Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives and invite open debate.
A S Marques is astonished, Sunday, March 27, 2005, by the Wyman Institute "petition" of historians.
The dishonest of the Lipstadt C-Span petition
I KEEP thinking about the amazing level of dishonesty that makes such documents as the C-SPAN petition possible. I believe some sort of criticism should be aimed at the minority of concrete individuals that really ought to know better, rather than at the majority of idiots.
The petition asking C-SPAN to censor David Irving gives one food for thought on mass delusions and para-religious beliefs. The decisive argument seems to be a very simple one. As the organising institution's website puts it:
"Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff strongly disagreed with Doebele [C-SPAN's Book TV executive producer]: 'The Holocaust is not a topic with 'opposing views.' It is a historical fact. Giving a platform to a Holocaust-denier to 'balance' a Holocaust historian is as outrageous as giving a platform to the Flat Earth Society to balance a speech by an astronomer."
As a long time reader of your magnificently researched works, I know that the so-called "fact" that goes by the name of "The Holocaust" has never been a central concern of yours, though, like other thinking persons investigating the political and military History of the Second World War, you did take notice of surprising discoveries coming from the "Holocaust Revisionism" quarters.
Indeed one can say that every revisionist investigator of note was also, at some point in his life, before his sudden turning into an "unperson", quite surprised to see the fragility of this odd "topic with no opposing views".
I also know that the purpose of the C-SPAN debate was not even to discuss the "Holocaust" in itself, but such is the power of superstitious fear in weak minds (or is it simply the power of worldly concerns?) that the very mention of the "Holocaust denial" label immediately made them run for cover and sign whatever needed to be signed in order to suppress any chance, however dim, of debate.
I understand that many of the signatories come from the sort of quasi-religious yeshiva-like "Holocaust studies" departments that have grown like fungi all over American universities, but some of the names still manage to surprise me.
I'm not particularly interested in talmudic scholars, but I do get puzzled over the sad intellectual positioning of such signatories as, for instance, Harvard's Steven Pinker, a well-known cognitive scientist and a fellow in the C.S.I.C.O.P. (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). This is exactly the sort of person that ought to be calling for scientific research instead of hysterical anathema.
So, what is it that makes otherwise reasonable people lose their wits and run away from serious discourse, crying "no debate! no debate!" in such a pitiful way, whenever a suspected "Holocaust denier" comes to town? Why is it, that Prof. Pinker's own C.S.I.C.O.P., for instance, matter-of-factly welcomes confrontation with the contentions of Flat-Earthers, but avoids the allegedly magical gas-chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz like the plague?
Why do these people think censorship is a better road to the truth than the open market of ideas? Why do they deposit their faith in such imprecise, amoeba-like concepts as the unexamined "Holocaust", instead of calmly calling for the examination of its tenets? I suggest a short investigation on the cognitive content of the word "Holocaust" might help Prof. Pinker and his petitioning colleagues.
Many people would say that they take the "Holocaust", at least in part, to be "a fact", and that it would take quite a lot of persuading for them to believe that "the whole thing" is a fiction. Indeed even David Irving himself, as far as I know, rejects the plain and simple label of "Holocaust denier". This is quite understandable, but what exactly are we talking about when we use the word? Can a word be accepted as "a fact", even a "partial fact", regardless of previous definition?
Obviously, we can construe complex sets of events into "single historical facts" and maintain an epistemological validity to our discourse if a clear definition of our meaning exists. Historical narrative would be a desert of intractable minutiae if we didn't do just that.
Thus, the Second World War might well be called a fact, much like the fact that I'm writing you a letter, or any other simple empirical truth. This is because, in spite of the great complexity of the historical events, we establish definitions and understand them: a "war" is a state of belligerence between states, a "world war" is a war of global world significance, and "the Second World War" is the particular world war that took place between 1939 and 1945.
Similarly, if we are to take the "Holocaust" as "a historical fact", rather than a vague set of religious-like beliefs, we should define our meaning. For instance, biblical "holocausts" were simply sacrifices consumed by fire, and "ill-will towards the Jews", "persecution of the Jews", "the shooting of one's Jewish grandfather in Russia" or "some mass killings of Jews" are not "The Holocaust", the one historians are talking about when they capitalise the noun. I presume every reasonable person would agree that it is impossible to debate the supposedly historical "Holocaust" fact if -- alone among historical facts -- it is allowed to remain an open concept devoid of meaning and form.
Now, the "Holocaust" concept, the factuality of which we are talking about, is assumed -- by both the faithful and the deniers -- to be a relatively precise set of events (true or false, according to each of the positions) involving an attempted extermination of the Jews, resulting in approximately 6 million of them being murdered, mainly in German homicidal gas chambers, during the Second World War. I believe anyone who has been around for the last half century, living anywhere but in the deepest Amazonian jungle, is familiar with this.
In this sense then, we are perfectly entitled to defend the position that the "whole thing is a fiction", since the impressive corpus of revisionist findings -- little-known due to censorship and persecution, but wide-ranging in its implications -- does establish that all the above claims are false: no extermination (real or attempted); no 6 million victims (not even approximately); and no homicidal gas chambers (not even in the supposed "extermination camp" of Auschwitz-Birkenau where, by far, the largest part of the presumed homicidal industrial gassings is supposed to have taken place).
Of course, if we choose to define the "Holocaust" in a different manner, say as proto-religious teaching based on vague war propaganda, claiming that undefined -- formless but terrible -- events, many of them miraculous, happened to Jews in such a manner that they are collectively entitled to financial compensation and exemption from the basic standards of civilised behaviour, then the "existence of the Holocaust", might indeed be considered "a fact" -- though the "Holocaust" itself would hardly be an appropriate subject for any historical debate.
But this is not what is usually meant: while the few authorised "Holocaust historians" that concern themselves with factual history insist in the extreme importance of their subject matter, they do not usually subscribe to such a definition, and therefore, a debate on the "Holocaust" as historical fact vs. proto-religious myth, should be in order, precisely for the sake of preserving the evidence and dismounting the legends.
This, and nothing else, is what most "Holocaust" deniers ask for, and this is why they are censored and persecuted, rather than confronted.
A S Marques
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