Historical Revisionism and the Legacy of George Orwell

Mark Weber

During the Second World War, George Orwell wrote a weekly radio political commentary, designed to counter German and Japanese propaganda in India, that was broadcast over the BBC overseas service. His wartime work for the BBC was a major inspiration for his monumental novel, 1984. Very few readers of 1984 know, for example, that Orwell's attack against the perverse double-talk language called Newspeak was based on the author's revulsion against Basic English, an artificial language that Churchill's wartime cabinet wanted the BBC to use in its overseas propaganda. Similarly, Orwell's model for the lying Ministry of Truth was the British wartime Ministry of Information, which censored BBC broadcasts. The shorthand form, Minitrue, was taken directly from the Ministry of Information telegraphic address, Miniform.

Throughout his lifetime, the great English writer continually questioned all "official" or "accepted" versions of history. As early as 1945, just after the end of the war in Europe, he expressed doubts about the widespread stories of "gas oven" exterminations (Notes on Nationalism). George Orwell was a revisionist. He detested officially sanctioned atrocity and hate propaganda. If he were alive today he would certainly be nauseated by the pervasive Holocaust propaganda of our times. And as a staunch lifelong supporter of free speech and open historical inquiry, he would undoubtedly defend the right of revisionist historians to present their challenging views to the world.

It is worth noting that last July's devastating fire-bomb attack against the offices of the Institute for Historical Review, the foremost center of dissident historical inquiry, took place during the year made immortal by 1984. The terrorist attack also forced the rescheduling of the revisionist conference dedicated to Orwell's memory. Symbolically, the July [1984] fire-bombing of the Institute was an attack against the spirit of George Orwell in our times.

Life in the western world today differs markedly from what Orwell suggested it might be like in 1984. In contrast to the squalid, puritanical and thoroughly regimented life of 1984's Oceania, American life today is increasingly anarchic and self-indulgent. But there are also many ominous similarities. Deceptive "Newspeak" terms are in wide use today. One of the most odious examples is "affirmative action" which, despite its benign ring, is a dishonest label for a vast government-imposed program of anti-White racial discrimination. And like the hysterical "hate sessions" unforgettably described in 1984, Americans endure an endless array of hyper-emotional propaganda designed to whip up mindless hatred of anything smacking of "Nazism" or "Hitlerism." While the attention span of the American mass media normally seems to last no longer than a few weeks or months, its appetite for Holocaust atrocity propaganda is apparently insatiable.

Orwell himself recognized that "unacceptable" views are suppressed in modern democratic society not in the crude, heavy-handed way described in 1984, but much more subtly and insidiously. He put it this way:

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to state this or that or the other, but it is "not done."... Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

Accordingly, Holocaust revisionism is vilified with particular vehemence, almost invariably by individuals who have obviously never made the slightest effort to discover what revisionists have actually written. When the mass media does bother to describe revisionist views on the Holocaust to the public, the usual practice is to portray them as so ludicrous and childishly absurd that no rational person could possibly take them seriously, but also as just plausible enough so that others, not quite so enlightened, might be taken in. The Simon Wiesenthal Holocaust Center, for example, charges that revisionists claim that concentration camp crematories were not really crematories at all, but bread ovens. Revisionists are often accused of claiming that the well-known photos of emaciated corpses found in camps at the end of the war are fakes, or that no Jews ever died in the camps. Such perverse misrepresentation is very reminiscent of the passage in 1984 which describes a "hate session" presentation of a concocted speech by the monstrous and semi-legendary arch-fiend Goldstein:

Goldstein was delivering his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party -- an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it.

The powers that be are not content with merely propagandistic or behind-the-scenes methods of maintaining their self-serving portrayals of history. While historical revisionism has always been strictly forbidden in Communist countries, now even some ostensibly democratic governments are trying to legally suppress "unacceptable" historical views. The West German government, for example, has approved a proposed law that would prohibit historical works that "minimize" or "deny" Nazi crimes.

The Canadian government has banned the importation of many purely political and historical works, including Behind Communism and None Dare Call It Conspiracy, on the basis of a law which makes it illegal to import literature "of an immoral or indecent character." Bowing to pressure from the B'nai B'rith, Canadian officials added The Hoax of the Twentieth Century to its list of banned books. Canadian police even raided a couple of university libraries to seize copies of this supposedly dangerous book from library shelves. The B'nai B'rith recently asked the Canadian government to forbid the importation of all future issues of The Journal of Historical Review, a particularly pernicious violation of the time-honored principle of the presumption of innocence. Of course, the hypocritical import ban will have no significant long-term effect on the ever wider distribution of revisionist works in Canada. As Arthur Butz put it, the Canadian move against his book was rather like locking the barn door after the horses have already escaped.

