In Defense of Sean Spicer

Like a stopped clock, even Sean Spicer can be right once in a while. Probably not twice a day. (Caricature by DonkeyHotey/Flickr)

Sean Spicer is an idiot, of course, in service to a numbskull, and deserves ridicule for much of what he says from his White House podium. But not everything. Piling on — assuming your opponents are always and everywhere wrong about everything — is as ugly when progressives and Democrats do it as when conservatives and Republicans do. Spicer is being pilloried for making a statement the other day that was true and important and deserves consideration. As despicable as Adolf Hitler was,  Spicer said, he “didn’t…sink to using chemical weapons.”

Here, breathe into this paper bag. Settle down. Hear me out.

First, may we specify what Spicer did not say? He did not say, as I have seen numerous headlines quote him, that Hitler never used poison gas. He did not mention, let alone deny, the Holocaust. The key thing about chemical weapons is not that they are chemicals but that they are weapons — munitions, designed and intended for use on the battlefield. Chlorine gas in an explosive shell is a deadly weapon; in a tank at your local sewage treatment plant (which cannot work without it) it’s just a chemical.

The Holocaust, awful as it was, was not the only thing that happened during Word War II, and to insist that it was, to demand that anyone who brings up the War in any way genuflect before the memory, is to dumb down history. It is the same thing as insisting that the only thing the American Civil War was about, the only thing that caused it and the only thing that animated it, was slavery. These attitudes subtract from the sum total of human knowledge. If we cannot discuss and evaluate the complexities of human motivation and behavior without bringing down on our heads howling mobs of simpletons, we are truly lost.

Hitler, in fact, did not deploy chemical weapons on any battlefield of World War II. (A single book alleges a single instance of  chemicals used against Russian troops holed up in caves after the battle of the Kerch Peninsula in 1942. The exception, if it is one, illuminates the rule.) Hitler’s restraint, for example during the invasion of Normandy, is remarkable given the fact that it was a German — the incredibly evil Fritz Haber — who invented poison gas and deployed it several times on the battlefields of World War I, beginning with Ypres. Remarkable, too, because up to the very end in the bunker, Hitler had at his command large stocks of chemical weapons including nerve agents.

Despite their horrors, especially for the people affected by them, chemical weapons, including the nerve agents the Germans invented a little later, were not very effective weapons. Handling, transporting and deploying them were tactical nightmares. And then a change in the fickle wind could bring them down on the heads of their owners, instead of the enemy.

But that’s not why Hitler never used them. He, too, was horrified by their effects, and deeply afraid that if he used them, the Allies would respond in kind. Like the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction that has prevented the use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield (ever since more than one country had them), it is the terror inspired by chemical weapons that restricts their use — except by monsters against civilians unable to respond.

A discussion of chemical weapons — their history, their use and non-use, their nature — is essential to understanding history. Please don’t blow it up by insisting that we can’t bring it up without also, or even instead, discussing the use of poison gas to execute prisoners. That’s awful, too, but it’s different: the United States used gas chambers to execute prisoners until 1999.

Sean Spicer doesn’t know any of this stuff, of course, and neither does his boss, and that’s why all he could do in the face of the huffing and puffing was offer a craven apology and beg us all to stop beating on him. This time — maybe this time only, but this time — we should.  


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10 Responses to In Defense of Sean Spicer

  1. Tom says:

    “If we cannot discuss and evaluate the complexities of human motivation and behavior without bringing down on our heads howling mobs of simpletons, we are truly lost.”

    We’re truly lost, Mr. Lewis, in case you haven’t noticed by all the howling mobs of imbeciles yammering on about all manner of things, from genetic engineering to climate change to nutrition – because we don’t all have the same worldview (weltanschauung).

    The sheer number of idiots, morons and shit-for-brains disguised as human animals are overwhelming the “voices of reason (or sanity)” and they concentrate in fields like politics and other places of importance (directionally) because of the way the system is worked by them.

    It’s no use trying to change their minds, reason with them (using facts and logic), or even “talk them down off the ledge” because it’s (psychologically) designed to end this way – as overpopulation practically guarantees it.

    Civilization has been going the wrong way since its inception, gradually getting worse all the time until it culminated in the Industrial Revolution, when it went into high gear only to run off a cliff (humanity’s Thelma and Louise moment).

    Now, see – there’s some stupidity (whether or not it’s true) for ya, from one of the “deplorables” (me). We can all argue about it, “but if’n itz sump’m ah b’LEAVE, why who’re you te te’ me other-whahz?” [Or “The Good Book” (yeah, pic one) TOLE me so.]

    So don’t expect anything to change for the better. We’re on our way out and it only gets worse from here. Being kind as you go along is about the best ye can do.

    Thanks for another great essay, Mr. Lewis. The truth shines through the smoke and mirrors.

  2. Lew says:

    Yo, Mr. Lewis – Thanks for this post. So true, so true. Most people just don’t LISTEN, anymore. Ever had that experience where you wonder if you’ve, perhaps, slipped into another foreign language? Never mind that you don’t speak another language. So, you try and speak slower. Speak louder. Use words of fewer syllables. Draw little pictures. After awhile, you just give up. Thank your for not giving up. Lew

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Thanks for being there, Lew, that was a funny little bit. “Draw little pictures.” Lol, then weep ’cause it’s true.

  3. RE says:

    Why do chemical weapons engender such revulsion, but blowing off people’s limbs with conventional explosives does not? Why it one form of dealing out death so much more despicable that the other?

    • Tom Lewis says:

      And then there are radiation burns. It seems to have something to do with whether they do it, or we do it.

  4. Liz says:

    So Spicer made a narrow statement of fact… but let’s not forget it was in service to a larger agenda – namely, the vilification of President Assad. Saying “not even HITLER did that..” is an obvious setup for proposed military action. (Which candidate Trump spoke strongly against, let’s not forget.)

    People love to argue history. What we should really be asking is “Are these accusations actually true?” Unfortunately between the various media and disinformation efforts, it’s just about impossible to know if anything actually happened, much less who is responsible.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Good points all. My view is that understanding history — not the same thing as arguing about it — helps us sense the truth, even at a great distance, despite the fog of disinformation.

  5. Mike Kay says:

    WW2 directly shaped my family, and thus to a certain degree, myself. It’s impossible to review the effects and depths of the second world war, because it is impossible to review any of the quasi-religious constructs that make up the synthetic moralizing that overshadow it.
    No one is ready to hear what the evidence says. This is primarily true because it contradicts that simplistic, synthetic moralizing.
    I will provide one hint with a simple question; the Manhattan project had no fuses for their bombs, nor enough U234 to construct even one single bomb, so where, pray tell, did they get them?
    Answer this question, and you will be forced to revisit all those cozy synthetic moral positions, and the crude “thinking” that supports them.
    You have been warned.

  6. Richard Walker says:

    U234 was the submarine that was carrying the enriched u235.
    Exactly what are you warning us about.

    • Mike Kay says:

      Perhaps you are unusual enough to have educated yourself on this matter. If so, congratulations.
      Think, man. Why would it be shocking for the official narrative of WW2 to be destroyed?
      It all follows from there.