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| The trial of David Irving - and my part in his downfall, By John Keegan, Defence Editor | Letters to the editor, April 13 and 14, 2000 |


The trial of David Irving - and my part in his downfall
By John Keegan, Defence Editor

[Here is a presentation of Keegan by an exterminationnist site, holocaust.org: [Note liminaire de l'AAARGH: Voici comment est présenté John Keegan sur le site exterminationniste holocaust.org: "the noted British military historian Sir John Keegan. Theoretically Keegan was an ideal witness to demonstrate that Irving's views were within the range of acceptable historical opinions. Keegan is known as one of the most unorthodox of modern military historians. His unique approach to military history has, in fact, changed the context in which military history is written by the current generation of scholars. In short, Keegan as a historian is everything that Irving wishes to be and everything that Irving pretends to be. Moreover, Keegan has praised Irving's book "Hitler's War" in the past."[Note liminaire de l'AAARGH: Voici comment est présenté John Keegan sur le site exterminationniste holocaust.org: "the noted British military historian Sir John Keegan. Theoretically Keegan was an ideal witness to demonstrate that Irving's views were within the range of acceptable historical opinions. Keegan is known as one of the most unorthodox of modern military historians. His unique approach to military history has, in fact, changed the context in which military history is written by the current generation of scholars. In short, Keegan as a historian is everything that Irving wishes to be and everything that Irving pretends to be. Moreover, Keegan has praised Irving's book "Hitler's War" in the past." Y. Edeiken, April 12, 2000, www.holocaust.org]

THE news that David Irving has lost his libel case will send a tremor through the community of 20th-century historians.

For more than a year now, the gossip between them has been about whether he would lose or not, a subject on which all hedged bets. "It depends whether the judge goes for Holocaust denial or slurs on his reputation", was the general view. "If the first he'll lose, if the second he might get away with it."

What this insider talk meant was that Mr Irving might well persuade the judge of the unfairness of Professor Lipstadt's accusations of his bad historical method. That was what he cared about and he would no doubt argue his case well. If, however, her accusation that Irving's version of the Holocaust was so untruthful as to outweigh his merits as an otherwise objective historian, then he would get no damages and have to pay enormous costs.

As the trial date drew nearer, talk turned to the question of who had been asked to give evidence. Eventually I was. I - like others I knew - declined. Earlier experiences had persuaded me that nothing but trouble comes of taking sides over Irving. Decide against him, and his associates accuse one of prejudice. On this occasion I was accused of cowardice. Decide for him, and the smears start. I have written complimentary reviews of Irving's work as a military historian to find myself posted on the internet as a Nazi sympathiser.

Refusal did not get me off the hook. Last autumn, Mr Irving told me he intended to subpoena me and in January the summons appeared. To it was attached a cheque for £50, thus making it an enforceable court instrument. I had to appear, like it or not.

In practice, the appearance was painless. Mr Irving very decently gave me the chance at the outset to state that I was not present willingly. He allowed me to explain why, without interruption. There was no jury to unsettle one, the parties having agreed to leave it all to the judge, a distinguished former libel QC, Charles Gray (who represented Lord Aldington in the famous Tolstoy case).

The judge was relaxed but a master of the material. All I had to do was answer Mr Irving's questions. They were about my opinion of him as a historian. He had quotations from favourable reviews of his work I had written. Could such opinions, he asked, in effect, be consistent with the contrary opinions of other historians?

In a sense this was the central question, which would recur throughout the hearing. Prof Lipstadt's case was that the bad in Irving was so bad that it robbed all he wrote of value. Irving's case was that, if some historians of reputation praised parts of his work, the praise extended to all his work. Both positions are, of course, highly artificial.

Fortunately, I did not have to give my opinion of Prof Lipstadt's work. It was easy, however, to say that a reviewer is at liberty to pick and choose. I had praised, and would praise again, I said, Irving's extraordinary ability to describe and analyse Hitler's conduct of military operations, which was his main occupation during the Second World War. That did not imply endorsement of Irving's view that Hitler did not "know" about the Holocaust until October 1943. That view was "perverse", I said.

