Yehuda Kurtzer (“When Metaphor Fails,” Opinion, Jan. 3) calls for an end to “irresponsible analogies” between contemporary events and aspects of the Nazi era. He is correct that it would be irresponsible to suggest that Iran’s leaders today are identical to Hitler, or that the negotiations with Iran are exactly the same as the negotiations that led to the 1938 Munich agreement. Obviously there are differences. But that does not mean there is no room to ever compare the present with the past. Examining past situations that were comparable in some way to those of today is crucial to learning from past mistakes.
In December 1956, then-Foreign Minister Golda Meir, explaining Israel’s pre-emptive strike against Egypt, told the United Nations General Assembly: “Within the lifetime of nearly every person here, a dictator arose who, like this disciple of his (Nasser), informed the world in advance of his bloodthirsty plans. The ashes of the crematoria, the carnage of millions, a world in ruin, testified to the fidelity with which he kept his purposes. Such a lesson should not be forgotten.”
Mrs. Meir was not saying Nasser was precisely the same as Hitler; she was saying there were aspects of the Hitler experience that were relevant in understanding Nasser. When, more recently, journalist and author Nat Hentoff called Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir “Africa’s Hitler,” he did not mean that Bashir has been building gas chambers. Hentoff was making a legitimate point about Bashir’s role in the Darfur genocide and the failure of the international community to confront and apprehend him.
The careless slinging of analogies is not helpful; but careful consideration of lessons from the past can help us learn from those experiences.
Director, The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies Washington, D.C.