old words: the final solution

Welcome to the first installment of Old Words, where we talk about horrible things people said a long time ago. We’re not here to judge the people who fell for this stuff, but we will try to learn from their mistakes.

Today’s Old Words: The Final Solution.

In case you don’t know the story: Once upon a time, a maniacal dictator was in charge of Germany. He decided to commit genocide, but was afraid the people of Germany might call him on it. So he called his genocide plan “The Final Solution.”

We told you it was going to be horrible.

Now: Our maniacal dictator was able to build up an army and kill millions of people for a lot of complicated reasons. If you really want to appreciate how he rose to power and held onto it for so long, it helps to know some world history, some political science, some economics, and a whole bunch of social psychology.*

Fortunately, you don’t need to know about any of those subjects to be wary of something called “The Final Solution.” You don’t even have to know that the proposed solution was to execute people. You just have to think about the words.

“The solution” would be suspicious all by itself — it’s rare for a problem to have only one solution. “Final” clinches it. The final solution? There will be no problems after this? That seems very unlikely. And then obviously if you get far enough into the pitch to find out that the “solution” to all problems is genocide, that’s your cue to stop asking questions and start running.**

*Still, M. Dictator chose his words very carefully. He even hired a words guy to help. We’ll talk about him some other time.

**From now on, we mean. From now on, if the person in charge of your country tells you your neighbor is responsible for all of society’s problems (and your personal problems) and should die, pack up your things and go. Just go.