I’ve been curious how close Disco. Inst. blogger and Focus on the Family stooge Martin Cothran would get to defending Holocaust denial in the abstract, rather than defending the Holocaust denial of Pat Buchanan specifically. In comments at his blog, Cothran inches closer. I observed that:
You say Buchanan “does not deny the Holocaust.” I’ve offered the generally accepted definition of the Holocaust, and shown that Buchanan denies it. You’ve offered no definition of the Holocaust, and point only to the fact that Buchanan uses the word.
This is like the old joke:
Q:If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog got?
Your defense of Buchanan requires that we answer that question: “Five.”
I don’t know where you have given your “generally accepted” definition of the Holocaust, but Merriam-Webster’s seems fine to me: “the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II.”
If that’s what it is, then your arguments amount to saying that Buchanan denies there was a mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II. Since he has explicitly affirmed that he does, it is a little ridiculous to say he doesn’t.
Now, had Cothran paid even cursory attention to what I’ve been saying, he’d know that I cited an historian of the Holocaust giving this definition:
the Holocaust may be correctly defined as follows: (1) the Holocaust was the intentional murder of European Jews by the Nazi government of Germany during World War II as a matter of state policy; (2) this mass murder employed gas chambers, among other methods, as a method of killing; and (3) the death toll of European Jews by the end of World War II was roughly 6 million.
I used that same definition in a later post, expressing it in point form so he wouldn’t miss it. Had he been paying attention to my posts, he wouldn’t have to ask where I defined it. He did have to ask. Therefore?
I’ve shown, repeatedly, that Buchanan denies at least two of those elements of the definition, and is noncommittal on the death toll among Jews. He dismissed Donald Trump’s comment that “Hitler killed six million Jews and millions of others,” replying that Trump’s comments display “an almost paralyzing ignorance of the history of World War II.” Yourish has done a nice job demonstrating the historical illiteracy of other aspects of Buchanan’s claims about the Holocaust, and one has to ask why Buchanan misconstrues history to be more favorable toward Hitler, and denies any murders of Jews in the first three years of the Holocaust.
But Cothran’s definition of Holocaust denial is almost weirder than Buchanan’s Holocaust denial. By that definition, David Irving wouldn’t be a Holocaust denier. Irving, of course, admitted being a Holocaust denial in an Austrian court, and was found to be a Holocaust denier in a British libel trial.
The British Institute for Jewish Policy Research agrees with the outlines of my definition, writing:
At one end of the spectrum, the crudest Holocaust-denial material simply states that no genocide took place, and is likely to be linked to the most blatant form of antisemitism. ?
At the other end of the spectrum is literature that incorporates relatively sophisticated argumentation. This material may not be overtly antisemitic, but frequently alludes to vested interests of Jews in perpetuating the ?myth? of the Holocaust. The ?sophisticated? Holocaust deniers adopt the idiom of scholarly debate, and generally refer to themselves as historical revisionists. An example of this kind of literature is The Leuchter Report, (London: Focal Point 1989), which argues that forensic evidence proves that Auschwitz could not have operated as a gassing facility.
Holocaust-denial publications vary not only in terms of their claims to academic respectability and the explicitness of their antisemitism, but also in terms of the arguments that are both put forward and emphasized. The kinds of assertions made in Holocaust-denial material include the following:
? Several hundred thousand rather than approximately six million Jews died during the war.
? Scientific evidence proves that gas chambers could not have been used to kill large numbers of people.
? The Nazi command had a policy of deporting Jews, not exterminating them.
? Some deliberate killings of Jews did occur, but were carried out by the peoples of Eastern Europe rather than the Nazis.
? Jews died in camps of various kinds, but did so as the result of hunger and disease. The Holocaust is a myth created by the Allies for propaganda purposes, and subsequently nurtured by the Jews for their own ends.
? Errors and inconsistencies in survivors? testimonies point to their essential unreliability.
? Alleged documentary evidence of the Holocaust, from photographs of concentration camp victims to Anne Frank?s diary, is fabricated.
? The confessions of former Nazis to war crimes were extracted through torture.
Among the untruths routinely promoted are the claims that no gas chambers existed at Auschwitz, that only 600,000 Jews were killed rather than six million, and that Hitler had no murderous intentions toward Jews or other groups persecuted by his government.
Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, defines the term in a way that encompasses the same spectrum:
Claims that the mass extermination of the Jews by the Nazis never happened; that the number of Jewish losses has been greatly exaggerated; that the Holocaust was not systematic nor a result of an official policy; or simply that the Holocaust never took place.
Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, in Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, emphasize as one of the “foundations upon which Holocaust denial rests” “the claim that there was no intention on the part of the Nazis to exterminate European Jewry and that the Holocaust was nothing more than the unfortunate by-product of the vicissitudes of war.” This, you’ll recall, is the thesis of Buchanan’s recent book Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, and forms the root of his claim that “Had there been no war there would have been no Holocaust.”
In claiming that Buchanan and admitted Holocaust denier David Irving are not Holocaust deniers, Cothran muddies the waters on behalf of a vicious sort of anti-Semitism. In particular, note that even deniers generally accept that roughly 600,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis, which surely qualifies as “mass slaughter,” meaning that, by Cothran’s “logic,” Holocaust deniers aren’t Holocaust deniers. Luckily, words mean things.
The definitions I offered, it’s worth noting, capture a few other key traits of the “sophisticated” school of deniers. They “adopt the idiom of scholarly debate,” Holocaust denial “often tries to disguise itself as something quite different” and give themselves a new name “in an attempt to claim legitimacy for their activities.” “Many proponents of Holocaust denial,” observes the ADL, “claim that their propaganda has been misrepresented, and that they are victims of yet another conspiracy? to suppress independent research.” Holocaust deniers shift from denying any Jewish deaths at all to trivializing the extent of it.
In terms of tactics and rhetoric, this is the approach of creationists and climate change deniers, among various other denialist movements. Reject scientific consensus, craft a bogus scholarly patina, rename yourself when old labels get tainted (“intelligent design” creationism, etc.), and blame your lack of credibility on an evil conspiracy (Jews, atheists, socialists, and pharmaceutical companies seem to be popular choices). Little wonder then that Cothran should be so eager to defend Holocaust denial. While I’m confident Cothran is not a Holocaust denier, he’s conditioned himself to accept certain styles of argument (“Expert consensus is wrong!”) that are endemic to denialist fringe movements. he reflexively defends these styles of argument, even if it means defending Holocaust denial.