Sean Spicer's Faux Pas: A Little Historical Context, Please
First of all, one can hardly call Sean Spicer the most effective White House Press Secretary: he lacks the one quality a spokesman for the President needs; namely, he is not articulate. He bumbles and stumbles over his words to an extent I have not witnessed by previous press secretaries, who have been nothing if not slick and slippery in their repartee with journalists. To give a concrete example, Spicer pronounces “nuclear” as “nucuIar” á la George W. Bush. I sense that he is fluent in certain matters, such as the economy perhaps; but otherwise, he is an ill-fated choice for the job, a bad omen of sorts in the young Trump administration which is itself a mix of successes and confounding missteps.
That said, we should give Spicer some credit for referring to a relatively overlooked fact of World War II history — that Hitler declined to use chemical weapons (in the context of warfare, to be very clear!). Spicer doubtless thought that he had a sure winner with the media and political class: comparing anyone to Hitler is surely the ultimate insult in today’s intellectual and political climate. He probably didn’t think this one through very well, but what he was probably thinking was that World War II did not see poison gas being used in battle between armies as it was in the trench warfare of World War I. This clearly was an argumentum ad Hitlerum that went terribly wrong.
Spicer made this point in trying to underline the dastardliness of Bashar al-Assad in his supposed use of chemical weapons “against his own people.” “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer explained, “You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
He was asked later in the press conference by a reporter to clarify his provocative comment, to which Spicer responded, “When it comes to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Naturally, from the perspective of our MSM, this was a horrifyingly obtuse explanation. One could infer from this that while Hitler used gas on Jews in the concentration camps, perhaps these after all were not “his own people”; and in that sense, we can say that Hitler did not drop chemical weapons on his domestic opponents in the manner that Assad is alleged to have done.
Hitler’s decision not to use chemical weapons could have been due to his own experience suffering from a gas attack in World War I, or it could have been due to fear of retaliation from the Allies (though he never otherwise blanched from scorched-earth warfare); or finally, it could have been from some sense of chivalry or morality, which is a characterization I’m sure some will find ironic.