Why Don't We Just Be Nice to the Nazis?
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Why Don't We Just Be Nice to the Nazis?



Henry Cadbury was a New Testament scholar
and a professor at Harvard Divinity School. He was also a staunch anti-war activist, and
a Quaker. In fact, when the Religious Society of Friends
– the Quakers – was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, it was Professor Cadbury
who accepted it. He was a good guy, in other words. He devoted his life to peace and social justice. He was a role model in many ways. But this video isn’t about that. This video is about a time when Henry Cadbury
got it wrong. So wrong. In 1934, Adolf Hitler had been Chancellor
of Germany for a year, and his Nazi party had been steadily gaining power in Germany
for over a decade. While the worst was still to come, the Nazis
had already been established as the country’s only legal political party. Trade unions had been banned, with many of
their leaders sent to concentration camps such as the one that had just opened the year
before at Dachau. A program to sterilize the mentally ill and
disabled had been put into action. Jews had been banned from practicing law,
working as journalists, or joining the civil service. That June the Central Conference of American
Reform Rabbis held its annual convention at the South Mountain Manor Resort, about 90
minutes west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Professor Cadbury was invited to address the
opening session of the convention. And to this gathering of 150 American and
Canadian rabbis, he said: “By hating Hitler and trying to fight back,
Jews are only increasing the severity of his policies against them.” Cadbury also criticized efforts to boycott
products produced in Nazi Germany. He called boycotts “war without bloodshed.” “War in any form is not the way to right
the wrongs being inflicted on the Jewish people,” he told the rabbis. Like I said, Henry Cadbury was a good person. And like any good Quaker, he was absolutely
sincere in his commitment to non-violence. And it’s easy to see the appeal of that
point of view. When faced with an opponent that has shown
itself capable of perpetrating the most egregious forms of violence imaginable, the notion that
you can defeat all that hatred and horror with kindness and humanity is an attractive
one. That’s what Cadbury told the conference
of rabbis. “If Jews appeal to the German sense of justice
and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively
and earlier than otherwise,” he said. It’s simple. It calls out to the best parts of us – our
compassion, our reason. It’s also a bit of self-flattery, isn’t
it? “If I could just have a civil conversation
with them, I’m sure I could show them the error of their ways.” Who wouldn’t like to think themselves capable
of that? There are many of us today who think we should
be responding to rising modern fascist movements just as Cadbury urged the rabbis to respond
to the Nazis. Earlier this week I got a comment on one of
my videos that read “A fascist-enabling piece of garbage needs to be talked to about
the issues and shown the error of their ways. Attacking, no matter how despicable, the person
changes no hearts EVER. . . . Doing what the other side has done,
because the other started it first, is childish and is detrimental to your higher cause.” And then you can also see my smartass response,
calling him Professor Cadbury. I was writing this video at the time. I couldn’t help it. I don’t fault the intention behind comments
like that. And I certainly sympathize with the desire
to not add violence to an already violent situation. But here’s my problem with strategies like
the ones proposed by Professor Cadbury and my commenter: they don’t work. When we assume we can have an honest conversation
about our differences of opinion with a Nazi – neo or original recipe – we’re making
a couple of very dangerous mistakes. First, we’re elevating the beliefs and goals
of Nazis to the level of civil discourse. That’s a bad idea. That’s worse than a bad idea – that’s
morally abhorrent. If you’re on one side of the table arguing
that all people deserve justice and equality regardless of their race, religion, gender,
sexuality, ability, what-have-you, and the person across from you believes that certain
people are inherently inferior and deserving of persecution and death based on which of
those categories they happen to fall into, what’s in the middle? Where do you compromise with someone who rejects
the very concept of universal human rights? Ah, you might say, but I’m not seeking to
