Historian has the right to be wrong

Sixteen years ago, historian David Irving, while on a lecture tour in Austria, proclaimed that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

And now, in the year 2006, he’s going to jail.

Didn’t make sense to you? We didn’t get it either. Apparently there is no statute of limitations in Austria.

In Austria, Holocaust denial, as well as Nazi symbols, music and literature, is a crime. When Irving went back to Austria in November, he was stopped by the police and arrested. On Monday, he was sentenced to three years in prison.

There are two issues here. One, we believe he has a right to say whether he believes the Holocaust happened. Two, why did it take 16 years to arrest him?

What’s even more absurd is that Irving now says he has changed his mind, or rather, as he would put it, “refined his position.” After doing further research, he has changed his position. Irving has written more than 30 books on World War II and Nazi Germany. In his book, Hitler’s War, he questioned the existence of the concentration camps and gas chambers. He stated in this book that most of the prisoners died of disease, rather than execution.

Perhaps we’re biased because we are in the field of journalism and the practice of free speech is essential to our careers, but it still makes no sense. Irving says he has done more research that points to the fact that, yes, the Holocaust was a tragedy. So, does he get any credit for switching his stance?

No. For him to be locked up for something he now says was faulty judgment on his part, 16 years after the offense, seems too trivial. Crazier still, the Austrian prosecutor is also appealing the decision, saying that the three years in jail is “too lenient” for Irving.

German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler, in an interview with the German press, stated that in this case, freedom of speech doesn’t apply.

“The denial of such an unimaginable murder of millions, one-third of whom were children under the age of 14, cannot simply be accepted as something protected by the freedom of speech,” Wehler said. “However as much as I am in favor of the right to freely express one’s opinion, one cannot allow the denial of the Holocaust to hide behind overly generous freedom of expression.”

We tried to think of a witty comeback to this statement, but Irving summed it up perfectly himself, in an interview with the Times Online in London:

“Freedom of speech is the right to be wrong, basically. Sometimes I’m wrong.”

Irving was wrong about whether the Holocaust happened and the extent to which it occurred, but he’s not a criminal.

The above editorial is the consensus

opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.