Monday, November 21, 2005

The New Criminologist on Irving's arrest

The New Criminologist has an interesting comment about Irving's arrest. At the end of the post there is a cautionary comment about the dangers of deniers:
This is not usually done on the TNC news desk, but on a personal note, I have spent the last 14 months researching historical revisionism and holocaust denial for a major upcoming project, and as a result have seen the destructive results denying the Holocaust can do.

The rabid anti-Semitism and manipulation of evidence used by these “historians” to prove their ludicrous beliefs is an affront to all people with even a basic grip on reality. The idea that the Holocaust was an invention of “a worldwide Jewish conspiracy” is not only laughable, but also sickening.

Revisionists claim that these laws are a threat to their freedom of speech. They are not. They are stopping the spread of hysterical hate propaganda. Would these same people think it would be justified to allow an open debate encouraging pro-extremist opinions, such as those shared by al-Qaeda, to impressionable students?"
While I don't agree that Holocaust denial should be outlawed, I recognize that some people, such as the author of the New Criminologist, do.

People often ask me, given that I am against these laws, just how dangerous deniers are. Right now I think they pose a relatively limited danger. My trial, together with other reversals they suffered, have left deniers in the Western world on the ropes. [The case is quite different in the Arab/Moslem world.]

However, even if deniers do not present a clear and present danger, we must remain aware of the insidious ways in which misinformation can creep into the historical record.

If anyone doubts how deniers could potentially skew the historical record, I urge them to compare the commonly held perception of the bombing of Dresden with the historical reality.

Most people think of the bombing as something that is well nigh an Allied war crime that caused 100s of thousands of deaths. They are convinced that Dresden had no military significance and the city was bombed just to humble the German people. [Even if this were indeed so, I find it strange that no one considers the Nazi bombing of London a war crime....]

In fact the facts about the bombing are quite different:

1. Dresden had military significance. There were numerous factories in the city which made equipment for the German army and airforce. The city was a railway hub and thousands [probably over 10,000] German soldiers and officers passed through the city on a daily basis.

2. The war, from the perspective of the soldier on the ground, was hardly over. The Battle of the Bulge, which had ended but two weeks earlier, had hardly been an Allied victory and it was very fresh in the Allied memory. For the soldier on the ground the war was certainly NOT almost over.

3. There is no documentary evidence of strafing. Frederick Taylor, the British historian, points out in his study of the bombing that on other occasions when British and American pilots engaged in strafing, they wrote about it in their reports. That was not the case in Dresden. [Yet David Irving claims it is.]

4. The death toll was, according to the Nazi era Dresden Police, between 25-30,000. While not a small number, this is nowhere near the 100s of thousands people, such as Irving claim, it was.

How did we come to have such a different perception of the bombing of Dresden? Taylor identifies 3 sources:

1. Goebbels who believed that frightening the German people was the way to make the fight to the finish. He took the Dresden police’s death toll and added a zero. Hence 25,000 became 250,000.

2. Communist East Germany which used the bombing as a means of demonstrating the compassion of the USSR [which did not participate in the bombing] and mendacity of the USA and UK [which did].

3. David Irving, whose book on Dresden makes false claims about death tolls of up to 250, 000. Irving's influence was greatly inflated when his version of the bombing was relied upon by Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Slaughterhouse 5.

For more details on the bombing of Dresden – both the reality and perception – see, the website on Irving v. Lipstadt and Penguin UK. Click on evidence and read the section of Richard Evan’s report on the topic. See also Frederick Taylor’s book, February 13, 1945: The Bombing of Dresden. For how this played out in the trial itself see History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving.

As you will see the historical record can be changed.

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