Holocaust Denial, C-SPAN and Ward Churchill
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Over 200 historians have signed a petition in protest of C-SPAN's plan to pair coverage of a lecture by Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust studies at Georgia's Emory University, with one by David Irving, the notorious Holocaust revisionist. Irving, author of Hitler's War and other books, sued Lipstadt in his native U.K. after she called him out as a revisionist in her own book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory . British courts dismissed the suit in 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."
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." This is the kind of voice to which C-SPAN is about to loan credibility.
In Lipstadt's own blog, History on Trial, she notes that another one of her prominent critics is supposed American Indian scholar Ward Churchill, who recently gained notoreity by calling 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns." She links to a recent 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'," which appeared in the online journal Other Voices in 2000, 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."
What makes this all complicated is that Churchill's overall point here is an absolutely valid one. But by 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. Recognition that the industrial destruction of indigenous lands and culture in the western hemisphere constitutes genocide (as defined under international law) can be lumped in with the pseudo-history of an Irving – or (more to the point) Churchill's own witless cheer-leading 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.
Further, 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. There is an echo of this in the western hemisphere genocides. The earliest grain of what would become the Holocaust were the coercive sterilization programs targeted at Jews, Roma and the mentally and physically disabled; nearly identical programs have been used against Native American populations in the 20th century.
The European Holocaust 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.
Industry also comes into play when oil and mineral companies destroy traditional 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 – an unlikely prospect in an atmosphere degraded by cynicism and fealty to shallow sound-bites.
Meanwhile, if C-SPAN capitulates and drops the Irving segment, it will merely confirm the perception in the growing ranks of Jew-haters that "the Jews" control the media. Unless some honest and courageous voices are brought to the debate quickly, this affair will be a lose/lose no matter how we slice it.
Bill Weinberg, editor of the online World War 4 Report, is at work on a book about "Plan Colombia" for Verso Books.