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Kevin MacDonald on the Irving Trial[*]


Posted on: H-NET List for Antisemitism<http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~antis/

Author: Jonathan Morse

May 10, 2000

List Editor: Jonathan Morse

In an off-list message, Jonathan Morse wrote:

But you know what I'd really like to read from you? Not one more of your "The trouble with you people" articles but something personal about the Irving trial. After all, you've now testified before an international readership on behalf of a man who has been shown in court to be unquestionably a racist, otherwise a common scoundrel, and -- worst of all, I should think, for your professional standing -- a falsifier of data. At the risk of sounding like the 6 o'clock news, I'll ask the question: How does that make you feel?

[Kevin MacDonald:] Not good. A few days prior to the verdict Irving sent me an email saying he was "moderately optimistic" about the outcome, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. Immediately after the verdict, I was very depressed about it, especially because of the rather harsh and uncompromising language to be found in the opinion. All the newspaper accounts emphasized that he had been found to be an anti-Semite and a falsifier, and there is a sort of common sense suggestion that since I voluntarily testified for him, I was in favor of these things as well. I took heart from [Sir] John Keegan's Daily Telegraph column because he clearly had the same ambivalence in deciding to testify. Keegan wrote:

"As the trial date drew nearer, talk turned to the question of who had been asked to give evidence. Eventually I was. I -- like others I knew -- declined. Earlier experiences had persuaded me that nothing but trouble comes of taking sides over Irving. Decide against him, and his associates accuse one of prejudice. On this occasion I was accused of cowardice. Decide for him, and the smears start. I have written complimentary reviews of Irving's work as a military historian to find myself posted on the internet as a Nazi sympathiser."

Since then I have become increasingly comfortable with the decision, at least at the intellectual level. On the one hand I can take solace in knowing that the issues that motivated me to testify (at least at a conscious intellectual level--there may be some self-deception here), were ratified by the judge's opinion. Judge Gray acknowledged that there was a campaign by certain Jewish activist organizations to suppress Irving's freedom of expression, and he implicitly acknowledged that Lipstadt had gone too far in saying that no historian takes Irving seriously and that he is no historian at all.

On the other hand, my life right now is mainly devoted to answering my critics with many more looming on the horizon. Recent local publicity about my role in the trial has made life difficult at the face-to-face level where I work where there have been calls for censorship, breaches in long-time friendships, and letters to the president of the university demanding that I be fired. And I am still ambivalent about the decision. Before the trial, my only real doubt was when I read Richard Evans' highly detailed charges against Irving on his use of sources etc. Frankly, when I read the document, I felt that it was very unlikely Irving could win if for no other reason than that the charges were so numerous and so detailed. But Irving assured me he could deal with them, and in any case Evans' charges were not really germane to the suppression of the Goebbels book.

There is much fault to be found with Irving, just as there is much of the same with many people and organizations whose free speech is protected in this country. When the ACLU sued to allow Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois some years ago (as I recall), their actions did not imply that they endorsed Nazi ideology, and that is certainly the case with me. I am not a Holocaust revisionist or denier. As indicated in a previous post here, I now accept that Irving has made anti-Semitic statements. I also knew going in that, despite Irving's personal assurances to the contrary, he did in fact associate with the political far right and has pandered to the many right-wing groups that he addressed. In other words, I had questions about his character, and nothing that occurred during my stay in London or thereafter has changed my mind about that. I think there is a natural tendency to want to shut such people up, especially by those who see themselves as the target of his rhetoric. The suppression of Irving's book, Goebbels, was a case of a publisher caving into pressure from an activist group. However, one can agree with the goals of a group without agreeing with the tactics, and in this case I think the tactics of the ADL and Lipstadt's endorsement of those tactics raise serious questions. (Just a few days ago the ADL was ordered to pay $10.5 million to a Denver-area couple for invasion of privacy and unsubstantiated charges of anti-Semitism.) As with the first amendment, academic freedom is not needed by those whose views are (at a certain point in time) generally accepted. Standing up for academic freedom means doing so precisely for those whose ideas are distasteful to many.

Kevin MacDonald
Department of Psychology
California State University-Long Beach
Long Beach,
CA 90840-0901
562 985-8183; fax: 562 985-8004 webpage: www.csulb.edu/~kmacd


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* Note, "Irving trial," not Lipstadt Trial. . !

On June 28, 1999 David Irving had written to Jonathan Morse:

I take it I take it that none of you fine H-Net correspondents has read any book by me, let alone my Goebbels. Mastermind of the Third Reich, which provides more Holocaust material than one by any so called Holocaust historian.


