In structuring my account of Irving’s book around the Oscar Wilde trial I have not exactly exhibited the skills of a born story-teller. I have destroyed any possible suspense about the outcome of Irving’s case. But Evans makes his investigation of Irving’s work fascinating, introducing it with a summary of representative reviews of Irving’s books by professional historians including such distinguished authorities as Gordon Craig (in the pages of the New York Review of Books, no less), who have credited Irving with significant contributions to the field.
Through his own dogged research and backtracking over Irving’s sources, Evans finds that Irving’s willful distortion of the record extends back to Irving’s first book, The Destruction of Dresden, published in 1964, in which Irving inflated the number of German civilians killed in the 1945 Allied bombing raid by a factor of 10 or so. Evans traces the development of several of the other themes of Holocaust denial through editions of Irving’s most famous book, Hitler’s War, originally published in 1977, revised and supplemented several times since, through the manipulation and fabrication of evidence.
Evans’ research also suggests that something snapped in Irving in 1988, when his work really went over the edge. He does not reconcile this insight with his discovery of Irving’s dishonesty (all in the direction of alleged Allied guilt, German victimization, and other themes of Holocaust denial) dating back to his very first book. The impression nevertheless vividly remains of someone going around the bend as a result of his staring too long at the face of evil. Evans persuasively suggests that Irving came to fancy himself as Hitler’s ambassador to the future.
It would perhaps take an artist of Wilde’s caliber to capture the transformation of Irving that Evans intimates. And when in his closing argument (Irving represented himself at trial) Irving addresses the presiding judge as “Mein Fuhrer,” we appear to have entered the realm of fantasy or comedy; it would take a more dignified character than Irving to approach tragedy.
In any event, the judge finds that Lipstadt’s characterization of Irving as a Holocaust denier is true, dismisses Irving’s defamation claim, and enters judgment (British-style) awarding humongous defendants’ attorneys’ fees against Irving. Justice prevails, British-style.
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