| || |
Book Review 235: Denying the Holocaust
May 12, 2012 - Harry Eagar
DENYING THE HOLOCAUST: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, by Deborah Lipstadt. 278 pages. Free Press, $24.95
No decent person denies the Holocaust, but for most of us, affirming its veracity is a cost-free pleasure. For Professor Deborah Lipstadt, however, standing up to the deniers resulted in a long, expensive struggle against the fascists.
She prevailed, in court and in the court of public opinion, but although I admire her pluck and her scholarship, I cannot agree with her thesis that there is – or was when this book was written 20 years ago – “a growing assault against truth and memory.” Not in a civilization where religion has for its whole history imposed its authoritarian obscurantism against anyone who dared who think for himself.
If anything, in America at least, the assault against truth and memory has weakened in significant ways. The libels of Joe McCarthy are widely disparaged now, even if most people no longer know precisely what they were; but I can remember when people of decent instincts were afraid to call out McCarthy and his evil political henchmen.
Not that the assault has disappeared. But the counterassault is better organized now than ever in the past. “Denying the Holocaust,” for example, was supported by the Vidal Sassoon Foundation. Those who dared to resist McCarthy were usually on their own.
This does not mean that, even after two decades, “Denying the Holocaust” is not well worth reading. Dwelling less on her own struggle and more on the historic background to Holocaust denialism, Lipstadt provides a handy summary of how Nazi fellow travelers and outright Nazis moved tentatively from self-assertion to a full-bore assault on history – Lipstadt is right about the growth of that particular brand of anti-truth.
It was not all the work of tinfoil-hatted eccentrics, either. One of the leading proto-deniers was Harry Elmer Barnes, otherwise a well-regarded historian and what nowadays is sometimes called a public intellectual.
Holocaust denialism is “intimately connected to a neofascist political agenda,” Lipstadt writes, but the deniers need the neofascist political machine, while the machine can do quite well without them.
Holocaust denial remains a fringe movement, poisoning minds one by one but not, in my opinion, having any real impact on general political discourse. I doubt many Americans even know that the deniers have attacked the veracity of Anne Frank, but given her status as a 20th century heroine, if they found out, it would more likely discredit the deniers than the Franks.
What has happened since 1993 is that Holocaust denialism has achieved such a bad odor that a more generalized term of abuse called denialism has entered the language, meaning, more or less, a person who stubbornly refuses to accept what all right-thinking people know to be true.
It is applied to creationists, disbelievers in anthropogenic global warming and other people.
Here's the rub: Not all denialists are wrong. I myself deny that we can demonstrate anthropogenic global warming.
This is enough to be labeled a kook by the mainstream, or worse. A fervent warmer and physician, Mark Hoofnagle, has lobbied for turning disbelief in GW into a psychiatric syndrome – climate denialism. Notwithstanding that the evidence for global warming is about as weak as the evidence that death camps did not operate in Poland.
And so it goes. Galileo was a steady earth denialist. Like Lipstadt, he paid a price for being right.
Lipstadt is not wrong when she writes, “The irrational has a fatal attraction even for people of good will.” True, though I deny that Cardinal Bellarmine and Dr. Hoofnagle qualify as people of good will.
A minor point: Lipstadt has the best analysis I have seen of how the German pro-Nazis snookered the Great Communicator at Bitberg and why Reagan's speech there was not just (another) example of the silliness he so often fell into because he knew so little of the history of his times or any other.
There is something to be said for facts after all.
No comments posted for this article.
Post a Comment