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The Writings of Joseph Sobran

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Joseph Sobran and Historical Revisionism

MARK WEBER in the Journal of Historical Review , Fall 1986, pages 373-374

ONE OF America's best conservative writers, Joseph Sobran is currently under fire for his outspoken criticisms of Zionism and, in part for an implied sympathy for historical Revisionism. Sobran writes a twice-weekly syndicated column that is distributed to about 70 newspapers in the United States. He is also a senior editor of National Review magazine.

Sobran's first "thoughtcrime" column, which vigorously defended President Reagan's decision to honor German soldiers buried at Bitburg, appeared in April 1985. In one essay he wrote: "Imputing diabolism to Hitler can be a strategy of pretending his was a peculiar aberration. This allows us to evade the gross fact that communism has proved a far more potent and persistent evil than Nazism, which was a brief flare-up by comparison." Thus, he wrote, "it strikes me as misleading to speak of Hitler's crimes as 'the Holocaust.' This has been a century of holocausts. There is no 'the' holocaust. We are kidding ourselves if we talk as if there were anything 'unique' about what the Nazis did." Tberefore, we "have no right to denounce 'the Holocaust' as long as we shut our eyes to the (communist) holocaust in progress."

In another column a few days later, Sobran wrote: "Along with those who care deeply about what Hitler did to the Jews, there are the Elmer Gantrys who inevitably attach themselves to every legitimate cause. In the '60s we were manipulated by people who used the memory of slave ships to extort moral deference and expressions of white guilt, which were parlayed into political power and -- the bottom line -- money. The same thing is now being done with Hitler's mass murders. If you don't condemn them in the prescribed ritual ways, the guilt-mongers will find a way to lump you with Hitler himself." Sobran jokingly added that, because of its obsession with one particular chapter of history, The New York Times, "really ought to change its name to Holocaust Update."

The Sobran columns that raised the most hackles appeared during April and May 1986. One raised an issue that hasn't been mentioned in the "respectable" American press for more than four decades. Sobran quoted from the Talmud to point out that, besides the legacy of Christian animosity towards Jews, there is also a little known but very real history of Jewish hostility against Christians. Unfortunately, Sobran wrote, the public gets "a false and distorted history, the sort of history one gets when one reads too many newspapers and not enough books."

Sobran came under especially vicious attack for a May 1986 column that included a few words of qualified praise for Instauration, Wilmot Robertson's hard-hitting monthly journal. Sobran called it "an often brilliant magazine, covering a beat nobody else will touch, and doing so with intelligence, wide-ranging observation and bitter wit." In its almost twelve years of publication, Instauration has frequently cast doubt on the Holocaust story and has run numerous sympathetic reports on the achievements and travails of the Institute for Historical Review.

In a column that appeared in early June, Sobran sought to answer his boisterous critics. He criticized the illegitimate way that critics of Israel or of the pro-Israel lobby are routinely silenced by branding them as "anti-Semitic." The mere threat of being so labelled is enough to intimidate almost all potential critics. The term "anti-Semite," Sobran wrote, "carries the whiff of Nazism and mass murder. 'It means,' as a friend of mine put it, 'that you ultimately approve of the gas chambers.' "

The self-appointed watchdogs of American cultural life are now busy trying to silence Joseph Sobran permanently. Leading the self-serving crusade is the Anti-Defarnation League of B'nai B'rith and the husband-wife team of Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. (Podhoretz edits the American Jewish Committee's monthly journal Commentary, and Decter heads something called the Committee for the Free World.) National Review editor-founder William F. Buckley Jr., apparently alarmed that what Sobran wrote on his own would result in a loss of circulation and advertising revenue for his magazine, publicly repudiated his senior colleague for violating what Buckley accurately called "the structure of prevailing taboos."

Several Sobran critics have been particularly upset over his friendly words for Instauration because of the feisty journal's staunch refusal to bow before the Holocaust totem. In the words of Newsweek writer Jonathan Alter, for example, "Instauration denies the reality of the Holocaust -- a classic anti-Semitic gambit. Alexander Cockburn, a regular contributor to the liberal weekly, The Nation, was riled at Instauration 's use of the term "Holohoax."

As the Sobran affair shows, public skepticism about the Holocaust is still far from bring "acceptable." Nevertheless, Sobran's iconoclastic commentaries are a welcome indication that things may be changing, however, slowly, for the better.

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