In the issue for Friday, Jan. 24, there appeared two letters to the editor, one written by a professor and one by a student of the History Department, which took this newspaper very much to task for printing an ad explaining its’ author’s belief that the Holocaust never occurred and for an editorial defending The Northern Star for having done so. One of the letters advanced the thesis that The Northern Star had run the ad, “that big lie,” simply out of a desire for the advertising revenue, and the other stated that newspapers don’t have the right to print “propaganda,” or “lies.” In my view, the authors of both letters absolutely fail to understand the significance of the original ad, and greatly mistake the nature of the university and of education.
There are a great many people who share the opinions of the author of this particular advertisement. The question should not be, however, “How shall we silence them?” but “What are their arguments, are they refuted by the historical record, and if so, how?” Requiring people to accept the reality of the Holocaust as an article of semi_religious faith is abhorrent to me intellectually. On the contrary, individuals should be introduced to accurate, comprehensive histories of those times, given both sides of the argument, and allowed to reach their own conclusions_ideally as part of the undergraduate curriculum. If the facts won’t speak for themselves, then no one should presume to do it for them.
The university exists in large part to provide a forum where even the most unpopular, even scurrilous, ideas may be examined. The idea of freedom of speech was originally conceived to protect those who reason and investigate from the vagaries of popular fashion and governmental policy. Though I have known that some deny the actuality of the Holocaust, I had never had the opportunity to examine their arguments. The Northern Star gave me that opportunity and I am grateful for it. From my own reading on the subject, I was immediately aware that the ideas presented were absolutely baseless.
Those interested in the history of the Holocaust will wish to read a book, recently published, which is a compilation of the letters and diary entries of those who carried out the executions, or watched and took pictures. It is entitled “The Good Old Days,” from an entry in one of the diaries, and is probably the most convincing evidence available between two covers that the Holocaust did in fact happen. I have a copy and it makes chilling reading.
Finally, these words of Salman Rushdie are worth remembering: “The right to free speech includes the right to offend. Without it, free speech is a myth.” If anyone would know, it would be him.
D. Neil Dickey, Jr.
Department of Geology