There is a relatively famous quip about the Internet, which is generally referred to as Godwin’s Law. It states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”
Mike Godwin wasn’t being overly serious when he first said that, but to anyone who frequents the Internet, it is an unfortunate truth. These comparisons are flung around with reckless abandon when the conversation turns to politics; indeed, even people in the limelight won’t hesitate to invoke Hitler. This is, of course, generally unwarranted. We accept that it’s inaccurate to say any of our presidents, for instance, resemble Hitler in the slightest.
With that said, thanks to the debate storming over the reception of Syrian refugees, I’m afraid that a comparison to Nazi Germany actually can be drawn with today’s political climate. The situation facing the Syrian refugees seeking aid in foreign nations is an eerie reflection of the situation facing the Jewish refugees of the Holocaust. I’m hesitant to use this comparison, due to the connotations of seriously invoking Hitler and the Nazis, but the parallels are strikingly obvious.
Speeches and excerpts from the late 1930s are very reminiscent of anti-refugee rhetoric now, right down to the thinly veiled racism at play. One argument was that the United States could not afford to harbor numerous refugees, thanks to the lingering effects of the Great Depression. Another common fear was that enemy agents could infiltrate the country alongside “more legitimate” refugees. Of course, it’s hard to ignore some of the more blatant anti-semitism that was at work during this time also.
When stated in plain speech like this, the parallels with the modern day are nearly impossible to ignore. We express economic concerns. (“We don’t want refugees taking our jobs” or “Our economy can’t sustain thousands of refugees.”) We devise fears of endangered people. (“Terrorists could sneak in alongside these refugees. Look what happened in Paris.”) There is even our good old-fashioned American-brand racism (“We have enough Muslims in this country. This is a Christian nation”). It seems like the anti-humanitarian mindset hasn’t been able to come up with anything new since 1939.
Now that isn’t to say that the people warning against accepting refugees have no valid points. National security is a priority, and we definitely don’t want to overload already over-stressed relief networks with an influx of people in need. However these are things that we need to be discussing and fixing, instead of just having 37 governors pledge to reject any and all refugees seeking asylum in their states. We need to be solving these problems, not finding ways to avoid them.
People always parrot the idea that history repeats itself. We should make an effort to change that this time around.
Danny Miles is a second-year student who somehow sleeps better at school than at home.