November 2, 2015
By Bradley Smith
Mark Oppenheimer, a professor at Yale University, writes for The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, Salon, Slate, Mother Jones, The Nation, The New Republic and others, in addition to The Tablet. So we should take him seriously.
In his Tablet article this Jewish writer notes that Willis Carto was a “plain old Caucasian crazy.” He doesn’t have anything interesting to say about Carto. He does note that: “. . . there is an unspoken journalistic consensus in this country that one does not write about the craziest of the crazies. . . . Editors aren’t deliberately quashing stories about these gents. But I know, from personal experience, that many editors, and indeed journalists and readers, believe that it’s irresponsible to give too much space to mad men and their ideas.
“There are exceptions. In 2009, Tablet ran my four-part series on Holocaust revisionists Bradley Smith and Mark Weber. (They were great fun. Smith, a garrulous, cowboyish figure who now lives in Mexico, had a longtime Jewish lover; and Weber, who runs the Institute for Historical Review, the publishing house, now more of an e-mail list, that Carto founded in 1978, has a sister who converted to Judaism.) But in general, the sense is that it’s more prudent to ignore such men, to starve their ideas of oxygen.
“I disagree. They matter, and we need to know them. . . . ”
Oppenheimer will write that “we need to know them,” but he stands four-square against any real examination of what they, we, think or say. He is absolutely committed to starving our ideas of all oxygen.
One odd thing for me now is that I cannot remember his face. I remember our meeting back in 2009 very well. In Starbucks in San Clemente, a small beach town north of San Diego. We each drove in from opposite directions to meet there. He was a very likeable guy, but I can’t remember his face. What I remember most clearly is that he knew nothing about the revisionist critique of Holocaust orthodoxy, and was in the classic sense a True Believer in the orthodox story, whatever it was in the moment.
His mind was full of Jews and anti-Semitism. I had a difficult time making it clear to him that I was not really interested in Jews as Jews. I had lived among and with Jews for 30-odd years and they had never caught my attention as being anything much other than the rest of us. It was also difficult to get across to him the fact that I was not really interested in gas chambers, executive orders for mass murder, the accuracy of “survivor” testimony (tho I loved some of those guys and gals. How could I not love the nuttiness of an Abraham Bomba or an Irene Zisblatt?
I emphasized again and again that my attention was caught up with the question of the taboo that protects one historical event from routine examination. Who benefits from this taboo? How is it used? The taboo against Free Speech. That you do not have to be university trained to understand the moral value of being free to talk out loud about issues that have gotten your attention. Oppenheimer would ask a question that was related to the issue of Jewish suffering, then shake his head as he listened to my reply, always leading to the issue of encouraging a free exchange of ideas.
At one point, after an hour or so, when we were arriving at a place where we were going to get stuck, I referred again to Arthur Butz and his Hoax of the Twentieth Century. That the book had been published some 30 years before, had been condemned along with its author throughout the university and in media, yet not one professor had dared to review the book in a peer reviewed journal where Butz would have the right of reply. Why? What did they fear? Butz’s reply? Not one of them dared to be left holding the bag for everything Butz got right.
At that point Oppenheimer crossed his forearms and used them to hide his face. Then he put his crossed arms and his face down on the tabletop and groaned. He wanted to talk about Jews while I wanted to talk about intellectual freedom. It was just too much for him.
That’s the primary memory I have of Mark Oppenheimer.
Once his four-part article began appearing in The Tablet I emailed him to say that I would like to interview him in turn, as a way of responding with questions to a number of questionable issues he was raising about me in The Tablet. His response was to say that once he had finished a story, he found it best to go on to something else. Well, we all have our way of working.
One of my readers suggests that while Oppenheimer writes that he disagrees with the mainline media that it is “more prudent to ignore such men, to starve their ideas of oxygen,” that he disagrees, that “They matter, and we need to know them. . . .”
Okay. But Oppenheimer wants to know them to smear them, while leaving his readers in the dark with regard to revisionist arguments. In his article on Willis Carto he off-handedly refers to Professor Arthur Butz as a “racist.” He offers no evidence to support this smear. He doesn’t try. He’s content with simply smearing the man. Oppenheimer is a smart, genial, likeable guy. But his brain is in the grip of taboo. No one is to challenge what Oppenheimer truly believes about “Holocaust.” As it is with witchdoctors the world over, taboo is used to control the beliefs and the lives of others. The title to Oppenheimer’s Tablet article would be more accurate if four words were to be added.
“Oh, Willis Carto, We Hardly Knew Ye (and Don’t Want to)”