Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lipstadt in Wall Street Journal

David Irving's 'Bit of Fun' -- Who's Laughing?
Wall St. Journal

March 4, 2006; Page A9

I agree with much of your Feb. 24 editorial "Defending the Indefensible1" (Taste page, Weekend Journal) regarding David Irving. Censorship laws are not efficacious, especially when, as is clearly the case with Holocaust denial, the fight can be won with history, evidence, and the truth. During Mr. Irving's libel suit against me, his Holocaust denial claims collapsed when we tracked his sources and found all of them predicated on lies and fabrications.

I must disagree, however, with your statement that, as a result of jailing him, "Austria has forced serious people to come to the principled defense of a detestable man." I disagree. David Irving knew there was a warrant for his arrest. Yet he went to Austria anyway, announcing his visit on the Internet. According to his wife, Mr. Irving thought it would "be a bit of fun, to provoke a little bit." He assumed that, if the Austrians arrested him they would release him with a slap on the wrist. He had even booked a first-class ticket home for Monday night, the day of the trial. Spectators report that he looked "stunned" when his little prank resulted in a three-year sentence. Given that this was a lark designed to provoke the Austrian authorities, and that he could have voiced his protest without entering that country, I am not sure why serious people should feel compelled to make a principled defense of him.

I have repeatedly criticized the notion of Holocaust denial laws, but I have no intention of defending someone who is not only an anti-Semite and a racist, but who goes out of his way to get himself in trouble.

Deborah E. Lipstadt, Ph.D.
Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies
Emory University


Dave said...

Good letter.

I'll bet Mr. Irving will be a little slower to pull "pranks" with prosecutors after this incident.

He can offer all the bravado and bluster he wants (and I'm sure the resulting book will be a howl), but he can't escape the fact that he's a prison convict now. That's a door he can't open. He's in a cell, not his ritzy flat. He's surrounded by thugs, goons, and psychotics, who would probably like to beat the tar out of him.

It's not a joke any more. "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

Douglass said...

Dave, that sounds cruel and mean-spirited. Do you really wish that treatment on Irving?

Dave said...

Douglass, you're right, it is cruel and mean-spirited, and I don't know if I wish that treatment on Irving.

I have a fundamental problem with the concept of forgiveness, because I have never seen it or experienced it in my life. I have only seen it as a tool politicians and celebrities use to avoid paying for their misdeeds. I don't think it really exists in real life.

Furthermore, my experience with power and its uses is that the world is essentially run by the schoolyard bully, and they can do whatever they want, and nobody does anything to stop them.

My wife reminds me that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," but too often, others "did unto me" with sneering contempt and sadism. I learned from my teachers and employers that the uniting thread of humanity is sadism, and that they took a special joy in hurting others, and falling down on their sides, shrieking with hilarious laughter at the destruction they had the name of relieving the stress, boredom, and tension of their jobs and lives.

I think what I really want is for people who needlessly inflict pain to endure it themselves, so that they will be reluctant to do so again.

Douglass said...

I agree with Professor Lipstadt in that jail time for Irving will only lead the weak-minded into the snare of a false prophet.

Dave, I see where you are coming from and I respect your positions. But I am a bit startled by your outlook. If you allow the people who caused you pain in your past to cripple you with pessimism and gloom towards the people you will meet in the future then you have become the bully and even worse, You have forgotten the very moral principals you claim to uphold.

Dave said...

Douglass, I agree with you that my world-view runs the risk of me becoming what I behold, and done that, with the usual result being massive blowback.

Fortunately, I have not done that to the family I love, and I try not to do it the world in general.

I am often astonished that Anne Frank was able to say that she still believed "people were good at heart," given everything that happened to her. I have difficulty sharing that view. I see the world more as George Orwell wrote, "a boot stamping in the face of humanity, for all time, forever."

So I have to live my life by working against my own instincts, which is an interesting situation. In having to fight myself all the time, I wind up disliking myself instensely.

I wrote more on this subject on my web page at, and if you want to discuss this further, you can reach me through that...I think Deborah will be puzzled by this particular round of discussion.

As I've said, I'm split on whether Irving should go to jail or not. On the one hand, I think he has to learn about accountability and responsibility...that he cannot tweak and harass people, nations, and laws with impunity, and emerge scot-free or empowered and victorious.

His arrogance seems to make him think he is a world-historical figure and therefore above ordinary law. He's called himself Hitler's "Ambassador to the future," and I guess he takes his diplomatic immunity seriously. I wrote a column on "True Believers" on my web page, and he's got a lot of their behavioral traits.

On the other hand, jailing him, as you say, makes him more of a martyr and hero for his movement, and he now has three years to spend writing "Irving's Kampf," which will be the new bible for the next generation of neo-Nazis.

Given Irving's ability to write, it'll probably be easier reading than the other works of that movement.