Morse replied:

Monday, June 28, 1999

From: Jonathan Morse


Not quite correct. And oh my prophetic soul: just yesterday I wrote offlist to a historian:

The last Irving thing I read, myself, was a fetishist's delight: his illustrated edition of the diary of Theodor Morell, Hitler's physician. One of the relics there is an actual cardiogram of "Patient A"; another is a detailed description of a Patient A stool sample. And if you think Goering was fat, you haven't seen (courtesy of David Irving) a picture of Dr. Morell. So who are we to criticize the editor of a book that one of these days may be curing warts in Idaho -- or the Capitol?

As for your point about the Ph.D.: aren't you addressing your complaint to the wrong people? In their posts to list H-Antisemitism, both [Stan] Nadel and Benjamin made the point that of course one can be a historian without the diploma. And of course in my field, English, any department would have been happy to hire Allen Tate (BA) or Kenneth Burke (college dropout) or R.P. Blackmur (high school dropout) -- to name only three of the late great who (unlike most of your examples) lived at a time when the Ph.D. was the normal credential. On the other hand, the list-member who raised that silly issue is precisely the person you haven't complained to.

You aren't a member of the list where these messages were posted, so I assume you got them at second hand, presumably in garbled form. On the other hand, can it be possible that a documentary historian has got his attributions wrong?

Jonathan Morse
Co-Editor, H-Net list H-Antisemitism

Saturday, July 3, 1999

From: Jonathan Morse

Thanks very much for your useful Irvingsites. I hope those prosecutorial ellipses in the brief against you elide some irony, because the language on the page certainly seems too crude to take at face value. But I'm neither a lawyer nor a historian, so I'm not qualified to argue with you about the justice of your case. If you care, I'm generally against censorship, whether the victim is Iris Chang or you.

Still, have you seen any of the pictures of the 1910-1945 Japanese occupation that South Korean kids see in their history books -- for instance, the picture of the large field full of Korean nationalists executed by the traditional Japanese method of crucifixion? Oddly enough, those pictures are accurate representations of the historical record. Any Korean over the age of 70, and I mean ANY Korean, can confirm that.

Which is to say the banal old Bible is right: "I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me." A priori, I have no trouble believing that highly civilized people are capable of building gas chambers.

Jonathan Morse

Saturday, April 15, 2000

From:Robert Benjamin

Keegan's appalling article

Keegan's article is appalling.

First, he has either not read or does not understand the decision. Judge Gray says:

"I find myself unable to accept Irving's contention that his falsification of the historical record is the product of innocent error or misinterpretation or incompetence on his part. When account is taken of all the considerations set out ... above, it appears to me that the correct and inevitable inference must be that for the most part the falsification of the historical record was deliberate and that Irving was motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence. . . ."

In short, and as Judge Gray says, Irving's dishonesty is so evident that any UNproven defamatory statements Professor Lipstadt made about him do not matter.

Keegan ignores Judge Gray's statement that Irving deliberately falsified and distorted historical evidence to serve his ideology, saying instead that Irving has been condemned for mere errors in interpretation.

Keegan says:

"Irving, never confident enough to believe what he reads about himself, really is admired by some of those whose approval he seeks. Unfortunately for him, he is admired only when he writes sense. When he writes nonsense, a small but disabling element in his work, he sacrifices all admiration and incurs blame mixed with incredulity. How can anyone so good at history be so bad?

"There is an answer. It is that there are really two Irvings. There is Irving the researcher and most of Irving the writer, who sticks to the facts and makes eloquent sense of them. Then there is Irving the thinker, who lets insecurities, imagined slights and youthful resentments bubble up from within him to cloud his mind. It is as if he becomes possessed by the desire to shock and confound the respectable ranks of academe, to write the unprintable and to speak the unutterable. Like many who seek to shock, he may not really believe what he says and probably feels astounded when taken seriously....."

Irving, in other words, is STILL a legitimate and honest historian, albeit a naughty little boy in a 62-year old body. By this standard, Hitler and Himmler were REAL scamps and just needed some quiet time to calm down. Then Keegan adds:

[Irving] has, in short, many of the qualities of the most creative historians. He is certainly never dull. Prof Lipstadt, by contrast, seems as dull as only the self-righteously politically correct can be. Few other historians had ever heard of her before this case. Most will not want to hear from her again. Mr. Irving, if he will only learn from this case, still has much that is interesting to tell us."

I have always respected Keegan as both a writer and historian. But, when coupled with his remarks about Deborah Lipstadt, his "there, there, David, it will be all right" to Mr. Irving makes it hard to escape the conclusion that he regards Holocaust denial as either a triviality or a product of Jewish hysteria.

Robert Benjamin


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