BuzzFeed reports that while speaking at a fundraiser in California for the Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach, former Secretary of State—and likely 2016 presidential contender—Hillary Clinton made a comparison between Russia’s actions in the Crimea region of Ukraine and Hitler’s Nazi regime. It was her first comment on the escalating situation, and it reportedly drew parallels between the issuing of passports to Russians in Crimea to Nazi population transfers. (She was presumably referring to the plan through which ethnic Germans living outside Germany proper would be resettled in Germany, a move made possible by an agreement with Stalin.)
BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer quotes two event attendees who described the nature of Clinton’s comparison, which remains a bit opaque and murky (as Hitler comparisons generally do!).
“She compared issuing Russian passports to Ukrainians with ties to Russia with early actions by Nazi Germany before Hitler began invading neighboring countries,” Saltzgaver said. “She said, however, that while that makes people nervous, there is no indication that Putin is as irrational as the instigator of World War II.”
“She talked about how what Putin is doing now is similar to what Hitler did, essentially providing these ethnic Russians in the Crimea region access back to Russia,” said the second attendee. “And that it was destabilizing.”
As The New Republic’s Marc Tracy points out, Hitler comparisons are generally inadvisable, particularly for politicians. He writes, “even if it were a good analogy, it is not one a prominent American statesperson—even one currently in the private sector—should make. It risks inflaming the testy U.S.-Russia détente, or perhaps complicating the present inflammation. (Russia isn’t a huge fan of Hitler’s either, what with the over 25 million Soviet deaths in World War Two.)”
Yet as Raphael Medoff argued a few weeks ago, while most Nazi comparisons are hyperbolic and irresponsible, some aren’t entirely off-base (North Korean internment camps, for example, and the country’s U.N.-declared “crimes against humanity”). The pervading notion that all Hitler analogies are the province of Internet trolls and chatroom denizens, he maintained, might in fact cloud or delegitimize actual thoughtful, intentional discussion of contemporary international atrocities.
While a seasoned participant in the political arena like Clinton—and one so seemingly well-versed in the Internet’s whims of late—should undeniably know better than to throw around Nazi analogies casually, perhaps she really meant it to be as strong a condemnation as it seems, and not just a throwaway line at a fundraiser.