What did I mean? I meant, I said, that it defied reason, or common sense. Would it not, however, be the most extraordinary historical revelation of the war, Irving asked, if it could be shown that he did not know about the Holocaust? This was a very curious moment. I suddenly recognised that Irving believed that Hitler's ignorance could be demonstrated.

I stepped down but stayed to watch the rest of the morning's proceedings. Mr Irving's performance was very impressive. He is a large, strong, handsome man, excellently dressed, with the appearance of a leading QC. He performs as well as a QC also, asking, in a firm but courteous voice, precise questions which demonstrate his detailed knowledge of an enormous body of material.

There it was all around us, hundreds of box files holding thousands of pages telling in millions of words what had been done and suffered in Hitler's Europe. Irving knows the material paragraph by paragraph. His skill as an archivist cannot be contested.

Unfortunately for him, the judge has now decided that all-consuming knowledge of a vast body of material does not excuse faults in interpreting it. Irving, the judge said, "repeatedly makes assertions about the Holocaust which are unsupported by or contrary to the historical record".

This is the part of the judgment that will hurt. Mr Irving, perhaps because he left London University without taking a degree, is acutely concerned to be recognised as an academic historian among others. It is not enough for him to receive compliments from professors about his skill in uncovering lost documents or finding forgotten survivors of Hitler's court. Those are the sort of things journalists do. He wants to be praised for his source notes, for his exegesis, for his bibliographies, for what historians call "the apparatus".

As a result, his books positively clank and groan under the weight of apparatus. Very good it is too. Irving, never confident enough to believe what he reads about himself, really is admired by some of those whose approval he seeks. Unfortunately for him, he is admired only when he writes sense. When he writes nonsense, a small but disabling element in his work, he sacrifices all admiration and incurs blame mixed with incredulity. How can anyone so good at history be so bad?

There is an answer. It is that there are really two Irvings. There is Irving the researcher and most of Irving the writer, who sticks to the facts and makes eloquent sense of them. Then there is Irving the thinker, who lets insecurities, imagined slights and youthful resentments bubble up from within him to cloud his mind. It is as if he becomes possessed by the desire to shock and confound the respectable ranks of academe, to write the unprintable and to speak the unutterable. Like many who seek to shock, he may not really believe what he says and probably feels astounded when taken seriously.

He has, in short, many of the qualities of the most creative historians. He is certainly never dull. Prof Lipstadt, by contrast, seems as dull as only the self-righteously politically correct can be. Few other historians had ever heard of her before this case. Most will not want to hear from her again. Mr Irving, if he will only learn from this case, still has much that is interesting to tell us.


Letters to the editor (e-mailed)

A Michael Froomkin, Professor of Law, University of Miami, USA froomkin@law.tm

Re: Law unto himself
Date: 13 April 2000

SIR - Your Defence Editor, John Keegan, writes that David Irving "is certainly never dull. Prof Lipstadt, by contrast, seems as dull as only the
self-righteously politically correct can be. Few other historians had ever heard of her before this case. Most will not want to hear from her again.
Mr Irving, if he will only learn from this case, still has much that is interesting to tell us." [The trial of David Irving - and my part in his downfall,
12 April 2000]

One would never guess from this that the court determined Prof Lipstadt wrote the truth, and Irving wrote the lies - lies that Prof Richard Evans
called a "mass of distortion and manipulation, commenting on the "depth of duplicity" in his treatment of sources.

One would never guess that the court found Irving to be a racist, anti-Semite, and neo-Nazi fellow traveller. One would never guess that Mr Irving
was the plaintiff, and Prof Lipstadt the defendant.

Or rather, one would be forced to suspect that at bottom Mr Keegan doesn't care very much about all that guff. What's a little Holocaust denial,
distortion of evidence, and neo-Nazi camaraderie between military buffs?


Robert J Switzer, California, USA robt.j.switzer@usa.net
Re: Qualified opinion
Date: 14 April 2000

SIR - My enjoyment of Defence Editor John Keegan's article about his participation as a witness in the David Irving libel trial evaporated upon
reading the final paragraphs where he took, in my view, a wholly unnecessary and unjustifiable swipe at defendant Prof Deborah Lipstadt, while
seemingly excusing Mr Irving's denials of the Holocaust [The trial of David Irving - and my part in his downfall, 12 April 2000].

