A British court last week ruled against historian David Irving, branding him a “Holocaust denier,” as well as a racist, anti-Semite and sympathizer of Adolf Hitler. The decision is a victory for the truth as well as the principles of free speech.
Mr. Irving, the author of over 30 books and an acknowledged expert on military history, sued Professor Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin U.K., her British publisher, for libel. He argued that her 1994 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” which accused him of falsifying history about the murder of Jews during World War II, had twisted the truth and damaged his reputation. After its publication, Mr. Irving claimed that his work was shunned and he could no longer find a publisher.
Filing the case was a shrewd gamble. Mr. Irving sued in Britain because its libel laws are more sympathetic to plaintiffs. In the United States, the truth is an absolute defense to charges of libel; in Britain, the defense had to prove that distortions occurred and that they were deliberate.
Had he won, the payoff would have been huge. Mr. Irving’s career would have been given a terrific boost. More importantly, however, his views would have been rehabilitated and his argument that Hitler has been “mistreated by history” and that the Holocaust was nothing of the sort would have gained increased currency. The gamble did not pay off.
Justice Charles Gray minced no words. In a 334-page decision, the judge ruled that Mr. Irving is “a rightwing, pro-Nazi polemicist” who “associates with rightwing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.” Although he conceded that Mr. Irving conducted painstaking research, the judge also concluded that he “for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence.”
The ruling is a victory for free speech. Many countries have branded Holocaust denial a crime, an understandable reaction, but an overreaction, nonetheless. Driven underground, lies flourish in the dark. A full frontal assault and the exposure of flaws in the revisionists’ arguments are the truth’s best defense.
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