Irving's Defeat in London, 'Holocaust Denial,' and Austria's Haider

Published: 2000-04-01

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The 'Dangerous' David Irving

The historian David Irving has lost his libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. Mrs. Lipstadt had called Irving "one of the most dangerous spokesmen for Holocaust denial."

In a devastating ruling, Judge Charles Gray declared Irving a "racist" and "anti-Semite" who distorts historical facts in order to portray Adolf Hitler in what Gray, turning to British understatement, called "an unwarrantedly favorable light." Under British law, Irving must now bear the $3 million dollars in legal fees the defendants ran up.

Joseph Sobran, 2007

Joseph Sobran

Gray didn't deny Irving's contention that Mrs. Lipstadt, with the assistance of other Jewish agencies, including the Israeli government, has pursued a vendetta against Irving aimed at destroying his career. Mrs. Lipstadt herself doesn't deny it. "As [Holocaust] survivors die off and there are fewer and fewer eyewitnesses," she has explained tearfully, "there won't be people to tell the story in the first person, and it will be easier to deny it."

Such a statement calls in question Mrs. Lipstadt's own competence as a historian. How does the factuality of the organized murder of millions depend on the testimony of those who escaped the murder? Individual Jews in concentration camps were in no position to know just what the comprehensive Nazi program was, and survivor testimony is notoriously unreliable anyway. Mrs. Lipstadt might as well say that when all the veterans of World War II die, it will become easier to deny that there was any war at all. Her understanding of how history is compiled seems remarkably naive.

Historians agree that Irving has unearthed many vital documents of World War II; yet he too seems capable of remarkable naivete. It would be easier to believe that there was no Holocaust at all than that, as Irving has argued in his book Hitler's War and elsewhere, the whole thing was conducted behind Hitler's back and against his wishes.

Joseph Sobran is a nationally-syndicated columnist, lecturer, author, and editor of the monthly newsletter Sobran's (P.O. Box 1383, Vienna, VA 22183. To order call 1-800-493-3348 or e-mail [email protected]). "The 'Dangerous' David Irving" is Sobran's syndicated column of April 18, 2000. "Subsidized Consensus" is his column of April 20, 2000. "The Fuhrer Furor" column of February 10, 2000, appeared in the April 2000 Sobran's newsletter. His "Changing the Story" column is dated May 2, 2000.

Still, Irving has guts. Without a lawyer, he single-handedly took on a high-powered legal team, who employed several scholars in an all-out effort to scrutinize his life's work (and even his private diaries) for evidence that could be used to discredit him. With such a mismatch in money and resources, given that he is one of the most outspoken scholars on earth, with a penchant for rash overstatement and even gratuitous insult, it's no marvel that he lost. Would any judge have dared to rule in his favor?

But in what sense is Irving "dangerous," as Mrs. Lipstadt charged? Dangerous to whom, to what interests? And exactly why did the Israeli government have to get involved in this case? Gray didn't explain.

Irving was already banned from several countries because of his views; he has been prosecuted and fined in Germany, where he can no longer get access to the very documents he himself has discovered! The world can't afford to tolerate even a single man like him? Apparently not, though plenty of scholars espouse dubious and eccentric views on all sorts of subjects without getting the treatment Irving has received. Usually we think it's enough to let book reviewers mete out justice, however imperfectly. My last book drew some harsh reviews, but none of them suggested that my career be wrecked or that I be jailed.

Some sort of congratulations must be due to the international Jewish thought-control apparatus. It must be comforting to American taxpayers, who pay billions in aid to Israel, to know that they are helping to subsidize Israeli efforts to see to it that free speech doesn't get out of control in democratic countries, from Germany to Canada to Australia. In Switzerland, for example, a man has just drawn a three-year prison sentence for the crime of Holocaust denial. Presumably he too was "dangerous" to someone.

Hitler has been out of business for more than half a century. He poses no threat now. On any objective scale, he did far less harm than Stalin and his pals, but it's no crime, anywhere, to deny or minimize the atrocities of the Stalin-Roosevelt-Churchill alliance (which Churchill himself seems to have regretted later in his life). On the contrary, the misdeeds of that alliance are still celebrated as victories for democracy and civilization.

