Holocaust denial has had a long history that has included adherents from both the extreme right and the extreme left. Many examples of such material are written clumsily and are easily understood by the public for what they are. Outright claims that murder by gassing was physically impossible that the Nazis killed only thousands of Jews, and that history was falsified by a massive Jewish conspiracy are easily understood for the lies that they are.
Recently, Holocaust deniers and Nazi apologists have put forward more sophisticated arguments. Gassing was possible they admit, but the testimonies are inconsistent with physical facts.1 Others claim that the belief in murder by poison gas arose not by a conspiracy but by misunderstandings and rumors.2 A third category are those who avoid the central claims of the deniers, but intentionally legitimize them by misrepresenting deniers as misunderstood intellectuals whose only crime is to defend an unpopular view in a legitimate debate. An example of such a piece can be found on the AAARGH Holocaust-denial site at:
The article was written by David Botsford and is entitled "Freedom of Expression, Dissenting Historians, and the Holocaust Revisionists." It was originally published by the British organization the Libertarian Alliance, whose webpage is at http://www.digiweb.com/igeldard/LA/political.htm
It purports to be a defense of free speech and of intellectual freedom, but it is far more than that.
First the necessary disclaimer. I believe that Holocaust-denial ought to be protected speech as is the case in the United States. In Germany and some other countries Holocaust denial is illegal. In Canada, it is not illegal, but there have been trials of Ernst Zundel for what I believe would be protected speech in the US. Not only do I disagree with such infringement on speech in principle, but I think it is counter-productive in its own goals. It does nothing more than give Holocaust deniers the publicity they seek and make them into martyrs for free speech. It is telling that two of the most influential pieces of Holocaust denial were in fact written in response to such prosecutions.3
Arguing that someone ought to be able to tell lies is different from defending the lies and the liars. This line is one that was crossed by Noam Chomsky in his defense of Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson,4 but Botsford goes even further to defend the lies themselves and do so in a fashion designed to mislead the public. Whereas Chomsky may have made a foolish error and been too stubborn to admit it, Botsford's defense is no mistake. In my opinion, the writing is designed to mislead.
Botsford starts out with a rational defense of free speech rights and even says:
In 1997 three members of the National Socialist organisation [sic] Combat 18 were imprisoned for possessing material which spoke of "the myth of the Holocaust" and outlined the aim to "execute all Jews, who have actively helped to damage the White Race and to put into camps the rest until we find a solution to the eternal Jew". (6) Libertarians are, of course, totally appalled by such opinions, but would argue that putting people into prison simply for possessing such material is a greater evil than their possession of it (as distinct from acting in accordance with the views expressed).
and furthermore that:
The purpose of the present paper is not in any way to defend Holocaust denial, but simply to give an accurate description of what it is and what it is not, and to describe efforts in other countries to use the law against it. I will then put forward an argument, based on the nature of historical inquiry, in defence of the right of Holocaust revisionists (as they call themselves) to express their beliefs without civil or criminal law being brought into action against them. No part of this paper should be interpreted as either supporting or opposing any particular historical or other idea, except the universal right of freedom of expression and the free market in ideas. I am essentially adding factual information and arguments to the position already taken, as we have seen above, by various public figures.
These paragraphs set the reader up to expect a rational libertarian defense of free speech. The reader is ready to be sympathetic to the writer who claims to be "totally appalled by such opinions." The purpose of this essay is to examine this "accurate description" and show how it is misleading. Botsford's writing is skillful and insidious and examining its purpose requires a careful examination of the subtext as well as the presentation (and lack of presentation) of facts. The writing is subtle, but it is not an objective presentation of facts.
The first point that should be made is that there is a real distinction between "revisionists" and "deniers." Gord McFee discusses this issue in an article at THHP entitled Why "Revisionism" isn't. The term "denier" was coined for the purpose of making this distinction; it should not be understood as meaning that someone denies every single fact relating to the Final Solution, but rather that the person in question misrepresents or distorts facts to minimize the horror of the Final solution. Perhaps, the term "distortionist" would be a better term, but the term "denier" is preferable to the term revisionist because there are legitimate revisionist historians. I refer to deniers either as deniers or as "revisionists" in quotes.
The paper goes on to discuss correctly the diversity of people who have denied the Holocaust. I agree with some of the treatment here as well. Antisemites come from the left, right, as well as libertarian positions. This article respectfully notes that some of the "revisionists" (note that Botsford has dropped the term "denier") are academics, but fails to note explicitly that none of the deniers mentioned are academics in a relevant field.
The purpose of this discussion, however, is to dissociate Holocaust denial from Nazis. Whereas it is true that people of other political motivations have endorsed these reprehensible views, the bulk of the funding and effort comes from groups sympathetic to Nazism. Leftwing groups such as La Vielle Taupe may have alternate motivations, but one should not lose sight of the very real presence of Nazi-sympathizers and outright Nazis in the ranks of Holocaust deniers. Botsford strives to minimize this role in the reader's mind.
