June 17, 2005 -- Did Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Democrat Whip in the Senate, flunk logic class or what? He recently compared the American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to a Nazi death camp. This follows the Amnesty International outburst that compared that facility to the Soviet gulag.
In a diverse and open society there will be serious voices criticizing various government policies and there will be nutcases standing on the corner, ranting and raving that everyone is out to get them and to kill us all and so on incoherently. We engage in reasoned discussion with the former because we assume that our exchanges of words are attempts to discover the truth. We perhaps look with pity on the latter if we think their tirades come from mental illness or with undisguised contempt if they're neo-Nazis, human-hating environmental extremists, followers of Lyndon LaRouche or other such self-made deluded creeps.
Durbin and Amnesty International are on the street corner, jumping up and down, yelling and screaming that we should put them into the category of creeps.
If we pretend for a moment that their mistakes are honest ones, we would explain things to them as follows: The Soviet gulag was characterized by its millions of prisoners, most of whom were picked up arbitrarily by secret police, with the intention of terrorizing the populous into complete submission to a dictatorship. Something like 20 million individuals were killed by Stalinist terror with a good number of those deaths coming in gulag camps in which individuals were, as a matter of policy, ill feed, overworked, beaten, tortured and executed.
In Hitler's death camps, certain groups -- Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals -- and included men, women and children, were killed in gas chambers built for that purposed while others were worked and starved according to formulas calculated to cause death after a certain number of months.
If we assume that words stand for concepts that represent certain things or aspects of reality, then there is no way anyone but an extremely stupid or mentally impaired individual could mistake Gitmo -- where, even with its problems, detainees are well fed, not worked or tortured to death or summarily executed and are all given copies of their holy book -- for a "gulag" or "death camp." But we know that Durbin and the Amnesty International folks do not fall into these categories. Thus we know that they were either grossly negligent in their use of words or were knowingly and intentionally using words not to describe but, rather, to obscure reality. They commit the sin that gives rise to all others and to the horrors of gulags and death camps: the rejection of reason and reality.
Since we must use words with care I will not commit the same sin as does Durbin or the Amnesty people by accusing them of being in the same class as a Hitler or Stalin. I will say that they should be ashamed of themselves and that even those who have legitimate and serious problems with the Guantanamo facility -- e.g. giving America citizens held there for years no access to our legal system -- should let them know in no uncertain terms that they have gone beyond the pale and that if they do not want to be treated either like drunks or loonies blathering on street corners or, as what they are, intentional distorters of reality, they had better apologize for the moral lapse and do it damned quick.