Genocide Book Review:
“Denial. History Betrayed” by Tony Taylor
By Dr Gideon Polya
28 January, 2010
“Denial. History betrayed” by Tony Taylor (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2008) is a very well written, well annotated and well referenced book that deals with the phenomenon of “holocaust denial” and, in general, the denial of horrendous abuses of humanity. This is an important book that should certainly be read by everyone and should be in every library. However inevitably “Denial” can be criticized and the most fundamental criticism is that this otherwise excellent Mainstream Anglo book published by a prestigious Mainstream Anglo publisher itself ignores major 20th century and ongoing 21st century holocausts and genocides due to Anglo-American imperialism.
Holocaust denial is wrong and utterly repugnant for 3 major reasons: (1) it is falsehood; (2) it is profoundly offensive to the memory of the victims, survivors of such atrocities, their loved ones and indeed to all of decent humanity; and (3) it increases the probability of repetition of such awful crimes – history ignored and history denied yields history repeated. Indeed one supposes that it is for these sorts of reasons that Germany recently proposed a measure for the EU that would criminalize not only those who deny or diminish the Jewish Holocaust but those belittling any relatively recent genocide, mass murder, war crimes and other crimes against humanity.
Already denial or minimization of the World War 2 Jewish Holocaust is a criminal offence attracting up to 10 years of imprisonment in Austria and custodial punishment in many other European countries, Indeed denial of the Armenian Genocide (up to 1.5 million Armenians murdered in Turkey in the period 1915-1923) is an offence in both France and Belgium. However such criminalization of “opinion” disturbs many intellectuals because of the implicit threat to “free speech” and scholarly investigation. Thus, as related in “Denial” (p168), outstanding Jewish American scholar Professor Noam Chomsky (MIT) defended the right of free speech of a Holocaust-minimizing French academic, and Jewish American academic Professor Deborah Lipstadt (Emory University) (famous participant in the David Irving versus Penguin defamation trial in London) thought that Holocaust denial should not be criminalised because of the seriousness of repression of free speech in a democratic society.
Free speech is absolutely vital for scholarly research and for Rational Risk Management to minimize risk to Humanity. Indeed Rational Risk Management (which, for example, has made passenger aviation extremely safe and can be generally applied to situations from child safety in schools to operating nuclear power stations) successively involves (a) accurate information; (b) scientific analysis (involving the critical testing of potentially falsifiable hypotheses); and (c) systemic change to minimize risk, However Rational Risk Management is typically perverted by (a) denial, ignoring, lies, slies (spin-based untruths), deceit, intimidation and censorship; (b) anti-science spin involving selective use of asserted facts to support a partisan position; and (c) cover-up or blame and shame, with the latter in its most appalling realization involving war and genocide. It is unfortunate that “Denial” (written by an Australian Humanities academic) does not really deal with this core Scientific Risk Management issue (crucial in my perception as an Australian Science academic – shades of C.P Snow’s “Two Cultures”) that is most simply summarized by the adage, deriving in many versions from George Santayana, that “History ignored yields History repeated”.
In the interests of free speech, scholarship and Rational Risk Management there should be “no-penalty” criminalization of holocaust and genocide denial. The most important aspect of a “No-penalty Genocide Denial Criminalization” (NGDC) system would be the public, judicial examination of the evidence for gross human rights abuses. It is public exposure of Genocide and Human Rights Abuses that will help to protect Humanity in a Rational Risk Management sense. Accordingly, Holocaust Deniers and Genocide Deniers should be prosecuted and their views tested by an expertly-informed, public judicial process – but the punishment would simply be the ignominy of public conviction for Lying, Denial, Holocaust Denial and Genocide Denial. However, compromising Free Speech by punishment of Genocide Deniers by anything more than the public disgrace of conviction will increase the risk to Humanity.
