Tuesday 17 September 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'In a world gone mad, we've all become Nazis. Apparently'

Godwin’s Law: Trump-haters often throw the N-bomb at him, while Trump himself has accused the FBI of behaving like the Gestapo
Godwin’s Law: Trump-haters often throw the N-bomb at him, while Trump himself has accused the FBI of behaving like the Gestapo
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Unlike a lot of unashamed carnivores, I've never had a problem with vegetarianism.

It's actually quite easy to go on a plant-based diet and let's be honest, few home-cooked fast foods can hit the spot like a quick broccoli stir fry with garlic, coriander and chilli.

Vegetarianism is a perfectly legitimate and morally sustainable way of life. Most importantly, over any of those boring ethical considerations, the days of tofu burgers and mung bean salads have vanished into the annals of culinary history.

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Nope, vegetarianism is fine - it's the evangelical vegetarians who are the problem.

A classic example of that counterproductive hyperbole cropped up in the letters page of this newspaper the other day.

A leading vegetarian activist threw his tuppence worth into the controversy between beef farmers and the way they think they're being shafted by the industry.

Both sectors of that industry are trying to come to a satisfactory conclusion to the current impasse. But our letter writer grandly informed us that these meetings were: "Eerily replicating the Wannsee Conference of 1942, farmers and meat industry organisations are holding talks to achieve a final solution to execute a species at an economical price."

For those of you who have never heard of the Wannsee Conference, it was a meeting of the upper echelon of the Nazi party to finalise, and industrialise the Holocaust.

Having grown tired of simply massacring Jews up close, and worried about the impact it was having on the Einsatzgruppen's morale (we'd call it their 'mental health' today) the Nazi high command gathered to discuss the most efficient ways to exterminate an entire people.

That hideous episode also has an Irish dimension - far from considering us to be a neutral country, the Wannsee Conference specifically earmarked 4,000 Irish Jews for the final solution. If they had won the war, the Curragh was destined to become a killing ground.

So, within that horrifying context, is it really appropriate for someone to directly compare people who eat beef to the Nazis?

Well, in the dim and distant past of, oh, about three years ago, such a statement would have been received with the contempt it deserves. These days? Ah, sure we're all Nazis now, father.

As someone who has received a couple of death threats from the goons of Stormfront, a violent and openly neo-Nazi organisation, I often wonder about the ease with which people throw that particular slur around.

After all, Nazism is rightly considered the most evil entity to have existed in the history of the human race, but these days it seems to simply mean someone you don't like.

Let's go through the list of people accused of being Nazis, shall we? 

Trump, obviously. Say what you like about the guy, but he ain't no Nazi. After all, even on the domestic front, he is actually trying to remove federal powers from various state agencies (the Environmental Protection Agency being the most obvious). He's more instinctively an isolationist than an expansionist, so the analogy immediately falls apart. I'm not defending Trump,  he's just as bad - during his row with James Comey, he was quick to say that the FBI were behaving like the Gestapo. Nice.

Boris Johnson? Oh, deffo a Nazi. English newspapers have been banging that drum this week in a beat that will be well recognised by Nigel Farage, who has been repeatedly compared to Hitler.

Anyone who objects to the nefarious empire that is the EU? Oh, you're a Nazi. And so is your wife. This isn't a new phenomenon, the phrase 'Godwin's Law' goes back to 1990 and was about the fact that, sooner or later, some people will drop the N-bomb against their opponents in online debates.

As Mike Godwin explained in the Washington Post: "I wanted to hint that most people who brought the Nazis into a debate weren't being thoughtful or independent. Instead, they were acting just as predictably as a log rolling down a hill."

But it's not just politicians being slurred as Nazis, plenty of them like to throw the word around as well. 

In fact, there was one councillor who referred to your humble columnist as, "male, mediocre... and he may be an actual Nazi".

I suppose I should admit to a certain sartorial admiration for their dashing Hugo Boss uniforms, but that's where I draw the line. Some observers say it's time people stopped calling their ideological opponents Nazis, but I disagree. Because when someone throws that particular bomb, they're merely reminding us that they don't actually have an argument.

As the English-Speaking Union, a trust dedicated to clarity in language points out: "People call others 'Nazis' because they think it will grab the attention of the audience. This is a big mistake... any attention they do get will be drawn to the use of that word, rather than to the nitty gritty of the topic at hand."

A piece of advice our vegetarian friend from would do well to remember.

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