In this vein Botsford lies by omission in his description of the neo-Nazi IHR:
Other Holocaust revisionists are American libertarians who have associated themselves with the Institute for Historical Review(IHR), the California-based organisation which denies that the Holocaust occurred, as well as promoting other revisionist views about twentieth-century history.
Note that Botsford does not explicitly say here that the IHR is a libertarian organization, but a reader unfamiliar with the history of the IHR certainly would be led to that conclusion. The rest of the paragraph proceeds to distance the IHR from pro-Nazi views. In fact, the founders of the IHR were anything but libertarians. Deborah Lipstadt writes of the first director of the IHR, David McCalden:
He was known in England for his neofascist and extremist involvements. A former officer of England's right-wing extremist party, the National Front, McCalden edited antisemitic and racist publications in England prior to coming to the United States....In 1978 he moved to California where he initially worked for the antisemitic journal the American Mercury. According to McCalden, when he saw that the magazine and everything associated with it were moribund, he helped found the IHR to spread the gospel of Holocaust denial.5
McCalden served until 1981 when he had a fight with Willis Carto. Willis Carto's role in the founding of the IHR is significant and deserves some explanation.6 Willis Carto is the founder of the neo-Nazi Liberty Lobby, the publisher of Spotlight Magazine. Carto was also the force behind The Legion for the Survival of Freedom, the neo-Nazi Noontide Press, and, the IHR. Lipstadt writes:
In 1988 the United States Court of Appeals rejected the attempt of the IHR, Noontide Press, and the Legion for Survival of Freedom to present themselves as unrelated entities. Justice Robert Bork in his decision dismissing Carto's attempt to sue the Wall Street Journal for labeling him an antisemite, stated that Carto had "specifically designed the Liberty Lobby/Legion/Noontide/IHR network to divorce Liberty Lobby's name from those of its less reputable affiliates.7
Since the writing of Lipstadt's account, the IHR was wrested away from Carto's network by neo-Nazis Greg Raven and Mark Weber. The sordid tale involves a fight over money from the Edison estate.8
Botsford continues with a discussion of self-described "libertarian" Bradley Smith (the denier, not the legitimate historian) of CODOH (formerly the Committee on Open Debate Of the Holocaust, presently, the Committee for Open Discussion of the Holocaust Story). Tellingly, Botsford makes no effort to discuss the legitimacy of Smith's libertarianism. Could Botsford be trying to legitimize the Holocaust denial movement in the eyes of libertarian readers justly concerned about free speech? One might think that Smith shares Botsford's putative distaste for the content on denial, but not so. Smith and CODOH guard their image as being independent from Nazi organizations carefully, but it should be noted that Smith himself worked for the IHR.9 In fact, one of his early collaborators was none other than the IHR's Mark Weber, Lipstadt writes:
Smith's accomplice was Mark Weber, co-director of CODOH,one of the more active spokesmen for Holocaust denial, and a former member of the National Alliance, a pro-white organization. 10
Why does Botsford make no attempt whatsoever to question Smith's libertarian credentials? Why does he take someone at his word, if that person lies about the gas chambers of Auschwitz? Botsford enters into a discussion of why libertarians might become Holocaust-deniers. His explanation is that the Holocaust is used as an excuse for American interventionism that has destroyed the economic and imperial systems of Europe leading to the destructive national independence of former colonies. Lest one think he is worried about interventions such as the misguided and senseless war against Vietnam, Botsford quotes an opponent of American interventionism, which he describes as "perceptive and succinct." The statement of by Hadj T'hami el Glaoui reads
American policy today stirs up everything and settles nothing. The result is that it creates a void, opening the way to new tyrannies instead of new freedoms. At the bottom of America's attitude is the assumption that all the world wishes to be American. And that assumption is false.
This statement was made in 1944: there should be no mistake about which policy it refers to. Botsford goes on to say:
Most American libertarians argue for a non-interventionist foreign policy in which the US enjoys good relations with all other countries without in any way interfering in their internal affairs. Those individuals in other countries who want to become Americans are free to apply at the US embassy to emigrate there. Those who are quite happy to remain Bhutanese in Bhutan, Bedouins in the Middle East, or whatever, should be left in peace, and if their economic, social and political systems differ in certain respects from those of the United States, no American should stay awake at nights worrying about the fact.
Apparently, no American should stay awake at night worrying about a few million Jews who happen to live in a "different" economic, social, and political system. After all, if they wanted American liberties, they could just apply at the embassy. Botsford does not say such a thing explicitly, and in fact even the abstract argument is placed in the mouth of "American libertarians."
