A Ban That keeps Racism Disreputable
British historian David Irving was this year banned from visiting Australia. ROBERT MANN, who opposed the ban, argues that lifting it now would be a greater mistake.
EARLIER this year a reporter from 'The Age' telephoned. He informed me that the Federal Government had banned the British historian, David Irving, from visiting Australia. What did I think.
I said that I opposed the ban. My opposition was not, to put it mildly, based on the work on David Irving.
Nor was it based on the view that to impose a political ban on a potential visitor to Australia is always wrong.
I would not for example, oppose the banning, in present Balkans circumstances, of visits to Australia by pro-Serbs fanatics or pro-Ustashe Croats.
My opposition to this ban was not based on principle but on practical considerations. Knowing a little of Australia and of Irving's recent history I assumed he and his supporters would be capable of using the ban to make him a civil liberty martyr.
While a visit from Irving would be a low-key affair -- perhaps providing aid and comfort to tiny bands of young neo-Nazi thugs and to the ageing anti-Semites still hovering around Eric Butler's League of Rights -- a non-visit would, by contrast, a sensation.
The media and the civil libertarians would most likely, take up his cause. Many Australians, who became interested in his case, would see him as merely a dissident historian, whose views on Hitler, Churchill or the Jews deserved serious consideration.
If he was wrong, they would think, why could he not be debated and refuted? Some would see the ban as yet another example of the political power of the Jewish lobby in Australia.
For all these reasons, I thought the ban on Irving was likely to do more harm than good. Others disagreed.
Who, however, is this David Irving, about whom Australians have been arguing over the past months? Until the mid-1970s he could still be regarded merely as a prolific, non-academic, usually right-wing, military historian, with a speciality in the Second World War.
The turning point for Irving came in 1977 when he published his substantial work thus far, 'Hitler's War'. In it he argued that Hitler -- the most viciously anti-Semitic political leader in the history of Europe -- had not ordered the mass extermination of European Jewry, and had not known of his SS-subordinates' enactment of this policy and had indeed tried wherever possible to help the Jews.
The evidentiary basis for these astonishing claims were one or two ambiguous scraps of evidence which were savagely distorted, and the well-known lack of a written order from Hitler on the question of the Final Solution.
Following 'Hitler's War' Irving ceased to be taken seriously by fellow historians. He began to seek out, and to be sought out by, altogether different company -- by the neo-fascist fringe in Germany, France, Britain and the United States, and in particular by those devoted to exposing the "myth" of the Holocaust.
At the same time, Irving's historical views were becoming increasingly ugly and bizarre.
In 1986 he published a book on the 1956 revolution in Hungary. It portrayed the anti-Communist revolution, as in essence, an anti-Semitic uprising of Hungarian gentiles against their Jewish-Bolshevik overlords.
In 1987 Irving launched in Australia a new biography of Churchill, which argued that in the 1930s an impoverished Churchill had sold his soul to a shadowy group of Jewish businessmen who together were responsible for plunging Europe into war, vetoing the reasonable peace offers of Hitler and, ultimately, destroying the British Empire.
In 1988 Irving took the final plunge into the ultra-right sewer. He became the champion of a report on Auschwitz-authored by a man whose business was in execution equipment and whose engineering qualifications turned out to be fraudulent -- which "exposed" the "myth" of the six million dead. Irving now published his own glossy version of the so-called Leuchter Report, and threatened that he would send it to every MP and every school in Britain.
Irving had now become a priceless asset for the Holocaust-denial underground. Until Irving's conversion no historian has been associated with this cause. Irving also became the darling of the Austro-German ultra-right.
Last year, Australian television showed film of Irving shedding crocodile tears, before an audience of German skinheads, over the British persecution of Hitler's great deputy, Rudolf Hess.
I must admit that I had not realised until seeing the transcript of a videotape Irving had dispatched to Australia recently, how disreputable a scholar or how dreadful a man he had become.
Throughout the tape refers to the Jews as "our traditional enemies". Enemies of whom? Europe? Christianity? Humanity? He refers to the Holocaust as a "blood lie" against the innocent German people.
He treats it as nothing but a conscious big-business swindle by Jewish racketeers to extract vast amounts of money from reparations payments and the entertainment industry.
Of the Jewish eye-witness survivors who passed through Auschwitz, Irving recommends psychiatric investigation. Of the hundred of Germans of the SS who were tried after the war for their role in the mass extermination, and whose testimony provides thousands of pages of detailed knowledge of every phase of the Nazi genocide, Irving remains silent.
Everywhere he dismisses all this testimony as the tainted fruit of a victor's justice. For Irving, it must be assumed, the vast mountain of evidence concerning the Nazi extermination of the Jews -- one of the most documented events in history -- has all been faked.
Curiously enough Irving knows little of the Holocaust. He himself has written nothing and conducted no research on the policy of Jewish mass extermination.
He boasts, moreover, of his refusal even to read the books of fellow historians -- all of whom conclude that between four-and-a half a upwards of six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.
He nevertheless comes up with a figure, virtually plucked from the air, of 25,000 Jewish murders.
In these claims scholarly pretensions have all together collapsed. Irving defines the "myth" of the Holocaust thus: Adolf Hitler ordered the killing of six million Jews in Auschwitz.
Even this formula is an Irving invention. No one claims six million Jews died in Auschwitz.
All historians know that the figure of approximately six million Jewish murders refers to the combination of deaths in the labour camps and ghettos of Poland (perhaps 500,000); the shootings in occupied USSR by the SS's Einsatzgruppen (perhaps 2.2 million); the gas vans of Chelmno (perhaps 55,000); the death factories of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka (perhaps 1.8 million) and the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (perhaps 1.5 million).
To argue, as does Irving, that 25,000 Jews were murdered in Auschwitz, and to imply that this constitutes the total of Jewish deaths by murder under Nazism, represents for those who experienced the Holocaust and who survived, and even to those who have refiected upon it, a moral and intellectual scandal almost beyond endurance.
Most people are not in this situation. What has been particularly interesting to me in the controversy thus fat is the influence Irving has been able to exert over a younger generation of Australians , who have picked up at university a half-baked and philosophically confused scepticism regarding the very idea of truth, but who have acquired there virtually no historical knowledge.
Take a recent editorial in the "Herald Sun" -- "the muzzling of David Irving." This editorial described Irving as a "controversial" historian, who had become "unpopular" merely because, after 30 years of archival research, he had arrived at the unfashionable view that tens of thousands rather that tens of millions of Jews had been murdered by the Nazis.
Such views, the editorialist believed, were offensive to Jews not because they were shockingly false but because of the great post-war Jewish "article of faith", the Holocaust. Article of faith, indeed!
This editorial is based on the profound, but , I suspect, not uncommon historical ignorance. It is also based on breathtaking political naiveté. Irving's opinions have nothing whatever to do with genuine historical controversy or archival research.
They have everything to do with the attempt by the ultra-right fringe in Europe and America to restore racism and anti-Semitism to respectability.
For the record I must point out that I have become a supporter of a ban on David Irving. An obscure visit is now inconceivable.
To lift the ban would present Irving with a heaven-sent opportunity for media-driven mischief and propaganda. The initial ban on Irving was probably, on balance, a mistake.
To lift it now would be a far greater one. In politics, circumstances matter.