To the Editor:
Gabriel Schoenfeld tries to defend his assault on Patrick Buchanan’s A Republic, Not an Empire [Letters from Readers, March] from the thoughtful criticisms of some of your readers. In the course of his response, Mr. Schoenfeld singles me out for attack in an attempt to destroy Buchanan’s reputation.
First, unavoidably, the matter of my credentials. Mr. Schoenfeld implies that they are subminimal, referring to me as a professor of “social-studies education” at Buffalo State College. In fact, I am and have been for many years a professor of history at that school, in the department of history and social-studies education. My Ph.D. is from the University of Chicago, where F.A. Hayek served as the head of my dissertation committee.
In my essay “Rethinking Churchill,” which so incensed Mr. Schoenfeld, I apply the standards of classical liberalism in arriving at my rather harsh judgment of that eminent welfare-statist and war-lover (who, I grudgingly agree with Mr. Schoenfeld, is “a figure of somewhat greater historical stature” than my own). “Rethinking Churchill” is 40 pages long and includes 169 footnotes; a few of them cite David Irving, which Mr. Schoenfeld finds scandalous. But if the eminent historian Gordon Craig can find Irving’s work highly useful, why can’t I? In any case, there are more references to John Charmley, Clive Pointing, A.J.P. Taylor, Tuvia Ben-Moshe, and others than to David Irving.
The single historical episode Mr. Schoenfeld mentions in his attack on me is the terror-bombing of Germany. It did, indeed, as I stated, involve the annihilation of an ancient urban culture and the massacre of some 600,000 civilians from the air. Yet Mr. Schoenfeld still seems to think this action was morally irreproachable. He should read the memorandum Churchill sent to British bomber command following the destruction of Dresden, attempting to shift the blame. While he is at it, Mr. Schoenfeld might try to correct some of his grossly distorted impressions of the opponents of the war in 1940-41, who, he holds, were “dangerous fools,” if not outright anti-Semites and Nazis. Mr. Schoenfeld would clearly benefit from reading Bill Kauffman’s America First! Its History, Culture, and Politics with a foreword by Gore Vidal.
Buffalo State College
Buffalo, New York
Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:
Ralph Raico is wrong to say that I singled him out for attack in my “attempt to destroy Buchanan’s reputation.” I did not single him out for anything. In fact, in my initial article I did not mention him at all. It was only after some of my critics raised the issue of Buchanan’s footnotes that I called attention to Mr. Raico and his work. Now, after thanking him for setting the record straight about the credentials that landed him a post in the department of history and social-studies education at Buffalo State College, let me turn to his substantive points.
In the March issue of COMMENTARY I wrote that Mr. Raico impugns “Winston Churchill with words that should properly be applied to Adolf Hitler.” In his letter, Mr. Raico now calls Churchill a “war-lover,” reaffirming what I said he said. He then raises questions about the morality of strategic bombing in World War II. This is a legitimate subject for debate, but I do not regard Mr. Raico as a legitimate interlocutor in such a discussion, particularly since his own writings in this area draw uncritically on the research of David Irving, which he endorses here as “highly useful.”
In the March exchange, I cited a number of Irving’s obscene comments about Auschwitz. Mr. Raico has read these words, and they clearly have not given him any pause whatsoever. What is more, the full corpus of Irving’s scholarship, including the works praised in the past by Gordon Craig and others, has recently been subjected to systematic scrutiny by a team of leading historians in connection with Irving’s failed libel suit against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt. The results, upheld by a British court, are devastating to a reputation that was never much to begin with. From the very inception of his career, including the book that first gained him attention, The Destruction of Dresden (1963), Irving has been shown to have systematically engaged in various kinds of scholarly fraud, from the deliberate mistranslation of German words and phrases, to the deliberate dropping or falsifying of footnotes, to the deliberate omitting, suppressing, misrepresenting, twisting, or otherwise cooking of relevant documents in the service of his revisionist agenda.
David Irving, it is now completely apparent, is not a historian at all but a charlatan and neo-Nazi sympathizer. Those like Mr. Raico who continue, at this late date, to rely on Irving’s productions or to claim to see merit in them only call into serious question their own credentials and motives.