For an American historian who researches totalitarianism and genocide, nothing is more disheartening than facile comparisons sometimes heard between Western leaders and Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. When we are so wrong about history, we do a great injustice to ourselves.
The Stalin comparison rests on a basic misunderstanding of the history of communism. Americans often seem to think that social reforms are somehow steps toward communism. History tells a different story.
...Had Barack Obama been born in Nazi Germany, of one white and one African parent, he would have been sterilized. His election as president was actually one of the strongest refutations ever offered to Nazi ideology.
It goes without saying that Hitler and Stalin controlled parties that opposed democracy and legitimated themselves by ideology, propaganda and force rather than free elections. In both the Nazi and Stalinist cases, the rise to power required violence, and the sustenance of the regime more violence.
That some people would compare their own peacefully elected president to ideological mass murderers is a sign of reckless and shameful disregard for some of the most important lessons of history.
-- Timothy Snyder, NY Times, 11/16/10