Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives and invite open debate.
Don MacAngus writes from Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, February 8, 2002
Where do you stand on history?
I AM writing a paper which deals with the history of the secret military tribunal system which has been used in the United States. I will be looking at all occurrences of such tribunals, but I will be focusing the majority of the work on the trial of the Operation Pastorius Nazi's who were trial and executed in 1942, after landing on the East Coast of the US via U-boat.
I would like to make reference to you in a section in which I will discuss the appropriate ways to research and report on history (or historiography, if you will). I have penned a few sample paragraphs, which I would like to present to you for your approval.
Please review the text below, and see if you have any objections. And thank you for your time.
In the recent British case David Irving vs. Penguin Books, the court ruled that Irving, a controversial historian, had, in his books, skewed the events of history in order to bring them in line with his personal views. Those views, in the opinion of some of his critics, were portrayed as pro-Hitler, pro-Nazi, and anti-Jewish. Irving, of course, denied that this was the case, which was the basis for his bringing the suit at the outset.
Not all historians, however, are as critical of Irving. Those who support him do so (in part) on the basis that the standards of scrutiny which were applied to Irving in order to discredit him, if applied to most or all other historians, would reveal one of the dirty little secrets of historians: the history we accept as reality is actually just the version of events which have been embraced by the majority of people.
The lesson we learn from Irving (if it can be said in this way) is thus; in war, only the losers have to face the Nuremberg trials, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of war crimes to go around -- Axis or Allied alike.
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David Irving replies:
I don't much like your proposed paragraphs, but would add two things:
1. Have a look at my book on the Nuremberg trials, Nuremberg, the Last Battle. The text is a free download; alas, for the 40 pp of colour pictures of the trial you'll have to buy the book.
2. It is absurd to say I skewed or manipulated documents. In every case I (a) included facsimiles of the documents in the books, or (b) donated the documents in collections to reputable archives like the Institut für Zeitgeschichte, which would have made any skewing counter-profitable; or both.
To defend herself, Lipstadt and her financial backers hired a team of historians who spent 20 man-years groping through all my books until they could find a dozen items where they could say I got things wrong; they were minor points, often corrected in later editions; they held these up triumphantly as their proof of my malfeasances, and the Judge fell for it (because he needed to).
The defence lawyers furthermore paid their clique of half a dozen conformist academic historians colossal amounts (described even by the Judge, when he later heard of them, as "excessive" and "obscene") to state their opinions on my worth. The fees were in each case about three years' salary.