Thoughts on David Irving
By John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)
There seems to have been widespread agreement in the English-speaking world that controversial historian David Irving should not have been imprisoned in Austria because of his doubts about the Holocaust. Even Peter Singer has attacked the behaviour of the Austrians in the matter.
I note also that The Wall St. Journal has editorialized in defence of Irving. Excerpt:
"And just when the Danish government is under unprecedented attack for its refusal to intervene in the editorial decision-making of a private newspaper, it seems perverse to offer Muslim provocateurs an example of a European country catering to one set of sensitivities but not another".
Like many others, however, the WSJ accompanies this defence with vast aspersions on the character and competence of Irving. But any claim that Irving is incompetent is absurd. I have been studying the Hitler era for over 40 years and it is clear to me that NOBODY knows the period better or in more detail than Irving does. He was after all the only one of the many eminent historians consulted who immediately picked the Kujau "Hitler Diaries" as a fake.
So what of the aspersions on Irving's character? I think those aspersions show a lack of understanding too. I would like to venture a more nuanced view. For a start, Irving's earlier position (which he now appears to have recanted) that there was no holocaust at all is clearly absurd. He is undoubtedly right in pointing to the 6 million figure as the roughest of guesses but that is beside the point. Whether 6 million died or 1 million died, the loss that Hitler inflicted on the human gene pool by his attacks on Jewry is incalculable (I am avoiding moral language here. Outrage is the Leftist's usual substitute for thinking and I hope to do better than that).
So what motivates Irving's gnawing away at the details of the holocaust? I think the WSJ is right in saying that Irving wishes to rehabilitate Hitler as far as he can. But why would he do that? I think I know. I think that Irving has immersed himself so deeply in the Hitler period that it is alive to him. I think in fact that he has fallen under the spell of Hitler. Mainly because of their need to deny that Hitler was a socialist, almost nobody in the modern world understands why Hitler had such vast appeal to Germans or why Germany followed him fanatically to the bitter end. Both Roberts (1938) and Heiden (1939) -- prewar anti-Nazi writers -- portray Hitler as widely revered and popular among the Germans of their day. As Heiden (1939, p. 98) put it: "The great masses of the people did not merely put up with National Socialism. They welcomed it".
So why did they welcome it? It is simple. Socialism and nationalism have long been and long will be the two political ideas which have most emotional appeal to people. And Hitler offered both in one package. That package would be powerfully appealing to this day except for the way Hitler's follies discredited it.
But in his constant reading of material from the period, Irving lives in a world where Hitler's ideas have not yet been discredited and he has fallen victim to their appeal. Very few people these days seem to have read Mein Kampf but it is in fact (as it was meant to be) a very persuasive book if you read it without thought of what it led to. Hitler comes across as an enquiring, passionate and yet reasonable mind who offers persuasive explanations of what has gone wrong with the world. And I think he has persuaded Irving. It is a strange thing but, as we know from the example of Leftist intellectuals today, simplistic explanations often do attract intelligent people.
Irving does claim somewhere never to have read Mein Kampf but for someone who knows the period so well, that can only have been a tease -- on a par with his describing the colour of his car as "n*gger brown". He does seem to enjoy controversy. He inflates arguable historical quibbles to the point where they bring down wrath on his head rather than reasonable attempts at refutation. Perhaps he is mainly an entertainer, after all. He would not be alone in seeking the limelight at any cost.
Heiden, K. (1939) One man against Europe Harmondsworth, Mddx.: Penguin
Roberts, S.H. (1938) The house that Hitler built N.Y.: Harper.
I reproduce below a report of Irving's comments on his release from prison in 2006. It does display well his mix of good points and obvious provocations:
At the London press conference Mr Irving, 68, vowed to fight back against what he described as a "worldwide attempt" to silence him, after he was released from prison. He said the fact that he was known as a Holocaust denier made his "blood boil" and that he was not anti-Semitic. He said: "I am not a Holocaust denier. Nobody in their right mind can deny that the Nazis killed millions of Jews." But he claims there is no evidence Hitler knew about the Holocaust, that fewer Jews died at Auschwitz than is commonly believed, and that the "real killing centres" were elsewhere.
"There has been a worldwide attempt to silence me," Mr Irving said. "It hasn't succeeded." He went on: "I am now going to fight back. I am calling for an international boycott of German and Austrian historians until they put pressure on their governments to end the Stalinist legislation that puts historians in prison for expressing the wrong opinions about history - politically incorrect opinions. "You can't have a genuine consensus about histories about a subject like the Holocaust... if the proponents of one argument are given the knighthoods and the money and their opponents are locked up in prison."
Mr Irving claimed he had "done the legwork" on researching the Holocaust that other historians had not, although he admitted he had been mistaken about opinions on the subject he had expressed in the past. He insisted: "My books will be the ones that survive into the next century."
He said the sales of his book on Rommel enabled him to walk into a car showroom with a brown paper bag stuffed with cash to buy a "nigger brown" Rolls-Royce.
Asked if he was anti-Semitic, he said: "No, I like to think I am not." But he said: "In many respects Mel Gibson was right." Asked if he was agreeing with the actor's drunken comments, he said Gibson had "touched a raw nerve" and characterised them as "in vino veritas". Mr Irving said: "I am sure the Jews don't need me as a friend but it's in their interests that I'm saying these things. "They should ask themselves the question, 'why have they been so hated for three thousand years that there has been pogrom after pogrom in country after country?', and it's the one question they seem to be very shy of. "It is intended entirely in their own interests."
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