Letter: The dangers of moral simplification


I agree with Alex Gordon’s Oct. 20 op-ed: German Minister of Justice Herta Daubler-Gmelin’s comment, that “Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems…[a tactic] Hitler also used” is clearly an outrageous sign of an irrational misconception of history. She should have her thoughts examined and brought into line, and Mr. Gordon is perfectly justified in dictating which lines of reasoning she should be permitted in order to keep her job. After all, our country having saved Germany, Europe, and the free world two or three times now, we American Harvard Law Students have unchallengeable moral authority to dictate which individuals may serve in foreign governments.

It doesn’t take a Harvard Law degree to point out the distinctions between Bush and Hitler, let alone a history lesson about how America saved Europe, or a morality lesson in pure evil. In the early phases of his reign of terror, Hitler rounded up minorities without justification, denying them any pretense of justice and moving them into isolated camps. Bush has done no such thing. Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in a purely aggressive action to ensure “living space” for Germans. The British acquiescence in that endeavor was a result of cowardice. Tony Blair’s acquiescence to the looming U.S. actions against Iraq is really about “ensuring peace in our time” this time. That is courage.

Perhaps Daubler-Gmelin really implied that she considers Bush to be evil, and used the term “Hitler” as a synonym. Should she really resign for stating such an opinion? If “Hitler” and “evil” are synonymous, why would applying one term to Bush be outrageous, where the other would not be? More importantly, what entitles American leaders to make judgments as to whether world leaders are good or evil, and why is that entitlement denied to Germans? I am certain that Gordon would permit Daubler-Gmelin to disagree with U.S. policy on Iraq, so long as she does so politely and refrains from moral absolutes our own leaders ply so thoughtlessly for electoral advantage.

I’ve no reason to defend Daubler-Gmelin’s statement. I’ve never met her, never even heard her name before this incident, and I’m quite unlikely to ever get a job offer from her. For these reasons, as well as the fact that I’m not German, I don’t think I’m qualified to determine whether she should lose her job over one statement possibly taken out of context, particularly on the basis of a single New York Times article. I hope that it isn’t unpatriotic or anti-Semitic, in effect if not intent, to assert that public speakers should have wide latitude to speak their minds, and should be replaced by democratic forces rather than the moral assertions of outsiders.

If Gordon is really opposed to America-bashing by Europeans, perhaps he should reconsider his own instincts towards moral simplification, an instinct shared by far too many politicians and citizens in America and, unfortunately, at this institution. Excessive moral simplification, drawing sharp lines of “us versus them,” grossly inflating a sense of outrage, ignoring serious domestic inequities to pursue global visions — these are also classic tactics, ones that Hitler used. And I don’t intend to resign from anything for pointing that out. Good or evil, it’s the simple truth.

— Donovan Rinker-Morris, 2L