“Denial” commences with a snappy Introduction subtitled “The Pathology of Historical Denial”. It is concerned with the psycho-social basis of the phenomenon, including “Holocaust denial” but, as indicated above, does not deal with the core risk management issue. The book then deals with 6 specific areas of holocaust and holocaust denial. The term “holocaust” with the lower case “h” is used in the present review to denote horrendous events involving huge loss of life in contradistinction to the upper case “H” term “Holocaust”, which is generally used (as in “Denial”) as synonymous with the WW2 Jewish Holocaust or “Shoah” (6 million dead, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation). This narrow use of the term “Holocaust” involves effective Denial of the WW2 Western Theatre Holocaust in general (30 million Slav, Jewish and Roma dead) and the WW2 Eastern Theatre Holocaust (35 million Chinese dead in the Japanese war on China, 1937-1945 and 6-7 million Indians deliberately starved to death by the British in the man-made Bengal Famine atrocity, 1943-1945 – indeed this latter atrocity in British India was the first WW2 atrocity to be described as a “holocaust” (see Jog, N.G. (1944), Churchill’s Blind-Spot: India (New Book Company, Bombay; see also the 2008 edition of my 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability”” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ).
The subsequent chapters successively deal with 6 examples of 20th century holocaust or genocide commission and denial, noting that the international legal definition of “genocide” (alluded to in “Denial”) is given in Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” (sustained, remorseless killing, as for example in the 1990-2008 Bush Wars, being clearly “intentional”) (see: http://www.edwebproject.org/sideshow/
genocide/convention.html ). It is the detailed, documented descriptions of holocaust commission and holocaust denial, genocide commission and genocide denial in “Denial” that make this a very important book that everyone should read and which should be in every institutional library.
That said, from a dispassionate scientific perspective and as amplified further below, “Denial” (a) errs on the side of conservative death toll estimates and (b) ignores the non-violent avoidable mortality (excess mortality, excess deaths, avoidable deaths, deaths that should not have happened) which is a fundamental parameter for assessing the consequences of human action and inaction (see “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007:
2008/08/body-count-global-avoidable-mortality.html ). Indeed the term “excess deaths” is used once – and then inaccurately - in “Denial” (p194) : “Russian excess deaths under Stalin (deaths caused by internal state actions, and not by war).”
With the foregoing criticisms and comments in mind, the following is a very brief summary with salient comments of the core 6 phenomenological chapters of the book.
Chapter 1, “Under Western Eyes: Armenian Massacres and Turkish Denial”, describes Turkish genocide commission and continuing Armenian genocide denial. The upper estimate is of 1.5 million Armenians killed. Not mentioned is the recent refusal of Congress to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide for fear of offending Turkey, which is crucial for US conduct of the Iraqi Genocide (Apartheid Israel has a similar “diplomatic” policy of ignoring the Armenian Genocide and the notorious US Israel Lobby recently lobbied against Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide).
Chapter 2, “Frauds and Fanatics: The Pathology of Western Holocaust Denial”, deals with the more notorious deniers or minimizers of the WW2 Jewish Holocaust. Some major themes and works are unfortunately absent from this analysis, notably the ideological link between Western European racist, genocidal colonialism and Nazi German lesbensraum-driven industrial genocide (see: Lindqvist, S. (1992), Exterminate All the Brutes (Granta Books, London, 2002); the insidious “normality” aspect of the rise of Nazism (e.g. see Ella Blum’s remarkable perspective as an ordinary German girl “I was a Billionaire’s Daughter”, Fast Books, Sydney, 2007); Gitta Sereny’s “The German Trauma. Experiences and Reflections, 1938-2001” (Penguin, London, 2001); and the estimate from outstanding Jewish history and 20th century history expert Professor Martin Gilbert that 1 in 6 of the 6 million dead died from deprivation, this being very important for contemporary comparative purposes (see Gilbert, M. (1969), Jewish History Atlas (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London).
Gilbert, M. (1982), Atlas of the Holocaust (Michael Joseph, London)).
