The International Campaign for Real History

Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2005

[] Index to the Traditional Enemies of Free Speech
[] Alphabetical index (text)

Quick navigation

[images and captions added by this website]

Toronto, Ontario, March 22, 1979

Features - Books

Winston seen with positive venom

by William French

DAVID Irving was still in diapers when the Second World War began, but that minor inconvenience hasn't prevented him from becoming an internationally recognized authority on the conflict. After all, Gibbon never visited the Roman Empire, but he still became something of an expert on its decline and fall.

In fact, an argument can be made that the generals and politicians who were involved in the 1939 to 1945 war had vested interests and fixed positions to defend in their memoirs. No one can accuse Irving of being a similar purveyor of conventional wisdom; his eight books so far on the subject, including a revisionist view of Hitler and a biography of Rommel that has been on the bestseller list in Germany for the past five months, have been provocative, controversial and - in one case - libelous. His forthcoming biography of Winston Churchill will have at least some of those characteristics.

It will be 95-per-cent positive and 5-per-cent pure venom, Irving said in Toronto the other day, hinting at startling revelations. The book won't make me any friends.

Irving, who lives at a fashionable address in London's West End, as befits an author in the 90-per-cent tax bracket, was in Toronto as part of his research on another book, a history of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. A key member of the Budapest police department during the revolt [Sandor Kopacsi, right] now lives here, and Irving believes he has quite a story to tell. The man had already refused Irving's request by mail to be interviewed, but Irving came anyway, planning to camp on his doorstep. It's that kind of dogged determination that enabled him to find Rommel's diaries when no one else could, and led The Times of London to acclaim him as one of Britain's foremost historians. He is not only relentless but thorough; for his biography of Churchill, for example, he has been all through the Mackenzie King diaries in Ottawa, to see what King thought about the British prime minister. (He frowned on Churchill's drinking at the Quebec conference.)

Irving became a bestselling author quite by accident. In 1959, when he was 21, he went to Germany to become competent in the language. He had studied physics and economics at the University of London, but had no career in sight. Working in a steel mill in the Ruhr, he met a German who had been through the saturation firebombing of Dresden, and Irving was fascinated. He realized that hardly anyone in Britain was aware of the raid, which was more devastating than Hiroshima, and decided to write a newspaper story about it. But his research grew and grew and became a book, The Destruction of Dresden, in which he vividly recreated the raid and condemned those responsible. It has sold more than a million copies since it was published in 1963.

Irving, still looking for a career, sensed there might be more wartime rubble he could pick through profitably. There followed books on the Luftwaffe, the German attempts to develop an atomic bomb, British inability to stop development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets, the mysterious death of the Polish leader, Gen. Sikorski, in a plane crash at Gibraltar -- Irving's research was used by Rolf Hochhuth in his controversial play The Soldiers - and the massive biographies of Hitler and Rommel. In one of the books, The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17, he described one of the most disastrous naval engagements of the war, in which a British convoy en route to Murmansk was almost wiped out. He blamed the escort commander, Capt. Jack Broome, for the miscalculation that led to the debacle. Broome sued for libel on the basis that he was carrying out orders from the Admiralty, and in 1970 was awarded $96,000 in damages, the second-highest libel award in Britain at the time, plus court costs. Irving paid off the last instalment two months ago.

His biography of Hitler, published in 1977, was hardly less controversial. He claimed that Hitler was not the indomitable Führer of legend, but one of the weakest leaders Germany has had this century. He claimed that many important decisions attributed to him were taken by underlings, without his knowledge, including the decision to exterminate the Jews. Hitler, he argued, was aware that the Jews were in concentration camps, but had no knowledge of the final solution. His belief is based in part on the fact that no extermination order from Hitler was ever found, although the meticulous Germans kept all his other orders. His theory raised a storm of protest from those who regard Hitler as the personification of evil, but Irving says many German historians now accept his view.

Mare's NestDuring the research for a book [ The Mare's Nest] in 1964, Irving discovered one of the best-kept secrets of the war, the fact that the British had cracked the German secret code. The Ultra Secret, as it has since become known, explained many puzzling events, and Irving immediately recognized its importance. But when his book was submitted to the Cabinet for routine approval, two trench-coated gentlemen showed up at his flat for a talk, and two more called on his publisher.

They wanted all reference to the Ultra secret removed, and although Irving was not covered by the Official Secrets Act, he complied. He believes the reason for the government's action was that it had sold the decoding machines to new African states, and was able to monitor all their coded traffic, unknown to them.

The book about the Hungarian revolution will be Irving's first that is not about the Second World War. Why the change? I was afraid I was getting in a rut, and wanted to see if I could do something else, he said. I'm afraid people will soon throw up their hands and say, 'Oh no, not another book about the second war.' That's highly unlikely, as long as Irving keeps stirring up the ashes.

The above item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
© Focal Point 2005 F Irving write to David Irving