- Separating parents from children at the border is abhorrent and should stop.
- In recent days, however, many commentators have drawn comparisons between what’s happening at the border and the Holocaust.
- Those comparisons are inappropriate and offensive.
In 1990, the American attorney Mike Godwin created what became a namesake law that internet users have grown to acknowledge and cite: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”
Godwin wrote that watching this trend unfold “made you wonder how debates had ever occurred without having that handy rhetorical hammer” – the inevitable invoking of Hitler or Nazism.
This week, pundits, journalists, celebrities, and politicians on both sides of the political aisle have condemned the Trump administration’s actions on the border. All reasonable people agree: Regardless of your specific opinions on immigration, separating parents from their children is immoral. It is a practice in which we should most definitely not engage.
Here’s another practice we should refrain from: comparing all wrongs, even the ones that Trump carries out, to the evils of Nazi Germany.
What’s going on at the border is terrible in its own right. We don’t need to dress it up in the language and imagery of another (significantly crueler) disaster.
Many people have pointed to the glaring similarity: In the Nazi death camps and concentration camps, much like at the US-Mexico border, children were separated from parents. That’s true.
But in Nazi-occupied Europe, those children were also gassed. Their bodies were carried by other prisoners, sometimes their own parents, into the crematoria, where they were burned. Their ashes are all that remain. Their parents, assuming they were in reasonable shape, were put into forced labour and starved. Many died from the conditions.
There’s nothing similar about that situation to the one that’s happening at the border. In fact, pretending there is essentially conveys the message that what is happening there isn’t so horrible on its own, that to fully rouse the sympathies of those around us we need to pretend things are worse than they are.
We don’t. And doing so will (and should) achieve the opposite effect.
Michael Hayden, who previously served as director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, waded into this issue when he tweeted a picture of Auschwitz and wrote, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.”
The CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer discussed the reactions to the tweet with Hayden, who had explained that he “felt a warning flare was necessary” and was trying to describe “what is happening to us as a people.”
It’s easy to understand why Hayden was disturbed and concerned about the ways American officials are acting. The images of children in cages, the act of separating children from parents, the detention centres with their cramped quarters and barrack-like interiors.
But comparisons to Auschwitz are ludicrous and offensive. Blitzer explained to Hayden why so many people were outraged by his tweet.
“I speak with some authority on this,” Blitzer said. “My grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz. My dad survived, but two of his brothers and two of his sisters were killed at Auschwitz. They weren’t separated to go to some other facility. They were separated to die.”
What’s going on at the border is a tragedy. But critics of the administration’s actions should be honest, articulate, and accurate. They should refrain from comparisons that will only serve to highlight how Trump and his policies are not quite as bad as they could be.
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