Over the past few weeks the Israeli press and government spokespeople have repeatedly reminded the world of the parallels between Europe of the 1930s and the modern Western world.
Godwin's Law, I'm embarrassed to have to restate for our slower readers, reads as follows:
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
The Correlary of Practicality, often referred to in the same breath, follows:
"There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups."
As a growing number of people get their news from Internet sources, it can be said that almost any public statement, so long as it is reported by Pigdog Journal or some of the less professional news outlets such as CNN.com or news.bbc.co.uk, should be considered part of an online discussion.
If only this were so.
I feel compelled to point out that the major similarities between Europe of the 1930s and of 2002 are in truth not terribly damning. Europe remains mostly populated by Europeans, this is true. Most Europeans are outraged by the news of a well-armed nation talking of "breathing room" while rolling tanks and soldiers across the borders, rounding up the citizens of their neighbor countries into squalid camps for execution without trial, and inhumane torture. That hasn't changed much since the thirties; what's changed is that the object of that concerned is not the bullying nation-state Germany but the bullying nation-state Israel. Attempting to argue this point is silly, because as Big Beare's Law reads:
"You cannot with logic dissuade someone of a belief that was formulated without logic."
This particular article refers to an increase in violence against Jews in Europe in the past few weeks as Israel bulldozes Palestinian cities. It is tedious to have to note that violence against people who show up in the news happens all the time, and that people that commit violence of this sort tend to be big dumbasses of the sort who beat up Sikhs because they don't understand the difference between a turban and a guttrah. It hardly shows conspiracy.
Of course, this begs the question, who is making the bigger fuckup: the people that can't tell the difference between types of headgear, or the people who can't distinguish between Hitler and a humanitarian?
The serious principle behind Godwin's law is that it is downright offensive to compare the murder of eight million people (Hitler) with the whatever ideological triviality is usually on the other end of the comparison. To compare William Safire to Hitler because of his insistance on proper grammar, for example, trivializes the memory of the vast numbers of dead. Likewise, comparing European outrage at Israeli violations of the Fourth Geneva convention to the crimes of the Nazis is a spit in the faces of the victims and survivors of the holocaust.