The quote, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ has a number of possible sources which include Voltaire, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and even Spider Man. Whatever its origins, the point is clear. If you have been given power, use it wisely.
When Sean Spicer takes the stand in the White House there is no doubting the power.
Commensurate responsibility appears to be missing.
Spicer represents the President of the United States of America, he gets to discuss war and peace, tax and health, immigration and welfare; the biggest issues of the single biggest economy, with the world’s media.
It deserves thoughtful, competent, measured insights to provide clarity, perspective and framing.
But what we got this week when he suggested ‘even Hitler did not gas his own people’, was ignorant, incompetent, offensive blunder; not worthy of the power, not close to being responsible.
Sean Spicer was irresponsible on many levels, because there are some basics he should have known.
The first is never to start an argument based on a premise, when you are not in complete control of the facts that underpin the premise itself.
Secondly, never compare blood thirsty, genocidal killers with the world’s media for short term political gain.
Thirdly, whenever you do discuss regimes that have murdered hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, always start by respecting the victims.
The risks are clear.
If you do not know that a gas chamber is the ultimate in chemical warfare, and that Jewish victims of the Holocaust are by far the largest group of civilians to have ever been murdered by chemical warfare, you may end up looking ridiculous, uneducated and incompetent.
Then if you make crass quantitative comparisons, using Hitler as the yard stick to judge every lethal despot, you may also end up looking ridiculous, uneducated and incompetent.
But if you talk about ‘Holocaust Centres’ instead of death camps; if you try to justify Hitler’s actions against the Jews as being more acceptable because they were against people who were – apparently – not his own citizens (even though every single one that was murdered in territory occupied or controlled by the Nazis); and if you fail to mention the fact that victims of the Holocaust and their families still suffer the consequences today; not only do you look ridiculous, uneducated and incompetent, but you also offend the lives of every one of the victims, and everyone who feels their pain.
Whatever the offense caused to the victims and their families – of Jewish families who survived the Holocaust and the Arab families who survived the recent chemical attack in Syria alike – the danger is even greater at the political level.
If the person invited to be spokesperson for the most powerful nation on earth does not understand the most basic principles of human suffering; is willing to manipulate the facts for a short term sound bite; is prepared to discuss Hitler’s chemical weapon capability without even realising he overlooked the Holocaust; then we are clearly in the wrong hands.
If a surgeon does not understand and respect anatomy, the whole patient is in danger; if an astronaut does not understand and respect the natural force of physics, the entire mission is placed in jeopardy; if an electrician does not understand and respect electrical current, then a serious accident is only a matter of time; if a spokesperson is not humble in the face of evil; does not listen, have empathy, knowledge, or respect, they are both a danger to themselves and others.
Sean Spicer’s demonstrated that he is not a competent White House Press Secretary this week, which creates turmoil and greater danger.
Lack of competence is an act of omission.
Ken Livingstone on the other hand has carried out a series of acts of commission.
There is no doubt that Livingstone knows very well that Hitler was no Zionist. In fact in Livingstone’s own words he states that Hitler wanted to ‘remove’ the Jews to Palestine.
It was hardly the fulfilment of a Zionist dream, that Jews who were fully integrated members of German Society, many of whom had no desire to go to live in Palestine, according to Livingstone’s reading of history were to be removed by Hitler for the benefit of Zionism.
Herein lies the pernicious anti-Semitism of Livingstone’s comment. For some reason he assumes that all Jews everywhere were outsiders to their own communities who were surreptitiously supporting Zionism.
What he makes clear in this statement is that there was no place for a German Jew to be a part of German society.
Take this to its conclusion and in Ken Livingstone’s world view Jews are always outsiders, who are not trustworthy, and should be removed to Israel, the enemy, where they really belong.
This is not an act of incompetence. It is wilful and conscious anti-Semitism.
- Stephen D. Smith is the Finci-Viterbi Executive Director of USC Shoah Foundation, the archive founded by Steven Spielberg to document and teach from the testimonies of survivors of the Holcoaust and Genocide. He is UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education, and Adjunct Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California, based in Los Angeles.