compromise with that person! I won’t have to give up any ground, because
I’m going to persuade them that I’m right! That’s where the second mistake comes in:
assuming that Nazi sitting across the table from you is any less committed to his ideals
than you are to yours. I think, whether we realize it or not, a lot
of us have this idea that people only disagree with us because they haven’t seen what we’ve
seen, and they don’t know what we know. A Nazi only thinks white people are superior
because he hasn’t gotten to know enough people of color. He only wants to establish an ethnostate because
he doesn’t know any better. Right? Sometimes. It happens. There are ex-Nazis, ex-Klansmen. People do see the light, and change. But a World War wasn’t necessary to end
the horrors of the Third Reich because more people didn’t try to reason with Hitler. It wouldn’t have mattered how many Jews
answered Hitler’s hatred with shows of goodwill. It wouldn’t have mattered how many others
took the high road and tried to reason the Nazis out of committing atrocities. It’s not as if the people who are now ex-Nazis
are the only ones to ever encounter the arguments that convinced them to walk away from their
old ideology. Lots of Nazis have heard those arguments. Most of them aren’t persuaded. Most of them don’t change. You don’t defeat Nazis by making friends
with them. You have to fight them. That doesn’t necessarily mean violence. Sometimes it does – which is difficult for
certain people to accept – but not always. But it does mean actively opposing them, working
to thwart their attempts to accumulate power and influence. This isn’t a recent insight. Some of those who heard Henry Cadbury’s
speech in 1934 thought the same thing, and said so. The conference of rabbis released an official
statement responding to Cadbury, which read in part: “While the conference . . . does not advocate
any particular type of resistance, it believes that moral persuasion should be supplemented
by every manor of non-violent resistance calculated to bring an end to the regime of inequity
and enslavement which today obtains in Nazi Germany.” One of the rabbis, Stephen Wise, was also
quoted in the New York Times specifically repudiating Cadbury’s proposal that Jews
adopt a “live and let live” approach to the Nazis, saying that Cadbury “makes it
appear as if some vulgar quarrel or street brawl had occurred between Hitler and the
Jews and that the Jews were at fault.” Another rabbi put it more directly: “If
we do not resist evil, we go along with it.” Last year Angus Johnston, historian and professor
at the City University of New York, wrote about Cadbury’s speech for the Jewish Telegraphic
Agency. He also tweeted the excerpts of New York Times
articles on Cadbury’s speech and the rabbis’ official response that served as the immediate
inspiration for this video. Johnston closes his JTA article with this: “We now know that Cadbury was wrong because
Nazism was worse than he was able to imagine it being, and because it would soon become
far worse than he could imagine it becoming.” We don’t have that excuse. We don’t have to imagine how bad Nazism
and similar ideologies can get if they are allowed to gain the power they seek. We know. It happened. We know Cadbury was wrong, and the rabbis
who challenged him, and everyone else who tried to warn the world about Hitler and the
Nazis, were right. You can’t put your faith in the reason and
humanity of Nazis. If their reason and humanity were propertly
functioning, they wouldn’t be Nazis in the first place! Being nice to them, engaging them in intellectual
discourse, appeasing them, doesn’t work. You have to fight them. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean violence. The rabbis who released that statement in
response to Cadbury stopped short of endorsing violence. But what they did endorse was resistance. Those who promote bigotry and intolerance,
who vilify and scapegoat minority groups, who seek to destroy institutions set up to
guard against dictatorship and despotism, must be resisted. If you pass them a microphone, you’re not
resisting them. If you fight for their ability to fundraise
or recruit, you’re not resisting them. If you argue they deserve a place onstage,
you’re not resisting them. If you invite them on your podcast or your
livestream, you’re not resisting them. If you share articles from their websites,
you’re not resisting them. If you ignore them, you’re not resisting
them. And if you do not resist evil, you go along
with it.

