A slightly edited version of this article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 1/31/04
Page A8, Opinion; Copyright 2004 by Beth David
(Alas, dear reader, there is no link. For some mysterious reason this article did not appear online.)
If you are an editor and need a newspaper clip, please email me at: bd@bethdavid.net and I will snailmail an original or fax a copy to you. Please state your preference. Thank you.

Freedom must never be taken for granted.

Recently, a few irresponsible daredevils compared President Bush’s anti-terror tactics to Adolf Hitler’s early policies. The President’s defenders responded fiercely and swiftly.

And when MoveOn.org sponsored an anti-Bush advertising contest, two of the 1,500 entries compared our President to the notorious nazi. A firestorm of right-wing opposition ensued.

Thirty seconds on any Internet search engine will guide you to an array of right-leaning columnists condemning the comparison as “repugnant” and “despicable.” People recanted and apologized. MoveOn.org pulled the spots from their website.

Despite all the cheap shots at “political correctness” and the rhetoric against feminists for trying to curb offensive language on campuses and in workplaces, nothing compares to the Bush administration’s ability to silence the press or to scare the average person out of speaking against this administration.

In a Boston Globe interview on 1/18/03, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke about the “toxic” atmosphere in Washington today. (Could it possibly be worse than the Clinton years?) “What I resent is that if you ask questions you are accused of not being patriotic,” she’s quoted as saying.

Funny thing is, I don’t recall (nor do the search engines reveal) the same right-wing indignation when Rush Limbaugh started calling feminists “feminazis.” On the contrary, it’s a regular part of talk-radio’s lexicon now. The toxicity seems to be reserved for anti-Bushisms.

Meanwhile, the larger question gets lost in the fray. Is our president a victim of liberal histrionics, or did he actually do something to deserve the Hitler comparisons?

Surely, no one is saying that he has murdered millions of people. And even if the International Committee of the Red Cross is downplaying conditions in Guantanamo Bay, it hardly compares to Auschwitz.

But Adolf Hitler did not begin with Auschwitz. Unless my history lessons were entirely wrong, what Hitler did first was get a soapbox. Then he used his bully pulpit to demonize a certain segment of society. A blinding fear enveloped the masses then, allowing the government to do whatever it wanted to its chosen scapegoats. Firm control of the press completed this foundation for oppression.

In all fairness, Saddam Hussein is a more accurate comparison to Hitler. Any other comparisons risk trivializing the Jewish Holocaust and that would be the true tragedy.

But I admit that in a moment of outrage, I made the Hitler-Bush comparison myself in an email to CNN. I did not call our President any of the vile names that Adolf Hitler earned.

All I wanted to know was what had happened to a story that aired on January 13 and then mysteriously disappeared. Boston’s WHDH-TV Channel 7 News reported that the U.S. Government is “unveiling a new system that would color code airline passengers according to the risk they’re believed to pose.”

This would require background checks on every single person who wants to get on a plane in the U.S. Each person would be classified. Some would face further security screening, some would be banned from flying altogether.

Adolf Hitler loved to classify people. He also loved to control the press. We’d be fools not to pay attention to how he got away with it.

The Holocaust should never be forgotten, nor should it be minimized — not one minute of it. And that means remembering how it started so we can stop it from ever happening again.

We have only two weapons against the rise of another Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. The first is to speak out critically while allowing others to argue against us. The second is to actually practice democracy by getting involved politically, even (gasp!) voting in elections. Of course, we can’t do the second without freedom to do the first.

Beth David is a freelance writer who lives on West Island.