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Kapos, Capos, and Hitlers

An uproar erupted in the summer of 2003 because Italy's prime minister compared a German parliamentarian to a "kapo" at the European parliament in Strasbourg. Probably the same indignation would have occurred had Silvio Berlusconi compared Martin Schulz to a gangster. Except that wasn't the case. It was the opposite: Schulz called the Cavaliere a "Mafia godfather". And not only did that not bring about any voicing of indignation, the fact that the "kapo" remark was a response to being likened to a "capo" was ignored as well.

(Strange that so few seem to have picked up on what, in the final analysis, is a homonym — maybe we shouldn't rule out possibility that what Berlusconi did was make what was, in the circumstances, quite an original play on words; or that, on the other hand, his imsult was in fact simply meant to be of the capo type [with a C] and thus amounted little more than to using the simplistic "Well, you're one too" response. The testimony of the Italian interpreter [and whether Berlusconi was listening to him or her] would be interesting here.)

But this article is neither about this event in particular nor about Berlusconi in general. What is worse is that many of those (including the German parliamentarian in question?) who are scandalized by the Italian Prime Minister's words are the same people who like nothing better than to sound off that America is "fascist" and paint square moustaches on portraits of George W. Bush. Isn't it of somewhat more consequence to compare someone to Adolf Hitler than to a "simple" kapo?

As it happens, during the ubiquitous demonstrations against Washington's policies these past six decades, the United States is regularly depicted as anti-democratic and Nazi while all its presidents, from Truman and Eisenhower to both Bushes through Nixon and Reagan, are likened to the Führer of the Third Reich. One must conclude that in America's case, it is not only not "unacceptable" to refer to the Nazi era, it is not even a "blunder" (to use Gerhard Schröder's words concerning those of the Cavaliere).

Those verbal attacks, incidentally, come from the mouths of "pacifists" and "anti-violence activists" who like nothing better than to protest the loss of "innocent lives" due to the American military, but who cheerfully ignore the tens of millions or hundreds of thousands of victims caused by the likes of Stalin and Saddam Hussein, while explaining the subtle differences: "Granted, Stalin was the cause of a few deaths, but no more than those in car accident statistics" (the French Communist Party in the 1950s) or "to compare Saddam to Hitler is patently a bogus analogy"

Overlook the fact that their sense of judgment might seem to be slightly twisted. Apparently, a certain segment of the population and the political body holds the monopoly of demonizing those they do not like and reserves for itself the right to refer to them as (neo-) Nazis and gangsters.

5 July 2003

© Erik Svane

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