Jonathan Zimmerman: A Florida law banning relativism in classes ignores reality and 75 years of academic tradition

Roundup: Talking About History

[JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of "Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century," which will be published in the fall by Harvard University Press.]

JUST WHEN YOU thought it was safe to study American history again … the revisionists are back!

You know, those relativists who distort or simply fabricate the past to make it fit their present-day biases. For instance, shortly after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, President Bush attacked "revisionist historians" who questioned his justifications for using force against Saddam Hussein. He did it again on Veterans Day in 2005. "It is deeply irresponsible," he declared, "to rewrite the history of how the war began."

And just last week, in an unprecedented move, the president's brother approved a law barring revisionist history in Florida public schools. "The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth," declares Florida's Education Omnibus Bill, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed."

Ironically, the Florida law is itself revisionist history. Once upon a time, it theorizes, history — especially about the founding of the country — was based on facts. But sometime during the 1960s, all that changed. American historians supposedly started embracing newfangled theories of moral relativism and French postmodernism, abandoning their traditional quest for facts, truth and certainty.

The result was a flurry of new interpretations, casting doubt on the entire past as we had previously understood it. Because one theory was as good as another, then nothing could be true or false. God, nation, family and school: It was all up for grabs.

There's just one problem with this history-of-our-history: It's wrong.

Hardly a brainchild of the flower-power '60s, the concept of historical interpretation has been at the heart of our profession from the 1920s onward. Before that time, to be sure, some historians believed that they could render a purely factual and objective account of the past. But most of them had given up on what historian Charles Beard called the "noble dream" by the interwar period, when scholars came to realize that the very selection of facts was an act of interpretation.

That's why Cornell's Carl Becker chose the title "Everyman His Own Historian" for his 1931 address to the American Historical Assn., probably the most famous short piece of writing in our profession. In it, Becker explained why "Everyman" — that is, the average layperson — inevitably interpreted the facts of his or her own life, remembering certain elements and forgetting (or distorting) others.

For instance, try to recount everything you did yesterday. Not just a few things, like going to work or eating dinner or reading the newspaper, but everything. You can't. Even if you kept a diary and recorded what you did each minute, you would inevitably omit some detail: a sound in your ear, a twitch in your nose, a passing glance of your eyes. A 24-hour video camera might pick up these physical actions, but it could never record your thoughts.

So when somebody asks what you did yesterday, you select a certain few facts about your day and spin a story around them.

As do professional historians. They may draw on a wider array of facts and theories but, just like "Everyman," they choose certain data points and omit others, as well they must.

Becker was an optimist. Although historians could never determine the capital-T "Truth," he wrote, they could get progressively closer to it by asking new questions, collecting new facts and constructing new interpretations.

Nevertheless, he concluded his 1931 address on a pessimistic note: Unless the profession engaged lay readers — unless, that is, we taught the public about what we actually do — Americans would reject history itself, taking comfort in banal pieties and sugarcoated myths.

And surely one of the biggest myths of all is that history is simply about "facts." This year marks the 75th anniversary of Becker's famous speech, yet Americans appear no nearer to understanding that all pasts are "constructed," that all facts require interpretation and that all history is "revisionist" history.

Demagogic politicians are certainly at fault for this situation, but historians bear a good deal of blame too. Unlike Becker's generation of scholars, who worked hard to cultivate a lay readership, most of us write only for each other. Is it any wonder that the public has no idea about how we go about choosing topics, identifying sources and arriving at conclusions?

"It should be a relief to us to renounce omniscience," Becker wrote 75 years ago, "to recognize that every generation, our own included, will, must inevitably, understand the past and anticipate the future in the light of its own restricted experience."

Yet this recognition also comes with a responsibility, which most historians have, unfortunately, renounced as well.

If more of us wrote for the people instead of simply about them, perhaps they would turn a deaf ear to specious charges of "revisionism," "constructivism" and the like. People construct their own stories every day, just like we historians do. And may the best story win.

Related Link: David Davisson, Florida Education, 12 June 2006, Revise and Dissent.