Botsford begins his discussion of "revisionism" with World War I. Again he is blurring the distinction between revisionism and denial identified in Gord McFee's article. People like A.J.P. Taylor are legitimate historians who offered a different interpretation of facts. They do not actively deny evidence but interpret it differently than the mainstream. Such treatment is legitimate revisionism, not to be confused with Holocaust denial. To help with the job of blurring this distinction Botsford cites Barnes, a World War I revisionist who in fact later became a Holocaust denier. No attempt to distinguish between the two activities is made by Botsford. He simply refers to Barnes as a "distinguished scholar" and leaves it at that. Was it this distinguished scholarship that led Barnes to become a Holocaust denier? Botsford does nothing to dispel such a notion.
Botsford discusses the claim that the West knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened and adds the intriguing comment:
Indeed, I have heard that a researcher in the US National Archives has recently discovered a German intelligence transcript of a wiretap of a telephone conversation between Roosevelt and Churchill discussing the forthcoming attack on Pearl several weeks before it actually took place.
Would it be too much to ask him to identify where he heard this information, who the researcher was, and where in the National Archive this transcript can be found?
Next, Botsford makes an insidious play invoking a book by the legitimate revisionist historian A.J.P. Taylor (who acknowledges the Final Solution). Are Barnes and Taylor both respected scholars who are part of the same revisionist movement? Why does Botsford make no distinction between a controversial interpretation of facts and an active obfuscation of the truth of the Final Solution? Botsford quotes Taylor's views on history:
There is only one profound responsibility on the historian, which to do his best for historical truth. If he discovered things which were catastrophic for his political beliefs he would still put it in his books. He has no responsibility whatsoever to fiddle the past in order to benefit some cause that he happens to believe in.
A respectable view indeed. Is the reader to believe that the other writers that Botsford identifies as "revisionists" maintain such a view? In the very next paragraph, Botsford identifies Holocaust denier, David Irving as such a "revisionist." Is the reader to believe that David Irving is an adherent to Taylor's view of responsibility? Botsford goes on to examine a few crackpot theories about aspects of World War II other than the Final Solution, including Suvarov's absurd thesis that Operation Barbarossa was a defensive measure against a Soviet aggressor. Botsford is preparing the ground, gently leading the reader into questioning established history (without being bothered actually to examine the evidence behind controversial claims). He does not jump into discussing the Final Solution. Rather, he warms the reader to such ideas by bringing up controversial theories that are less offensive to the casual reader.
Botsford goes a bit further. He discusses allied atrocities such as the murders at Katyn. If the purpose of such analysis is to report and examine the truth, fine, but it is no accident that Botsford discusses allied atrocities while barely mentioning Nazi atrocities. If Botsford is truly offended by the arguments of the deniers, is it not worth the trouble of a few paragraphs to acknowledge the murders at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmo, Babi Yar, Vilna, and elsewhere? Is it not worth stating that these murders actually happened before giving such credence to "revisionists."
Instead, Botsford discusses the "revisionist" defense of German shootings of civilians:
Revisionists have argued that the wartime German shootings of civilians in occupied countries, harsh though they certainly were, were a response to partisan warfare carried out by individuals fighting in civilian clothes who carried out killings of German soldiers and then blended back into the civilian population. This form of warfare was expressly prohibited under the Geneva Convention, which provided for a strict division between combatants and non-combatants. The communists, in particular, engaged in such warfare in order to provoke German retaliation against the civilian population, and thus increase hatred against the Germans, which would bring more recruits for the "resistance" movements.
Botsford claims without evidence that allied partisan action was forbidden by the Geneva Convention. I suspect that he is confusing the Geneva Convention with the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention specifically allows partisan warfare if certain conditions are met, conditions that were for the most met by partisans in the occupied Soviet Union. Yale Edeiken discusses this issue in much more depth in his article The Forensic Sins of Carlos Porter. Edeiken quotes the relevant portions of the convention:
Article 1. The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions:
Edeiken comments on Porter's dishonest representation of these articles:
Note that contrary to Porter's modified version, the articles do not prohibit guerilla movements but specifically allow them if certain conditions are met. Because of his creative editing it is made to appear as though Article 1 prohibits partisan warfare and gives as a reason that real "belligerants" have certain attributes which, presumably, partisan groups do not possess. As can be seen from the language which Porter deletes, the actual meaning of the provision is that guerillas are legitimate as long as they meet certain requirements.
