I was lead to the quote below from a New York Review of Books article about the recently released movie Denial, which is about the David Irving vs. Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin books trial in the UK in 2000.
Lipstadt had published a book in 1993, Denying the Holocaust, in which she called the British amateur historian David Irving “one of the most dangerous spokesmen for Holocaust denial.” Irving actually confronted her in the middle of a class lecture at Emory University, and went on to sue her and her publisher. But instead of sueing them in the US where the book was published, he filed his suit in the UK, where those who make potentially libelous remarks must prove they are true. The trailer is a good introduction to the film, which came out about three weeks ago.
Lipstadt's lawyers attacked Irving hard, simply on the facts, and made Lipstadt stay quiet during the proceedings. She, being Jewish, was more emotional about all of it because she considered herself to be defending her people, but her lawyers opted, no doubt correctly, that the case would be won on the facts and not on emotions.
This is from Irving's opening statement:
"The book purports to be a scholarly investigation of the operations of an international network conspiracy of people whom the Second Defendant has dubbed "Holocaust deniers." It is not. The phrase itself, which the Second Defendant prides herself on having coined and crafted, appears repeatedly throughout the work, and it has subsequently become embedded in the vernacular of a certain kind of journalist who wishes to blacken the name of some person, where the more usual rhetoric of neo-Nazi, Nazi, racist, and other similar epithets is no longer deemed adequate. Indeed, the phrase appears over 300 times in just one of the Defendants' experts reports!We Americans take free speech for granted, and it's easy for us to question German and French laws against denying the Holocaust. But I'm sure we have little idea of the paroxysms and spasms that shook German society, or Europe, after the war.
"It has become one of the most potent phrases in the arsenal of insult, replacing the N-word, the F-word, and a whole alphabet of other slurs. If an American politician, like Mr. Patrick Buchanan, is branded even briefly a "Holocaust denier," his career can well be said to be in ruins. If a writer, no matter how well reviewed and received until then, has that phrase stuck to him, then he too regard his career as rumbling off the edge of a precipice.
"As a phrase it is of itself quite meaningless. The word "Holocaust" is an artificial label commonly attached to one of the greatest and still most unexplained tragedies of this past century.
"The word "denier" is particularly evil: because no person in full command of his mental faculties, and with even the slightest understanding of what happened in World War II, can deny that the tragedy actually happened, however much we dissident historians may wish to quibble about the means, the scale, the dates and other minutiae.
"Yet meaningless though it is, the phrase has become a part of the English language. It is a poison to which there is virtually no antidote, less lethal than a hypodermic with nerve gas jabbed in the neck, but deadly all the same: for the chosen victim, it is like being called a wife beater or a pædophile. It is enough for the label to be attached, for the attachee to find himself designated as a pariah, an outcast from normal society. It is a verbal Yellow Star.
"In many countries now where it was considered that the mere verbal labelling was not enough, governments have been prevailed upon to pass the most questionable laws, including some which can only be considered a total infringement of the normal human rights of free speech, free opinion and freedom of assembly."
Irving's attack on the word "denier" appear pompous and bombastic (as he came across in person, too). I've never seen anyone hint that their use of it was akin to "being called a wife beater or a paedophile." I see it as a word, with a definition that predated the Holocaust, that has a certain meaning that conveniently and accurately describes the cruder blunt dismissals of anthropogenic climate change -- denying the greenhouse effect, the enhancing greenhouse effect, basic measurements, ridiculing and attacking scientists, always finding an excuse to dimiss the evidence one doesn't want to hear, etc. I suspect it comes more from a mindset than anything else -- some climate deniers seem to be conservatives who disagree with the general direction of the USA & World, a mindset that has infected the GOP in the age of the Internet, or just like being contrary.
Some people deny basic climate change; wilder ones deny the Sandy Hook shootings. A few crazies still deny the Holocaust. But if Irving was so upset about the word "denier," then clearly complaints about the word don't simply spring from a simaliarity to Holocaust denial but have an earlier origin, and those now using it aren't "global warming Nazi's," a rather ironic turn of phrase.
Irving, of course, played the victim, as you can read thoughout his opening statement. He lost the case, and, on appeal a year later, the case was dismissed.
After the trial, he was asked, "Will you stop denying the Holocaust on the basis of this judgment?" Irving replied, "Good Lord, no."