Sunday, December 16, 2007

History On Trial

Last month I made a post on the connection between the approach of Holocaust Deniers and 9/11 Deniers, based off of reading Deborah Lipstadt's book, Denying the Holocaust. It must have struck a nerve because it immediately drew the wrath of some of the extremists who post here, and currently has nearly 200 comments. Among the comments, Professor Lipstadt was kind enough to post here and recommended that I read her next book, History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving.

So with my interest in this subject, and history in general (I was a Russian Studies major in college after all) I set off to do just that. In many ways, by being more focused, I found this book a more interesting refutation of the denier theories than the previous one, and found it as a whole fascinating. History on Trial, in short, covers the episode where British historian David Irving, using the rather ridiculous British standards for libel, sues Professor Lipstadt for libel, for documenting in her previous book that he was a Holocaust denier who employed dubious historical standards. Of course Irving is hampered in his court case by the that fact that he is.

This subject bears more than just a passing connection to the 9/11 deniers. After all, it was David Irving who Kevin Barrett was referring to when he said:

As a rational person who is not a specialist in the subject of WWII, but who has studied the history of Zionist Big Lies vis-a-vis Palestine, I cannot possibly dismiss the arguments of people like Green, Irving, and even Zundel.

And when Christopher Bollyn wrote an e-mail to Steven Jones defending himself against accusations of anti-Semitism, his claims of hundreds of thousands of deaths were most likely based on Irving's book, "The Destruction of Dresden", where Irving first greatly exaggerated the casualty toll in an attempt at moral equivalence with the Holocaust. It should be noted though, that Bollyn exaggerates even beyond Irving's lie. It should be no suprise though, that these people continue to cite the arguments of Irving, even years after they have been proven false.

But the ties are not merely ideological, among a few fringe members, but lead into the tactical. By suing Lipstadt, Irving was trying to get her to withdraw her book from the market, and to silence further criticism of his work. Ironically, he then tried to claim that in fact he was the victim of a campaign to silence him and suppress his freedom of speech, much like the 911 conspiracy movement is constantly claiming that they are being censored, merely because others disagree with their work. This has moved beyond theoretical, because the 911 conspiracy movement is also using the courtroom against their ideological opponents, most famously with Kevin Ryan's failed lawsuit against Underwriters Laboratory, but also with attempts by Morgan Reynolds and others to get NIST to alter their findings. This issue is more than just theoretical for me, because even I have been threatened with a libel suit in the British courts, merely for blogging about the Leo Wanta nuttiness. How long before one of the 9/11 Deniers also resorts to this tactic to silence their opponents?

As I pointed out in my previous post, the tactics employed by the Holocaust Deniers and 9/11 deniers mirror each other, and this book makes it even clearer. The author's lawyers, clearly lay out the pattern of abuse of history that Irving is guilty of, including quote mining (calling Dylan Avery), mistranslating documents, and outright lying. Irving continuously defends himself claiming that he like anyone else makes mistake, in which case the defense points out quite rightly, that random mistakes should even out in the end, coming down 50% in favor of, and 50% against one's argument, but Irving's "mistakes" were exclusively to the benefit of making Hitler and the Nazis look better. One can find the same "mistakes" in just about every 9/11 denier webpage, book, or movie (calling Dylan Avery) ever made.

Professor Lipstadt also makes some interesting comments regarding the nature of historiography in general. Irving tries to prove his case by arguing minutiae, be it the nature of the elevator doors at Auschwitz, a single instance of coats being distributed at a concentration camp, or, more grotesquely, the amount of coal needed to incinerate a corpse, all while ignoring the big picture, which overwhelmingly indicated the nature of the Holocaust. As Lipstadt points out, history is not done this way, through taking minor points and reaching big conclusions, it is done through the preponderance of evidence. Keep this in mind the next time you are arguing about the exact altitude cell phones work at.

Most disturbingly, I was struck by the fact that many defended Irving on the grounds of free speech, just as people defend 9/11 deniers saying that they have the right to their version of history. This is especially absurd, because Irving was the one trying to silence the opposition. Yes, historical revisionist have the right to spout their lies, but they also have the right for others to correct them, and to call them what they are.

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