[verbatim trial transcripts]
Sunday, 16 April 2000 - pages M2, M6.
The Step From Holocaust Denial to Nationalism
By Jacob Heilbrunn,
David Irving's failure to win his libel suit against American academic Deborah E. Lipstadt last week has been widely depicted as his comeuppance. In her 1993 book, "Denying the Holocaust," Lipstadt described Irving as "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." So important was the case regarded that to aid Lipstadt's defense team, the Israeli government released Adolf Eichmann's memoir, which it had kept under lock and key. Having failed to prove that Lipstadt's description of him was libelous, Irving, so the argument goes, has destroyed whatever shreds remained of his reputation as a serious scholar. Revisionism about World War II has been dealt a decisive blow.
Indeed, he does. The excellently dressed Irving wasn't able to take in Judge Charles Gray, who presided at the trial, but he did show how Holocaust revisionists don't attempt as much to deny the event outright as to dismiss its importance and significance. It revealed that they do this because World War II remains key to their nationalist political agendas.
In Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Italy, nationalist movements see World War II as the main barrier to rehabilitating nationalism. From Europe to Japan, revisionism about genocide and World War II is on the rise. Far from being viewed complacently, Irving's defeat should not be allowed to obscure the rise of new-right movements exploiting resentment about the past and fear of immigration today to rehabilitate nationalism.
Few historians have done more to carry this out than Irving. He has consistently attempted to relativize German history; he would liken Winston Churchill to Adolf Hitler; call the bombing of Dresden a war crime; depict World War II from Joseph Goebbels' perspective; and blame the Holocaust itself, not on Hitler, but on Goebbels. Everything was done to portray Nazism in the most sympathetic light possible, while, at the same time, declaring, in his Goebbels biography, "I have lived in the evil shadow of Dr. Joseph Goebbels for over seven years."
In doing this, Irving was hearkening back to the worst conservative English traditions of appeasement. Today's nationalist Tories bemoan the fact that the British empire was destroyed in World War II and regard Churchill as something of a traitor for failing to cut a deal with Hitler. Their animus toward World War II carries over to its result: the creation of the European Union and immigration, which they regard as the final threats to British sovereignty.
Irving's line isn't one that just far-right English nationalists take. Given his ability to palliate the Nazi record, it was no accident that Irving was one of the main speakers for the German People's Union and a popular figure in Joerg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party. Until he was banned from Germany in 1993, Irving addressed rallies of the German People's Union, whose members are admirers of Hitler. In 1990, Irving was the main speaker at a revisionist conference in Munich; he attended a dinner on Hitler's birthday held by the well-known neo-Nazi Ewald Althans: "It ended," Irving later recalled, "with a toast spoken by [Althans] to a certain statesman whose 101st birthday falls today. All rose, toasted; I had no glass, as I don't drink." Irving also published a paean to a 75-year-old Wehrmacht veteran who immolated himself in Munich, in April 1995, to protest "judicial Zionist terror"; Irving called him a "hero." Irving will become a martyr for the European right now that he has lost his case. But, as Irving surveys the European landscape, he has much to comfort him.
In Switzerland, the leader of the People's Party, Christoph Blocher, got into hot water after defending a book denying the Holocaust. Infuriated by the demand that their banks disclose funds secreted from Jewish victims of the Holocaust and fearful of immigration, the Swiss turned to Blocher's party in the last election. The amount of anti-Semitism in the country should not be underestimated.
Then there is Austria, where Haider has profited from fears of immigrants and a disdain for the Nazi past. Haider, as is well known, has made numerous comments sympathetic to Nazism, including praising the employment policies of the Third Reich. He personifies the casual new approach to the Holocaust: When asked if he believed 6 million Jews had died, he responded, "If you like." His attitude is meant to convey the impression that the Holocaust was no big deal.
In Belgium and France, right-wing movements have also become a staple of the political scene. Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National was reinforced by Philippe de Villiers' Movement for France. Like Haider, de Villiers is a cool right-winger who shuns the overtly racist language of Le Pen.
As if Europe weren't bad enough, revisionism about World War II is rampant in Japan. That country has yet to face up to its role in massacring Chinese in Nanjing in 1937. Indeed, the nationalist governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara, created an uproar by using a World War II term for foreigners. Ishihara said that soldiers in a local garrison should be prepared for "people from third countries" to riot should an earthquake take place. Not surprisingly, Ishihara has also dismissed the notion that a massacre took place in Nanjing, and would like to boot the U.S. military out of Japan.
In all these countries, the obstacle that nationalists face is memory of the atrocities of World War II. The lesson drawn after the war in Europe and Japan was that nationalism leads to authoritarian regimes that engage in genocide. The end of the Cold War has triggered a new war of memories -- in which nationalists are seeking to return to older traditions that they believe were temporarily derailed by World War II and the Cold War. Politically correct is what they like to call anyone who defies them, which is why the historian [Sir John] Keegan's calling Lipstadt that was so dangerous. Irving may be finished, but revisionist nationalism is not.
Sunday, 16 April 2000 - pages M2, M6.