Mr Keegan seems to praise Mr Irving by saying he is "never dull," and continues by describing Prof Lipstadt as seeming "as dull as only the
self-righteously politically correct can be."

Not content with that, Mr Keegan adds the additional insult that few other historians knew of Prof Lipstadt prior to the lawsuit and "most will not
want to hear from her again."

Truth and political correctness are not one and the same. Prof Lipstadt should be lauded for standing up to the likes of David Irving, and I for one
hope to hear from her whenever an historical revisionist seeks to falsify our past.

For Mr Keegan to assert that Mr Irving "may not really believe what he says and probably feels astounded when taken seriously" strains all
credulity, especially so when earlier in the same column Mr Keegan assesses Mr Irving as just the opposite: someone who lacking an academic
degree works that much harder to be taken seriously.


Mordechai Bendon, Jerusalem, Israel
mordechai_ipa@yahoo.com

Evident racism

14 April 2000

SIR - I was dismayed to read the article written by your Defence Editor John Keegan in which he goes out of his way to defend and offer excuses for David Irving after his justified defeat in court [The trial of David Irving - and my part in his downfall, 12 April 2000].

As your paper stated: "Mr Justice Gray, delivered a damning, 333-page judgement against Mr Irving, branding him a Holocaust denier, falsifier of history, a racist and an anti-Semite."

John Keegan writes "Like many who seek to shock, he may not really believe what he says and probably feels astounded when taken seriously." From where does Mr Keegan reach this opinion? Is it simply wishful thinking on his part? Is Mr Keegan really telling the Jewish people that we should ignore and not take seriously Mr Irving's remarks, as well as the quite damning verdict of the court? Why?

Has Mr Keegan uncovered some hidden document that Mr Irving is really a lover of Jews and that he has simply been misunderstood? Doesn't this rather sound like Irving's own claims that history has misunderstood Hitler and that really he had nothing against Jews and was terribly misunderstood?

Why is Mr Keegan going out of his way to find excuses for Mr Irving's clearly racist remarks? I find Mr Keegan's comments very shocking indeed.

Mr Keegan writes that "He [Irving] has, in short, many of the qualities of the most creative historians. He is certainly never dull." This is after Mr Justice Gray has upheld the opinion of the defendants that Mr Irving had intentionally falsified history to serve his own racist ideology. Is this one of the qualities that Mr Keegan believes makes for a good historian?

Prof Richard Evans takes a different view. Called as an expert witness in the trial having produced a 740-page report on Mr Irving's historical method, (which he insisted was objective as he had no personal feelings towards the author), the Professor said that he had been shocked at what he found, adding that Mr Irving "has fallen so far short of the standards of scholarship customary among historians that he doesn't deserve to be called a historian at all".

Then Mr Keegan goes on to write that "Prof Lipstadt, by contrast, seems as dull as only the self-righteously politically correct can be. Few other historians had ever heard of her before this case. Most will not want to hear from her again."

What does Mr Keegan's own personal view that Prof Lipstadt is not a world-class historian have to do with the fact that Mr Irving has gone totally beyond the bounds of acceptably? [AAAARGH: by a Mr Mordechai Bendon, living in the city of Jerusalem, which the terrorist state of Israel robbed from the Palestinians and keeps occupying, instead of the very firm ONU condemnation] Even the most amateur historian is far better than one who is reduced to Mr Irving's tactics in order to confirm his racist views.

In any case, despite the fact that Mr Keegan does not think much of Prof Lipstadt, obviously, Mr Irving "the great historian" does, or Irving would not have brought a case against her.

Mr Keegan concludes with soothing words to console the obviously depressed Mr Irving. "Mr Irving, if he will only learn from this case, still has much that is interesting to tell us. "

A person that falsifies evidence, who is a confirmed anti-Semite and racist, can never be given the awesome responsibility of recording world history for future generations. Mr Irving has nothing to teach us except perhaps how an anti-Semite can go as far as to ruin himself rather than reassess his illogical hatred of Jews. That is in fact cause for great concern.



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