Friday, February 24, 2006

Two different views of Irving's sentence

Richard Cohen (who was the first to break the C-SPAN controversy, almost a year ago) has written about Irving's sentence. His verdict:
Don't Jail Irving. Ignore Him


[Irving] is a man of justifiably small following, a claque of bigots so addled by the virus of Jew-hatred that they cannot see the evidence before their own eyes. The many pictures of the Holocaust, the films, the artifacts, the testimony of victims and perpetrators alike is to them proof of a different kind: the ability of Jews to hoodwink the world. It never happened. The Holocaust is a lie.

Now Irving has admitted the lie is his. There were gas chambers at Auschwitz, he now admits. The Jews there did not die of disease, but were murdered outright and then fed into the ovens. This confession of truth was extracted by a dilemma. Irving was facing jail time in Austria for the crime of denying the Holocaust. His penitence got him very little. A judge hit him with a three-year sentence.

A little delicious satisfaction is allowed. Irving is a liar. He is an anti-Semite. He has squandered his considerable gifts at dreary research for the glad rags of demagoguery. He had a Web page. He gave lectures. He sued and was sued. He picked the pockets of the gullible. Years ago, he mistook justifiable criticism by some Jews as an attack by an entire people. This is the odd talent of the anti-Semite: to see all by seeing one.

These governments, particularly Austria, have transformed the imbecilic into something exotically taboo. By banning these ideas, the various European governments accord them a certain respect: See, why are they afraid of us? It must be because what we say is true.

Let Irving howl his idiocy in freedom. He doesn't deserve to be jailed. He deserves to be ignored.
On the American Thinker, J.R. Dunn, a former editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, references the above article, but notes:

There have been comments claiming that this is a PC sentence. There have even been comparisons drawn to the Danish cartoon jihad.

But those interpretations won’t stand. Consider what Irving was accused of: in his book Hitler’s War (a volume I have been relieved of the burden of ever having to read), he stated not only that Hitler had no idea that anything like the Holocaust was being carried out, but that furthermore there was “not a shred of evidence” that any exterminations occurred. According to Irving, a small number of deaths were caused by disease and hunger.

In the strictest technical sense, Irving had some justification. Scientific historiography, of the school of Leopold von Ranke and other 19th century German historians, demands documentation as historical evidence. Documents don’t lie, as opposed to faulty or self-serving personal accounts. If there’s no documentation, there’s no history. And that’s what Irving has always contended – that there is no documentation concerning the Holocaust, no memo reading “Kill the Jews,” signed, “A. Hitler.”

But is this historiographic critique in fact true? Doesn’t it depend on what we take “documentation” to mean, on how we apply the term? [...]


And all this over and above the testimony – from the survivors, from the Germans who took part in or witnessed the crime of attempted genocide, and from the Allied rescuers. Hundreds of thousands of them, in total. Do those count for anything at all? Do situations exist where the historiographical rules on the 19th Century must be updated to get at the truth? And is it possible that threshold was breached in this case, involving the Holocaust?

Did Irving consider any of this, at any time, before drawing his conclusions? The record fails to show it, even though he had to know that such evidence existed and what it must mean. If that’s the case, he lied. He lied about what he knew. He lied about the facts. He lied about the implications of those facts.


So why did he lie? Well, it seems that along with his career as a historian, Irving also had a sideline as a public speaker. He spoke throughout Europe, apparently on a regular basis (though only a handful of occasions, such as that 1988 speech in Austria, are verifiable with hard evidence) to whatever fascist, anti-Semitic, or Neo-Nazi organization would have him. On at least one occasion he is reported to have told the crowd that they would be the ones to carry the task onward, that the future was theirs.

That’s why he lied. Because he was a believer. As I suspected when I first encountered him, two decades ago, warned by that unmistakable shiver up the spine. A believer in the most imbecilic, most debased, most utterly discredited ideology of the modern age.

None of this amounts to a crime, as we judge things in this country.

The Austrians think differently – they have no choice. Austria was seriously implicated in the Endlosung (Eichmann’s main office was in Vienna), and remains today the most anti-Semitic nation in Western Europe. A deeply-rooted fascist movement exists in the country (one of its offshoots actually gained power in 2000). As is also the case in Germany, anti-extremist laws are a necessary means of social prophylaxis.

Irving chose to defy them, and now he is paying the price.

To us, Irving’s crimes are metaphysical, and can’t really be punished on this plane. He offended against his profession, against his art, and against the standards of honest scholarship. He offended against his society and his civilization. And at the last, he offended against what Burke called “the eternal chain” – that endless filament of memory, obligation, and love that binds together the living, the unborn, and the dead.

Somehow, a three-year term doesn’t seem like enough. But it’ll do.

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