Churchill's War, vol. ii

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Key West, USA, Tuesday, October 23, 2001


Dear Donald,

A CORRESPONDENT has e-mailed to me the text of your lengthy review of Churchill's War, vol.ii, and first let me thank you for having troubled to write it. At least you did not this time begin, as you did the Göring review, with the words "David Irving is Britain's most disliked historian"!

Allow me however one or two words of wry comment of my own: I am sure you will not take it amiss if I chide you for not having at least confessed that you did not yet read the whole book (it is after all 1,200 pages, and not even the Literary Review fee would have justified such a labour).

In the darknesses of the remaining jungle of unread words you have imagined lurking all sorts of Fabeltiere, beasts that simply are not found if you read the whole book: these warthogs are the "warts" you write of at the end.

You would have found, had you ventured further into the tenebrous verbiage, that I have more frequently found words of praise, and even fondness for Mr Churchill. I draw your attention just to one such passage, on page 766 -- Churchill's ability to recite several verses of the famous American poem about Dame Barbara Frietchie ("Shoot if you must this old gray head. . .") to Roosevelt, and the favourable effect this must have had on his hosts.

Such matters of colouration aside, I am offended that you did not mention the broad new areas of documentation that I uncovered during my own twenty-nine years of work for this biography (and perhaps even allow yourself a friendly passing swipe at Sir Martin Gilbert, for having wallowed in just the one archival trough for twenty-five years).

USS Shaw under attackAlthough I know you read intensively my chapters around Pearl Harbor, because you told me so, you waste not a word on my analysis of those events, for example my revelation that the British were deliberately withholding working-level documents from the Americans during the crucial weeks; in fact you baffle me my stating of my work:

"He cannot fit the absurd rivalry between the American army and navy code-breakers -- which resulted in their attacking the Japanese codes and ciphers on alternate days -- into his narrative."

You will find I have devoted two pages (168-9) to precisely this bizarre codebreaking arrangement in Washington.

You lament elsewhere that I have not written about Roosevelt, the New Deal, or Sino-Japanese relations, or the endemic racism of London and Washington, as though these were the subjects of this work.

You must also forgive me for taking exception to your phrase: "Hitler is his hero, or so he once said." Here you have simply adopted unquestioningly what others have written; you cannot provide an ounce of justification for those words (although the late Alan Clark once spoke them in private to me, in November 1991, just before his dismissal).

I do take issue with one factual statement that you make:

"As Admiral [Erich] Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Reichmarine, lamented when 3 September 1939 brought war with Britain four or five years ahead of programme: if Hitler had waited, as he promised, the British problem would have finally been solved."

Your memory is at fault. I am very familiar, as are you, with the record of that meeting, and the latter sentence is not even hinted at in it (or in the war diary of the naval staff which is often much more comprehensive as a source). On the contrary, Karl-Jesco von Puttkamer, a highly reliable source, told me that when Hitler inherited Raeder in 1933 as a residue of the Weimar republic, the admiral asked what kind of enemy he was required to build a fleet against; and Hitler assured him expressis verbis that he would never find himself at war with England.

Finally, you dwell upon the belief that my books can "no longer rely on publication or distribution through commercial channels." It would reflect poorly on the trade if this were so, but it is not. My books are now widely published overseas, particularly in Eastern Europe, and they are distributed by the biggest distributors in Britain.

In the USA, you know what happened: the organised Jewish community subjected the mainline publishers to a campaign of terror and intimidation in April 1996. In Britain, I have rejected publishers' offers, as I now have my own imprint which produces a substantially better product, and at a much lower price, than Macmillan, Weidenfeld, Hodder's, Cassell's and my other publishers ever did, or do; you might have remarked upon this phenomenon instead.

I note with glee that you bridle at the words "academic prejudice" which I have used on the dustjacket of Churchill's War, vol.ii, as one of the counterpoints of Real History.

I wrote it with the ignorant, venal, and corrupt Third Reich historians in mind like Prof. Richard Evans, who are a disgrace to the profession. But your review displays just that quality of injured pride and prejudice: an unwillingness to accept that however wrongful our opinions in your view, a professed (and proud) non-academic like myself can research better history than those who have been properly tutored to do so (and who are incidentally comfortably cushioned with tenure and salaries and expenses and pensions at the end of it all).

Please don't consider that any of the above is written in a spirit of rancour. I have been and remain a fervent admirer of your own work since at least 1964, and I regard you as a friend and person whose advice is worthy of respect. Your article in the Evening Standard, written after the perverse judgment of Sir Charles Gray (the brave and upstanding Lord Aldington's champion!), spoke highly of your own moral courage. But you appreciate the difficulty under which all writers of modern history, and particularly I, labour, and it would have been nice if you had told your readers a little about that.

Yours sincerely,

David Irving


Donald Camereon Watt is Professor emeritus of History, the London School of Economics


Related files on this website:

Donald Watt reviews Churchill's War, vol.ii in The Literary Review
Vernon Bogdanor in The Spectator: "That damned elusive PM"
Mr Irving's Reader's Letter to The Spectator
Free download of Churchill's War, vol. ii
Readers write to The Spectator on the above review: Winston's 'Temple of Peace'

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