There is something ironic about an always failing master race. Out of the two major wars fought for white supremacy that come to mind, the “master race” has lost both, and neither of their regimes lasted more than a few decades. Their science is just as flawed as their administrative skill because both are built on a baseless ideology that is not supported by history or biology. I had a professor once say, “Maybe it is not time to humanize Nazis,” as if to keep them in their mythical form as racist dystopian robots. I immediately disagreed on several grounds. There is nothing more human than a flawed belief, and there is nothing more democratic than your right to be wrong. Nazis are neither infallible nor invincible, as many of our grandparents proved in World War II. Nazis, and people like them, are just that: people. “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism in the 20th century,” writes Yale professor and Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder. It is important we keep that in mind. There was nothing particularly special about the Germans that made them Nazis other than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It may be hard to believe that you too are capable of believing something so unbelievable it will make you do something unbelievably terrible. But it happened and it can happen again. Voltaire wrote that if you believe absurdities you could commit atrocities. That applies to you and I as much as it does a German in 1933.
There is also irony in dehumanizing the dehumanizers. To subhumanize any group or faction is not only a misrepresentation and underestimation of who and what they are but it is contradictory to everything a free and equal society stands for. Frankly, it may make one just as evil or misguided as a Nazi. To censor or silence speech also falls into this category. If one is sacrificing the very thing they are fighting for in order to defeat their enemy then what is the point in fighting at all? Abraham Lincoln pondered this very question during the Civil War when asked if he should postpone the election of 1864. “We can not have free government without elections, and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have conquered and ruined us.” As a liberal society we believe in the responsibility of free speech and equality before the law. Every man and woman deserves legal representation and that all accused deserve a hasty and fair trial. Nazis deserve all of those, both as human beings and barbaric war criminals. To sacrifice this in the face of hatred and bigotry would be to declare defeat.
All men and women are created equal. However, that equality extends to equal capability. It means we all have the capability to act mindlessly and barbarically, but it also means we have an equal capacity to act against it. Nazis, Klansmen and people like them are unfortunately just like us, but they are undoubtedly the worst among us. They are not racist machines, so unconnected from us historically and mentally that what happened then could not happen now. It is important to remember what separates us from them and not to stare too long into the abyss. When people forget their humanity, we should remember ours.
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