The Irving Danger
Now that an Austrian court has convicted the historian David Irving of Holocaust denial, lots of people are rushing to his defense, sort of. Most of them are taking the position that however odious, detestable, repugnant, abhorrent, repulsive, indefensible, dishonest, and, er, anti-Semitic he is, putting him in prison is the wrong way to deal with him.
After all, Irving could have been effectively ruined and bankrupted by other means, such as calumny. Now he has been made a free speech martyr.
Once a man has been convicted, or even accused, of the ultimate crime of opinion, then no matter how many highly acclaimed books he has written, on whatever subjects, his entire lifes work should go down the Memory Hole, and no decent person should pay attention to anything he has ever said. Nothing he says after transgressing against an essential article of the Official Absolute Truth could possibly be of interest anyway.
So far, only Christopher Hitchens, who has himself been accused of Holocaust denial, has pointed out that Irving has never actually denied the Holocaust. But who cares? Where theres smoke, theres fire. Irving has blasphemed against other sacred topics too. He has written three volumes on Winston Churchill, taking a caustic view of that legend. His scathing biography of Joseph Goebbels was quashed on the eve of its scheduled publication by its own publisher under intense pressure.
The historian Richard J. Evans, who testified against Irving in his famous libel trial against Deborah Lipstadt, has written a book, Lying about Hitler, arguing that Irving has grossly distorted, even lied about, the evidence. But Evans admits that the Holocaust (a term he is uneasy with) has been abused, distorted, and exploited on the other side too, as Norman Finkelstein has charged in his book The Holocaust Industry. Nothing Evans says proves that even on the most severe view, Irving deserves to be called dangerous, as Lipstadt has called him. Lipstadt herself now expresses qualms about jailing Irving for his opinions.
Dangerous to whom or what? Lipstadt has argued that when the last Holocaust survivors are gone, nobody will be left to testify that it really happened. But you might as well argue that when the last eyewitnesses of World War II are gone, the world may doubt that it ever occurred. How can a trained historian speak such nonsense?
Its not as if Irving, or anyone else, will ever have the last word on events of that war, or any war. What is called historical revisionism is the normal practice of the historian, as new data come to light, old views meet challenges, and new perspectives emerge, themselves having to face controversy. Evanss rebuttal of Irving is a good example.
Is it really necessary to quote Milton, Jefferson, and Mill again on freedom of speech? Let truth and falsehood grapple, and all that. Even the cynic may agree that in the long run, the smart money is on the truth.
The real question is why Irvings enemies think the truth needs a handicap the threat of prison in order to prevail. Do the Austrian authorities really and truly believe in the Holocaust themselves, or are they just trying to get the Hitler monkey off their own backs and onto Irvings instead?
In Orwells novel Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston Smith is tortured until he is willing to betray his lover. As rats are set on him to chew his face, he screams, Do it to Julia! Not me!
Having been blackmailed with the posthumous Hitler menace for generations, the Austrians and other Europeans are, in effect, doing it to Julia. David Irving just happens to be the thought criminal to whom the buck can be passed; he is of course no danger to anyone, and everyone knows it even those who pretend he is dangerous. But he is being punished as if he had incited riots.
Nobody goes to prison for writing wholly fabricated memoirs of the Holocaust. No law against that; it isnt a hate crime. It can even be lucrative! Finkelstein, whose parents were in Buchenwald, hardly overstates the case when he speaks of the Holocaust industry.
On the other hand, not a single Holocaust movie has been nominated for an Academy Award this year. Is Hollywood ignoring the danger? And if so, is that David Irvings fault?
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