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London, April 28 2000


John and Judy Cooper consider what lies behind the public views of David Irving

Man with a personal stake in history


Those of us who sat in on David Irving's libel action against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books could observe at least two Mr Irvings: one belligerent and not averse to bullying, the other a bewildered child.

Father in HMS MarlboroughWhen Irving was four, his father, a British naval officer, had to abandon ship [HMS Edinburgh] after it was torpedoed by the Germans. He chose also to abandon his wife and four children, rather than return home. As a result, the family endured some hardship in which they struggled to maintain their self-respect.

Irving grew up virtually fatherless. At one point, his father came back for a few days to discuss a possible reconciliation with his mother and Irving remembers being so proud to have a father at hone that he made a point of mentioning it at school. But he saw his father again on only a couple more occasions when he was an adult. It would seem that Irving's life has to some extent been an obsessive quest for the idealised father.

Angry with his own, patriotic British father, Irving's search took him abroad, to Germany after the war, where he was employed as a worker in Thyssen's steel mills. [Fritz] Thyssen had been an early supporter of Hitler.

Irving's anger at matters British was not confined to his feelings towards his father. He severely resented being failed (by a Jewish professor, described by Irving as "a known Communist") in a mathematics exam at Imperial College for his engineering degree. [see next panel]

He imbibed German language and culture, and the Germans, the former aggressors, were now seen by Irving as the victims.

In these circumstances, it is easy to see Hitler (who, oddly enough, also harboured resentment at being rejected by Jewish professors, when an art student) as a fatherfigure in whom Irving might have invested his unconscious longings. Perhaps this explains why he is so unwilling to make any concessions when faced with contradictory evidence about Hitler. Even when Irving appears to acknowledge the weight of evidence against his view, at any moment he can stubbornly revert to his original position.

Despite his obvious intelligence and talents as a writer and researcher of military history, Irving, who protests that "I am on the side of the innocents in this world," clearly remains confused between the aggressor and the victim. This would seem to characterise the essence of his psychological make-up, in which he sees Hitler as the idealised lost father and leader, much maligned by history, whom he is determined to try to rescue.

Expert testimony in the libel trial accused him of manipulating and distorting the evidence and mistranslating crucial sources. So Churchill becomes an anti-hero and the bombing of Dresden by the Allies is "a pure holocaust," with the Germans as victims. The Jews are the book-burners and the deniers.

He often appears simultaneously to hold diametrically opposing views. At one point during the trial, in a slip of the tongue, Irving asked defence witness Professor Richard Evans: "Was Adolf Hitler a member of the anti-Hitler resistance?" -- a statement both exculpating Hitler and condemning him.

Although Irving has the mental capacity to quote sources verbatim from memory, he is so caught up in his inner world that he is driven by emotion, rather than intellect.

One is never entirely clear how far the courtroom drama stems from a childish attempt to draw attention to himself.

Two childhood incidents are instructive here. He recalls going to church with his mother and brothers and always arriving late, attracting the attention of the congregation, which was both thrilling and embarrassing. Similarly, he chose Mein Kampf as his prize at school in order to shock (the headmaster substituted another book).

Without doubt, he courts as much publicity as he can obtain. In the final analysis, he does not seem to mind the outcome of whatever he is involved in so long as he is the centre of attention. Somewhere, he is still the abandoned child longing to impress his father.

Not only has he lost his father, but he has also apparently been rejected by other close members of his family. Each humiliation he suffers stokes up his deep resentments and rage, which he projects on to Jews and other ethnic groups. In this context, the disastrous outcome of his High Court libel suit -- which he refuses to acknowledge -- serves to increase his feelings of intense persecution. He repeatedly claims that there is an international Jewish conspiracy [sic. A global endavour] against him.

Irving has been described as grandiose, arrogant and self-righteous. all of which would be seen by therapists as a cover for a profound sense of deprivation and inferiority. Aware of such suggestions, Irving insists he is not lacking in self-esteem, boasting that he was the best-dressed man in court in his pinstriped Saville Row suit.

This is a man craving attention. Bodies such as the Board of Deputies and the Anti-Defamation League would now do well to avoid feeding his persecutory fantasies by too assiduous a vigilance of his ongoing activities. The most punishing treatment for David Irving would be to ignore him.

John Cooper is a lawyer and author of books on Jewish history. Judy Cooper is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. The pictures are added by this website

London, April 28, 2000

Mr Irving wrote to the Jewish Chronicle, ignoring this psycho-babble but correcting one of the errors:

mail I read John Cooper's article (Apr 28, p.22) with as much interest as your readers. May I untangle some confusion about my teachers at university. Pure mathematics (this was 1956), was taught by Prof. Preidel, an excellent and popular teacher. He alternated with dear old Prof. Bickley, who was completely blind, but formed a matrix for each figure of the equations he wrote on the board with his fingers and thumb; when his minder steered Bickley in, there was often an egg-sized bump on the prof's forehead. Applied maths was taught by another prof. whose name escapes me but who I think was German-Jewish, and who was mercilessly taunted for his accent. One student rolled a cannonball down the long shallow steps of his lecture theatre in Exhibition Rd. I sat in the front row, wanting to learn, and was furious at this mob's behaviour. Action ReportThe communist to whom Cooper refers was Professor P M S Blackett, FRS, a brilliant wartime scientist and head of the Physics Dept at Imperial College; his attitude toward me can be readily imagined, and I duly found it out.

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