David Irving and the Banality of Revisionism

The decision of the Spanish daily El Mundo to publish an interview with revisionist historian David Irving has sparked controversy and drawn condemnations from the Israeli ambassador to Spain, Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, and Spain’s own foreign minister.

Oddly enough, however, amidst all the controversy, little has been said about the actual content of the interview. It is as if the public did not even have the right to know of what Irving’s revisionism consists. And yet consideration of Irving’s declarations to El Mundo reveals just how mainstream the central tenet of his revisionism has become in contemporary Europe.

The Irving interview appeared in the Saturday edition of the paper as part of a series of interviews with historians on the Second World War. Almost all the English-language reports on the controversy identify Irving as a “Holocaust denier.” But the actual content of the interview clearly shows that Irving does not today deny that the Holocaust occurred, but rather seeks to minimize its significance by asserting that the Allies committed crimes analogous to those committed by Nazi Germany. He is, more precisely, a “Holocaust relativizer,” not a “Holocaust denier.”

Thus when asked by Eduardo Suárez of El Mundo whether on his account Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Truman “were all equally bad,” Irving responded as follows:

Of course. All of them had absolutely no respect for human life. The real crime of the Second World War was not genocide, but what I call “innocentocide.” The killing of innocent persons. The killing of the Jews is not a crime because they were Jews, but rather because they were innocent Jews. But the Jews don’t want to hear this, because as a result the Holocaust ceases to be something special.

As discussed in my PJM reports on President Obama’s June visit to Dresden (see here and here), in at least one European country such “Holocaust relativization” has become entirely commonplace: namely, in Germany. This is why Obama’s visit to Dresden was so symbolically loaded, since for the German public, the city of Dresden itself is the symbol of “innocent” German suffering at the hands of the Allies.

As it happens, David Irving’s first book was on precisely The Destruction of Dresden. The book was published in 1963, long before Irving had ever been accused of Holocaust denial. When asked by Eduardo Suárez whether he was placing Churchill and Hitler “on the same plane,” Irving returned to the topic of Dresden. “I’ve seen Churchill’s papers,” he said,

And I remember what he told the officers who in spring 1944 were planning the invasion of France. The generals told him that many people would die and he replied, “How many?” And they told him: “Around 10,000.” And Churchill said: “It’s okay. That’s the price.” For Churchill human life was irrelevant. Or consider the calculated brutality of the bombing of Dresden.

By visiting not only Dresden, but Dresden and Buchenwald, Obama, in effect, provided a symbolic endorsement of the central thesis of David Irving’s life work. (Although a fitting symbol of Nazi crimes in general, Buchenwald was not in fact one of the principal sites of the Shoah. Out of a mix of ignorance and political expediency, however, it was stylized into such by the Obama administration. See my “Obama Flunks History, Again.”)