Thursday, 22 March 2018

Where can you go from there, Boris?

Boris Johnson has likened the way President Putin is promoting the World Cup in Russia to Hitler's notorious use of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The foreign secretary said Labour MP Ian Austin was "completely right" to say Russia's president wanted to "gloss over [his] brutal corrupt regime".
A man with an expensive classical education like Boris should really have a wider range of historical precedents to draw on. But no, if your opponent is thuggish, repressive, undemocratic, there's apparently only ever one valid comparison. Hitler, Hitler, always bloody Hitler. But the thing is, once you've turned your rhetoric all the way up to Hitler, where do you go from there? Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel could have told him:
Nigel Tufnel: ...You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don't know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly.*
And "Nowhere" is exactly these comparisons usually lead.

Anthony Eden wasn't afraid to talk the talk about Nasser being the new Hitler, but when it came to walking the walk ... well, let's just say that Suez wasn't exactly a replay of our finest hour. Then there was the drum beat to the Iraq War, when you were either with us or some kind of craven Munich-style appeaser. Surprise, surprise, it took more than overheated rhetoric and a dodgy dossier to liberate Iraq and victory, when it came, brought a settlement that was more Mad Max than Marshall Plan. And who can forget Boris's fellow ex-London mayor, Ken Livingstone, doubling down on his stupid comments about Hitler being a Zionist? That didn't exactly bring peace to the Middle East, or achieve anything, apart from indelibly staining Ken's reputation.

If you have to use the "H" word, save it for actual Nazis, like the sort of far-right Holocaust-denying cranks Putin's Russia has  been funding and supporting in its transparent, and relatively successful, efforts to destabilise Europe. That's about as close to a justified Putin-Hitler connection as you're going to get. Otherwise, Putin is just another one of the world's thuggish autocrats, in the same mould as Erdoğan, or the UK's best buddy, Prince Salman. They're all objectively horrible, but not in the same league as a mass murderer who gloried in killing tens of millions by war and genocide.

The more Hitler comparisons I hear, the more sympathy I have for the crudest version of Godwin's Law ("If you're the first one to mention Hitler, you lose").

*Of course, in Spinal Tap, they solved the problem of having nowhere higher than ten to go by painting the number "eleven" on the amp dial. I'm not quite sure how Boris could take it all the way up to eleven - maybe he could compare Putin to Darth Vader, who had a whole planet and its population blown up just for the evulz, which would sort of make him even worse than Hitler, if only he'd actually existed...