Chapter 3, “A Culture of Denial: explaining the Politics of Remembrance in Modern Japan”, deals with Japanese war atrocities in China 1931-1945 and subsequent, continuing “denial”. The horrendous overall loss of Chinese lives is not stated. According to the “official” Chinese position as enunciated in the China Daily “Remember role in ending fascist war”:
doc/2005-08/15/content_468908.htm ): “the China's resistance against Japanese aggression lasted for 14 years - longer than any other major power in the world. The first six years following the Mukden Incident of 1931 was a period of local resistance, while the eight years after the Lugouqiao Incident of 1937 was a time of full-scale national struggle for independence and dignity … In the eight years of tough resistance, the Chinese made great sacrifices. More than 35 million Chinese military personnel and civilians were killed or wounded. In the Nanking (Nanjing) Massacre alone, some 300,000 Chinese were slain by the Japanese invaders.” Upper estimates are of 15-20 million violently killed but we must also acknowledge non-violent deaths from deprivation due to social disruption (thus the ratio of violent/non-violent excess deaths in Occupied Iraq is about 1) – accordingly, total excess deaths due to the Japanese invasion and occupation are about 35 million.
Chapter 4, British Communism and Two Decades of Denial: From Moscow 1936 to Budapest 1956, deals with the immense crimes of Soviet Communism and the “denial” of British Communists. This was arguably the best chapter of the book. I was pleased to see that about a page was devoted to my grandmother’s cousin Dr Edith Bone, a correspondent for the London Daily Worker abusively imprisoned in solitary confinement for 7 years as told in her remarkable book about her mental and physical survival (Bone, E. (1957), Seven Years’ Solitary (Hamish Hamilton, London)). Not mentioned was that not surprisingly she gave up on Communism after this experience nor the lack of action of British Governments to rescue a (Jewish, Communist) British citizen. The magnitude of the death toll under Stalin (including the Ukrainian Famine or Holodomor) is understated – some place this as similar to the 20 million who died during WW2 (for cogent discussion see on this and other holocaust see a further book unaccountably missing from “Denial”, namely Chalk, F. & Jonassohn, K. (1990), The History and Sociology of Genocide. Analyses and Case Studies (Yale University Press, New Haven)). The atrocious “ends justify the means” “denial” of the British Communists must be compared to near-comprehensive contemporary Western media, politician and academic Establishment “denial” of Anglo-American atrocities in the Bush Wars (1990-2008 excess deaths 9-11 million).
Chapter 5, “Tales of Heartless Denial from the Balkans: Serbian Victimhood and Marxist Conspiracy Theories” deals with the atrocities of the Balkans War. The Serbian atrocities are deservedly singled out for greatest attention. However lacking is a balanced view of the shocking blame attaching to US and EU complicity in this utterly avoidable tragedy that was compounded by US bombing of Serbia. The happy secession of Slovenia is deescribed but the mechanisms involved in avoidance of carnage (adoption of a huge amount of Yugoslavian debt and Austrian guarantees) are not mentioned. A further remarkable omission from the book was Drakulić, S. (2004), They Would Never Hurt a Fly. War Criminals on Trial in The Hague (Abacus, London).
