From Irving to Doutre
The discussion about New Zealand pre-history at the Scoop Review of Books has ended with a long, self-destructive post by Martin Doutre, chief advocate of the Celtic New Zealand thesis. As Matthew Dentith says in his wrap-up of the debate, 'Martin Doutré has had his last words, and they seem to be `Holocaust Denier'.
The editor of Franklin E Local has been huffing and puffing about my use of the term 'Nazi' to characterise contributors to his magazine like Doutre; I doubt whether he's feeling quite so litigious now.
After noting Doutre's defence of Holocaust deniers like David Irving and Joel Hayward (who, to be fair, has since recanted his views), Matthew makes what I think is a mistaken distinction between the world's most famous neo-Nazi and the author of Ancient Celtic New Zealand :
Of course, the difference between Doutré and someone like Irving is that Irving should (and probably) does know better. Doutré is unqualified and shows a lack of critical thinking skills. Irving was a highly-respected academic whose early works were greatly acclaimed...Doutré does not advance his thesis because he is a cunning and malevolent mastermind trying to undermine the indigenous people of the Pacific. He does it because he knows no better.
I think Matthew's portrait of Irving is in some respects innaccurate. Irving has never studied at a university, and (more importantly) even his early, commercially successful work is tainted by neo-Nazism. The young Irving clearly had some aptitude for archival work and for popularising history, but the fact that he was so successful reflects the strong undercurrent of World War Two revisionism in European society. One of Irving's early 'breaks' was writing for an extreme right publication in Germany, and many of his early supporters were neo-Nazis.
Irving was able to disguise his neo-Nazism for a time by choosing subjects - the bombing of Dresden, for example - which show Hitler's enemies in a poor light. But there was deliberate distortion even in Irving's early work - his book on Dresden, for instance, greatly exagerrated the number of people killed during the fire bombing of the city. This exaggeration went largely unnoticed, because Dresden was undeniably a war crime, and because Kurt Vonnegut had made a similar exaggeration in his acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse Five (Vonnegut's exaggeration was understandable: he lived through the horror of the bombing and was writing as a novelist, not a historian).
When he turned his hand to more wide-ranging accounts of the World War Two period, Irving was unable to disguise his profound sympathy for the Third Reich. Irving's biography of Rommel, which condemned the 1944 plot to take Hitler's life as an act of treachery, disillusioned many reviewers and readers. As he lost the support of academics and mainstream readers, Irving was forced to rely more and more on the largesse of the extreme right to fund his research and his extravagant lifestyle. In return, he was obliged to make ever more strident defences of Hitler and National Socialism.
I think Matthew is also mistaken when he represents Martin Doutre as an essentially apolitical fool, stumbling about the backclocks of New Zealand with his theodolite and his diagrams of stonehenge. As I showed in the open letter which prompted the debate at Scoop Rebiew of Books, Doutre has a history of direct involvement in the One New Zealand Foundation, whose leader uses expressions like 'thank God I'm not a Maori' in his press releases. For reasons which I explained in my letter, Doutre's pseudo-scholarship has been used on the website of the One New Zealand Foundation, and also in the election propaganda of the Nationalist Alliance, the grouping which includes New Zealand's best-known neo-Nazis.
If Doutre were merely a fool, then it wouldn't be so important to criticise his contributions to Franklin E Local. But the man's connections to the racist right make his appearance in a Franklin periodical particularly sinister. In the twentieth century, Franklin was the heartland of organised far right politics in New Zealand: it was in Pukekohe, the commercial centre of the district, that the White Defence League, this country's first serious organised racist group, was founded in the inter-war years, in response to an influx of Indian and Chinese immigrants. The League had prominent supporters throughout Franklin, and it was able to impose a de facto system of segregation in parts of the district. Longtime residents of Franklin can remember how Maori and Asians were banned from sitting upstairs at Pukekohe's movie threatre, and how some of the town's hairdressers refused to serve non-white customers.
In the early 1990s, the New Zealand Defence Movement emerged to carry the banner of anti-Asian and anti-Maori racism. The Movement, which contested the 1993 elections before entering New zealand First en masse in the mid-90s, had its largest concentration of support in Franklin. The librarian at my secondary school was its local candidate; she lived on the edge of Pukekohe. Given all this history, I don't think it is a coincidence that Doutre and his friends managed to foist their articles on the editor of a magazine in Franklin. The confluence of pseudo-scholarship and racist politics is dangerous, which is why I am pleased that Matthew Dentith has done such a good job of countering the Celtic New Zealand thesis over the last few days.