Some plain talk about the Holocaust and Revisionism

Published: 1991-04-11

When this newspaper printed Bradley Smith's advertisment last Thursday ("The Holocaust Story," April 4, page 11), it fanned not one, but two, gathering controversies on campus. The first concerns our knowledge about the Nazi massacre of the Jews of Europe. The second centers on the policies of The Daily itself.

Surprisingly perhaps, the first issue is far easier to clarify than the second. Of course, there's been no suppression of free inquiry into the Holocaust. It is precisely because of extensive and vigorous research by bona fide scholars over the past three decades that we now know not only several of the facts that Smith manipulates in his ad, but also a good many that he does not want you to believe.

There's no point in writing more here about the factual deceptions and distortions in Smith's ad. In response, he'll only do what he's been doing for years when refuted: he'll repeat his verbal sleight-of-hand in different words, abandoning his most duplicitous remarks and filling in the resulting gaps with new twists on the truth. It's his full-time job, and nothing seems to discourage his enjoyment of it.

If you are really doubtful or curious about these terrible events, I suggest you, enroll in my course on the history of the Holocaust, where we explore what scholars do and don't know about the subject and why. If that doesn't fit into your schedule, drop by my office, and I'll suggest books you can read.

Meanwhile, bear in mind that not a single one of the advances on our knowledge, since 1945 has been contributed by the self-styled "Revisionists" whom Smith represents. That is so because contributing to knowledge is decidedly not their purpose. Neither is the defense of Germany's good name, Smith's professed motive for his zeal. As someone with a deep affection for that country, in which I have spent much of my adult life, I can only say in the face of this claim: "With friends like these..."

After all, ask yourself: Have you ever seen a Committee for Open Debate on the Potato Famine devote so much money and time to restoring the good name of the United Kingdom by refuting the historical "legend" that British government policy in the 1840s callously and consciously assured the deaths of millions of Irish people? Is anyone running ads to assert that Stalin did not annihilate millions of Soviet citizens in the 1930s — even though our documentary evidence concerning the decision-making process and the numbers of victims is considerably weaker than in the case of the Holocaust? Not again. These issues are fought out in the academic journals.

Why does this subject engage Smith and his ilk so? Why have they transported it from a matter of academic study and debate to a public outcry against those very processes? Above all, their purpose is to intimidate the people who are in a postion to say how shabby and ignorant their "research" is.

You misunderstand Smith's ad if you think he's out to convince you-- yet. Right now, he'll be happy to sow a few doubts in your mind, but that task can wait. The real purpose of his disinformation campaign is to wear down the likes of me. By concentrating, like most obsessives, all his resources on what for others is only one among many matters of concern, he hopes to make people who know something about the events at issue become passive, since responding over and over again just takes too much time and energy. Once he's done that he expects to have a free run at you later.

And that brings me to the issue of The Daily. It is helping him By accepting Smith's ads, of which the one on April 4 was the largest but only the latest in a series dating from Fall Quarter, this newspaper has opted to let itself be used as a megaphone by persons and organizations whose claims have been repeatedly exposed over the past 10 years, including in court, as dishonest and duplicitous.

The Daily seems to think that it is bound to publish Smith's sort of ad on grounds of objectivity, neutrality and the responsibility of the press to provide avenues of expression to all sides. But The Daily has no obligation to accept advertising its editors know is false and malicious, or even just tasteless.

In fact, The Daily frequently makes judgments about its advertisers. It knows that the act of publishing does not make a paper into the automatic mouthpiece of anyone who wants to use it and has a few bucks. For instance, The Daily does not, so far as I can tell, accept ads for phone sex services. It would not, I hope, accept full-page recruiting ads submitted by the Aryan Nation or the Ku Klux Klan. If the Better Business Bureau of Evanston advised The Daily that a would-be advertiser had a record of deception similar to Smith's, I suspect its ad would be declined.

But, you might object, this is different -Smith's ad merely dissented from a point of view, it didn't peddle sleaze or preach racial conflict or ask for someone's money. Well, look again. This ad is an assault on the intellectual integrity and independence of academicians, whom Smith and his ilk wish to browbeat. It is also a throwback to the worst sorts of conspiracy-mongering long characteristic of anti-Semitic broadsides. You all know the form: "You're being lied to; it's all in the interests of the Jews; innocent non-Jews (here: the Germans) are being victimized even a few Jews can't stand the subterfuge anymore; help break the power of this plotting gang of deceivers by writing to the following address." It doesn't take a lot of sophistication to see through this sort of thing.

Maybe it takes more sophistication than one can expect The Daily's busy leaders. How can they know enough to make qualitative judgments about the sort of groups that submit ads to the paper? It sounds like a reasonable question. I hope a simple answer will help. By using their heads, that's how.

Is it plausible that so great and longstanding a Conspiracy of repression could really have functioned? That no genuine scholar would have long since emerged to blow the whistle-on it, if it had? That everybody with a Ph.D. active in the field- German, American, Canadian, British, Israeli, etc. - is in on it together? C'mon now, the international scholarly community isn't Nixon's White House. If one suspects it is, might it not be wise to do a bit of checking about Smith, his organization and his charges before running so implausible an ad?

OK, you might say, but at least at the time Smith placed the ad, The Daily might reasonably have been unaware of his and his various organizations' records. Well, now The Daily knows.

Make no mistake, freedom of inquiry or speech is decidedly not the issue posed by Smith's ad any more than historical accuracy is. Bradley Smith (and Arthur Butz) remain free to pen nastiness and get it printed and mailed to anyone. Their First Amendment rights, however, do not compel either a university or a newspaper to provide them platforms.

What is at issue is whether The Daily Northwestern wishes to continue to serve the interests of demonstrably dishonest and presumptively malicious people by retailing their views at a profit.

What is required of The Daily here is the courage to make and stand by a principled moral judgment. "Professional ethics" should not be used as a cover for refusing to do so.

—Peter Hayes is an associate professor of history and German.

The Daily Northwestern, Thursday, April 11, 1991

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Peter Hayes
Title: Some plain talk about the Holocaust and Revisionism
Sources: The Daily Northwestern, April 11, 1991
Published: 1991-04-11
First posted on CODOH: Sept. 15, 2000, 7 p.m.
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