In recent years I have often felt bewildered by the incompetence or laziness of many journalists.
In April and May 2000 a few reporters very inaccurately presented the main questions and conclusions of my 1991 M.A. history thesis (none of them having handled, let alone read a copy of it), and thereafter many other lazy journalists, without taking half an hour to do a bit of digging, repeated their mistakes.
Some journalists have not even tried to disguise their preconceptions and biases. They delighted, for example, in reporting that my thesis was ruled as "flawed" by the Canterbury Working Party that investigated it for almost eight months, but very seldom mentioned that the same Working Party concluded that my thesis was an honest effort not based on malice or racism.
Not all journalists have addressed my career and character in an amateurish or biased way, of course. This year in particular, perhaps because Thomas Fudge's History Now article brought many hidden facts to light, the media has made a far greater effort to be even-handed, much to the chagrin of my detractors. I thank the media sincerely.
My view on all this is simple: let both sides of the story be told fully and freely and let New Zealanders make up their own minds, based on their understanding of the evidence, their values, and their attitudes towards free inquiry and free speech.
The public does not need to be coached how to think, or deceived by unethical misrepresentation into believing such-and-such a view.
The National Business Review
"Media watch: Open minds, empty minds and the Holocaust"
by David Cohen
Don't believe the guy who once said the problem with history is that there's no future in it. The dust has been disturbed yet again in the long-buried case of Joel Hayward and the
Another scholar is seeking to still or confirm the question of whether Dr Hayward was the victim of an academic witch-hunt on account of the revisionist views he once took but has since repudiated on the subject of the Holocaust. Do we need this?
Apparently so. Already the opening of this old casket has got a number of local media outlets loudly sneezing, such is their passion for unfettered historical investigation, as they claim to understand it.
Their general position has found support this past fortnight, with a raft of press interviews given by Dr Hayward to mark his colleague's relitigation of the original scandal.
The work, you'll recall, argued that far fewer than six million Jews, perhaps fewer than one million, perished in concentration camps during the time of Nazi rule across most of
It speculated that the idea of gas chambers being used against the innocent during World War II might have been a propaganda invented by the UK, the US and Jewish lobbyists in the thrall of Zionist forces. It postulated that Hitler could not be held personally responsible for the situation. And so on.
As somebody who was involved in reporting on the situation at the time, I have no personal judgment to make on Dr Hayward, who has said he now wishes only to concentrate on his new career as a freelance scholar. But the latest surge of coverage isn't only about the acknowledged "mistakes" a 29-year-old student made a decade ago. It's about the way in which a confused local media irrigates the past.
This has not been our finest hour. With only three lonely, impressive and, it has to be said, left-leaning exceptions—stand up, Anthony Hubbard of the Sunday Star-Times, New Zealand Herald columnist Diana Wichtel and The Listener's Philip Matthews—the tendency on the journalistic front has been far more toward what the American columnist George F Will once tactfully characterised as historical amnesia, fumigated by gassy notions of "tolerance" that cannot distinguish between an open mind and an empty mind when it comes to the critical world events of the past century.
Peculiarly uninformed when it comes to the collective fate that befell European Jewry during World War II, the emptyheads have clucked on about little else other than the need to maintain the air of scepticism Dr Hayward attempted to cast over the topic in his ill-starred master's thesis.
As an editorial in The New Zealand Herald put it, "All of history has to be open to constant reappraisal of events, their causes and consequences and the light they throw on the past and present."
Much the same point was made, implicitly and somewhat less elegantly, in an impromptu apologia written by Diana McCurdy in The Dominion-Post, which included the fatuous warning of "a possible backlash against the Jewish community" if they or others were to ever again make known their displeasure at their history being so reappraised.
On first blush the stance may appear high-minded, even impressively sophisticated; it could also be described as pernicious and kind of creepy.
To be sure, history is about open-ended questions. So is journalism. As Mr Will asks, speaking on behalf of those who practise the other craft, what kind of student of history makes a career out of denying the reality of an almost contemporary event that has been recorded graphically, documented bureaucratically and described in vast detail by victims, bystanders and perpetrators?
More than three years have passed since
An independent inquiry convened by the university later found the work to be seriously flawed and its central conclusions unjustified. They acknowledged that the affair had been deeply embarrassing to one of the country's most respected institutions of higher learning, a university that has long had a special claim to know better than most on questions of bogus history.
Canterbury, after all, is the same institution that provided the setting for two of last century's most seminal philosophical works, The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism, both of them exegesis on the pseudoscientific ideas about "history" put forward by Plato, Hegel and Marx, which were completed there in the 1940s by the Jewish-Austrian émigré Sir Karl Popper.
Like many others here from a similar background, the culturally assimilated Sir Karl arrived looking for shelter from the cataclysmic events opening up at the time in
In awarding the
The good news is that the work's author has since apologised and indicated his willingness to move on. So has the university. Isn't it about time the epistemologically challenged in the forthright estate followed suit?
The National Business Review
"What Dr Hayward's thesis really said"
I was surprised at David Cohen's recent attempt in the
Cohen states that, though this proposition might appear to be "high-minded. .. it could also be described as pernicious and kind of creepy".
He might reflect on the following utterance by Raul Hilberg, author of the three volume study The Destruction of the European Jews, a generally acknowledged classic in the field.
When Christopher Hitchens rang him to get his reaction to a publisher's cancellation of a book contract with [David]
This, I would like to suggest, is the attitude of a great scholar - it was, contrary to what Mr Cohen seems to think, also Sir Karl's attitude.
