Godwin’s Law and the Wall Street Journal
Anyone familiar with Internet discussion groups knows the adage: mention Nazis and you’ve lost the argument.
It’s an allusion to Godwin’s Law. Almost 25 years ago, Mike Godwin “predicted the inevitability of a Hitler or Nazi comparison arising during any online debate.”
And last year, Godwin pointed out that the behavior is not “limited to online discussions.”
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal demonstrated that traditional media have no natural immunity by publishing an online letter-to-the-editor that compared America’s Occupy Movement with German Nazis.
I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’
The writer, Tom Perkins (72 this year), helped found the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 1973. A former HP manager, he resigned from the board in 2006 over the media leaks scandal that marked the resignation of board chair Patricia C. Dunn.
In the WSJ, Perkins closed with this imagery:
Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?
In case your modern world history is as weak as mine, here’s a primer. Kristallnacht is often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” See that NY Times headline that leads this article? It references this event. For two days in November 1938, violent anti-Jewish riots spread across Germany, parts of Czechoslovakia under German occupation, and Austria, which Germany had annexed earlier in the year.
Instigated primarily by Nazi Party officials and members of the SA (Sturmabteilungen: literally Assault Detachments, but commonly known as Storm Troopers) and Hitler Youth, Kristallnacht owes its name to the shards of shattered glass that lined German streets in the wake of the pogrom—broken glass from the windows of synagogues, homes, and Jewish-owned businesses plundered and destroyed during the violence.
The damage was extreme: 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed, more than 900 synagogues burned, 91 Jews murdered, and about 30,000 Jewish men shipped to concentration camps.
In 1933, there were more than a half million people of the Jewish faith living in Germany. In May 1943, German officials said that the Reich was “free of Jews” … “Germans and their collaborators killed between 160,000 and 180,000 German Jews in the Holocaust.”
With that background in mind, let’s look at the “war” on America’s rich that Perkins compares to the Nazi purge of Jewish Germans, shall we?
In 1938, the maximum tax rate in the U.S. was 81% (pdf). That generation believed in paying for its wars in real time, not passing on the costs to its great-grandchildren.
By 1981, the maximum tax rate was down to 70%. Reagan brought it down to 50%. And now it’s 35%.
Big war, that.
It’s just like putting people in concentration camps so you can starve, torture and kill them. Not!
I know hyperbole is the lingua franca of American politics, especially politics of division.
But give me a break.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board decision to publish this letter validates this cynical assessment by H. L. Menken:
A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.
If you have a subscription, consider canceling in protest. Money speaks, especially to Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.
Future historians may well conclude that hyperbole like that honored by the WSJ on Friday, should it become as common as Justin Bieber tantrums, ranks lower than the yellow journalism of the late 19th century. Even lower than Dante’s nine circles of hell, because it’s the language of class war, language designed to split a democracy not unite it.