09/12/2012 07:58 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 EST

Before You Compare Something to Hitler and Nazis...Don't


"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

The above statement is known as Godwin's Law. It's based on the principle developed by American lawyer Mike Godwin that if an online conversation goes on long enough, it eventually turns into a mudslinging contest. Both sides become frustrated and less rational, and invariably the argument will include a Nazi or Adolf Hitler comparison. At that point, the discussion is over; the one using the analogy has lost, for the argument has become irrational.

Mike Godwin's theory is based on online discussions, but the Hitler/Nazi comparison goes well beyond the Internet. Sadly, it happens with such regularity it has almost become part of our every day vernacular.

Just this week Ontario PC MPP Jim McDonell was forced to apologize when he compared legislation involving the ORNGE controversy and its alleged secrecy to the manner in which the Nazis operated.

And don't think the United Sates is not without its "Nazi Analogizers." My dear friend and colleague, Menachem Rosensaft right here in Huffington Post wrote last week of that bastion of talk radio extremism Rush Limbaugh who has consistently likened President Obama's health care policy to Nazism, with little or no comment from any mainstream Republican leaders.

"Obama's got a health care logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook"; "Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did"; the President "is sending out his brownshirts to head up opposition to genuine American citizens who want no part of what Barack Obama stands for and is trying to stuff down our throats"; and "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."

The Democrats too, says Rosenschaft, are certainly not without fault. California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton lambasted Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan by suggesting he utilized the "Big Lie" invoking the name of Joseph Goebbels the Nazi Propaganda Minister. Goebbels created the murderous atmosphere necessary to murder 6-million Jews by developing a brutal and hateful demonization of European Jewry.

And the past is replete with examples from both the left and right of the political spectrum of those who it seems temporarily lost their minds with visions of Hitler and Nazism.

In accepting his Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore used the Hitler analogy to compare world leaders ignoring climate change to those who ignored the potential threat emanating from Nazi Germany's early days.

Here at home, the leader of our Green Party, Elizabeth May, used similar hyperbole, comparing our government's environmental plan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of the Nazis in 1938. Thankfully she later offered a full retraction and apology.

Former Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi once compared Canada to Nazi Germany in regard to its immigration laws: "Canada is acting like a Nazi-style regime ... That's what Hitler used to do,'' Telegdi said. After some pressure from then Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Mr. Telegdi announced his regret in the House of Commons.

Former Liberal Transport Minister Jean Lapierre accused Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe of employing "a little bit of a Nazi tone'' after Duceppe boasted about making the Liberals "disappear'' in Quebec. Lapierre later apologized and promised he would never use the analogy again.

And on it goes. It seems as though every time a public figure draws a comparison to Hitler and Nazis, they are justifiably criticized and they apologize -- yet the comparisons continue. Perhaps that's because they don't truly appreciate the ramifications of what they're saying.

So, allow me to be perfectly blunt to avoid any further confusion. There can be no comparison. And, in my view, it matters little if the association is direct or through the back door. The attempt to annihilate an entire people is beyond such facile analogies and any attempt to do so sadly trivializes the act of genocide. And it is the trivialization that makes people so angry.

A government's policy on climate change or immigration or the manner in which it governs cannot be compared to those who perpetrated one of the worst crimes in all history. Godwin's rule is correct: the debate stops once Nazi parallels are invoked.

As for why people insist on making such comparisons, I'm not sure. Clearly, like Nazi swastikas painted on the walls of a synagogue, they have a certain perverse public relations value. Comparing a person or an issue to one of history's most demonic regimes and its leader is provocative to be sure, and it will make the news. Attempting to raise one's profile by invoking the name of Adolf Hitler may work in the short term, but in the long run, it will be seen for what it really is: a dismal attempt at self-promotion. And in the end, the real issue being advocated gets lost in the condemnation that inevitably ensues.

Whatever the rationalization, it has to stop. Trivializing Hitler and the Nazi regime is not only supremely dangerous and foolish, it is also insensitive and a slap in the face to all who suffered under that regime. It is time we begin to appreciate the beauty of the English language. According to U.S. author Paul JJ Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor, there are over 1,013,913 words in the English language, give or take. Surely advocates and lobbyists are creative enough to use all that richness properly and paint images that are worthy of the issue they espouse. Falling back on Hitler and the Nazis only tells us that they lack both imagination and sensitivity.