The Hitler Analogy

From left to right, Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano as they prepare to sign the Munich Agreement. Photo: Bundesarchiv

The Hitler analogy – also known as the Munich analogy – is deployed frequently in political debate. In Munich in 1938, the British prime minister made the historic error of failing to comprehend the extent of the evil represented by Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain signed a peace agreement with Hitler that Hitler never honoured and that gave Hitler reason to believe that he would not encounter resistance. As Winston Churchill famously said, “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.”

The point of the Hitler analogy is thus that we must not let ourselves be deceived in the face of trickery and pure evil. The analogy is dangerous, however, if it is used incorrectly. Only a limited number of situations are in fact comparable to the confrontation with Nazi rule in 1938. Such comparisons may appear both honourable and principled, but in practice they may lead to self-righteous toying with explosive forces. Currently, we are seeing this most clearly in the opposition of the US Republican Party and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a nuclear deal with Iran. Apparently, the Republicans and Netanyahu are principled and heroic. While weak politicians such as Barack Obama and John Kerry are willing to concede to warmongering despots in Tehran, the Republicans and Netanyahu are ready to draw a clear line. They will not allow themselves be cowed.

The problem here is that this reasoning scarcely stands up to scrutiny. As of today, there is little to indicate that Iran has either the ability or the desire actually to build nuclear weapons. A nuclear deal will mean that Iran’s development of nuclear power will be very limited and closely monitored. Right now this is a price that Iran seems willing to pay in return for an easing of sanctions, and the opportunity is worth grasping. If a negotiated solution is rejected now, and more stringent sanctions are enforced, the most reactionary forces in Tehran will have obtained confirmation that the US is not to be trusted. Iran’s nuclear power will disappear underground, and an ice front will become a reality. This is the last thing that the Middle East and the world need now. There are many difficult challenges that face this area, now and in the years ahead, but none of them is solved through heightened tensions with Iran.

It is important not to confuse being principled with being stupid.


  • Published in Norwegian in the newspaper Vårt Land 16 March 2015: Hitler-argumentet
  • Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext
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