27 Comments

  • pyRoy6

    Holy crap. I'm currently at a bit of a crossroads in my animal rights activism, and now I'm starting to see that maybe I need to get aggressive. At the same time, if humanity can't be persuaded by words to stop such easily-avoidable violence against other sentient beings…then I don't see how we could be worthy of peace and justice. In a way, I have to believe that love will conquer all.

    …but what if you're right? What if there's just too many people incapable of compassion?

  • Lord Hugenot

    Cadbury was an actual E N L I G H T E N E D C E N T R I S T before Boogie2988 made it popluar

    Let me to remind you that a Good Nazi is a dead Nazi and have Poo and/or Milkshake flung at them

  • hackel

    Absolutely incredible video. It echos what I've been thinking in such an eloquent and rational way.

    Do you not think inviting these people onto shows can also be used as a tool of resistance? To be clear, you absolutely shouldn't put them on equal footing or give them a platform, but being able up use them to expose themselves can be useful form of resistance, no? I fear we are so siloed that many of us simply have no clue about these people other than what we see on TV and faux Twitter outage. We need to be well-educated in order to properly fight against them, and observing them first hand should not be ruled out entirely.

  • Sam Ferguson

    Its sentiments like the absolute dedication to pacifism, even in the face of pure evil, that keep me from being a Quaker.

    And, 9:26 reminds me of that line from Inglourious Basterds. "I didn't [long list of things] to teach Nazis a lesson in humanity. Nazis ain't got no humanity!"

  • CimpyOvy

    "You should take the moral high ground!"
    Well that moral high ground is a march six feed deep for a lot of people. But hay the dead people sure showed these "right-wing" people, that want to kill "degenerates". And in a sense they are right we don't have to worry about "human rights" when we are all dead.

    Let's all give it up to the centrists everybody "If you leftists would just lose then there will be no fighting, or people to tell me I'm kind of a shithead!".

  • RevolverOlver

    Are you making any progress in your fight against the Nazis? It seems to me that they are growing instead of shrinking. Listening to ex-Nazis, there seems to be a trend of people getting pulled into it by feeling companionship and belonging and finally changing their minds after getting let into some other community where they can feel a sense of belonging, such as a sports team or something of the like.

  • Anthony Corrigan

    Watching your video I wonder about the methods for anti radicalisation which have been shown to be successful in the case of terrorist radicalisation and why these same tactics haven’t been applied to right wing facism, supremists and terrorists

  • rude_mech

    I literally just unfollowed a channel that I've previously enjoyed, due to their posting of an anti-antifa video. If you're against people who are against fascism, what does that make you?

  • TaiBlaine

    Thank you for this Video. In Germany the media has that problem: they invite the members of the "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) into talkshows, because those members whine about not getting invited.

  • Phrog Chief

    Violence is the ultimate expression of will. As abhorrent as that might be, it's true. The end-game of eradicating evil, is to ferret it out, expose it, and eliminate it. By any means required. This is not done with joy, but a heavy heart, driven by devotion to justice and duty…

  • Woohooligan Comedy

    Thanks, Steve. It seems I nearly can't make a video without talking about resisting nazis at some point… even as a comedian. I'm working on a video about Pride Month right now and oh yeah… lots of nazis. You already did a video about the ones who got a police escort while they broke the law and tried to incite a riot at the Detroit Pride Parade. I'm doing what I can. Thank you for your help.

  • Stacy M

    My relationship of 8 years recently ended. And I feel confident, the fissure that became the ultimate break could be traced to me not rushing to tsk-tsk at someone for punching a Nazi. But rather wondering why it isn't happening a lot more often. Bottom line: you nailed this one, Steve.

  • WingedWyrm

    I remember these "we can always just talk it out" morals being pressed upon us in grade school… a world of bullies who enjoyed their power and their exercise of cruelty precisely because of that ethic. I was the bad one for responding as though those who had refused to talk it out or refused to do so honestly had, you know, done that.

    Nazis aren't engaging in good faith. You want to point out the falsity of their position. Go right ahead. You want to act as though the people presenting that position are, in any way, behaving in good faith? Now, you're siding with them.

  • JohnnyTheWolf

    Good video, but honestly, you could have made it around ten seconds long and just said the following:

    "Why don't we just be nice to the Nazis? Because the Nazis just won't be nice to us!"

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