Holocaust denial in the news: Lipstadt, Irving...and Ward Churchill
Over 200 historians at colleges nationwide have sent a petition to C-SPAN to protest its plan to accompany coverage of a lecture by Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, with a speech by David Irving, the notorious Holocaust revisionist. Irving, author of Hitler's War and several other books, sued Lipstadt in his native UK after she called him out as a revisionist in her own book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, but the British Royal High Court of Justice dismissed the suit in April 2000, finding that Irving deliberately misrepresented historical evidence. Lipstadt's book on the case, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, has just been published.
Read the petition, circulated by the David. S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies: "Falsifiers of history cannot 'balance' historians. Falsehoods cannot 'balance' the truth... If C-SPAN broadcasts a lecture by David Irving, it will provide publicity and legitimacy to Holocaust-denial, which is nothing more than a mask for anti-Jewish bigotry." (NYT, AP, March 18)
In a 1991 speech, Irving told his audience that "more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz." The line is recalled in a recent article on Irving's own web site, Real History.
In Lipstadt's own blog, History on Trial, she notes that another one of her prominent critics is supposed American Indian scholar Ward Churchill, and links to a Feb. 18 story in New York's conservative Jewish Week recalling that in an essay a few years back Churchill hurled his favorite "Eichmann" epithet at Lipstadt.
The paper predictably failed to quote the original essay beyond this one incendiary word, or provide the context of Churchill's argument. The essay, "Forbidding the 'G-Word'," attacked the notion of "Jewish exclusivism," and especially the denial of the term "genocide" to describe the extermination of Native American peoples. Churchill wrote that "exclusivists" like Lipstadt engage in their own form of genocide denial, and are part of a propaganda system that legitimizes ongoing genocide against native peoples: "Denial of genocide, insofar as it plainly facilitates continuation of the crime, amounts to complicity in it... There is no difference in this sense between...a Deborah Lipstadt and an Adolf Eichmann." (Other Voices, Feb. 2000)
What makes this all complicated is that Churchill's overall point here is an absolutely valid one. But by going radically overboard and calling Lipstadt an "Eichmann" (as if every writer who suffers from some racist illusions is the equivalent of the architect of industrial mass murder), Churchill allows his own valid critique to be dismissed as the ravings of a nut. The recognition that the destruction of indigenous lands and culture by corporate pillage in the western hemisphere constitutes genocide (as legally defined under international law) can be lumped in with the ravings of an Irving—or (more to the point) Churchill's own witless apologias for mass murder in the 9-11 attacks.
And Churchill (perhaps merely through shabby scholarship) engages in his own revisionism in the "G-Word" essay. He protests that in the "exclusivist" worldview, "the fates of the Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and others at the hands of the Nazis are routinely minimized and consigned to the ambiguous category of 'non-genocidal suffering.'" In fact, the Jews and the Roma ("Gypsies") were the only two groups explicitly targeted for extermination by the Nazis. Poles and Czechs suffered horribly under the Nazis of course, but historical accuracy is not served by conflating their experience with that of the Jews.
And the "exclusivist" portrayal of the Holocaust as "phenomenologically unique" does have its limited validity. It was not "phenomenologically unique" in being genocide, but in the application of industrial methods to the task. It was also "phenomenologically unique" in the irrational motives underlying the hyper-rational methodology: the Nazi genocide was not (as in the case of the American Indians) about appropriating land and resources, but about purifying the German nation, and actually drained resources from the critical war effort.
Of course industry also comes into play when oil and mineral companies destroy traditional hunting lands of Indian peoples, leaving them in desperate poverty, a toxic environment, communities broken by alcoholism and suicide—and we shouldn't dismiss this echo of Nazi industrial extermination glibly. But the aim here is extraction of resources, not mass murder, and a simple conflation with the Nazi Holocaust is also glib.
So a nuanced sense of history is called for to really make sense of these issues. But don't hold your breath for that in the current atmosphere polluted by cynicism and degraded by fealty to shallow sound-bites.
Meanwhile, if C-SPAN capitulates and drops the Irving segment, it will merely confirm the perception of the Jew-haters that "the Jews" control the media. This ghastly affair is a lose/lose no matter how you slice it.
See our last post on the Churchill affair.