In our divisive political climate, Hitler comparisons are far too common and grossly misused. Most of the time, the comparisons are simply inappropriate.
However, as I have been pondering this issue for some weeks, I’ve realized there is an appropriate time and place to make a Hitler comparison. Making a Hitler comparison is far game if/when someone does exactly what Hitler did.
I’ve been grieved over the growing level of fear and hatred I see permeating throughout American culture, especially regarding our fear of immigrants and Muslims. As I have tried to soak it all in, I have come to a troubling conclusion: we sure are beginning to sound like Germany used to.
And while no, I can’t (currently) fathom the American government marching Mexican immigrants or Muslims to the gas chamber, I think we should still be sounding a moral alarm throughout the country– because death camps aren’t built in a day.
Death camps are built slowly, and they are paved with a road of fear-based rhetoric.
Fear is perhaps the most powerful motivator that exists, and if you can get people scared, you can get them to do anything– even things they previously would have found morally repugnant. Such is how Hitler built his death camps and convinced so many to follow him. The foundation is laid with words, and eventually someone brings in the bricks.
First, you start with a fear. Then you fan the flames. Then you put words to it. Before long, the foundation to death camps has been laid without anyone really even noticing what was happening.
When it comes time to march people into the death camps, it’s actually far easier than one would have thought– because once they are completely built, the words a culture uses already successfully dehumanized “the other.”
Hitler used this strategy well. Speech after speech, word after word, brick after brick, he began to change culture so that Jews were no longer seen as fellow human beings, but a threat to be exterminated.
He called Jews a “virus.” He warned his nation that Jewish immigrants were a threat to the economy and responsible for economic woes. He wrote in Mein Kampf the following: that Jews, by nature, had moral flaws and preyed upon good and honest people. He accused them of being “leeches” who burrowed deep into German culture and drained resources, that Jews were the incarnation of Satan and a symbol of evil, and that Jews were on a quest to establish a world dictatorship.
Long before there were death camps, Hitler spent many years spreading fear-based, dehumanizing rhetoric– because those are the first bricks that must be laid.
Death camps weren’t built over night– no, they were built slowly and with words intended to erode one’s humanity.
So, let me ask you this, America. Have you heard any of the following?
“Illegals are leeches who are draining our system.”
“If we don’t find a way to get rid of _____ our future could be in jeopardy.”
“Muslims are a threat.”
“Satan is the God of Islam.” (Just heard that one today.)
“Islam is evil.”
“Muslims want to dominate the world and force us to live by their laws.”
“The problem with immigrants today is they refuse to assimilate to our culture.”
Maybe you haven’t heard any of those phrases verbatim, but I imagine you’ve certainly heard variations of them. Our country is floating in a sea of fear-based, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that would make Hitler proud– because it’s exactly what he did. From presidential candidates deliberately fear-baiting the American public and prejudicing them against immigrants and Muslims, to the comment section on nearly any article on Islam or immigration you’ll see on the internet, or shamefully ignorant religious leaders spreading fear of Muslims, it’s important to open our eyes and realize we’re doing the same thing Hitler did.
We’re using the same words and we are knee-deep in a culture that is dehumanizing and fanning fears against people who God created and believes have infinite value.
You see, death camps aren’t built in a day– the road to get there is first paved with fear-based rhetoric and dehumanizing language. When we use dehumanizing words to refer to immigrants (such as “illegals” or a host of other examples), or spout fear-based rhetoric against Muslims (often based on misunderstandings or gross generalizations), we are laying the bricks to a house that will ultimately harm them.
Perhaps not death camps. But with each use of a word that causes us, even unintentionally, to see these individuals as anything less than a human being created and loved by God, we lay a brick on a road that doesn’t lead to anywhere that’s good, just, or right.
It’s hard to harm someone when we see them in their full, beautiful humanity as God created them. So to make it easier, we slowly strip them of that humanity by the words we use, and the fears we believe.
Given enough time to sink real deep inside, it becomes easier and easier to both passively and actively argue for their harm or eventual destruction.
The systematic use of fear-based, dehumanizing rhetoric is how Hitler built his death camps– and sadly, it’s how we’re currently building our own.
“Oh be careful little mouths what you say,
Oh be careful little mouths what you say,
For the Father up above is listening in his love,
So be careful little mouths what you say.”
– Song from my childhood that seems so fitting.