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Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Thomas:
Re your #91115:
I think I have noticed a pattern in the replies that are made to you when you post such observations. The pattern is: no replies. Interesting. Maybe I'm mistaken.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Ms. Spark:
I wonder if groups that have their own facts that cannot be challenged by others came in with "multiculturalism", if we mean by multiculturalism a discipline that came about after WWII. When I was a kid before the war I found that Morman and Baptist and Catholic (and so on)"groups" each had their own facts that could not be challenged. These groups together made up the overwhelming majority of the population.

Maybe I should ask: "What is a group?"

With regard to our educational system "failing:" when has our educational system NOT been "failing?" When I was a kid it produced a generation of folk who were educated to believe that it was morally justified to intentionally kill hundreds of thousands of innocent, unarmed civilians for what the State taught them was a "greater good." Looking back on the American educational system, I would suggest it has been "failing" for a very long time, if not from the beginning.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Minor:
Agreed: relativism and revisionism are not the same thing.

Not agreed: that holocaust revisionism is necessarily the rewriting of history to “fit a viewpoint.” It can be of course, just as saying so can be the expression of a fear that the history of the Holocaust very much needs revising, but that’s a discussion that can be left for another time. The Holocaust story has been in the process of being “revised” for forty years and more. Upon a perusal of the literature, very little could be more obvious. This is why, while we once “knew” that there were gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald etc., we no longer know that because those gas chambers have been “revised” so thoroughly that they no longer exist, even in the minds of otherwise True Believers. For a brief overview of such matters see: http://www.codoh.com/newrevoices/nwidmann/nrfwausre.html

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Thomas:
The irony here is that it is not merely "professional liars" who play the "anti-Semite" card to protect The Story from a free exchange of ideas. To the contrary. I would guess that the great majority of those who play that card are sincere. They have been educated to truly believe The Story, and they do. For decades, I was among them. Nearly all who are "revisionists" today were once True Believers.

I should probably always challenge the anti-Semite card when it is played, but oftentimes I let it go. Depends on who plays it. If it is someone like Deborah Lipstadt, the campus queen at playing that card (with the near universal support of the professorial class), I might be encouraged to reply. If it's a lesser guy or gal, I oftentimes let it slide, thinking well, what the hell? A few years ago I was where they are now.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

May the best story win.
Among historians, too often that's just not how it works. The "best story" is too often the story that has behind it the most money, the most political influence, and the most severe penalties for those who dare challenge any significant part of it. The most egregious example of such behavior among the professorial class (as a class) is its routine condemnation of revisionist arguments regarding the Holocaust story.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

With a conscious sketchiness:

I came of age in the early 1950s. I was taught that the Germans had cooked the corpses of murdered Jews to make hand soap of them. That Germans had skinned the corpses of murdered Jews to make lamp shades and riding breeches of their hides. I was taught that Germans had used homicidal gas chambers to murder Jews and other at Dachau, Bergen Belsen, and even at Buchenwald. I was taught that there was clear proof that Hitler had ordered the physical extermination of the Jewish race in Europe. Time passes. All these stories and a wealth of others have been "revised."

The key stories that have been revised to date all go to the "unique monstrosity" of the Germans. I see it as normal that the State would forward the "unique monstrosity" of its conquored enemies. It is a shield behind which the State protects itself from charges of--unique monstrosity.

Why the professorial class in America would have bought into the scenario it did about the unique monstrosity of the enemies of the State is something I do not pretend to understand. Other than to suggest that professors are mere mortals, like the rest of us.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

I should have noted that my last reply was to Mr. Fitzpatrick's question.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Getz:

As simply as possible: "tatoos" do not prove gas chambers. I know you did not "say" they do. But why would you mention the matter in this context?

With regard to "eyewitness" testimony about gas chambers: there were eyewitnesses to gas chambers at Bergen Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau and to a number of others. All accepted as false, even by the professors. So while there is eyewitness testimony to gas chambers, it helps to acknowledge that there is eyewitness testimony by some who have been abducted by aliens in uniquely described flying machines. Could be true, could be false. In either case, I would want to see such a construction, or see a drawing of it demonstrating how it functions.

Which reminds me: Robert Faurisson has asked that someone, anyone, in the academic community or any community that academics hold a professional respect for, show him or draw for him a German "gas chamber."

His request--okay, challenge, has been out there for ten years or longer. No takers. If you are interested I would only suggest that you do not look to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, for help. Or if you do, pay attention to how they put you on.

