Month: December 2011

Hitchens On Robert Faurisson And Defending David Irving

Whilst browsing the web I came across these two pieces from Christopher Hitchens. I think they aptly illustrate the difficulties Hichens has in dealing with David Irving.

In the first article from The Nation in October 1994, Hichens counterpoises Irving with Robert Faurisson, seemingly trying to sanitise the former by comparison to the malignant latter. Readers will remember that Faurisson is a well-known Holocaust denier and a recipient of Noam Chomsky’s support.

The second defence from the Wall Street Journal in February 2006, where Irving is characterised as merely an “eccentric Englishman”, not the propagandising neo-fascist that he really is, turns out to be even less satisfactory than the 1994 judgement.

Hitchens’ lingering defence is that, supposedly, Irving “is in fact not a “denier,” but a revisionist, and much-hated by the full-dress “denial” faction. “

Such sentiments indicate Hitchens’ naïveté, infatuation and inability to give up on his old eating companion. He is reduced to picking up Irving’s scraps, arguing that the benefit of Irving’s “research” far outweigh any negatives which is an intellectually idiotic conclusion and indicative of his shallow grasp of the issues.

I leave the articles here as a matter of public record:

Minority Report by Christopher Hitchens, The Nation, 3rd October 1994.

“R. D. Laing once wrote an essay titled “The Obvious.” The idea was suggested to him by an opinion-poll finding in the 1960s that appeared to show that millions of Americans were not aware that mainland China had a Communist government. Laing wondered aloud what one can take for granted by way of shared assumptions—not just on the part of others but of oneself. George Orwell once contrived a similar exercise, trying to imagine what he would say to prove the earth was spherical if confronted by a convinced Flat Earther. These mental challenges are useful for their own sake.

So when Professor Faurisson came through Washington to visit the Holocaust Museum, I hastened along to meet him. Probably no fact is more agreed-upon than the scope and magnitude of the Final Solution, and it’s necessary as well as interesting to hold converse with those who maintain that the whole story is a fable. Faurisson presents himself in a brisk, rationalist and Cartesian style: It is widely alleged that gas chambers—”chemical slaughterhouses”—were used to destroy European Jewry. Very well, were is there a surviving authentic model, or photograph, or diagram of the operation of one such?

My own first answer must be that I have never seen a relic of an operating gas chamber (though I have seen small-scale crematoria in camp museums in Germany). Have I studied the feasibility of asphyxiation en masse, on the scale claimed? Do I appreciate the immense difficulty, supposing the task to possible in the first place, of removing heaps of cyanide-poisoned corpses from the alleged chamber? My answers must be, again, no and no. Eh bien, we are getting somewhere. Have I understood that much anti-Nazi propaganda is just that? That there was no soap made from human fat? That the confessions of Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, was extorted by coercion and in any case mentioned a total of deaths at Auschwitz that not even the Israeli experts at Yad Vashem credit? Here, my answers are yes and yes, because I know that the story in the first case, and Höss in the second, have been debunked. So, am I not ready to sign myself among the brave and persecuted, who deny the myth of the Six Million? Not at least until I can try a syllogism of my own, on a professor who evidently relishes the Socratic method.

Is it not true that the National Socialist Party’s propaganda specifically and openly cited Jews as the root of all rot and evil? Is it not the case that, before the world and before the war, Jewish persons and property were violated and vandalized in Germany? Further, once the war had begun, were the Jews of Western Europe not shipped eastward against their will? Suppose me to be credulous about “gas-chamber pornography”; if these people were not put to death, why did so few of them return?
There is something—I scarcely know what to call it—something distant about Faurisson’s response. He does not consent, as I did with his questions, to answer mine cumulatively and in order. He remains polite and he continues to discuss, but he has become bored—that’s it, bored.

I have read the debate between Faurisson and David Irving that took place under the auspices of the “Holocaust revionist” Institute for Historical Review at a conference in October 1992. Irving is infamous for his claim that no proof of a Führer-order exists, and that if there were any mass killings of Jews, they were unauthorized by the Nazi emperor. In that debate he announces that he is an anti-Semite. When Adolf Eichmann, for example, spoke of a Final Solution:

It was quite plain to him that is was only a plan to sweep all the Jews of Europe aboard boats and transport them lock, stock and barrel down to Madagascar, where they would be on an island where they couldn’t bother any of their neighbors and where none of their neighbors could bother them. I’ve always said and I say it here again—even though I risk making a few enemies—that I think that it would have been an ideal solution to a perennial world tragedy.

Irving also concedes that there were, indeed, mass murders of Jews on the eastern front, most common by firing squads. He takes very seriously the testimony of Gen. Walter Bruns, who described a massacre he witnessed near Riga as early as November 1941. And he credits other testimony as well—doubtless with regret, since such unpleasantness makes the Madagascar option look positively humane.

