By Richard A. Widmann-
By the mid-1990s the term “Holocaust denier” had become part of the popular consciousness and vocabulary. Likely catapulted into media newspeak by Deborah Lipstadt’s publication of Denying the Holocaust in 1993, the new term supplanted the earlier term “Holocaust revisionist.”
While certainly the phrase of choice for those who oppose the activities of that band of scholars and independent investigators who doubt the traditional view, revisionists (my preferred label) have hotly debated which label to associate themselves with. While several revisionists have argued strongly against the term “Holocaust denier” others have embraced it and named their Websites and at times even their on-line aliases with the term.
The argument of those revisionists who have embraced the term “denier” is that they do indeed “deny” the Holocaust. They deny that six million Jews were murdered. They deny that the Nazis had a plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. They deny that gas chambers were utilized as a weapon of mass destruction. Therefore, why sugarcoat it; Holocaust denier is an acceptable and accurate term.
Checking my old Webster’s dictionary for the word “deny,” it appears that on the surface those who hold such a position and embrace the word are technically and linguistically correct. “Deny” is defined in part as “to declare not to be true.” It goes on, “to refuse to accept as true or right; to reject as unfounded, unreal, etc.”
Today the terms “deny” and “denial” have become super-charged with the psychological meaning. From this perspective according to urbandictionary.com “denial consists of the refusal to accept a past or present reality.” Another definition is the “refusal to admit the truth or reality.”
The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines “denial” as “an unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities.” Wikipedia defines “denial” as “a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.”
For Deborah Lipstadt, the term “Holocaust denial” has yet an even stronger meaning. It does not simply mean, “to declare not to be true” nor is it a psychological defense mechanism (the latter would possibly be the case if “Holocaust survivors” declared the gas chambers to be untrue.) Lipstadt charges that “denial” involves camouflaging true goals – and essentially hiding “the fact that they are fascists and antisemites [sic] with a specific ideological and political agenda.”
When “denial” is paired with “Holocaust” Lipstadt and her allies have indeed won the day. Again, Wikipedia declares that “Holocaust denial is generally considered to be an antisemitic [sic] conspiracy theory.”
Writing about historical revisionism in his article, “Revisionism and the Promotion of Peace,” Harry Elmer Barnes stated, “In the minds of anti-Revisionists, the term [revisionism] savors of malice, vindictiveness, and an unholy desire to smear the saviors of mankind.” We can easily replace the word “revisionism” with “Holocaust denial.” In today’s newspeak Holocaust denial is equated with “hatred” and “anti-Semitism.” This definition has taken hold in the public consciousness.
From a public relations standpoint the anti-Revisionists have won the day. To accept their term is to accept the super-charged definition. To deny their term gives the appearance of wearing additional camouflage. The alternative “revisionism,” while better, also carries a negative connotation in the minds of many.
Revisionists on the other hand have labeled our detractors as “anti-Revisionists,” “exterminationists,” “traditionalists,” “orthodox,” and “fundamentalists.” The public has embraced none of these terms and none carry the force of “Holocaust denier.” Revisionists may be ahead on forensic research but the public will likely never know this as our detractors have won the day in the battle for public relations.