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…. “