For my part, it might very well change my life if I were to see a drawing of either an alien space ship or a German homicidal gas chamber. One or the other. I'm an old guy now, but --I'm still willin'--a phrase that John Wayne used in "The Shootist." I love Hollywood. It's there, as a matter of fact, where you will find the most deeply knowlegeable people about aliens and the unique monostrosity of the Germans. What a town!

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Getz:
I agree that there are some among the revisionists who are driven by ideology. Can we agree that there are those among the exterminationists (true believers) who are driven by ideology? Is it not obvious?

With regard to those among revisionists and exterminationists who are driven by financial issues --follow the money, Mr. Getz. Follow the money. Theres no contest. True believers all the way down.

Re little snippets of information that are not sourced: with regard to my own actions here, I agree with what you say. I will make fewer claims about Holocaust fraud in the future, keeping in mind that those who post here typically do not read revisionist arguments on principle, but source those I do use. If I fail, bring it to my attention.

(I'm having a difficult --impossible--time copying and pasting into this window. Is it not allowed?)

Re my "theories" about the Holocaust: I don't really have any theories. Doubt about this, doubt about that, is not theory in and of itself. My only theory, and it is one that I cannot prove but which I have been trying to foster for some 25 years, is that it is better to allow everyone to talk about it (anything) than it is to allow only some (true believers) to talk about it.

The purpose of taboo in the intellectual life is to limit the free exchange of ideas. The purpose of prison for revisionist writers is to limit a free exchange of ideas about the Holocaust for those who are not true believers. This should give the game away to those who take seriously the ideals of the ACLU, which I do. (I have been a member myself.)

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

My first suggestion is that you go to www.codoh.com, click on the author's page, and click on Sam Crowell. Crowell provides what I believe is the best current overview of the gas-chamber delusion.

Following that simply do a search via any of the links provided on the Homepage, particularly the Journal archive at The Institute for Historical Review. Search the subject you are most interested.

And thanks for asking, Andy.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Thomas:
With re to using sources here: I have cornered myself. Because it's not really the "facts" of The Story that most interest me, but:

1) How the professorial class has protected and helped "manage" The Story from the get-go via slander and taboo and law, and

2) How The Story is used to morally justify the mass killings of innocent, unarmed civilians by the U.S. during WWII (Americans of course were not alone in that but as an American. . . .); to morally justify the building of a Jewish State on Arab land where the people living there did not want them; to morally justify the U.S. alliance with Israel against the Palestinians which, it can be aruged (but not very simply sourced) morally justified the attack against America on 9/11 in the eyes of those who carried it out, which helped to morally justify in turn the U.S. attack on Iraq and . . . who knows what is coming down the pike?

I'm beguiled by the notion that as Americans we should hold ourselves to the same high moral standards to which we hold others, particularly (historically) Germans. That we should not cut up the moral equation into pieces, saving the easy parts for ourselves, the pieces that are hard to digest for the others.

It is my experience that what most interests me about The Story, does not interest others, and that in fact most others feel offended (and if not offended, extraordinally cautious) that I should go on about it.

BTW: I am not familiar with the Elie Wiesel / train-yard story. Can you (forgive me) source it for me? I love this guy.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Mr. Getz:
I was careless in not replying to your use of the term Holocaust "denier" with respect to myself. I know it is commonplace to do so, nevertheless it is a misleading term, and is so intentionally. The word denier suggests to the reader, the student, that I would "deny the Holocaust," that is, the catastrohe the Jews suffered during the Hitlerian regime. The question is not whether the catastrophe happend, because it did, but how the catastrophe has been addressed by the professorial class and others.

It is not a good sign for American culture to take for granted, promote, the unique monstrosity of the Germans on the one hand, and on the other prohibit, via taboo, an open debate on the matter, using taboo and the threat of prison to preserve those aspects of the story that would be threatened in a free exchange of ideas.

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

Ms Spark:
I suppose I might apologize. I thought it was an odd way for a professor to end a paper on what I take to be an important matter: "May the best story win." What occured to me immediately is that the "best story" is oftentimes the story related and managed by the most influential in any given society, and always to their own benefit. The "bizzare outpouring" that followed suggests that there are a good number of people among the intellectual classes who agree with me, some who believe it is just fine that that is so, others feeling restless, uncomfortable, that it should be so.