Faurisson disagrees with Irving about both the occurrence of the massacres and the responsibility for such deaths as did occur. This he attributes, in our discussion, to the inevitable side-effects of war. He is contemptuous of Irving as a historian and, oddly for a man with such insistence on detail, has no memory of Irving’s Madagascar statement. He insists that he himself is guided in his quest by no prejudice and no ulterior motive, merely an imperative to pursue objectives and verifiable truth.

One of his fellow revisionists sat at the same table to observe our discussion and broke in (obviously to be helpful, as he thought) to say: “Of course, we all agree that the deportation of the Jews was a very great crime. I know Robert agrees, don’t you Robert?”
“No,” replies Faurisson, “I do not.” He explains that the Nazi responsibility in the Second World War is no graver than that of many parties and regimes in modern and ancient history. So, I ask him finally, You think there was nothing unique in the Nazi system? “Nothing morally unique, no.”
Both Faurisson and Irving have been subjected to a lot of stupid censorship and harassment for their writings, and it has been known for persecution to distort judgment. Some overt neo-Nazis deny the Holocaust while openly wishing that there had been a Final Solution, or will be one soon. Faurisson, I judge, is not of this company. He just doesn’t think that Nazism was such a big deal to begin with.”

Wall Street Journal Opinion February 23, 2006. Free Speech Über Alles (Even for David Irving) by Christopher Hitchens.

“It is best not to mince words. The imprisonment of David Irving by the Austrian authorities is a disgrace. It is a state punishment for a crime — that of expression and argument and publication — that is not a legal offense in Mr. Irving’s country of birth and that could not be an offense under the First Amendment. It is to be hoped, by all those who value the right to dissent, that his appeal against both sentence and conviction will be successful.

Strictly speaking, “context” ought not to weigh in the scale when the question of unfettered expression is being decided. And obviously, the provincial police of Styria were only doing their statutory job when they detained Mr. Irving under the terms of a very broadly drawn Austrian law that criminalizes even “gross understatement” (however that might be phrased) of the Nazi campaign against European Jewry. But it is somehow unfortunate that a small European country with a very bad record from the Nazi period should be jailing an eccentric Englishman at the precise moment when a small European country with a much better record is the object of an orchestrated campaign of lies, blackmail and violence. Those who jump for joy when the embassies of European democracies are immolated in the capital cities of squalid dictatorships have decided to announce their own game of moral equivalence. What of your precious free speech, they say, when the Holocaust is immune from criticism on your own soil? Austrian bureaucracy — never at its best with this thorny question: how embarrassing that the prison library contained several Irving hardbacks — could almost have set out to try and prove the Islamist demagogues’ “point.”

I put “point” in quotes because there obviously is no such moral equivalence. Anyone should have the right to criticize or even insult and lampoon religious belief, just as anyone should have the right to try to revise or rewrite history. But the Muslim thugs are as stupid as they look, because they only assert the second right in order to obliterate the first one. They are not even trying for a trade-off (unless you think that freedom for European brownshirts would lead to the reopening of desecrated synagogues and churches in the Arab world, in which case you will lose your shirt whatever color it happens to be). But the bullies do accidentally make the point that counts to begin with: The defense of free expression is indivisible. Compared to that important principle, nothing is “sacred,” or even close to it. Perhaps you notice that, of late, the word “sacred” has become an easy anagram of “scared”?

Now may I mince a word or two? I have been writing in defense of Mr. Irving for several years. When St. Martin’s Press canceled its contract to print his edition of the Goebbels diaries, which it did out of fear of reprisal, I complained loudly and was rewarded by an honest statement from the relevant editor — Thomas Mallon — that his decision had been a “profile in prudence.” I will not take refuge in the claim that I was only defending Mr. Irving’s right to free speech. I was also defending his right to free inquiry. You may have to spend time on some grim and Gothic Web sites to find this out, but he is in fact not a “denier,” but a revisionist, and much-hated by the full-dress “denial” faction. The pages on Goebbels, as in his books on Dresden, Churchill and Hitler, contain some highly important and damning findings from his work in the archives of the Third Reich. (The Goebbels book contains final proof that the Nazis financed Sir Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts in England: a claim that Mosley’s many sympathizers have long denied.)

Compared to this useful evidence, the fact that Mr. Irving was once a Mosley supporter is unimportant to me…. “

David Irving and Christopher Hitchens

I wouldn’t normally speak ill of the dead, but there is such a palaver going on and an almost unseemly desire for the early beatification of Christopher Hitchens that I think it is better to get a warts and all picture of him.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that whilst he was a significant and prolific writer he did have a few blind spots.

I am not concerned with his indulgences, rather why he chose to defend David Irving.

