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Identifying the Enemy


Deciding who to blame for the aftermath of a recent Koran-burning incident is yesterday’s news. Now we’re supposed to be worried about Radiation from Japan Libya re-relocating the KSM trial the GOP budget proposal a Federal shutdown. But I’m behind on my panics, and this perspective on the murder of U.N. staff in response to a book burning resonates with me:

Maybe [Senator] Graham was really objecting not to inspiring the enemy, but rather to inciting the enemy by offending them. And since Graham wants to talk about WWII, let’s do exactly that. Charlie Chaplin’s filmed mockery of Hitler was certainly offensive to that dictator and to the other senior Nazis, and could have been viewed as inciting them to continue the war rather than making an early peace–but I don’t think the Roosevelt administration ever considered having Chaplin arrested for incitement.

Ah, Senator Graham might say, that is not a good analogy. The Koran burning did not just offend those who are fighting against us; it offended all Muslims everywhere.

Okay, let’s improve the analogy. During WWII, many if not most Americans tended to conflate “Nazis” with “Germans”–cartoonist Bill Mauldin once observed that a front-line soldier was less likely to refer to the enemy as “those dirty Nazis” than as “those God-damned Krauts.” Suppose someone back in the States had taken this sentiment to extremes by holding a ceremonial burning of the key documents of German history and culture–Beethoven’s music, Goethe’s plays, the sermons of Martin Luther, in addition to photographs of Bismarck and both Kaisers.

And suppose that Hitler, in a fury, had ordered the retaliatory killing of 100 American prisoners of war and the destruction of a historic village and cathedral in France, together with the execution of all the villagers.

Does anyone think the American response would have been to demand the arrest of the idiot who had burned the documents?