The Hitler Defense

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OK, this has got to stop. When American (or British) atrocities are condemned a common defense is what I shall dub the Hitler Defense. It takes one of the following variations: “It’s not like anything was done on the scale of Hitler [or Stalin, or Mao].”, “Hitler [or the Japanese] did it first.”, “Hitler [or the USSR] was doing it, so we had to in self-defense.”

For example, from the recent article on the Tokyo firebombing:

While critics in Japan and elsewhere decry such attacks as war crimes, others say the Tokyo assault took place against a backdrop of the increasing brutality of total war fueled by the militarism of the Axis powers.

The German air attack on Guernica in the Spanish Civil War and the Japanese bombing of Chungking, China, (now known as Chongqing) in the 1930s are cited as early examples of indiscriminate urban air raids — a trend that greatly expanded in World War II.

“At this stage, everybody had been burning down cities,” said Thomas Searle, a historian at the Airpower Research Institute, at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. “The Americans certainly weren’t out of step in that sense.”

Do we really want to play this game? Find the most atrocious acts of the horrifying 20th century and justify anything short of those crimes? Or even equivalent to those crimes?

Hayek talked about conservatives choosing a mid-point between what is and what the radicals are calling for, with their position then defined by the shifting current reality and the demands of the radicals: “It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing.” But even for conservatives this is ridiculous.

So let’s just lay out the common sense objection to the Hitler Defense that your Mom taught you:

If the bad guys firebomb a city does that mean you should? (This should be easier than, “If your friends jump off the Empire State building…”).

10:09 am on March 12, 2005
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