David Irving's ruin should tell us where the real danger to freedom now lies.

Subsidized Consensus

Sometimes you realize the truth only when you encounter its direct denial. Something crystallized for me when I read a commentary on the recent verdict against the English historian David Irving in his libel suit against the Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt, over her charge that Irving is a "dangerous" Holocaust denier.

Attempting to explain the persistence of Holocaust revisionism, the commentator observes: "There is a crank element in democratic culture, people who enjoy 'special knowledge,' theories opposed to ordinary thought and not accessible to the mainstream. For example, there are people who believe that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays, or that history is a Masonic conspiracy, or that Franklin Roosevelt plotted Pearl Harbor."

These examples contradict the writer's thesis. The authorship heretics (including me) who deny that "Shakespeare" was the legendary William of Stratford don't claim to possess "special knowledge"; they cite evidence everyone can read and assess for himself. There's nothing esoteric about it. The "crank element" who reject the standard account has included Henry James, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, and many others. The heretics are eager for debate; the orthodox want to shut them out of academia and the "mainstream" without a hearing.

Historians of distinction have argued that Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance about Pearl Harbor and welcomed the attack as a casus belli at a time when most Americans wanted to stay out of war. One recent book by a Roosevelt admirer – Day of Deceit, by Robert B. Stinnett – offers a strong case for this, with startling new evidence from official sources to support it. Far from blaming Roosevelt for his deception of the public and his own military command, Stinnett argues that he had to do it!

Even Holocaust deniers don't claim "special knowledge." They make detailed arguments from official documents and records. Whatever the merits of their case, they want to debate. It's their opponents who want to shut them up, even urging legislation to make their views punishable by imprisonment!

To take a different example, AIDS heretics who doubt that the HIV virus causes the disorder find themselves shut out and shouted down by establishment medical scientists. Why? Because the medical establishment is wedded to the HIV theory, drawing heavy government subsidies they would lose if that theory were ever abandoned.

Dissenters from Darwin's theory of evolution get the same treatment from the academic establishment, no matter how cogent their objections. Science is supposed to be a disinterested search for knowledge, but subsidized scientists in the academic world are not distinterested parties. They have heavy investments in Darwinism.

Such examples could be multiplied many times. Conservatives and libertarians have long found themselves excluded in such academic fields as political science, history, and economics – not to mention journalism and the entertainment industry.

On many subjects, as George Orwell pointed out, there is a "prevailing orthodoxy," and he who dissents from it is apt to "find himself silenced with surprising effectiveness." The dissenter may be ignored, denounced, or in some cases prosecuted; but he won't get a hearing, if those in power have anything to say about it.

Of course liberal professors hate to think that they are engaged in suppressing free speech or academic freedom; so they usually justify excluding dissenters on grounds that they are maintaining "professional standards of scholarship" and "academic integrity." They pretend, in other words, that they object only to the shoddy methodology of the dissenters, not to the content of their views.

But in many cases, the "cranks" are those who disregard authority, pursue the evidence to rational conclusions, and – above all – have no stake or investment in the established orthodoxy. If that orthodoxy is wrong, they don't stand to lose money – especially government money. They are more truly independent than the scholars they oppose.

The problem of liberal orthodoxy is compounded by the involvement of government in education, which tends to produce what might be called "subsidized consensus." When the "prevailing orthodoxy" is supported by tax money, the stakes are raised enormously. The heretic becomes a grave danger to the incomes and privileges of the subsidized orthodox caste, who naturally try to cut off the "free competition of ideas" they profess to desire.

In short, your freedom of speech ends where my government check begins.

The Führer Furor

Governments, demonstrators, pundits, and even musicians are protesting the inclusion of the Austrian Freedom Party in the new Conservative government. The Freedom Party is of course led by Jörg Haider, February's Hitler of the Month.

