Reagan. And people of many nationalities were inspired by Pope John Paul II, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Can anyone say that any of those people advocated fascism?

There are those today who recklessly compare the Obama administration to the Nazi leadership. This must be an exaggeration, the most outlandish comparison those critics can think of because it has no basis in reality. It is as big a lie as any ever told by the Nazis themselves.

I agree that America has its faults. I agree that the president has made some mistakes in the first eight months of his term. Most presidents do make mistakes, frequently in their first year in office.

But no one who has studied Nazi Germany or Hitler to any extent could seriously compare the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s to America in 2009.

Yet that is what some people are doing today.

Obama's critics certainly have the right to disagree with him. And they have the right to say what they believe. In America, you are entitled to your own opinion — but, as I wrote the other day, you're not entitled to your own set of facts.

If anyone really believes that we are witnessing the rebirth of Nazism, that person has no idea what he/she is talking about.

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