I’ve cogitated over the topic of political correctness this week, partly because of this article, and partly because of my own observations. Turns out, I have been a strict adherent to the unwritten code of Political Correctness, without realizing it.
I’ll explain with a story. A few weeks ago we were outside, and a familiar neighbor walked by with her dachshund. I was chatting with someone else a little distance away. My boys flocked to the dachshund, as they usually do. He’s very cute and friendly.
After this particular encounter, though, the dachshund owner approached me and said she needed to let me know what my older son said. She’s not angry, she reassured me. She just thinks it’s important that I know.
What is it? I asked with a probably visible inward cringe. Her answer went something like this: well, I don’t know if you realize your son refers to other people as “Nazis.”
He called you a Nazi? I asked, my mind searching for an explanation. My son probably knows more about Nazis than most eight-year-olds. World War II history is one of his passions. He’s been to Normandy, to a reenactment of Operation Market Garden, to World War II Camp, and to endless miliary-themed museums. He plays Blazing Angels on the Wii, and he has season 2 of Dogfights pretty much memorized.
I had long ago explained to my son, when asked, why Germany is no longer our enemy, and why Nazis were So Very Very Bad. Mercifully, he did not ask for details.
So there I was, horrified at the thought of him taunting my neighbor with “Nazi.”
Well, she qualified, I’m not sure if he was referring to me or my dog.
I called him over. Uh, buddy?
Did you call her a Nazi?
No. I called her dog a little Nazi.
Because he is. He is a cute little Nazi dog.
Where did you get the idea of her dog being a Nazi?
From the teufel hunden poster at the Military Aviation Museum.
The tooful what?
The poster of a Nazi dog. It was a dachshund. It looked like her dog.
Was it the Nazi’s mascot? I asked, perplexed.
Yeah, he says, I guess so.
I was very relieved. He didn’t mean any harm, I explained. He just remembered the dachshund from some historical poster at the museum.
My neighbor reassured me that she already knew my son meant no harm. Also, she reassured me that she was not offended, but added that her uncles are “first generation.” If they had heard it, they would have been very upset.
At the risk of being thick, I simply had to ask: “First generation what?”
The whole episode left me a little perplexed. If she had known that my kid wasn’t being hurtful, and she was not personally offended anyway, then why had she brought it up in such a solemn manner?
I spoke with my son about how some grownups are so sensitive about certain words, that maybe it’s best if you just don’t use them. Okay, he said, like WWII camp. Apparently, he was told they don’t advertise the camp anymore because folks sometimes get upset about the whole Nazi aspect.
Why yes, that is exactly right, I said, feeling that the problem was solved.
End of story.
Then, I read the article “Political Correctness and The Thought Police,” and the Mirriam-Webster definition of “political correctness” leapt out at me like a face-licking dachshund:
“conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities — as in matters of sex or race — should be eliminated.”
I cringed inwardly again. That was what I had done. I had eliminated the term “Nazi” from my son’s speech because it could offend some neighbor’s uncles who we’ve never actually even met.
The astute commenter “Sparrowhawk” gave a rather chilling explanation about why the practice of eliminating speech is so insidious:
“Political correctness is a poliomyelitic affliction that attacks, not the brainstem or spinal cord, but language, concepts and ideas in one’s mind and renders the mind impotent and helpless. In short, it attacks the mind, and, like Orwell’s Newspeak Dictionary in Nineteen Eighty-Four, seeks to reduce the range of the mind by homogenizing its contents and imposing mindless conformity. The catch is that, while imbeciles would not know the difference between plain and politically correct speech – they are not the objects of the tyranny – it works only if one is willing to submit, Muslim-style, to a higher “authority,” only if one knows that it is expected of one to knuckle under and bow to the god of sensitivity. This in turn contributes to a habitual conformity in politics, art, and in speech. Which in turn contributes to the growth of a servile, passive, complacent citizenry.”
I had to look up “poliomyelitic.” He’s referring to a virus that paralyzes children’s brains.
Sheesh. I gotta go now, and tell my son it’s okay to call the neighbor’s dog a “Nazi.”
Oh, I got more details from my son–it was a U.S. recruitment poster, depicting a devil dog chasing a German dachshund–and I googled it. Here it is:
I have to admit: put a Kaiser helmet on that neighbor’s dog, and he’s a dead ringer.