February 21, 2006

"History is like a constantly changing tree."

Said British historian David Irving, as he faced sentencing in Austria for Holocaust denial. He also said, "I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz." That's not the same as saying my statements were incorrect. And these were the remarks of a man coerced by the threat of 10 years in prison. He got 3.
Irving's trial comes amid new -- and fierce -- debate over freedom of expression in Europe, where the printing and reprinting of unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad has triggered violent protests worldwide.
The hypocrisy about free speech is overwhelming. Even if you decide to go the repressive way of punishing some speech because it wounds some and stimulates others to violence, you should at least have a neutral rule defining the proscribed speech.

So "History is like a constantly changing tree"? What does that mean? It sounds like the coded statement of a man who is standing by his version of the truth and acknowledging that other truth, that the victors write the history books.

I wonder how the history books would read on the cartoons story if, by some crazy chance, fascistic Islamists win World War IV.


Matt Brown said...

History may be written by the victors, but that doesn't mean the losers will always tell you "what really happened."

knox said...



to paraphrase the Manolo, paraphrasing the Princess Bride: "You keep using that word 'realistically.' I do not think it means what you think it means."

Gaius Arbo said...

It bothers me that any Western democracy has these kinds of laws at all.

I sincerely hope we are smart enough in this country not to go down this path.

bearbee said...

Nuts! to both Irving and Austria. They deserve each others company....

Ron said...

I wonder how the history books would read on the cartoons story if, by some crazy chance, fascistic Islamists win World War IV.

Sadly, the cartoons would be described the way we describe Zeros over Pearl Harbor on The History Channel.

Ann Althouse said...

Bearbee: The question is whether Irving belongs in prison! Hating him and wanting him in prison are two different things.

bearbee said...

I do not hate him I just think he is as nutty as is Austria.

I abhor and never use racial, ethnic, religious slurs yet I would be dismayed if we criminalized such language.

And while I can somewhat understand Austrian national guilt and its wish to eradicated any hint of a mindset that denies or that could lead to another Holocaust by use of such a law I disagree with it.

Of course he does not belong in prison. This smacks of Talabanism and the recent lunacy over the cartooooons. It offends my 1st Amendment sensibilities. Let him be tried in the court of public opinion.

Just curious, how many EU countries have such laws?

Derve Swanson said...

Some sacred symbols are more protected under the law than others ?

knoxgirl: I have a good dictionary, and never saw that movie. Not sure what you don't agree with or understand.

neo-neocon said...

I agree that free speech should trump Holocaust denial laws. But when I researched the question, I found it was more complex than I thought. Today I wrote this post examining both sides.

Charlie Eklund said...

Well, Irving is a writer as well as being a Nazi sympathizer. If he's been looking for an opportunity to write a new Mein Kampf, this looks like his lucky day.

vbspurs said...

I was meaning to post about this story on my blog yesterday.

It's a complex issue for me.

I am an Historian by degree. I am half-German (part Austrian). And I hate Holocaust deniers.

But being raised in two societies where free speech is paramount to a healthy discourse, what France, Germany, and Austria do (to have laws which make anything related to the Third Reich, such as Holocaust denial, monitored, or outright illegal), is not good.

My German mother tells me that if you allow Nazism to rise in its two birthplaces, you will face challenges which England and the US, with their history of free speech, cannot know.

It was free speech which allowed Hitler to gain power in Germany, after all, she says.

And as long as there are Holocaust survivors, and the criminals who tortured them, still alive, this law needs to be in the books. Later, when this episode has passed from living memory, they can change the laws.

Perhaps she is right.

But it doesn't SEEM right.


chuck b. said...

Free speech allowed Hitler to gain power?

And nothing else?

Surely it was more than free speech.