I imagined that his supporters will, no doubt, say it was because of freedom of speech and how he was an absolutist. That is a plausible answer, except it doesn’t address the issue of the facts.

1. Christopher Hitchens, initially, downplayed David Irving’s views.

2. Hitchens misrepresented Irving’s work to put a nicer spin on it.

3. Hitchens even gave Irving “one last chance” in the wake of the Irving v. Lipstadt trial after 2000.

If Christopher Hitchens was quite as smart, as his latter-day supporters suggest, then this is unconscionable.

I think the problem with Hitchens was that he “inherited” some strange views from his time with the International Socialists, but couldn’t bring himself to admit it.

These views could pop out when he turned to the subject of Jews and might explain why he cosied up to David Irving, even wining and dining him.

It’s very difficult to think of someone as the archetypal antifascist when they don’t understand Austria’s antifascist laws, the residual problems of fascism in Austria and why they enforce such laws.

It is a pity that Hitchens couldn’t deal with those difficult arguments and chose a rather simplistic “freedom of speech” defence, not his finest hour.

Had Hitchens had the character and judgement that we are told he possessed then he would have dealt with the stronger counter- arguments and the importance of keeping neo-Nazism in check, but instead he chose the easy path, the well trodden path.

Noam Chomsky utilised similar arguments in his defence of Robert Faurisson, they were as equally myopic and unsatisfactory.

Professor Lipstadt has dealt with many of these spurious arguments advanced in defence of such neofascists:

“Many years ago, German historian Theodor Mommsen warned that reason alone isn’t enough to keep people from believing falsehoods. If this were the case, then racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of prejudice would find no home. In despair Mommsen wrote, “You are mistaken if you believe that anything at all could be achieved by reason. In years past I thought so myself and kept protesting against the monstrous infamy that is anti-Semitism. But it is useless, completely useless.”

To expect reason, rational dialogue, and discourse to constitute the sole barriers against the pernicious attempts to deny the Holocaust is to ignore one of the ultimate lessons of the event itself. There was no rational basis underlying the Nazi atrocities. There was, however, the appeal of anti-Semitism. Mythical thinking and the force of the irrational have a strange and compelling allure. Intellectuals are hardly immune from irrational, mystical thinking. Some do so in the name of “free speech,” free inquiry,” or “intellectual freedom.”

It is this commitment to free inquiry and the power of mythical thinking that explains, at least in part, how revisionists have attracted leading figures and institutions. Noam Chomsky is probably the best known among them. Chomsky wrote the introduction to a book by French revisionist Robert Faurisson. In it Chomsky argued that scholars’ ideas cannot be censored no matter how distasteful they may be. Though Alfred Kazin was right on target when he recently described Chomsky as a “dupe of intellectual pride so overweening that he is incapable of making distinctions between totalitarian and democratic societies, between oppressors and victims,” Chomsky’s argument shocked many people, including those who thought they were inured to Chomsky’s antics.

Chomsky’s example shows why the dangers of free inquiry should be taken seriously. Even the supposed protectors of reasoned dialogue can fall for the convoluted notion that all arguments are equally legitimate. Those who argue that the deniers must be given a fair hearing fail to recognize that the deniers’ quest is not a search for truth. Rather they are motivated by racism, extremism, and virulent anti-Semitism. ”

Christopher Hitchens Meets His Maker

I have to admit that I am not a follower or admirer of Christopher Hitchens, but that’s as much my fault as it is his.

I didn’t tend to read the publications he wrote in and was somewhat put off by his, off and on, connection to David Irving.

Still, I feel any objective observer must acknowledge that Hitchens was a prolific and significant writer.

I don’t think that we should fawn over “Great Men” and bemoan their demise whilst the rest of humanity are often consigned to the grave without barely a thought or an obituary, nevertheless, it would have been good to read more of Hitchens’ contemporary writings.

This piece was something he wrote in December 2011, when he knew his time was very short, it is very powerful:

“However, there is no escaping the fact that I am otherwise enormously weaker than I was then. How long ago it seems that I presented the proton team with champagne and then hopped almost nimbly into a taxi. During my next hospital stay, in Washington D.C., the institution gifted me with a vicious staph pneumonia (and sent me home twice with it) that almost snuffed me out. The annihilating fatigue that came over me in consequence also contained the deadly threat of surrender to the inescapable: I would often find fatalism and resignation washing drearily over me as I failed to battle my general inanition. Only two things rescued me from betraying myself and letting go: a wife who would not hear of me talking in this boring and useless way, and various friends who also spoke freely. Oh, and the regular painkiller. How happily I measured off my day as I saw the injection being readied. It counted as a real event. With some analgesics, if you are lucky, you can actually “feel” the hit as it goes in: a sort of warming tingle with an idiotic bliss to it. To have come to this—like the sad goons who raid pharmacies for OxyContin. But it was an alleviation of boredom, and a guilty pleasure (not many of those in Tumortown), and not least a relief from pain. “

A fairly well-written obituary is available at the Guardian.

