London, Sunday, April 16, 2000
Richard Ingrams' week
Don't write off David Irving just yet . . . he's seen this all before
AFTER A lengthy High Court libel action culminating in a massive five-figure award of damages, the judge made a devastating attack on the historian David Irving, whom he described as 'a slippery and fly character'. In spite of everything, Irving announced his intention of lodging an appeal.
That was 30 years ago when Irving was found to have libelled Captain John Broome RN in his book The Destruction of Convoy PQ 17. Anyone like myself who remembers not only that action but other similar episodes -- such as that surrounding General Sikorski (when Irving helped to promote the absurd idea that Winston Churchill had ordered the murder of the Polish wartime leader), or the Hitler diaries (revealed by Irving in quick succession to be fake and then genuine) -- must find it strange that Irving is still considered to be a man with a reputation to lose.
'Journalists are supposed to be slapdash,' wrote the late A.J.P. Taylor, 'academics to be cautious scholars. I do not think this distinction has any validation.' Even in these degenerate days I doubt very much with a record like his whether any newspaper editor would touch David Irving with a barge-pole. For a start, the risk of expensive libel damages would deter them.
Fellow historians, however, are even now, after all that has happened, still prepared to put in a good word for him. Sir John Keegan, the Daily Telegraph's military historian, seemed to value Irving higher than his victorious opponent in the recent libel action, Professor Deborah Lipstadt. Lipstadt was boring but Irving, he wrote, 'has many of the qualities of the most creative historians'. He 'still has much that is interesting to tell us'. Professor D.C. Watt seemed to think Irving had somehow done us all a good turn by questioning the reality of the Holocaust. 'The truth,' he concluded mysteriously, 'needs an Irving's challenges to keep it alive.'
In the light of such tributes, anyone who naively thinks that David Irving has somehow been finished off by last week's libel verdict should think again. Journalists may damn him but the professors, the so called 'experts', will help to keep the flame burning. We need a liar, it seems, to help to lead us to the truth.
Sunday, April 16, 2000