Today in his daily briefing, Sean Spicer said some stupid things while discussing the attack against Syria for its use of chemical weapons last week:
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a — someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
Since if Adolf Hitler is known for anything, it’s his use of gas chambers and poison to kill people, the comment made no sense. He later attempted to clarify:
“He was not using his gas on his own people the same way [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad was.”
That being completely untrue, the media outrage continued. He ended up issuing a statement:
“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
The Washington Post’s write-up of how wrong this was included the following tweet:
Here’s an editor at Snopes:
Someone at CBS helped push the line:
It was a widespread narrative. But not from all journalists, as this tweet from Time’s DC bureau chief shows:
Come on, people. Don’t match stupid with stupid. Sean Spicer was not pushing Holocaust denial and anyone with the most meager intelligence and sense of fairness would be able to say that. As his statement after the briefing shows, he was for some reason drawing a distinction between combat genocide and other genocide; he was not denying that Hitler killed millions of people during the Holocaust using gas chambers and other means.
The shrieks of Holocaust denialism were so overwrought that even Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo pushed back (and made good points while doing so). Here is the text of his tweets:
1/ I knew the second Spicer invoked the Nazis with regards to chemical weapons he had a problem on his hands. But I have to make …
2/ a partial defense. It is a measure of the durability of the ban on the use of chem weapons that even withstanding carrying out a …
3/ historic genocide, the Nazi state actually did not employ battlefield chemical weapons. A shrewder person wld have made the point …
4/ better. But the point itself is real, even valid.
While not Holocaust denial, stupidity was not the only problem with his remarks.
The problem he caused for himself was trying to justify getting into a conflict Donald Trump previously said we should stay out. And he tried to justify this by saying Assad is worse than Hitler.
One can be fairly non-interventionist and still support enforcing the norm against the use of chemical weapons on national interest grounds. But if all of a sudden Assad is literally worse than Hitler, that requires WWIII. It is precisely because Spicer is not a Holocaust denier that his remarks are a way to escalate rhetoric on the march to war.
And that should concern everyone, whether outrage-happy media types or others.
People should be careful when discussing the Holocaust, and Spicer is rightly condemned for his verbal incoherence today. It also is a reminder of the weirdness of the White House’s earlier Holocaust statement.
But media that just a few weeks ago were making Holocaust comparisons when Trump issued his travel ban might want to get down from their collective high horse.
And if people are truly concerned about Holocaust denial, they can focus their ire on the Iranian regime, which has pushed Holocaust denialism for many years. As Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh wrote in the Washington Post’s “Iran’s Holocaust denial is part of a malevolent strategy,” the view is central to the regime’s identity and tied to its propaganda aimed at the larger Muslim world.
This is a holy time for Jews and Christians. It would be nice if we worked harder to treat each other with respect, dignity and forgiveness.