Re Becker: sorry.

andy mahan - 9/18/2006

Oh, it's a mess alright. Not more than other professions. Maybe I'm naive but I used to expect that teachers would be above politics but they aren't. Very talented people are ignored or otherwise do not get the recognition they should while a skilled political person might be hailed for average work.

andy mahan - 9/18/2006

Becker's honesty is encouraging. There should be more discussion of the bias of "non-fiction." People don't grasp it nearly enough.

Surprisingly, even today many historians ignore and deny the fact of "everyman" history bias'. Maybe because they are forced to surrender power if they're honest.

andy mahan - 9/18/2006

Mr's Thomas and Smith,

WOW. I've always thought that "denial of the holocaust" for lack of a better phrase, was baseless. What additional sources, (books, articles) would you offer to support the claim that the historical record is inaccurate?

Darren Michael Peterson - 6/23/2006

It seems to me, from what I have read in the article and in the discussion, everyone has missed the attempt to legislate the "truth" and the "accuracy" of history!

Is this not the ultimate expression of Political Correctness? This isn't an attempt to persuade someone that their beliefs or ideas are wrong from a moral standpoint or shouldn't be expressed. This is an attempt to use the power of the state to define the truth of history.

When asked about the teaching of Intelligent Design, President Bush replied:

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought... You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Does this only apply to different thoughts that are approved by the administration?

Within a few months I will have my teaching license and my hope is to teach social science or history. Are there now legal repercussions that I need to fear if I do not adhere exactly to the "approved" version? Fines? Loss of job? Loss of my license?

(This is a revised posting from one I submitted earlier because I posted it as a RE instead of a new subject comment.)

Darren Michael Peterson - 6/23/2006

Mr Smith,
In the pursuit of honesty, I would like to include a link to go along with the codoh links that you suggest.


This should give anyone interested a fairly representative view of both sides.

Darren Michael Peterson - 6/23/2006

It seems to me, from what I have read in the article and in the discussion, everyone has missed the attempt to legislate the "truth" and the "accuracy" of history!

Is this not the ultimate expression of Political Correctness? And that it is from a Republican governor to boot!

When asked about the teaching of Intelligent Design, President Bush replied:

"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought... You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Does this only apply to different thoughts that are approved by the administration?

Within a few months I will have my teaching license and my hope is to teach social science or history. Are there now legal repercussions that I need to fear if I do not adhere exactly to the "approved" version? Fines? Loss of job? Loss of my license?

Even the act of interpreting or analyzing the "objective" evidence is filtered through a person's perspective.

This may be denied... a person may claim they are being absolutely, 100% unbiased and only wishing to find the "Truth" but that is just a denial of human nature, our thought process and modern research into learning. A constructivist approach to how we learn says that we associate new information based upon the sum of our previous knowledge and experiences. We draw connections revisit and revise connections and then synthesize new knowledge.

To anyone suggesting CODOH as a source for information to the facts of the holocaust, please be honest and helpful enough to provide a counter-opinion source such as http://www.holocaust-history.org/denial/. Here, they do not try to support that EVERY camp was a death camp... thus removing the argument that because a particular camp doesn't have a gas chamber all camps must not be death camps.

I cannot believe that people are not upset at an attempt to legislate what is the "true" history. If I use outside resources in my teaching, such as source documents that disagree with the "official" version, am I now subject to sanctions?

One last thought from an historical perspective. It seems that many people assume that society is static and the way things are today will be the way things are tomorrow. Thus, if they legislate things like this, it is okay because their party will forever be in power and thus able to dictate what is "true".

However, we know that parties rise and fall and the powers that we give today will be the powers we give to future administrations.

jeff miner - 6/20/2006

It seems to me that this article is talking at cross-purposes to itself. Relativism and revisionism are not the same thing. However much I deplore the Bush administration, I have been concerned for some time about the adoption of a relativist viewpoint in eductional circles. Banning relativism may seem like an odd (perhaps pointless) execise in thought-control, but if this bill is designed to set forth educational standards and guidelines, the words quoted seem entirely appropriate to me.

Revisionism would be the rewriting of history (changing the facts) to fit a viewpoint. (e.g. holocaust revisionism)

Relativism asserts that there are no facts as such, only opinions. (e.g. the view that the Hopi have the right to deny that their ancestors came to North America via a land-bridge to Alaska because their creation-myth is "true for them")

Becker's comments do not argue in favor of relativism, but only for the fallibility of any given interpretation.

As far as I can see, the wording of the bill as quoted does not prohibit alternate interpretations of the facts, rather it insists on the primacy of facts - something I would hope (but unfortunately not expect) that all historians would welcome.

Again, I consider it a legitimate question as to whether this bill is attempting to illegitimately stifle a view or setting forth valid educational standards, but this article seems to come at the problem from entirely the wrong angle.

Frederick Thomas - 6/14/2006

Good points:

-It seems that the original impetus for what you call "the story" came from the Soviets.

-All of the KZ inmate "witness testimony" taken at Neuremberg were provided by them, and they were given a free hand legally. The Brits helped out in a supporting role by forcing Hoess confession, which he did not write.

-These same Soviets had murdered 10 million Ukranians/Kulaks in 1932, 3.5 million Germans and about 1 million Poles and others in ethnically cleansing and subjugating Eastern Europe in 1945, and they needed cover for all this mass murder.

-Best way to get it? Point finger at the other guy, and accuse him of a bigger crime than you are accused of.

-Just to be sure, Vyszhinski, the GRU Kommissar thug who sat in judgment of the Germans at Neuremberg, had about 6 years earlier supervised the killings at Katyn Forest. Judge? He should have been shot out of hand.

-Google "elie wiesel fraud," and pay particular attention to some of the HNN comments. There is so much material against him that if he were not Jewish, he'd be in jail or dead long since.

-By diverting attention and blame, this professional liar has given essential PR support to Israel, while permitting extortion of hundreds of billions from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the US. Norm Finkelstein's books document this scam dispassionately and fully. He calls it "The Holocaust Industry."


-I appreciate your courage in simply asserting the truth in the face of the greatest fraud in history. Meanwhile, if one of the defenders of this scam calls you an anti-semite, get out the bug spray and let 'em have it. Translated, "anti-semite" means "honest historian."

Clare Lois Spark - 6/13/2006

The profession of history is riven with conflict; hence the establishment of the Historical Society in opposition to the OAH and AHA. And as for who gets jobs, look at academic politics: it has more to do with membership in a feudal type gang than with objective standards of achievement.

Clare Lois Spark - 6/13/2006

The notion that objectists don't consider "point of view" and subjectivity in general is one of the great slanders of our time. The dreadful thing about multiculturalism is that groups have their own "facts"--"facts" that can't be challenged by others with material evidence. And some wonder why our educational system is failing.

Clare Lois Spark - 6/13/2006

I expected to see discussion of the actual politics of Carl Becker, but instead was appalled by this bizarre outpouring, with not a single message commenting on the article at hand.
It so happens that I have studied Carl Becker's theories of history, and he was a severe critic of the Enlightenment and the materialist science that inspired it. His kind of relativism was embraced by a parallel movement in academe: the history of science seen through the lens of cultural anthropology. All this fit very well into New Deal strategies of conflict resolution, multiculturalism for instance. Also the welfare state as cure for the Depression, asserted against the "individualism" of "laissez-faire capitalism." Please see my article on that subject, posted on HNN: http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html.

Frederick Thomas - 6/13/2006

Mr. Mahon:

I concur with Mr. Smith on the references as a good starting point.

1. A corroborating bit of hard evidence is the collection US aerial photos taken from 1942 onwards of Auschwitz-Birkenau, some of which are available on the internet.


If people were sent to Auschwitz to be killed, why were so many hundreds of barracks built, particularly at Birkenau, which pro-holocaust advocates call an "extermination camp?" (The Germans called it a "Konzentrazionslager," which appears correct.)

And who is manning those 33 adjacent factories, including the two giant IG Farben plants, other than the inmates of those barracks? If death were the object, why would people be brought so far, at such expense, and put to work first? Indeed, it seems that war production was the reason for Auschwitz, in which women and children played a big part, ergo the large number of tatooed survivors.

2. Secondly, consider the epidemiology of Typhus, the real murderer at concentration and POW camps alike.


The type of typhus which haunted the camps is borne by lice, and can symbiotically gestate only in the stomach and intestines of the louse. The louse seeks and bites an infected person, and passes Typhus through the blood ingested. Eggs are laid on that victim, and hatch with the disease.

Lice are territirial and seek other victims, and soon an entire crowded barracks can be infected, and indeed often was.

Kommandant Hoess was fired in 1943 for permitting a near 40% falloff in camp production, from the 1942-1943 epidemics, while German troops suffered fatal setbacks in the East from lack of fuel and suplies (the IG Farben plants produced gasoline from coal.)

So the louse, the war bug, lowest of creatures, probably took a bigger toll that most of the fighting, as it has so often in the past, including our Civil War. German and French civilians were not spared.

Of course, death by gas is probably preferable to death by typhus, which is very painful and takes about two weeks.

3. Finally, consider the odd advocates of the holocaust hypothesis.

Elie Wiesel apparently spent WW II in a Polish trainyard protected by his German friend and boss, but tells the most fantastic stories to a horrified audience to maximize book sales. His three autobiographies sound like three different people.

Abe Foxman, who is paid $750,000 plus bonus yearly to find anti-semites, will surely continue to do so.

Then consier the hundreds of billions reparations and aid which have gone to Israel.

The "holocaust" is a demonstrably profitable business, both for its purveyors and for the State of Israel, for which it also serves to deflect criticism of human rights abuses. And so it continues.

Trevor Russell Getz - 6/13/2006

Mr. Smith,

If we were true HNNers, we would be getting more irrational and yelling obscenities by now... but instead we have found, again, some common ground.

My own perspective:
As an Africanist, I am disappointed that our global society has been unwilling or unable to stop genocides in the Sudan, Rwanda, and also outside of Africa in Cambodia and elsewhere. Seeing the Holocaust as seperate from these and other genocidal experiences of peoples - and elevating it above them - misses the point. In history, many people have been victims, and the objective should not be to deify on victimization, but to end genocide entirely. Thus if we should remember
the Holocaust, it is not to elevate Jews (and other victims) to a special class of victimhood, but to help us to mobilize memory and sentiment to stop the next round of genocide.



Jason B Keuter - 6/13/2006


You might also consult Mein Kampf II...or the Iranian Mullah's Truth in History Commission..or just give David Duke or David Irving a phone call. I'm sure they'd be willing to share plenty of insight. If that fails, you can simply make up your own facts!

Trevor Russell Getz - 6/12/2006

Mr. Smith,

You know (because I have told you before) that I do not believe that the Holocaust was a unique genocide. You may also know that , when challenged by Michael Shermer, Faurisson was unable to tell him what would constitute proof of gas chambers . Faurisson was merely acting as a provocateur. The convergence of evidence from aerial photographs, eyewitness accounts (and it is here I bring up my relatives, to answer your question - they saw these gas chambers in operation), architecture and construction, etc so far has not been challenged by a SIMILAR CONVERGENCE OF EVIDENCE that these were not gas chambers. But it is impossible to 'convince' by evidence somebody like Faurisson who already has his mind made up for ideological reasons.

In fact, you and I are not going to convince each other here... especially as you are a leading figure in the Holocaust Denial movement (congratulations)... and I am not a Holocaust scholar (although even I can see your agenda quite plainly... and it's not about setting the 'record' straight).

What HNN represents to you is a place where you can put forth hypotheses that have been rejected from peer-reviewed journals because they lack scholarly rigor (yes - I know you believe it's because of a Jewish conspiracy).

This, in fact, represents my quandry with respect to HNN as a website. On the one hand, it makes discourse possible between academics and lay-people, which is a very positive thing. On the other hand, it's difficult for people to vet the information given. Little snippets of unsubstantiated information are thrown as them as facts, without any substantiation, by people about whose backgrounds they are unaware. Some of them, like you, even get paid to spread your message (by "anti-semitic racists", in your own words, in Confessions of a Holocaust Revisionist).

Ironically (and I have also stated this before), both you and I support open discussion and debate on the subject of the Holocaust. But the question is this: how can we know what is real debate, and what is ideologically- or financially- driven? The answer lies in objective testing of all claims. Now the academic peer-review process may not be perfect, but so far it's the most critical process we have for determining whether claims are reliable, whether they are verifiable, whether they converge or are disproven by other evidence, whether they are rigorous and able to withstand a challenge, and whether they are driven by ideology or financial goals. In this context, the fact that Holocaust Denial has failed to make a real showing in this arena is telling.

