Arts & Culture

Happy Godwin Day, From Our Home To Yours

Newsflash: Hitler is dead. In fact, today is the 63rd anniversary of his death. Alas, since World War II, Jewish discourse on absolutely every single matter of import to Jews has been crippled by the rhetoric of comparing perceived enemies … Read More

By / April 30, 2008

Newsflash: Hitler is dead. In fact, today is the 63rd anniversary of his death. Alas, since World War II, Jewish discourse on absolutely every single matter of import to Jews has been crippled by the rhetoric of comparing perceived enemies and threats to Hitler. Whether it's intermarriage, Israel, matrilineal succession (i.e. "who is a Jew?"), whether Jews should retain their separateness, how America should deal with Iran, or whether we should care about Jeremiah Wright's sermons, again and again and again, Nazism and Hitlerism are invoked on every side.

In 1990, a guy named Mike Godwin noticed a similar problem in the online community Usenet. He formulated what's now known as Godwin's Law: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." In the intervening eighteen years, Godwin's Law spread far beyond Usenet to became a bona fide Internet meme. It's now shorthand for any conversation riddled with useless comparisons to Hitler or the Nazis.

It's fine to be sensitive to the historical lessons of WWII, but the tragedy of Godwin's Law is that the Hitler fetish doesn't improve our understanding or insight into any problem. Instead, it diminishes our ability to discuss it. The preoccupation with Hitler and WWII prevents us from honestly considering the opposing side of any debate. We dehumanize our opponent as complicit in genocide, and isn't that very dehumanization and strawmanning and simplifying of people's motives…sort of like Hitler?

In honor of the anniversary of Hitler's death, we looked for some unexpected personalities to Godwin. It's surprisingly easy! More are on their way, so check back often.

Hitlery Rodham Clinton propels herself to power through bogus, distorted, simplified economic pandering targeted at the lowest common denominator of an electorate.

John Sidney Hitler McCain sees politics as a break in between wars and seeks to impose his country's values on the rest of world.

Santa Claus, Enemy of the Jews has at least half of the world’s children under his thumb and saturates the media with his own likeness, ideas, and philosophy.

Baraq Hitler-ssein Osama leads a frightening cult of personality.

Everyone at Columbia is accusing everyone else of Hitlerian tactics in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary.

Anthony Bourdain stereotypes minority groups as "persistent irritants" and "the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit."

Creator of Godwin's law, Mike Godwin, weighs in

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