"The rise of Jörg Haider in a country whose role in the Holocaust still awaits clarification is more than unsettling, it's shameful and unforgivable," says the great Jewish pianist Andras Schiff, canceling a scheduled concert at the Austrian embassy in Washington. Several governments, including the United States, have already announced sanctions against Austria because of Haider's anti-immigrant politics and controversial remarks about the Third Reich. He reminds people of Hitler.

If only Haider were a Communist! Communists still participate, without international indignation, in European coalitions. Despite the rather sanguinary history of the "socialist republics" from Russia to Cambodia, which have resulted in a hundred million abbreviated life spans, nobody is seriously disgraced by choosing to associate himself with the name, symbols, and history of Communism.

Liberal opinion has trivialized Communism by censuring anti-Communism as "McCarthyism" and ridiculing those who see "Commies under every bed." But hysterically free-associating people with Hitler (d. 1945) is still considered normal behavior. In spite of Stalin, you can still name your kid Joseph (thank God!); but don't name him Adolf!

Since the late 1960s Hitler and Nazism have become synonymous less with World War II than with the program of mass-murder now known as the Holocaust, though the term Holocaust was never used either by Hitler or his enemies – Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, or even "Uncle Joe" Stalin. Today the term is ubiquitous, and several countries have actually made it a crime to doubt that the Holocaust occurred.

The Holocaust has become so many things: memory, cautionary lesson, guilt trip, metaphor, explanation, and – though unique in history – perpetually imminent danger. It can happen again at any time, regardless of circumstances, defying normal laws of causality, without such preconditions as a Hitler, a world war, a Versailles treaty, and economic catastrophe.

Moreover, everyone is guilty, not just Hitler and the Nazis. The stain of guilt for the Holocaust has spread to all the German people, the Allies, Pope Pius XII, the Catholic Church as a whole, the authors of the Gospels who originated the anti-Semitism that would result, two millennia later, in genocide; not to mention such anti-Semitic authors and artists as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Wagner, G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

The Holocaust has entered the realm of science fiction. In novels and movies like "The Boys from Brazil" and "Marathon Man," new little Hitlers can be cloned, or a handful of octogenarian Nazis hiding in South America can launch the whole thing all over again. Talk about a Master Race!

As a symbol with such limitless potential, the Holocaust can even be turned against the Jews themselves. Critics and enemies of Israel liken its racially discriminatory policies – on immigration, residence, citizenship, and even marriage – to Hitler's. And in truth, Jörg Haider has little to teach the Israelis about abusing and excluding minorities.

Which hasn't prevented the Israeli government from recalling its ambassador from Austria, with appropriate moral bluster: "We are calling on the free world, all the democracies, to isolate this neofascist government," says one Israeli official, unblushingly. Perhaps he has forgotten such Israeli leaders as Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Benjamin Netanyahu. All Israeli practices, however brutal, are justified as necessary exercises in Holocaust-prevention.

Since the danger is eternally imminent, there is no limit to what may be done in the name of avoiding another Holocaust. Normal standards of decency, prudence, and rhetorical restraint may be set aside when a budding Hitler is spotted. A minor local politician sparks a worldwide furor; a dissident historian of World War II is denounced as "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." Dangerous? Yes!

If you deny the first one, you see, you're promoting the next one. (Even "Holocaust denial" can cause a Holocaust.)

Thus an endless anti-Hitler frenzy becomes a form of moral witness. It makes the McCarthy Era seem like a moment of calm.

Changing the Story

Jewish organizations and commentators are greatly agitated about "Holocaust denial" – in America, in Europe, and in the Arab world. Thanks to Jewish pressure, several countries have made denying the Holocaust a crime; no doubt it would be illegal here too if not for the First Amendment. Even the Israeli government pitches in against accused Holocaust deniers in other countries.

As the Israeli writer Amos Elon has observed, it's extremely odd for a democracy to criminalize an opinion about historical events. You expect it in a Communist country, but not in the free world.

Why is so much more importance attached to the Holocaust than to, say, the far more murderous Soviet system, which, in peacetime, set a record for mass extermination that the Nazis never approached during a world war?

