When is it OK to reference WWII and 9/11?

This is always something I wasn’t sure about. When its used as a joke, for some reason I’m OK with it, as morbid as it sounds. When people make comparisons from WWII/Holocaust to something like Darfur, that’s fair enough. What annoys me is when some inane activity goes horribly wrong, like if a disorganized Maître d’ lets chaos occur in a restaurant, or a stampede at a store on a big sale day, and someone blurts out “It was a Holocaust in there!”.

I know I don’t own the word, and in America people are allowed to say just about anything they want. Or are they?

Case #1: Dwayne Wade uses a 9/11 reference

The comment:

Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade used a 9/11 analogy to describe potential reaction to his revamped team hitting a losing skid next season. “We’re going to be wearing a bull’s-eye. But that’s what you play for,” Wade, whose team signed MVP LeBron James and All-Star Chris Bosh earlier this month, said in an interview with AOL’s NBA Fanhouse. “We enjoy the bull’s-eye. Plus, there’s going to be times when we lose 2-3 games in a row, and it seems like the world has crashed down. You all are going to make it seem like the World Trade is coming down again, but it’s not going to be nothing but a couple basketball games.

A bit of a moronic thing to say, for sure, but he’s allowed to say it, right?

The apology:

In the statement, Wade said: “In an interview yesterday, I attempted to explain how some people may view the Miami Heat losing a few basketball games in a row during the upcoming season. It appears that my reference to the World Trade Center has been either inaccurately reported or taken completely out of context. I was simply trying to say that losing a few basketball games should not be compared to a real catastrophe.

Case #2: Tim McCarver uses a World War II reference:

The comment:

“The one they have bungled, in my opinion, is the handling of Joe Torre,” McCarver said during the fourth inning of Saturday’s Yankees-Rays game. “Twelve years in a row in postseason, four of those as world champions, and to me it’s a case of corporate childishness on a part of the Yankees the way they’ve treated Torre since he has left. “You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had … taken of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot ’em,” McCarver said. “They would airbrush the pictures, and airbrushed the generals out of the pictures. In a sense, that’s what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there’s no sign of Joe Torre at the stadium. And, that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

The apology:

“Although my analogy was inappropriate, in my opinion the underlying point remains true,” McCarver said, according to the New York Daily News. “That Yankee management — not the players, they have embraced Joe Torre and always will — has erased Joe Torre from their history, for the most part.”

OK, so it wasn’t really an apology, but he acknowledged that the comment was inappropriate.

Where is the line? Are people not allowed to reference things from the past? There have been many discussions about when things are OK to joke about, or if it’s been ‘long enough’. It’s OK to make Attila the Hun references, and nobody bats an eyelash when people make remarks about the War of 1812. Does it matter if the person intends to offend? I don’t think either of the quotes from above were used with the intent to offend  – just as a reference.

When is the person who uses the term being insensitive and when is the offended listener being overly sensitive?

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