Monday, May 12, 2008


So, I received a chain e-mail from a friend today (no offense if you happen to read this. There is nothing in particular about the one you sent that set me off. It's just a good example of the sort of thing I'll discuss below).

The chain letter was a "Never Forget" message about the holocaust, how we must never allow ourselves to forget the lessons of inhumanity to man to be learned from the holocaust, accompanied with gruesome images of hundreds of bodies from a concentration camp.

Indeed, it is important to "never forget" this event, and in these times when our own government is willing to violate the basic human decency of our enemies (and suspected enemies) for no good reason.

The chain email includes Goebbles' famous quote (much observed by Fox News) that "If a lie is repeated often enough, people will believe it."

Unfortunately, the chain letter proceeds to repeat lies.

When some of the claims made in the e-mail sounded a little fishy, I did a bit of research. The message claims that the UK has banned teaching students about the holocaust for fear of offending Muslim students. This is patently untrue (snopes, BBC), and indeed this unfounded claim (apparently this e-mail really got around before it landed in my inbox) has damaged the reputation of the United Kingdom to the point where the British government took the unprecedented step of writing other nations' embassies that holocaust education not only has not been "banned," but is indeed compulsory in the British school system (BBC).

The message also claims that Dwight Eisenhower (then
Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces) forced German villagers to bury the dead at Dachau, and ordering that as many photographs be taken as possible, stating,
Get it all on record now - get the films - get the witnesses - because somewhere down the track of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened!
I'm no WWII scholar, and this may indeed be true, but I was unable to find ANY trace of those actions or words outside of this e-mail or variants of it posted around the interwebs.

So what is the big deal? The holocaust definitely happened, and even if this message had a few details wrong, at least it's not lying about the big truths, right? Why do I single out this message when I've never attacked the holocaust deniers who are undoubtedly committing a more awful crime.

Most reasonable people understand that the evidence in favor of the historicity of the holocaust is insurmountable. There is just no way a reasonable person could view the evidence and come to the conclusion that the holocaust is a myth. Those who claim that the holocaust never happened are either willfully ignoring the evidence, brainwashed or lying. Others are more capable of calling out the lies of denialists than I (like these guys).

But the political, rhetorical and sentimental power of holocaust deniers around the world (along with evolution deniers, HIV deniers, climate change deniers, and other groups devoted to pseudoscience and crank history) is growing through their commitment to fraud and lies and their dismissal and distortion of mountains of evidence.

When those that oppose truth feel no remorse in making false historical or scientific claims, it is all the more important that those who recognize the validity and importance of truth not commit the same mistakes and allow falsehoods about these topics to propagate, even if they appear to validate our position. The holocaust was horrific enough, and the current spate of denialism is disgusting enough there we need not perpetuate inflated claims. When those of us who want to strive for the truth perpetuate, knowingly or unknowingly, falsehoods, it can backfire, actually giving CREDENCE to the denialists who can gloat, "if they lied about this, maybe they lied about the whole thing."

Anyway, this has turned into a long rant. I don't think there is any serious threat to the acceptance of the holocaust, at least not in the US, so I don't mean to blow this problem out of proportion... There are similar, if sometimes less sinister, efforts to establish non-scientific, ahistorical ideas into the heart of public discourse, and I'll be addressing some of them in future posts... Look forward to more long rants on HIV denial, the creationist claim that Darwin caused the holocaust, and the en vogue "vaccination causes autism" argument (the evidence against which is overwhelming, yet ALL THREE of the remaining presidential candidates have expressed, to varying degrees, that the issue is of concern to them).

No comments: