Lying About History
Ten days before the 1939 invasion of Poland that launched World War II, Adolf Hitler reassured a conference of Nazi military leaders that even the complete destruction of the Polish people would not tar the Third Reich for long.
"Genghis Kahn led millions of women and children to slaughter — with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state," the führer told his men. And "[w]ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Not the Turkish government, which denies a plethora of evidence and eyewitness accounts that show that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were the victims of a genocide orchestrated by leaders of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. On the contrary, defying the weight of modern scholarship, Turkey regularly prosecutes intellectuals who suggest there was a genocide.
And not the likes of Guenter Lewy, a right-wing professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts who told a Harvard University audience this March that the Young Turk government of the time may have been guilty of "corruption" and "bungling misrule" — but not genocide. Lewy has made a career out of justifying American conduct in Vietnam and toward American Indians. As recounted in this issue of the Intelligence Report, he, along with a network of other prominent American academics, is working now to revise Turkish history, too.
Despite the efforts of people like Lewy — many of them funded by the Turkish government — the facts of the Armenian genocide are quite well known. The ruling party of the day massacred intellectuals, forced hundreds of thousands of Armenians into what amounted to death marches, and systematically despoiled the victims of their property. Professor Raphael Lemkin coined the word "genocide" in 1943 with the Armenian slaughter in mind. In 2005, the International Association of Genocide Scholars wrote the Turkish foreign minister to remind him that the massacre of Christian Armenians was indeed "a systematic genocide."
The claims of the Turkish government and the scholars who seem bent on supporting it are enough to make one ill. But they are not without company.
Almost from the day World War II ended, Nazi sympathizers began working to write the history of the Holocaust out of the cataclysm — to deny the existence of the gas chambers, of the Einsatzgruppen that shot hundreds of thousands of Jews to death, of any knowledge of the mass murder by Hitler. Yes, there was corruption, even "bungling misrule," but Hitler, they say, never planned a genocide.
Similarly, almost immediately after the American Civil War concluded in 1865, Alexander Stephens, former vice president of the Confederacy, wrote a history that elided slavery as the primary cause of the conflict, substituting in its place noble Southern attempts to preserve Christianity and the Constitution. In the 140-plus years since, literally hundreds of racist writers have parroted those claims; today, many neo-Confederates will even argue slavery was a good thing for Africans.
Aside from blind, brute nationalistic pride, what is the point of all this lying about history? Emory University Jewish and Holocaust Studies Professor Deborah Lipstadt put it well in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: "Denial aims to reshape history to rehabilitate the persecutors and demonize the victims."
That is true across the board. Some semi-official Turkish narratives now claim, in effect, that the Armenians actually carried out genocidal attacks on the Turks. Neo-Nazis and their scholarly enablers say that "the Jews" manufactured tall tales of the Holocaust in order to extort money and other concessions from postwar Germany. Neo-Confederates like Doug Wilson, a far-right pastor in Moscow, Idaho, tell their listeners with a straight face that the Civil War was nothing less than a defense of righteous Christian civilization and that blacks really didn't mind slavery.
These lies all serve current agendas — to demonize and minimize the historical claims of Armenians, Jews, and African Americans. That is why, at the end of her book, Lipstadt called on scholars to act: "We must do so in order to expose falsehood and hate. We will remain ever vigilant so that the most precious tools of our trade and our society — truth and reason — can prevail. The still, small voices of millions cry out to us from the ground demanding that we do no less."
Intelligence Report Wins Award
This April, the Intelligence Report was honored with a "special recognition" award for its 2007 reporting by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The award, presented in a televised ceremony held in Hollywood, Fla., said the Report's work "reinforces the reality that no one is equal until we are all equal."