The most spectacular recent effort to legally suppress free historical inquiry and expression was the Toronto trial of revisionist Ernst Zündel on a charge of "publishing false news likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest." Despite the guilty verdict against the German-Canadian for publishing the booklet, Did Six Million Really Die?, the trial was a public relations victory for Holocaust revisionism.

Canadian television and newspapers gave the eight-week-long case prominent and detailed coverage. Among those who testified on behalf of Zündel were IHR Advisory Committee members Dr. Robert Faurisson, Dr. William Lindsey, Ditlieb Felderer and Udo Walendy. Generally unbiased press reports appeared under startling headlines, such as: "Gas was not used in prison camps, expert tells court," "Nazi gas chambers unproven, court told," "Genocide a myth, jury told," "The Nazi 'final solution' meant relocating Jews," "View of Belsen was propaganda, trial told," "Mass gassing impossible, says chemist," and "Camp gas chambers fake, Holocaust revisionist says." Never before have revisionist views received such widespread coverage in any country. As a result of the trial, more Canadians than ever now doubt the Holocaust story.

The apparent consensus of Canadian newspapers and news commentators is that the Zündel case was a major mistake and that the seldom used law under which he was tried should be abolished. For example, Toronto Star columnist Gerald Caplan complained that "someone made a terrible, terrible blunder" in putting Zündel on trial because "the very magnitude of the attention he has received has afforded him and witnesses who supported him some legitimacy in the eyes of innocent Canadians." In an editorial entitled "A threat to free speech," the Toronto Star pointed out that the vaguely worded law under which Zündel was tried is ominously characteristic of totalitarian societies. The Star compared the Zündel trial to similarly perverse legal efforts to suppress Galileo's supposedly dangerous idea that the sun is the center of our solar system and, more recently, the theory of evolution. Toronto Sun columnist George Jonas lamented that the trial "handed them (Zündel and his supporters) a victory on a platter." In the words of another Sun columnist, Walter Stewart, Zündel "won the propaganda war hands down."

The increasingly frantic efforts by "thought police" organizations such as B'nai B'rith are manifestations of weakness, not strength. For despite the tremendous obstacles, the trend is clear. Historical revisionism has been growing ever more influential. Revisionist works can be found in ever greater numbers of college and public libraries across the United States. And the phoenix-like rebirth of the IHR from the ashes of terrorist attack is proof of the Institute's undaunted vitality and an expression of its supporters' faith in the ultimate triumph of truth over lies.

One of the great strengths of historical revisionism in its struggle for public acceptance is that it holds the moral high ground. In spite of their pervasive propaganda and awesome power, the B'nai B'rith and its allies operate like thieves in the night. They cannot tolerate the glare of scrutiny or the light of open debate. Despite their yapping about human rights and democracy, they are the ones trying to stifle free speech and open inquiry. In the long run, their deceitful and hypocritical efforts just won't wash with men and women of good will.

In the wake of the arson attack against the Institute's offices last July, hundreds of letters of support and encouragement arrived from around the world. Among the many who expressed their solidarity with the IHR were two of the most widely-read and respected historians of our time. British author, David Irving, who addressed the 1983 IHR conference, told the Institute: "I was deeply shocked to hear of the firebomb attack on your premises ... The inaction of the Torrance police department since then is also disturbing."

And American Pulitzer prize-winning author John Toland wrote:

When I learned of the torching of the office-warehouse of the Institute for Historical Review I was shocked. And when I heard no condemnation of this act of terrorism on television and read no protests in the editorial pages of our leading newspapers or from the halls of academia, I was dismayed and incensed. Where are those defenders of democracy who over the years have so vigorously protested the burning of books by Hitler? Are they only summer soldiers of democracy, selective in their outrage? I call on all true believers in democracy to join me in public denunciation of the recent burning of books in Torrance, California.

The fact that the Institute for Historical Review is so hated and vilified by the bigoted forces of darkness that seek to strangle any contrary voice, no matter how modest, is itself evidence of its importance as a bulwark against intellectual tyranny and scholastic repression. Just as challenges to political and social orthodoxy are vitally important in any healthy society, so also is it essential to challenge orthodox portrayals of the past. That is the work of historical revisionism. It deserves the support of everyone who honestly supports the search for historical truth, no matter where it may lead. George Orwell would surely agree.

From The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1985 (Vol. 6, No. 1), pages 4-8.