Comparing the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo Trivializes the Issue

by Jason Spitalnick | 11/9/98 6:00am

To the Editor:

While I certainly have never agreed with pseudo-revolutionary drivel of columnist-turned-campus agitator Robert Sutton, until recently, he never offended me. However, in his Nov. 5 column, "Power and Whim: Twins of Tyranny," in The Dartmouth, he displayed his obvious fatuity in making a direct comparison between the Nazi-era Gestapo or secret police and the American Internal Revenue Service.

Espousing one's political views is completely acceptable and should, in fact, be encouraged. I have engaged in conversation with Sutton, and I will freely admit that his attempts to proselytize his extreme version of capitalism are done competently and, at times, persuasively.

He frequently employs metaphors and other comparisons to enhance his position; often, he is effective. However, in his most recent column, his use of latent metaphor abetted him in crossing the line separating controversial speech from offensive allegations. He wrote: "You won't think so when you hear of the Gestapo ("IRS") horror stories ..."

The Gestapo, an organization dreadfully and appropriately feared, instilled terror into the lives of German Jews during the era of National Socialism. Utilizing an extensive network of ordinary German citizens, it pitted neighbors against their fellow neighbors and, at times, members of families against their own relatives. It was no secret at the time, nor is it deniable now, that the Gestapo frequently employed torture and brutality as primary techniques of interrogation.

To trivialize the seriousness of the Gestapo by directly comparing it to the IRS is, at the very least, impertinent and insensitive. The IRS may be thoroughly criticized (perhaps, even, deceptively so), but in no way do its failings compare to the atrocities committed by the Gestapo, one of the most terrible limbs of a fascist government whose policy initiatives, including those implicating genocide, were motivated by myths of racial hygiene and genuine hatred.

Sutton should feel free to espouse his politico-cultural views, but he should exercise the "free will" that he reveres with caution. If he truly wants to effectively communicate his message, he should be sensitive and calculating, at least attempting not to offend anyone.