An Irishman's Diary
Were any of the mere 20 MEPs who voted against the 420 MEPs who approved the lifting of the immunity from prosecution of Jean-Marie Le Pen last week Irish? I hope so. The vote was to make Le Pen amenable to a law which might make a certain bizarre sense in Germany, but otherwise is a denial of a basic intellectual right - the right to be horribly and hideously wrong, the right to espouse foul ideas, the right to justify the unjustifiable.
That law, part of the special German criminal code for the suppression of Nazism, makes it a criminal offence to present as inoffensive any act committed by the National Socialists; and Le Pen apparently offended that code by declaring that the Nazi gas chambers were a detail in the history of the second World War. He might be vile, but he is no fool: he was being deliberately provocative in uttering those words at a launch of a biography of him by a former Waffen SS member, Franz Schonhuber MEP, in Munich. He wants free publicity; and the vote in the European parliament has guaranteed him just that.
Of course there are no laws anywhere which demand the prosecution, imprisonment and criminalisation of anyone who denies the atrocities of the Soviet Union, which, in numbers who were either butchered or worked to death or starved to death, exceeded handsomely the total killed by the Third Reich. Yet for whatever reason, those who had a soft spot for the Gulag's industrialised murder machine for 30 years are not judged as harshly as those who trivialise the crimes of the Third Reich.
This is not the first time that Le Pen has said that the gas chambers were a detail of the second World War. Morally, he is of course wrong. The Holocaust is morally the single biggest event in European history. But in geopolitical terms, he is probably right, though this assessment will not accord with the post-war popular mythology. Who really believes Britain would have gone to war in 1939 if Hitler had confined himself to the genocide of Jews in Germany and Austria?
Would the US have gone to war with Germany in 1941 if the Nazis had condemned the Japanese for the attack at Pearl Harbour - an attack by non-Aryans on Aryans - and declared that the Nazis now had a duty to deal with their own non-Aryan problem, which they would do with finality?
The second World War was not about the racial policies of the Third Reich. It was about the repeated violations of international law, of international treaties and of international boundaries by Hitler, who, if he had restricted himself to murdering Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, socialists, democrats, etc. within his own domain, as Stalin did with other categories of human beings, would most probably not have found himself at war with half the world.
The war certainly wasn't about the gas chambers; up until the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945, only the rulers of the Western powers had an inkling of what the Germans were up to, and they did virtually nothing to stop it.
RAF Bomber Command and the USAAF Eighth Air Force could have destroyed the infrastructure of industrialised murder, but they did not. Jewish leaders pleaded with the British and American governments to bomb the camps and the railway connections which fed them their fuel of human bodies and slave labour, but both governments preferred to devote their bombers to defeating Nazi Germany rather than militarily limiting its criminal excesses. Who knows, possibly, even if only at a subconscious level, Western leaders preferred the idea of German rolling-stock bearing Jews eastwards to German rolling-stock bearing tanks westwards.
Certainly, there was little or no appetite for sending bombers all the way to Poland, with possibly catastrophic losses, in order to save Jewish lives.
In our lifetimes, the world - including little us - has stood by and watched mass murder in Cambodia, Algeria, Iraq, China, North Korea and vast tracts of Africa, and done virtually nothing to prevent it. The brutal reality is that epidemics of homicide, if domestically confined and not impinging on the vital interests of outsiders, do not trigger foreign wars. As it is today, so was it 60 years ago.
Is this what Le Pen meant? I don't know. He does seem a remarkably disgusting man: catholically anti-Semitic in despising all the offspring of Shem, and not just Jews; an Afrophobe and a hater of homosexuals; and a sneaking-regarder of the Third Reich. Yet we should not deal with such venom by repressing it, for such repression inevitably curbs our own freedom not merely to debunk his falsehoods but to debate whatever truths people like Le Pen must inevitably include in their wider programme of lies.
Holocaust denial is today a crime in Germany; but in 1945, it was Irish government policy. Censors rigorously removed from our newspapers all reports of the discovery of the death camps. We officially denied the Holocaust, even as de Valera offered his condolences to Herr Hempel; Irish history has known more glorious moments. Once our politicians worked to prevent the Irish people from hearing the truth about the Holocaust. Their heirs should not now be voting to enable the prosecution of someone for restating what was, after all, public government policy in 1945.