Distortions Are Not Worth Debating

Deborah Lipstadt looks at the decision by the editors of the student newspaper of Northwestern University, The Daily Northwestern, to publish an article by Arthur Butz.

Things at Northwestern seem to be going from bad to worse. Electrical Engineering Professor Arthur Butz has, after many years of total obscurity in anything but the world of Holocaust deniers, once again grabbed headlines by praising Iranian President Ahmadinejad for his Holocaust denial. Mr. Butz has as much expertise on the history of the Holocaust as I do on building bridges. But he has tenure and this means that, as long as he does not introduce this false information into his classroom, he cannot be fired.

But Butz is an old story. He just manages to roil the waters periodically. What is surprising is the lack of common sense shown by the editors of the Daily Northwestern. They recently decided to run a column by Butz in order, they said, to “facilitate a more educated debate over Butz’s beliefs.” After being subjected to serious criticism for doing so, they defended themselves in an editorial in which they said that they took “considerable care before publishing [Butz’s] column. All the facts used were all verified.”

They want to facilitate a more “educated debate” over Butz’s beliefs? That is akin to facilitating a debate between flat earthers and scientists or between people who said there was no slavery and historians of slavery. Butz’s beliefs are documented lies. Don’t take my word on it. Take that of the Royal High Court of Justice and two different Courts of Appeal. I spent over six years defending myself against David Irving, once the world’s leading Holocaust denier. He sued me for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier in one of my books. He waited until the book appeared in the U.K. where the burden of proof is on the defendant.

I do not believe history belongs in the courtroom. Historians conduct their “battles” in scholarly journals and at conferences. Mr. Irving thought otherwise and due to the nature of British law I had no choice but to defend myself. Had he won, my books would have been pulped and his version of the Holocaust would have been declared legitimate.

Rather than face any legal obstacles, Irving freely repeated his – and by extension Butz’s – arguments in court. The world press reported on them daily. No one faced any legal obstacles. A dream team of historians closely examined Irving’s claims about the Holocaust. They found his work to be a “tissue of lies.” Many of Irving’s claims come straight from Butz’s work and from that of other deniers Butz praises in his article in the Daily Northwestern.

Yet these editors protest that “all the facts” in Butz’s article, including his claim that there were no gas chambers, “were verified.” What are they talking about? Butz cites Fred Leuchter’s findings that that “the alleged gassings were not possible at the alleged sites.” He describes Leuchter as “our foremost execution technologist.”

Leuchter, who falsely claimed to be an engineer, is not an execution technologist but a scam artist. He told different penitentiaries that if they did not hire him to check their execution facilities he would offer his “expertise” to the condemned person and testify that the execution process at these prisons was faulty. The Alabama Attorney General [now a Federal judge] warned other states about his scam.

Moreover, Leuchter’s findings were all proven by scientists and forensic specialists to be utterly wrong. Even the lab which did the testing for him said his conclusions are all wrong. His mistakes were so fundamental that a high school student would not make them.

All this information is available in the transcripts of my trial and in Richard Evans Lying about Hitler, Robert Jan van Pelt’s The Case for Auschwitz and my History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving.

Let the likes of Butz and Irving go on talking to neo-Nazis and other deniers. That is their right. Neither the Daily nor any other paper has an obligation to publish such lies. Then let them all slip into the obscurity they so well deserve.

And let the Northwestern student body decide whether the student editors at the Daily are to journalism as Arthur Butz and David Irving are to history. Of these editors, the best that can be said is that their minds were so open their brains fell out.

This article was first published by Deborah Lipstadt at History on Trial and is republished here by permission. Deborah E. Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Her book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, was rated by Amazon.com as the 4th best history book of 2005. Professor Lipstadt, who is currently teaching at the Gregorian Pontifical Institute in Rome, can be reached at her blog ‘History on Trial’.

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