Update 1:
I think my view of Hitchens was far too charitable as this article argues, he seems to have had a serious problem and I am not talking about smoking or drink:

“Hitchens’s bestselling atheist jeremiad, God is Not Great (2007), provides an excellent overview of its author’s sentiments on the topic of Jews and Judaism. While the book is ostensibly opposed to all religions equally, Hitchens goes out of his way not merely to criticize Judaism but to portray it in the ugliest possible terms, invoking many of the classic themes of anti-Semitism in order to do so.

He informs us, for example, of the “pitiless teachings of the God of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all,” and whose Ten Commandments have nothing to say about “the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide.” Indeed, according to Hitchens, “some of these very offenses are . . . positively recommended” by the God of the Hebrews, with far-reaching historical consequences. According to Hitchens, the Jews’ genocidal God and His order to drive the Canaanite tribes out of the land of Israel form the basis not only of a “19th-century irredentist claim to Palestine” but of the current debate among Israeli rabbis over “whether the demand to exterminate the Amalekites is a coded commandment to do away with the Palestinians.” Who these rabbis might be, the extent of their influence, and whether anyone listens to them are questions that go mostly unaddressed.

For Hitchens, the evils he lists are not just religious tenets; they are ingrained in the Jews themselves. The rituals and practices of Judaism, he charges, are debased by the Jews’ obsession with money, as exemplified by the “hypocrites and frauds who abound in talmudic Jewish rationalization” and who operate according to the principle: “‘Don’t do any work on the Sabbath yourself, but pay someone else to do it for you. You obeyed the letter of the law: who’s counting?’” (Hitchens’s world abounds, apparently, in dutiful shabbos goyim.) Circumcision, he claims, is the “sexual mutilation of small boys” and “most probably a symbolic survival from the animal and human sacrifices which were such a feature of the gore-soaked landscape of the Old Testament.” As for anti-Semitism, the Jews brought it on themselves. “By claiming to be ‘chosen’ in a special exclusive covenant with the Almighty,” Hitchens writes, “they invited hatred and suspicion and evinced their own form of racism.” “

I had always wondered what Christopher Hitchens and David Irving had in common and why he, apparently, kept in with Irving for years, when no sensible historian would touch Irving with an extended barge pole.

I suppose the above clears up the matter.

Update 2: Professor Lipstadt demonstrates Hitchens’ shiftiness when defending David Irving:

“Giving Hitchens the benefit of the doubt about the lies of the Goebbels book still does not excuse this claim from his 1996 Vanity Fair article: “And, incidentally, [Irving] has never and not once described the Holocaust as a ‘hoax’.” Restricting ourselves just to what Hitchens could have known before writing that, we find that, testifying at the 1988 trial of a Canadian Holocaust denier, Irving said, “No documents whatever show that a Holocaust had ever happened.” What’s the defense of this? That Irving doesn’t use the word “hoax”? OK then. How about these?

In a 1991 speech, Irving said, “Until 1988, I believed that there had been something like a Holocaust … but [in] 1988 … I met people who knew differently and could prove to me that story was just a legend.”

In 1990: “The holocaust of Germans in Dresden really happened. That of the Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz is an invention.”

And, again, in 1991: “More women died on the back seat of Senator Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”

Remember, Hitchens’ defenses of Irving did not appear on, to use his own phrase, “some ghastly Brownshirt Web site,” but in Vanity Fair and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Inevitably, in the L.A. Times piece, Hitchens brings up the totem of Irving enablers, “the censorship of Irving.” What is he referring to? St. Martin’s Press did not censor Irving; it chose not to publish his book because its chairman, Thomas J. McCormack, was sickened by the thought of publishing a book whose subtext, he said, was “the Jews brought this onto themselves.” St. Martin’s did not prevent the book from appearing elsewhere, and in fact, the Goebbels bio was published in Britain, from where the faithful could order it. Any honest person who talks about David Irving and the censoring of history has to acknowledge that the censoring has been attempted by David Irving himself. This is what the libel trial was about — Irving’s attempts to censor Lipstadt’s “Denying the Holocaust” — though, as the trial showed, the claims Lipstadt made against Irving are demonstrably true. This is not the only piece of litigation Irving has attempted or threatened. His lawsuit threats delayed for years the British publication of historian John Lukacs’ “The Hitler of History.” When it did appear in Britain, it was published in an edition that bowdlerized Lukacs’ case against Irving. These very real attempts to quash the work of historians are never mentioned by Irving’s defenders. But somehow, the work of historians who set out to prove the deceptions in Irving’s work is depicted as an attempt at censorship, or a way of inhibiting historical examination. ”