Friday, July 12, 2013

In Which I Succumb To Godwin's Law

I'm reading "Winter Of The World: Book Two of the Century Trilogy" by Ken Follett. The Century Trilogy is a series of historical novels that follow the intertwined lives of about a dozen characters as they go through the major historical events of the century. The second book covers the Great Depression and the Second World War.

At the moment, I'm in the middle of a section of the novel that dealing with Aktion T4, the Nazi program of deliberately killing people with disabilities. I knew the main details of this aspect of the Holocaust, but it's interesting to see characters I've come to know through other depicted events suddenly dealing with disability … disability as a social and political matter, not just medical. The main thing I'm curious about is whether the author will suggest that Aktion T4 was a rare "misstep" for the Nazis, in terms of domestic politics. I have read some accounts suggesting that the Nazis actually had to back off their "euthanasia" policy, or at least make it more secret, because they angered too many "good" Germans … including parents who might have previously been Nazi supporters. So far, the novel has hinted at this … focusing particular attention on a Catholic priest who has started making waves about the issue. This also highlights the extent to which many of the mainstream, "respectable" Christian denominations either supported the Nazis or cut some kind of informal deal with them in order to avoid stronger persecution.

So far, the novel hasn't fleshed out any of the theories or justifications that underpinned Aktion T4, just a brief reference to the high cost of care. My understanding is that there were a variety of "ideas" behind the "program".

I admit that I can't help thinking about this when I hear debates over "assisted suicide" and the "right to die". I agree that today, these issues are mostly about personal choice, not governent-sponsored extermination. On the other hand, I've heard plenty of arguments over this evolve towards issues of cost, to families and to society, so I don't think the comparison is too radical. Godwin's Law states that the longer an online debate goes on, the more likely it is for someone to resort to a Nazi Germany analogy. Nazi analogies are too common and easy to draw, but occasionally, they actually are valid.

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