I was paying more attention to other stories about tyrants killing Jews this week, so I’m just catching up now to new stories. Folks, Spicer was not actually denying the Holocaust. Was that actually a mainstream claim?
Spicer is obviously a moron and a joke of press secretary, but he mostly was just a propagandist thinking in terms of a absurdly narrowly defined event of dropping chemical weapons on a residential area, and that’s true. Hitler did use them against Russian troops, and he obviously used them in the Holocaust, and then there’s the troubling way that Spicer so reflexively used the phrase “his own people” without thinking twice, but I don’t think Spicer ever thinks once about what he says, he just spouts talking points, spin, and lies, which is probably worse than a single independent racist thought emerging spontaneously.
However, I do think there are two other reasons that Spicer’s claim is deeply troubling.
First, Spicer’s comment reflects more than embarrassing ignorance. If you spend enough time around the Alt-Right, white nationalists, and anti-Semites, you get acculturated to Alt-Right thinking: the Alt-Right/white nationalists regularly seek to put Hitler in context and to question the conventional wisdom that Hitler is a different degree of evil, claiming that his actions were one of many wrongs in the 20th Century. The Alt-Right trolls on-line sometimes claim that Hitler’s actions are more comparable to other 20th C. mass killings like Stalin’s, Pol Pot’s, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and North Korea’s. I have read some of the arguments they throw around on-line: “Hitler never used chemical weapons though they were available.” These Alt-Right sources are making a few points: that the Left/Communists are worse than conventional wisdom if you add up total numbers of deaths. But this “total number of deaths” goes hand-in-hand with Nazi sympathizers and Holocaust denier, who do explicitly revise downward the number of Jews murdered. So my sense is this: Spicer reads and talks to more Alt-Right nuts than he might care to admit, and his unthinking claims reflect how deeply that thinking has infected the Trump staff, even if they might not be conscious of that anti-Semitic thinking. And that’s a whole different kind of disturbing.
Second, this is how Americans get themselves locked into dumb foreign policy. Members of the George H.W. Bush administration compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler often in 1990-91, and those exaggerations were part of the drive to war and also fed the outrage on the right when Bush didn’t “finish the job.” I think George W. Bush’s motivations to go after Saddam, beyond the assassination plot against his father, were shaped by the exaggerated campaign against Saddam. Don’t get me wrong, Saddam was a very very bad guy. But comparing your enemies to Hitler tends to foreshadow badly planned wars that don’t go well.