From time to time, a blogger or a commenter compares something to Nazism or to Hitler. As sure as night follows day, there will be outraged comments saying that any invocation of Nazis and Hitler is strictly forbidden, intolerable, unacceptable, verboten.
I disagree. I wrote a book in 2003 called The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, about efforts to censor what appears in textbooks and on tests. Everybody has some words that they want to ban, some topic they find execrable, some illustrations they can’t abide, some depictions that they consider stereotypes. The publishers are so fearful of controversy that they have written guidelines with long lists of words, topics, and illustrations that may not appear in textbooks or on tests. I learned about these guidelines when I was on the National Assessment Governing Board. That is when I discovered that every education publisher runs their material through a “bias and sensitivity review panel” to make sure that nothing appears that anyone might object to. You will never see an owl mentioned on a standardized test or witches or evolution or stories with disobedient children or any reference to a landlord or a cowboy. You will never see elderly people with a cane or sitting in a rocker. You will never see a mom making dinner. Instead, you might see a drawing of grandpa on the roof nailing in shingles and a female truck driver. You will see no reference to poverty or cancer or roaches or rats or nuclear war or suicide or abortion. No rainbow flags. No anatomically correct cows. Everyone is happy. Everything has been carefully scrubbed to avoid offending anyone, any group.
I don’t like censorship. It is true that I don’t permit certain well-known curse words on this blog, but I am not imposing my views on anyone else.
As for Hitler and Nazis, please see Mel Brooks’ movie “The Producers.” Mel Brooks said that the best way to deal with Hitler today is to laugh at him, to make him a fool, and the movie indeed made him into a butt of Brooks’ jokes. I also suggest the classic comedy “To Be or Not to Be,” with Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, and Robert Stack; it was made in 1942 when Hitler was no joke. But they made him into a laughing stock. The movie was remade in 1983 by Mel Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft. Brooks turned it into a fabulous musical in 2001, which won multiple awards and was turned into another movie. Brooks told the German publication Spiegel that comedy robs Hitler of his posthumous power. Those who are afraid to speak his name confer power on him.
To those who say, “You can’t say that,” I say “Yes, you can, and so can I.” If you are afraid to use Hitler and Nazis as metaphors, that is your choice. It is not mine. If Jack Benny could do it in 1942, if Mel Brooks could do it in 1968 (To Be or Not to Be) and again in 1983 (The Producers), well, I say, let freedom of speech ring.