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 So Many Hitlers 

February 27, 2003

A witty reader with a long memory likens American foreign policy to Joe Louis’s boxing career. Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, was the heavyweight champ before and after World War II who, having destroyed all his worthy opponents, proceeded to take on, with unbecoming frequency, a lot of unworthy ones. Sportswriters derisively nicknamed these hapless unworthies “the Bum-of-the-Month Club.”

The United States seems to have a Hitler-of-the-Month Club. As the Soviet Union waned and collapsed, a new series of enemies began to emerge, each in turn likened to Hitler as a global threat: the Ayatollah Khomeini, Muammar al-Qaddafi, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, and now Saddam Hussein again. Globally, these were equivalent to Joe Louis’s bums, but U.S. propaganda has dignified them as Hitlers.

Just as the United States has had its 9/11, even Joe sometimes got a rude shock. In 1942, I believe it was, Tony Galento, a roly-poly slugger from New Jersey who trained on beer, landed a punch that knocked Joe on the seat of his trunks, but by round four Tony had been rendered unconscious. (The history-minded will note that he later took bit parts in movies like On the Waterfront.)

Today Joe’s legend has faded; he is best remembered for beating Max Schmeling, Hitler’s boy. Today, in fact, Hitler still defines just about everything, one way and another. His name is invoked to settle all arguments. You want war? So did Hitler. You don’t want war? You’re like the people who appeased Hitler.

Hitler was not only bad, but infinitely bad. No price is too great to pay for vanquishing a Hitler — even a metaphorical Hitler. Thus Andrew Sullivan, urging war on Iraq in Time, points out, “The war against Hitler killed millions — but it was just.”

Was it ever! Not only did World War II cost 50 million lives, it gave Stalin a huge swath of Europe and brought the world into the nuclear era. But it was all worth it! We got rid of Hitler!

[Breaker quote: So few Stalins]Once Hitler is introduced into the conversation, and he usually is, any sense of measure disappears. All-out war becomes imperative, and it’s petty to ask what the consequences may be. When you’re budgeting for Hitler, cost is no object.

This might not be a problem if we were dealing with one supremely evil figure who died in 1945 (despite rumors that he’d survived and legged it to Argentina). But there are so doggone many Hitlers, every one of them a threat to world peace. Uncle Sam has to be quick on his feet to stamp ’em all out as fast as they spring up.

Next week will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Stalin (and of Sergei Prokofiev, the great Russian composer, if anyone cares). Stalin killed several times as many people as Hitler, but he had one redeeming virtue: he was against Hitler! True, he formed what might have seemed the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the German dictator, but Hitler, by turning on him, saved his reputation.

Soon Stalin was a chum of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt again, as liberals cheered. He even wound up as sole proprietor of Poland, which he’d thought he’d have to share with Hitler.

Today even liberals agree that Stalin was a bit of a stinker, all things considered, but “Uncle Joe” is by no means the symbol of evil Hitler has become. Though he too could be rough on minority groups, he talked the talk about democracy, equality, and diversity, so he can be excused for not always walking the walk; and the sort of minorities he wiped out weren’t the sort who trouble the Western conscience overmuch anyway. (Who cares about Estonians, for Pete’s sake?)

So, to this day, there is no Stalin-of-the-Month Club, and though he has had numerous imitators, including some very able ones, none of them has been designated “a new Stalin” against whom it behooves us to make war. Nobody remembers Enver Hoxha nowadays. Even Fidel Castro seems more like a relic of the sunny Kennedy era than a Stalin.

Kim Jong Il is the genuine article — indeed, a rather flamboyant Stalin — but, after all, he is no Hitler! We can live with him. He even brings out the coquettish side of Madeleine Albright.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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