Dr Arie Brand
Mr Cohen brought my circumstances to an international audience in May 2000 by submitting an article to The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. It appeared on 18 May. As it contains numerous errors of fact I will add clarifications in bright blue type (with my initials, JH). Mr Cohen's words, in black type, are unaltered.
Thursday May 18, 2000
"University gave MA for thesis denying Holocaust"
David Cohen in Wellington
"New Zealand's University of Canterbury - an institution that has long prided itself on its reputation for being more English than England - has said this week that it regretted any distress caused by its award of a master's degree to a student for a thesis that denied the Holocaust.
JH: The University said it regretted distress, but did not label, and has never labelled, my thesis a work of Holocaust denial or Holocaust revisionism. This appears to be Mr Cohen's own assessment of the thesis. He's entitled to his view, of course, but as an ethical journalist perhaps he should have admitted that, rather than pass off his view as that of he University.
"But the university, based in
JH: No. I have never "admitted" that my MA thesis "was a work of Holocaust revisionism." I refuted this, and still refute this. Nor did the Working Party that investigated my thesis for almost eight months ever state that my thesis was a work of Holocaust revisionism or Holocaust denial.
I did admit to mistakes in the thesis, but demonstrated successfully that the thesis was honest and non-racist. The Working Party agreed, and concluded that, despite its flaws, the thesis was honest and not at all racist.
"Although written in 1994, the contents of the thesis by Joel Hayward - now a military historian at
JH: I wrote the thesis in 1991. I submitted it in 1993. By 1994 I had already completed one year of my doctoral dissertation on the Battle of Stalingrad.
Because a local Israeli former friend of mine threatened to steal a copy from the library I sought the advice of Professor David McIntyre, HoD, History. He and Dr Orange suggested an embargo. I thus embargoed the thesis for three years only.
After the three years were up, which I let pass without intervention anyway, I received the following letter from the Canterbury University Librarian, Mr Hlavac. Agreeing to what he called "normal" practice in his letter, I replied that I would let anyone have access to it with my permission.
So where does a six year embargo come from?
"The work might still be under wraps were it not for the recent libel case in
JH: No. I was already being goaded and abused, almost daily, about the thesis by an academic from another North Island university.
"Mr Hayward was invited but refused to testify for Mr Irving, whom the judge in the case described as an avowed anti-Semite.
JH: My title, as Mr Cohen must have forgotten, was and is Dr Hayward. By 2000 I had a PhD in military history for a successful dissertation -- published as an acclaimed book in its third printing -- on the Battle of Stalingrad. I was also a Senior Lecturer.
But I am pleased that Mr Cohen got something correct. I did not testify in the Irving/Lipstadt trial.
By email Mr David Irving did politely ask if I would consider testifying in his 2000 lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt.
He asked me to consider discussing for the Court his reputation as a much quoted and well regarded military historian. As a university Senior Lecturer in defence and Strategic Studies, I could have perhaps been accepted by the Court as an expert in World War II's military history.
Mr Irving did not ask me to give expert testimony on the Holocaust, because I was not an expert. He did not ask me to present my thesis to the Court. He did not ask me to testify about any difficulties with any Jewish organisations.
His request, in my view, was quite proper under those circumstances. I am aware that he also asked other expert historians of outstanding reputation, and that some did testify.
By email I did politely decline, due to heavy work commitments, a research trip clash, and a strong desire to stay out of what I consider a vile squabble: the Holocaust revisionism/anti-Holocaust revisionism debate.
I did not and do not agree with Mr Irving's views on race, culture and nationalism. I'm a liberal, so those views leave me cold.
But I certainly do not hate Mr Irving or wish him harm. Indeed, because of my spiritual views I hate no humans, regardless of their views.
"Mr Irving had been impressed with the arguments in the thesis, which claimed that the idea of gas chambers being used to kill Jews during the second world war was propaganda invented by Britain, the US and Jewish lobbyists in the thrall of Zionist forces.
JH: This is terribly inaccurate. If Mr Cohen weren't a senior New Zealand journalist I would assume that, like a lot of careless junior reporters, he was commenting on a thesis he had not read. But I'm sure that isn't true. He was just mistaken again.
As I note above, nowhere in my thesis did I accept claims of any Jewish or Zionist conspiracies. Indeed, I condemned such claims as antisemitic!
"In his work, Mr Hayward argued that far fewer than 6m Jews, perhaps fewer than 1m, perished in concentration camps during the time of Nazi rule across most of
JH: No. I did not write that perhaps fewer than a million Jews died during World War II! My stated range stretched from more than one million to less than six million. The mid-point was 3.5 million!
"In a letter to a national newspaper last month, The New Zealand Jewish Chronicle, Mr Hayward expressed remorse over the "mistakes I made as an inexperienced student".
He was, he said, "inexperienced in the historian's craft and knew relatively little about the Holocaust and its complex historiography.
"He has also asked the university to withdraw his thesis from its library, a request the institution turned down. He has not endorsed the call for his degree to be annulled.
JH: Why would I? Honest and doubtless regretted mistakes are present in even the very best theses at masters level.
"Citing traditions of academic freedom and independent inquiry, officials have said their institution cannot, even if it were of a mind to, rescind Mr Hayward's degree.
JH: No. "Officials" said it could do so if my dishonesty could be proved. The Jewish Council then formally accused me of dishonesty. After eight months the Working Party ruled that I had not been dishonest. That is why the thesis could not rescind my masters degree.
"Daryl Le Grew, the vice-chancellor, announced this week that an independent inquiry would be held into the situation and whether the request for the degree's annulment has any legal standing."