For veteran cybernauts like me (I started on Compuserve in the late 80s, and dabbled in the Internet in the years when Gopher was one of the chief ways to get around and there was no World Wide Web), Godwin’s Law is an old concept whose wisdom has repeatedly shown itself over the years. This “rule” as it was originally stated by Mike Godwin — back in the days when Usenet was the only significant venue for Internet discussions — averred that, if a discussion lasted long enough, someone involved will eventually mention Hitler and/or the Nazis. It was Godwin’s humorous way of pointing out a tendency for people to use Hitler and the Third Reich in their argumentation (aka argumentum ad Hitlerum).

Over time, the Internet community has expanded the meaning of Godwin’s Law, and applied it outside of Usenet; it’s commonly said that, once someone invokes the Nazis in any Internet discussion, the argument is over and the person who made the appeal to Nazis has lost.

The furious debate over healthcare reform in the United States has, as I’ve pointed out already, included a great deal of immaturity. It was only a matter of time until people started making accusations of Nazism at each other, over it. And in turn it was only a matter of time before the mass media finally picked up on this trend.

Hence, the New York Times Opinionator blog has observed that Godwin was right, and the inevitable invocations of Nazism have popped up all over the place:

Godwin’s Law has the health care debate in a hammerlock. …

In this brief interview, an older protester outside the Raleigh, N.C., office of Rep. Brad Miller, a Democrat, delivers the basic Obama-as-Hitler charge: “Hitler got rid of his undesirable citizens through ovens. Obama wants to get rid of people like me through hospice. . . . If [people] are a certain age, grim reapers calling themselves as counselors will go and tell them to take a pill and just die.”

It is, of course, true that Hitler and the Nazis disposed of people they were opposed to, and in large numbers, but this comparison is flawed, because no one has proposed that “death panels” or euthanasia be a part of any reform measure. The Opinionator blog entry provides a laundry list of people invoking the Nazis in this discussion, including accusations that some of these invocations are feigned, attempts to discredit the opposition:

Just who introduced Hitler in to the town halls has been the subject of not inconsiderable debate itself: “Nancy Pelosi started it,” says Powerline. Another theory has is that folks carrying the Obama/Hitler signs are Democratic plants. Pamela Geller wrote yesterday at Atlas Shrugs, there is a “fifth column manufacturing smears and lies.” Others on the right have tried to use confirmed reports that Lyndon LaRouche supporters are sporting Obama/Hitler posters at protests to distance themselves from the Obama-is-a-Nazi charge.

So what’s going on here is a “he-started-it; no, she-started-it” schoolyard-style spat among a bunch of sniveling whiners who are all too juvenile to stop with the caterwauling and start discussing the matter like grown adults.

Full disclosure: Many times in this blog I’ve used the term “religionazis” to describe people who want a religious takeover of the country. I confess that in doing so, perhaps I ran aground on Godwin’s law myself. I devised the term because in one simple compound word, it conveys a very striking picture of what I’m talking about. Any other phrase I could think of, would be too unwieldy to be concise and effective. I think I will use the slightly-milder “religiofascists” from now on. If I’m going to condemn people for invoking Nazism when it comes to things they don’t like, the last thing I should do, is keep doing exactly the same thing myself, no matter my reasons for doing so. Yes, the Nazis were fascists, so maybe this is a transparent substitution … but while it’s true that all Nazis are fascists, not all fascists are Nazis. There are variations of fascism.

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