Chapter 6, “Failing the Scholarly Test: Australian Denial and the Art of Pseudohistory”, deals with the so-called “History wars” between the revisionist historian Keith Windschuttle (supported by historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey, right-wing Australian PM John Howard and right-wing media such as Quadrant magazine and the right-wing Murdoch national newspaper The Australian) versus mainstream historians of the Aboriginal Genocide (notably Robert Manne, Henry Reynolds and Stuart Macintyre). An extraordinary omission is reference to the work on the Aboriginal Genocide of outstanding World and Australian expert on Holocaust and Genocide, Professor Colin Tatz (e.g. see Tatz, C. (2003), With Intent to Destroy. Reflecting on Genocide (Verso, London)). Further major omissions from “Denial” are the avoidance of the R word (Racism) and the G word (Genocide) by new Australian PM Kevin Rudd in his otherwise excellent “Sorry” Speech to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations and avoidance of discussion of the ongoing Aboriginal Genocide (e.g. 9,000 Indigenous avoidable deaths annually; 90,000 Indigenous avoidable deaths under the Coalition Government; bipartisan race-based exclusion of Northern Territory Aboriginals from the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act) (see “Aboriginal Genocide”: http://sites.google.com/site/aboriginalgenocide/ ). My primary objection as a scientist to BOTH sides in the History Wars is that they both concentrate on “violent deaths” whereas the (upper estimate) realities were 6,000 Indigenous Tasmanians in 1803 (First Settlement of Van Dieman’s Land) but ZERO “full-blood” Tasmanian aborigines with the death of Truganini in 1876 and about 1 million Australian Aborigines in 1788 (First Settlement at Sydney) but only about 0.1 million by about 1890 – this Genocide being due to a combination of violence, introduced disease, dispossession and deprivation (see Polya, G. (2007), Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950 (Polya, Melbourne) and Polya, G.M. (1998 and 2008 editions), Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability (Polya, Melbourne)).
The book ends with a Coda that summarizes the contents of “Denial” and also considers contemporary denial in relation to Zimbabwe, HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa and the ongoing atrocity in Burma (Myanmar). However remarkably missing from this summary is any consideration of the extraordinary contemporary denial in the Western Murdochracies, including White Australia. By way of example, in 2008 I sent a Letter to about 3,000 Australian journalists, politicians, Humanities academics and other influential people telling them of HUGE realities that are ignored in Australian public life e.g. the Climate Emergency that acutely threatens 6 billion people with untimely death before the end of the century; 1 in 3 Australian women have been sexually abused as children; and Australian complicity in an ongoing Iraqi Genocide (as of January 2010, post-invasion excess deaths 2.5 million, post-invasion under-5 infant deaths 0.9 million, 5-6 million refugees; see “Iraqi Holocaust, Iraqi Genocide”: http://sites.google.com/site/iraqiholocaustiraqigenocide/ ), in an ongoing Afghan Genocide (as of January 2010, post-invasion violent and non-violent excess deaths 4.5 million, post-invasion under-5 infant deaths 2.4 million, 3-4 million refugees; see “Afghan Holocaust, Afghan Genocide”: http://sites.google.com/site/
afghanholocaustafghangenocide/ ) and in an ongoing Aboriginal Genocide.
Just one part of this Letter is worth repeating here: “Holocaust ignoring & “history ignored yields history repeated”. Few Australians would be aware of the following atrocities involving Great Britain that have been largely deleted from British history: the Great Bengal Famine (1769-1770, 10 million victims), the man-made World War 2 Bengal Famine (1943-1945, 6-7 million victims) and the real 9-11 atrocity, the 9-11 million avoidable deaths associated (so far) with the Bush Wars (1990-2008). While 3 major histories published recently in Australia utterly ignore the WW2 Bengal Famine, in 2008 this atrocity was exposed in a BBC broadcast involving myself, 1998 Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and other scholars. Denial of the World War 2 Jewish Holocaust (6 million dead, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation) attracts 10 years in prison in Austria.”
The Letter ended with a plea “Please inform everyone you can” (see: “Climate criminal Australia’s culture of ignoring, climate terrorism, climate racism and climate genocide”, Green Blog, 22 October 2008:
and-climate-genocide/comment-page-1/ ). How many of these variously influential Australians responded indicating that they would inform others? A mere 0.2%. Denial indeed.
Dr Gideon Polya currently teaches science students at a major Australian university. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003). He has recently published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contribution “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007): http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/
ockham/stories/s1445960.htm ). He has just published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others:
bengalfamine_programme.html ). When words fail one can say it in pictures - for images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ .