Thoughts on David Irving

I note that The Wall St. Journal has editorialized in defence of imprisoned historian David Irving. Excerpt: "And just when the Danish government is under unprecedented attack for its refusal to intervene in the editorial decision-making of a private newspaper, it seems perverse to offer Muslim provocateurs an example of a European country catering to one set of sensitivities but not another".

The WSJ accompanies this defence, however, with vast aspersions on the character and competence of Irving. But any claim that Irving is incompetent is absurd. I have been studying the Hitler era for over 40 years and it is clear to me that NOBODY knows the period better or in more detail than Irving does. He was after all the only one of the many eminent historians consulted who immediately picked the Kujau "Hitler Diaries" as a fake.

So what of the aspersions on Irving's character? I think those aspersions show a lack of understanding too. I would like to venture a more nuanced view. For a start, Irving's earlier position (which he now appears to have recanted) that there was no holocaust at all is clearly absurd. He is undoubtedly right in pointing to the 6 million figure as the roughest of guesses but I am totally unmoved by that. Whether 6 million died or 1 million died, the loss that Hitler inflicted on the human gene pool by his attacks on Jewry is incalculable (I am avoiding moral language here. Outrage is the Leftist's usual substitute for thinking and I hope to do better than that).

So what motivates Irving's gnawing away at the details of the holocaust? I think the WSJ is right in saying that Irving wishes to rehabilitate Hitler as far as he can. But why would he do that? I think I know. I think that Irving has immersed himself so deeply in the Hitler period that it is alive to him. I think in fact that he has fallen under the spell of Hitler. Mainly because of their need to deny that Hitler was a socialist, almost nobody in the modern world understands why Hitler had such vast appeal to Germans or why Germany followed him fanatically to the bitter end. Both Roberts (1938) and Heiden (1939) -- prewar anti-Nazi writers -- portray Hitler as widely revered and popular among the Germans of their day. As Heiden (1939, p. 98) put it: "The great masses of the people did not merely put up with National Socialism. They welcomed it".

So why did they welcome it? It is simple. Socialism and nationalism have long been and long will be the two political ideas which have most emotional appeal to people. And Hitler offered both in one package. That package would be powerfully appealing to this day except for the way Hitler's follies discredited it.

But in his constant reading of material from the period, Irving lives in a world where Hitler's ideas have not yet been discredited and he has fallen victim to their appeal. Very few people these days seem to have read Mein Kampf but it is in fact (as it was meant to be) a very persuasive book if you read it without thought of what it led to. Hitler comes across as an enquiring, passionate and yet reasonable mind who offers persuasive explanations of what has gone wrong with the world. And I think he has persuaded Irving. It is a strange thing but, as we know from the example of Leftist intellectuals today, simplistic explanations often do attract intelligent people.

Heiden, K. (1939) One man against Europe Harmondsworth, Mddx.: Penguin
Roberts, S.H. (1938) The house that Hitler built N.Y.: Harper.


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