Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Problem With The Idea Of "Less Evil" Mass Murderers And Its Use In Ideological Devaluation Of Murder Victims

Sean Spicer should have passed over the thought that has gotten him in a Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller (remember him?) sized stew.   His use of a series of ill chosen, ill considered, plumb ignorant metaphors connecting Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin with Hitler - implying if not outright stating that in this one instance, Hitler comes out morally superior to Assad was incredibly stupid in someone who holds the position of White House Press Secretary, it's more like something you'd hear from an idiot in a bar after they'd had too many.  And to say what he did during Passover didn't help.  I think some of the stream of amazingly bad stuff was him having a vague sense that he'd stepped in it up to at least his thighs but like movie quick sand, his thrashing around only got him in it deeper.

Let's all stipulate at the start that Sean Spicer isn't a very smart man, not a man of high principles, certainly not a man who's good having to deal with a legitimate reporter instead of an op-ed or chat show level of reality, especially on his feet with the lights on him.   Though you could probably say the same about easily 99% of those who run alleged news shows on cabloid and broadcast TV and radio.

I will confess that other than the dreadful offensiveness of it, I figured it couldn't have happened to a more deserving press secretary in the most dreadful administrations in American history.   Our Constitution would seem to have produced way too many of those, it used to be the George W. Bush administration that held that position.  Tell me, again,  as you boogy to Hamilton* why we're supposed to revere it?  But that's another matter.

One thing I think got him into trouble is shown in the piece about this by David A. Graham at the Atlantic website,  in which he tries to explain why bringing up Hitler for a comparison is not allowed. Which I can't entirely agree with for a number of reasons.  Graham said at the start:

There’s no good time to make a Hitler comparison, but deploying one in the midst of Passover to justify voluntary airstrikes is an especially unwise choice, as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer realized, to his chagrin, Tuesday afternoon.

If he meant there was no reason for Spicer to have gone there,  probably not, it wasn't part of the question and unless you know what the hell you're really talking about, making references to such a hot button figure in history can get you into a whole mess of trouble.

But Graham meant that literally as he shows later in the piece:

The problem here, as with all Hitler analogies, is that comparing anyone to history’s greatest villain feels as though it is a trump card when in fact it tends to undermine whatever argument it seeks to bolster. On the one hand, almost any comparison between the barbarity of a modern figure and Hitler will quickly fall apart. On the other, it always demands a single course of action, all-out war against the target, which paralyzes any debate.

There are so many problems contained in that idea that maybe they should be considered.  The whole matter of comparing massively evil figures in the Hitler class of evil, of which modern history has provided several, is only problematic in that our habits of thought will imply that one is "less bad" than another in going through the artificial and phony motion of making such a ranking.   How do you measure it?  By body count?   I don't see how you can do that without saying that murdering two-million, one of the figures I've seen estimating the murder count under Pol Pot makes Pol Pot made him"less evil" than Hitler or Stalin or Mao or any of the other many "lesser" but incredibly terrible mass murderers of the 20th century or before.

How can you say that someone who murdered 2,000,000 people was "less evil" than?   Certainly if they'd had the chance to kill two-hundred million people and they thought it would get them what they wanted, they'd have done it.  If Stalin had lived twenty more years he'd have run up a far higher murder count than he did, as would Hitler as would Efraín Ríos Montt (he's still alive and, I believe, has never been punished).

And, clearly, you can murder more people, millions more and be considered "less evil than". I think it is a fact that Stalin has certainly been presented as "less bad" than Hitler, for one thing he was the West's partner in getting rid of Hitler but the numbers of murders under him are generally estimated at being more than Hitlers, partially because his dictatorship lasted longer and came within the long lasting Soviet red-fascist Marxist period in Russia's long history of dictators.  Geography played a big part in that alliance of necessity and convenience.   Over time there have been those playing this game who have claimed that Hitler was "less bad" than Stalin.   That is considered to, somehow, be a more evil position than the one that says Stalin was better, even if it was just that he was "our bastard" to use Truman's phrase.

Why either position is considered respectable, in the media, in the arts, in academia is certainly a question to be asked.  Why should any position that finds any number of murders by dictators "less bad" or even "acceptable" be tolerated?

Ideology has determined a lot of it, the red brand of fascism, that has been the reality of Marxism in the world, has long been considered more respectable than other brands for entirely irrational reasons, allowing the most respected and respectable among us to lie about and sweep under the rug the murders of scores of millions and the grinding oppression of well over a billion even in the post-war period when no alliance with a Stalin was a matter of grim necessity.   Is it really any better to be a Marxist than a Nazi with the crimes of Stalin, Mao, Lenin, and the many lesser Communist dictatorships being as much of a public fact as the crimes of Hitler and Mussolini?   And what the Marxists have done, the anti-Marxists sometimes have done, excusing the crimes of facists and even, in some cases, Hitler.

No, the problem with comparisons among the mega-murdering dictators of history is exactly that by doing that you do let other murderers off the hook, partially or entirely.  If you don't intend to it will be taken that way by people whose thinking is too superficial to understand anything more complex than a simplistic ranking.   A lot of that could end if we all agreed that any number of murders by rulers, including those of the United States, Britain, France, etc. are murders and render the murderers illegitimate as rulers and criminals.  But that would be very inconvenient for us.

Maybe it would be easier to compare Assad to mass murderers with a number of victims closer to his own.  Somewhere in the last week I'd heard it's estimated he's responsible for as many as a half-million dead in Syria - though that might have been the dead for the entire war, by all sides.  Compare that to the numbers dead in the Iraq invasion under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, or the numbers in various other disasters like those in Central Africa in the wake of America overthrowing Patrice Lumumba, or take your pick.

Does any of this work?  I don't think it does, certainly not if you excuse a smaller murder count with a bigger one.  All of those acts, all of the people who did things that killed or predictably killed large numbers of people are certainly evil enough to warrant total opposition, though I never noticed an American President or Vice President (in the case of the Cheney regency) who did that have it be acknowledged as comparable with murder counts of a similar number.  We certainly don't do it often and it is certainly not allowed in the respectable press.  Quite often the respectable press of the kind the Atlantic is part of, is cheering on the killing.  The history of the New York Times written in terms of wars it's mongered and endorsed and encouraged and sold would certainly be an eye-opener.  If I were twenty-years younger I might try it.  But that hasn't even really been done.

* I heard some of it, it's crap music and crappier history.  Oh, how I do hate musicals.

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