Holocaust. Hitler. Auschwitz.
Opponents of health care reform have used each of these terms as hateful political weapons in the public arena, and as a result, America is infected with a dangerous social cancer that corrupts civil discourse and splinters our society.
Since the end of World War II, such terms have been “off limits” in any political discussion inside the United States. But not any more.
Citizens, of course, have every right to express their disagreement with the proposed health care overhaul. But in using these three terms in an attempt to sway public opinion, cynical politicians and pundits have poisoned America with a kind of political pathology.
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Their actions, and their words, must be swiftly opposed and vigorously challenged.
We’ve seen it all year, but especially over the summer: raucous town hall meetings, tea-bag rallies and anti-reform marches on Washington. The demonstrations, however, cross the line of civil discourse when participants carry pictures of President Obama with a Hitleresque moustache, or when they describe the impact of the reform measure as a health care Holocaust, or when they inflame passions by predicting millions of helpless patients confined to an American Auschwitz that will “kill grandma” through nefarious “death panels.”
Those who spew this linguistic graffiti for short-term political gain are, in a word, disgusting. Yes, they deserve a vote — but not into positions of public trust, but into a national Hall of Shame.
Because the survivors of Hitler’s Holocaust are dying natural deaths every day, along with our veterans who actually defeated Nazism, it is our task to condemn the cheap use of the three horrific words.
The late Lutheran Bishop Krister Stendahl, the former dean of Harvard Divinity School, taught that the word “Holocaust” must always and forever be spelled with a capital “H.”
He also said it must never have the letter “s” attached to its end.
Stendahl declared the word Holocaust — the mass murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators — must stand alone and never be employed for any other event. If every flood, earthquake, fire, mudslide and disease (horrible though they are) is called a “holocaust,” then the very word and the Nazi victims are trivialized and demeaned. Stendahl would be appalled to see the word twisted for cheap political gain.
With the passage of time, the name “Hitler” has been mischievously attached to various contemporary political leaders. The mists of time and deliberate contempt for Hitler’s victims have made the Nazi leader into a convenient one-dimensional villain who, if he were still alive, might be making the rounds as an outspoken guest on America’s cable talk shows.
Rabbi James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is the author of “The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us.”