White House press secretary Sean Spicer is under intense fire for saying during a press conference, in the context of condemning Bashar al-Assad, that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Hitler does not appear ever to have authorized the use of chemical weapons on the battle field. However, he authorized mass killing through the use of chemicals at concentration camps.
Spicer has apologized profusely for his statement. However, some are demanding that he be removed from his job in the Trump administration, and Trump’s enemies in the mainstream media are peddling the view that his administration is insensitive to the Holocaust.
President Trump doesn’t seem interested in removing Spicer, nor should he be. When Spicer made his comment, he was comparing Germany’s battlefield conduct to Syria’s. As he said:
[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But [not] in the way that Bashar al-Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down, into the middle of towns.
The distinction is accurate. Indeed, it can be argued that Hitler did not use chemical weapons. A means of execution — e.g. an electric chair or a lethal injection — is not really a weapon. The counterargument, which I find more persuasive, is that when used on a mass scale, such means should be viewed that way.
I don’t mean to excuse Spicer’s comment. The distinction between Hitler use of chemicals and Assad’s use doesn’t favor Hitler. It is highly offensive to compare Hitler favorably to anyone when it comes to killing people with chemicals, given the unsurpassed monstrosity of the Holocaust. That’s why Spicer apologized.
But Spicer’s comment doesn’t warrant his dismissal because he didn’t intend to downplay Hitler’s use of gas in concentration camps. Instead, in the heat of making an argument about Assad, he was trying to draw a distinction between how Hitler and Assad operated on the battlefield.
Thus, Spicer’s mistake was an honest one. In fact, as noted at PJ Media, Chris Matthews made the same mistake in 2013 when he said, in defense of President Obama’s plan to attack the Assad regime for crossing the alleged red line:
If you basically lay — put down a red line and say don’t use chemical weapons, and it’s been enforced in the Western community, around the world — international community for decades — don’t use chemical weapons. We didn’t use them in World War II, Hitler didn’t use them.
Matthews wasn’t sacked for saying this; nor, to my knowledge, was he called a latent anti-Semite. Spicer shouldn’t be either.
JOHN adds: I totally agree with this. The moral of the story is, if you are in public life, just don’t ever mention Hitler. Ever.