Of course, your pursuit of your theories is your right... and as an ACLU member it is a right I would personaly defend. I just think that the evidence so far suggests that you are mistaken.

Frederick Thomas - 6/12/2006

Mr. Getz:

In support of the fact-based approach, the facts you refer to are these:

-at Auschwitz, 1,150,000 died, of which about 989,000 were Jews, the balance Gypsies, Polish Catholics, Communists, etc. Almost all of these died of epidemic typhus or typhoid, while engaged in forced labor in a 33-factory complex which was essential to the eastern war for the Germans. This is the story which is put out by the Polish government today and is based upon the camp records siezed by the Soviets which were released 15 years ago.

-The "story" of 4 million killed at Auschwitz was coerced from Rudolf Hoess, the ill-fated commandant until 1943, under two weeks of unrelenting British torture. He was convinced only when his family was threatened with deportation to Russia and simply signed a statement which he did not even read. Such was Neuremberg, a process without a bit of integrity.

-The other camps were similar, but smaller and sometimes deadlier. Anne Frank's death at Bergen-Belsen was by Typhus, and was typical.

"There were no ovens at Bergen-Belsen; instead the Nazis killed us with starvation and disease..."


-other deaths resulted from the "Kommissarbefehl," which Hitler did sign, and which resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of mainly Jews during the initial attack on the Soviet Union. Most of these resulted from Jewish men and some others being lines up and machinegunned by Einsatzgrueppen and collaborators. Many Soviet Kommissars were Jewish, a tragic career choice as it happened.

-There is no documentation I am aware of that the "Final Solution" involved complete genocide of the Jews as an aim. Instead it seemed to point to forcibly resettling Jews beyond the Urals after European Russia was conquered. Most concentration camps were called "Umsiedlungslager," or "resettlement camps," in furtherance of that objective.

There are no words for the barbarities of the 20th century, which continue today. But to honor those of all nations who died in its violence, we must be as accurate as possible, and as factual, in describing what happened.

Peter Kovachev - 6/12/2006

A silly law trying to counter silly versions of history. Nevertheless, before some folks hit the barricades over what they'll no doubt call an assault on freedom of opinion and expression, let's remember that students are already subject to a barrage of PC propaganda and prohibited expressions, so, what's one more wrench in the works?

Trevor Russell Getz - 6/12/2006

Mr. Fitzpatrick,

Since we have given Mr. Smith another forum to try out his theories, let me reply just briefly.

Mr. Smith is the type of Holocaust revisionist that some label a 'denier'. I say that, by the way, without rancor. About revisionism like his, Karl Popper said it best. To paraphrase: every generation has the right to create its own narratives of history, but some don't stand up to the convergence of evidence... it may not be possible to 'know' history, but it is possible to rank explanations and theories based on the evidence behind them. Again it's personal... aside from the vast amount of evidence pointing towards the Third Reich's purposeful attempt at creating a 'final solution' that involved eradicating European Jews and members of some other groups, I have seen the camp tattoos of family members of my grandparents' generation and heard their descriptions of the gas chambers. That is my 'reality', but it may not be Mr. Smith's...

Ironically, the Holocaust has been the scene of some of the most anti-'revisionist' and anti-'post-modern' stances by scholars who state that "Auschwitz is not a perspective".

Nicholas Clifford - 6/12/2006

What an asinine law Florida seems to have passed. But "may the best story win?" It all depends, as a former president might say, on what you mean by best. Most popular? Then we should all take the Da Vinci code as real history, and I doubt if that's what we want.
Aren't we perhaps giving Becker too much credit for recognizing the importance of point of view? Perhaps in the US -- but surely Pascal was on to the same idea in his famous statement about truth looking rather different from opposite sides of the Pyrenees.

David J. Fitzpatrick - 6/12/2006

To what "revisionism" regarding the Holocaust are you referring?

J. William T. Youngs - 6/12/2006

Good article. Arguably George Bush began the "revisionism" or "constructivism" on the Iraq War himself, spinning a web of lies and misconceptions into a fantasy world of Iraqi WMD and ties to Al Qeada. I wonder -- we never get history exactly "right," granted, but surely some accounts are more "factual" than others....

Bill Youngs