Many secularized Jews define themselves less by Jewish relgion and tradition than by persecution. As the historian Peter Novick points out in his thoughtful book The Holocaust in American Life, the Holocaust appears to such Jews the only thing Jews really have in common, the only sure warrant of shared identity. It takes the place of religion in their minds, and they find denial of it deeply unsettlinga form of heresy.

Moreover, the state of Israel has made a large investment in the Holocaust, staking its very legitimacy on the Nazi era, which it says shows the necessity of Israel as a refuge from persecution. This implies that, if the Holocaust were proved to be a myth, the Jews would have no right to the Holy Land, since most of them no longer believe that God gave the land to Moses and the ancient Hebrews.

The Arabs are quick to grasp this implication. The official Syrian newspaper recently said that "Zionists created the Holocaust myth to blackmail and terrorize the world's intellectuals and politicians." True or not, the Holocaust story has become a political weapon, and Arabs have the same stake in denying the story that the Israelis have in maintaining it.

Though the standard story is probably broadly true, its exploitation is bound to create resentment, and changes in its details are bound to create suspicion. Few still believe that the Nazis made soap and lampshades out of Jewish corpses; even Jewish scholars now say the number of Jews who perished at Auschwitz is closer to one million than to four million.

There has been another change too. During World War II, Novick reminds us, Jewish spokesmen were anxious to convince Christians in America, many of whom opposed getting into the war, that Hitler wasn't just persecuting Jews; he was everyone's enemy, they stressed, and he was persecuting Christians too, particularly Polish Catholics. After the war Jewish leaders thanked and praised Pope Pius XII for his efforts to save Jews from the Nazis.

Today it's quite literally a different story. Jewish leaders now say in effect that Pius XII and the Catholic Church were on the side of the Nazis. Pius maintained a culpable "silence" about the Holocaust, they insist, and the Catholic Church was responsible for the anti-Semitism that motivated the Nazis. The Anti-Defamation League (ironic name!) now says the Holocaust was essentially a Catholic operation: the current Pope, complains ADL director Abraham Foxman, has failed to apologize for "specific Catholic wrongs against the Jewish people, especially the Holocaust"!

Now they tell us! Gee, thanks, Mr. Foxman. Why, when the war was raging, didn't you and your brethren inform those Catholic boys who were being sent to fight Hitler that, as far as you were concerned, their Church was really on Hitler's side? Why mislead Christians into believing that Nazism and Christianity were polar opposites? Did you fear that if you told them what you really thought of their religion, they might not see that war as a cause for which Christians should shed their blood?

Talk about Holocaust revisionism! Imagine the reaction of Christians in 1941 if they had heard Jews blaming Hitler on Christianity. They would probably have said: "All right then. If the Jews want Hitler beaten, let them fight him themselves, and for heaven's sake keep our sons out of it!"

No wonder so many people are weary of the Holocaust obsession, even to the point of wanting to deny that it happened at all.

Teaching History

About four years ago I began to ask the teachers of my own children how it came to be that they could not tell Thomas Jefferson from Thomas the Tank Engine. In the preceding sentence, it is unclear whether I mean that the children didn't know unless I told them, or that the teachers didn't know unless I told them. The confusion is intentional. One instructor, at a rather costly District of Columbia day school, cheerfully avowed that she herself "had never been that much of a reader." Others, more candid, announced that history was a bit of a minefield subject and that "good examples" (like Pocahontas and, on a good day, Frederick Douglas) were the thing. Parson Weems himself could hardly have bettered the modern method whereby children get good reports in a subject that they have never studied in order that a tiny pump be applied to the valves of their fledgling self-esteem.
—Christopher Hitchens, in the November 1998 issue of Harper's magazine.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Joseph Sobran
Title: Irving's Defeat in London, 'Holocaust Denial,' and Austria's Haider
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 19, no. 2 (March/April 2000), pp. 54-57; "The 'Dangerous' David Irving" is Sobran's syndicated column of April 18, 2000. "Subsidized Consensus" is of April 20, 2000. "The Führer Furor" is of February 10, 2000, reprinted from Sobran's, April 2000; "Changing the Story" is from May 2, 2000.
Published: 2000-04-01
First posted on CODOH: March 11, 2013, 7 p.m.
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