Next, Botsford abandons the pretense of speaking in someone else's voice and claims:
The Anglo-American-French post-war occupation of western Germany was inspired by the Morgenthau Plan, which called for the destruction of Germany's industrial capacity and its reduction to an agricultural economy with a greatly reduced population. Numerous accounts from the immediate post-war period testified to the appalling conditions of starvation and disease which had been imposed on the German people through the post-war destruction of factories, mines and other economic resources, as well as the deliberate withholding of food supplies. Prisoners of war were illegally used as slave labourers after the war, often in extremely bad conditions, or deliberately left to die of starvation, disease and exposure in prison camps without shelter. One can only imagine what conditions were like in the Soviet zone. Only in 1948, with the growing Soviet threat, did the Western occupiers begin to reverse the Morgenthau Plan and replace it with a policy of German reconstruction. In his recent book Crimes and Mercies, the Canadian journalist James Bacque has claimed that, overall, as many as nine million Germans died premature deaths as a result of Soviet and Western Allied occupation policies from 1944 to 1950, but this is considered an overestimate.
Whereas Botsford acknowledges 9 million as an overestimate, he makes no attempt to analyze the truth of Bacque's claims. 11 Note that the claims of allied atrocities are more-or-less accepted without question, whereas as the Final Solution still goes unmentioned.
Botsford goes on to discuss the war crimes trials, with no discussion of the evidence or the unprecedented nature of the crimes.12 Botsford uses the term "revisionist" without quotes, but insists on using quotes for the term "Nazi war criminal." Why does he not state that Adolf Eichmann was a war criminal? Why does he no say explicitly that Eichmann was guilty of crimes of unprecedented magnitude?
Botsford digresses briefly to discuss cold war revisionism and then returns to the topic with a section about the "The Villification of Barnes." Barnes, although well regarded by many libertarians, obfuscates the truth of the Final Solution. Botsford calls the accusation that Barnes is pro-Nazi and an antisemite an absurdity. That's Botsford talking now, not his mouthpiece "revisionists." He makes no references to Barnes' claims about the Final Solution or the gas chambers. Botsford goes to great lengths to defend Barnes' against other charges. Why not this one?
Botsford next turns his attention to the traditional target Israel and the accusations regarding USS Liberty. Whereas I do not at all approve of Israeli policy toward thePalestinians, I am less than surprised about which targets Botsford has chosen.
Botsford continues by legitimizing denial itself:
The only point I wish to make with this description is the fact that revisionist history has been a significant dissident and minority view on the events of the twentieth century. Unless the reader takes the totalitarian view that the criminal law should prohibit historians from challenging the official government line on any historical question, it is surely healthy in a free society to have a variety of interpretations of historical questions available which must stand or fall in the free market of ideas.
Yet Botsford selectively chooses from this free market. He defends those who deny the Holocaust without actually examining the paucity of evidence that their fraudulent claims rely upon. His agenda appears not to be to prevent censorship but rather to engender respect. Holocaust deniers have rights, but they do not deserve respect and, in fact neither does Botsford for they are his brethren in distortion of the truth.
Botsford takes a moment to recite a revisionist history of the Civil War and then starts a new section proclaiming, "No Historical Question is Ever Finally Settled," he tells the reader the following (in his own voice now!):
No historical question can ever be regarded as finally settled. Indeed, among those who accept that the Holocaust happened, there is considerable controversy about interpretation.
This statement needs some unpacking. Botsford invites the reader to consider that there are two schools of thought "those who accept that the Holocaust happened" and those who do not (e.g., his "revisionist" scholars Barnes and Irving among others). Legitimate historians have considerable controversy about interpretation, Botsford leads the reader to consider that perhaps it is just as reasonable that there should be controversy about the truth of the Final Solution itself. Again, he fails to distinguish revisionism and legitimate historical debate from denial of the evidence. In fact, his whole point, it becomes clear is to convince the reader that denial is a legitimate exercise!
He returns to the theme that not all Holocaust deniers are Nazis and antisemites. I would agree that not all are Nazis, but I think all are antisemites almost by definition. Botsford lies by omission about the nature of the neo-Nazi IHR. He wishes to convince the reader that it is not a Nazi-affiliated organization.
Botsford discusses the use of the law to prevent deniers from telling their lies, and I agree with much of what he has to say here, but I find it interesting that he has time to mention several claims of injustice done to deniers but not the injustice done at Auschwitz.
Where is his concern for the repression of the White Rose?
He mentions the claim that Anne Frank's Diary was a forgery; why does he not inform the reader that the allegation has been definitively disproved?
Botsford enters into a discussion of Chomsky and the Faurisson affair. This question has been dealt with adequately elsewhere. Botsford's use of Chomsky to further the goals of Holocaust denial is one added cost of Chomsky's stupidity.
What appears on its surface to be an essay defending the free speech rights of crackpots turns out upon finer inspection to be an endorsement of the legitimacy of such views. I believe emphatically that Holocaust deniers should not be subject to government censorship, but I believe just as strongly that it is wrong not to point out that they are liars, distortionists, and apologists for National Socialist Germany (regardless of whether they explicitly advocate National Socialism).
Last modified: May 16, 1999