Godwin’s Law Abuse

Pretty much any idea, once wildly spread, will inevitably find one who bastardizes it to usage outside of its appropriate scope. Sometimes, such an idea is originally intended to point out a flaw in popular streams of discussion, marking a rather ironic point when making this assertion has become popular enough for misusing it to become a standard, like the when it became socially widespread to point out concluding causation from correlation and people started applying this retort to concluding anything from correlation.

Alas, it looks like our beloved Godwin’s Law has met this unfortunate rite of passage. This observation, intended to point out the absurdity of likening the person who just corrected one for one’s e-mail where they split an infinitive to a genocidal regime, reminds people to prioritize their levels of judgment: insisting on unsplit infinitives could be annoying, but mass cruel killing is incomparably worse.

But we seem to be (re)establishing a standard that nothing is as bad as Hitler or Nazis, and that is overwhelmingly not the case. And not every comparison of non-Nazis to Nazis deserves a calling out of feeding Godwin’s Law, because there have definitely been dictators and regimes (perhaps arguably today) respectively comparable to Hitler and Nazis.

There is at least a fair selection of people actually comparable with Hitler and regimes actually comparable with Nazi Germany. The classically mentioned people are Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, who all lead brutal regimes of unfathomable degrees of mass killing and torture; my assessment is that at least the first two in that list were arguably more terrible than Hitler; for one thing, the count of people who died in their hands is larger, and for another, these communist regimes additionally applied a layer of deceit over their totalitarianism: their outward proclamations of being lands of peace and love shroud the same hellish interior; fascist regimes, like Hitler’s, tend to be strikingly frank with their assertions of innate supremacies and their intentions (of course, the world believing them before they saw for their own eyes was an issue).

In addition to mass-killing communist regimes, there have been plenty of other governments that have carried out systematic death machines, including, as in the case with the Nazi regime, the targeting of specific demographic groups: Rwanda, Darfur, Japan’s war crimes in Asia, Guatemala, West Pakistani war crimes on East Pakistan. The third item should come of particular note as an incidence of heinous war crimes that a substantial population of the perpetrating country still denies to today, and the fourth item in that list is particularly to be noted to America the Country of Freedom, as it was a genocide carried out with the support of the U.S. government, because the U.S. went through a period of supporting pretty much anything against the red threat. (Speaking of the U.S., it has quite a history of atrocities towards the native peoples of its lands [like what Guatemala did here], and to this day has still failed to very much make it up to the Native Americans, a demographic the American public still do not seem to deem deserving of the dignity to not have sports teams named after racial slurs towards them.) (Also supporting the genocidal Guatemalan government was Spain, which I guess wanted to cement the size of the progress of their attitude towards the Natives of America over 500 years.)

Could it be argued that the numbers of killings in these atrocities do not match those of Hitler’s regime and that the methods of torture and killing are not quite of the same level? Perhaps. Are they comparable, though? Absolutely.  (By the way, for those that don’t know, more Native Americans have died in the hands of the U.S. than Jews have died in the hands of Nazis. You could read this as Americans having much more time to accumulate the death count, but you could also read this as the U.S. having that much time not admitting that there might be something questionable about what it’s doing.) (Oh, another by the way, Japanese war crimes during World War II are definitely comparable in depravity of methods.) A disturbingly frequent belief that the Holocaust is the only event that deserves the label of “genocide” because calling other events that minimizes the suffering of victims of the Holocaust is not cool.

And in these situations, comparisons to Hitler and the Nazi regime are not inappropriate. Kim Jong-Il jokes (and memes) should be viewed as Hitler jokes are. If someone calls Godwin’s Law on a person who questions the appropriateness of jokes about the North Korean regime by asking if the maker would make the same joke about Hitler, that someone needs to learn something: the ruling North Korean family, in all their atrocities, implementations of torture, disregard for human life, and retaliation to political opponents…are quite legitimately Hitler-like: they bring to humanity an oppression very different in hue, but not all that far in shade.


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