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The Strange Case of David Irving

THE HOLOCAUST ON TRIAL By D.D. Guttenplan; W.W. Norton: 328 pp., $24.95

LYING ABOUT HITLER History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial By Richard J. Evans; Basic/Perseus: 336 pp., $27

May 20, 2001|CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS | Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and The Nation and the author most recently of "The Trial of Henry Kissinger."

It would be tempting to summarize this as a near morality tale, in which the truth emerges as the stainless winner over bigotry and falsification. However, the conflict is not conducted in quite such hygienic conditions. Irving did not publish a series of books on the Nazi era that were exposed as propaganda by a magisterial review from Evans. That's the way things are supposed to happen but rarely do. Instead, the efforts of a few obsessive outsiders have sharpened the orthodox debate between intentionalists and functionalists and also provoked a grand crisis in the "Holocaust denial" milieu, which now subdivides yet again between those who see Irving as a martyr and those who see him as a conscious, dedicated agent of Zionism who let down the team.

I myself learned a good deal, about both the subject and the author, by becoming involved on the periphery of this debate. I still regard it as ridiculous that Irving's books are almost impossible to obtain in the homeland of the 1st Amendment. This culture has assumed several great responsibilities. It sponsored the Nuremberg trials, with all their peaks and troughs of evidence. It has elevated the Holocaust into a universal moral example. It is the chief international guarantor of the state of Israel, at whatever proper size of territory or jurisdiction over others that that state turns out to possess. And it is the home--on the basis of equality--of the most flourishing Jewish community in history. Given this quadrilateral of historical commitments, there can be no prohibition of any voice whatever. One asks only, as one must ask with all morally serious arguments, that those entering the arena be transparent as regards motive and scrupulous as regards evidence. Irving's contribution to this very outcome is an amazing instance of the workings of unintended consequence.

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