Should We Stop Using “Nazi” as a Casual Insult?

Most of us have done it. If you frequently engage in political discourse online, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve compared something (be it a person or political group) to Hitler or the Nazis.

It’s juvenile and reactionary, but many of us are guilty of doing this.  In fact, there’s something called ‘Godwin’s Law‘, which states that the longer an internet argument takes place, the more likely someone is to summon ‘Reductio ad Nazium’, or an ‘argument to Nazism’.

Now, I’m not one for rigid speech control or authoritarianism, so I’m not telling people they can’t make the comparison or use ‘Nazi’ as an insult. I do, however, think we should understand that language does have meaning and how we use language does have an impact on societal perception.

The first thing we should understand is that Nazi is an abbreviation for the political ideology known as ‘National Socialism’. This abbreviation is famously and almost ubiquitously used to describe the forces that collectively orchestrated The Third Reich, otherwise known as ‘Nazi Germany’.

Most adults have, at least, some knowledge of World War 2, Fascism, Nazism and world history between the 1920’s and 1945 .  They are aware of the atrocities that took place under Hitler and the Nazis, to some degree.

The average person is less likely to know about The Ustaše, a Croatian revolutionary movement, during the same era, that was comprised of ultra-nationalist, racist, fascist terrorists who killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Romanian peoples. 

The average person is also not likely to know about Unit 731 , a covert Imperial Japanese chemical and biological research unit that perpetrated, arguably, the worst war crimes in human history;  they performed human vivisection and killed thousands of women, men and even infants, often without anesthetics. 

You don’t hear many people, as an insult, call somebody Ante Pavelic or Shiro Ishii, but they have no quarrel with issuing the “Hitler” insult.

This is because we all know Hitler. Most of us learned about him in high school and that’s where a lot of people’s learning about World War 2 era history ended.

If your knowledge of World War 2 history goes beyond that of a high school textbook, then you’ll understand the seriousness of leveling the charge of “Nazi” against someone.

I understand the desire to toss around the insult when dealing with a particularly bigoted and ignorant person, but I would caution against using the word so lightly.

The more we use “Hitler” or “Nazi” as an insult or crass comparison, the more we trivialize the atrocities that actually took place in our history. We minimize the seriousness of the events when we loosely toss around these insults.

We should study history and understand it, unless we wish to be doomed to repeat it.


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