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Historical revisionism (negationism)

For the critical reexamination of historical facts see Historical revisionism.

Historical revisionism is the attempt to change commonly held ideas about the past. In its legitimate form (see historical revisionism) it is the reexamination of historical facts, with an eye towards updating historical narratives with newly discovered, more accurate, or less biased information, acknowledging that history of an event, as it has been traditionally told, may not be entirely accurate.

"Historical revisionism" (also but less often in English "negationism), as used in this article, describes the process that attempts to rewrite history by minimizing, denying or simply ignoring essential facts. Perpetrators of such attempts to distort the historical record often use the term because it allows them to cloak their illegitimate activities with a phrase which has a legitimate meaning. Illegitimate historical revisionists rely on a number of illegitimate techniques to advance their views such as presenting as genuine documents which they know to be forged, inventing ingenious but implausible reasons for distrusting genuine documents, attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources that say the opposite, manipulating statistical series to support their views, and deliberately mistranslate foreign languages sources to support their views.

Examples of historical revisionism (negationism) include: Japan's comfort women, Holocaust denial and Soviet history. Negationism is also used by hate groups on the Internet, and its effects can be found described in literature (e.g. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell). In some countries historical revisionism (negationism) of certain historical events is a criminal offense.

Politically motivated historical revisionism

Historical revisionism can be used as a label to describe the views of self-taught historians who publish articles that deliberately misrepresent and manipulate historical evidence. This usage has occurred because some authors who publish articles that deliberately misrepresent and manipulate historical evidence (such as David Irving, a proponent of Holocaust denial), have called themselves "historical revisionists". This label has been used by others pejoratively to describe them when criticizing their work.

  • Holocaust and Nazism: For example, some people have published popular histories that challenge the generally accepted view of a given period, such as the Holocaust. They do this by downplaying its scale and whitewashing other Nazi war crimes while emphasizing the suffering of the Axis populations at the hands of the Allies and stating or implying that the Allies committed war crimes as well.
  • Communism: Similar examples can be drawn from the other end of the political scale, with communists and socialists who, like the Nazi revisionists, attempt to whitewash or downplay major atrocities carried out under some of those regimes, such as the Great Leap Forward under Mao where up to 43 million starved to death, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Gulag forced labor camps of the Soviet Union as well as the Holodomor genocide against the people of Ukraine.

Techniques used by politically motivated revisionists

It is sometimes hard for a non-historian to distinguish between a book published by a historian doing peer-reviewed academic work, and a bestselling "amateur writer of history". For example, until David Irving lost his British libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and was found to be a "falsifier of history", the general public did not realize that his books were outside the canon of acceptable academic histories.

The distinction rests on the techniques used to write such histories. Accuracy and revision are central to historical scholarship. As in any scientific discipline, historians' papers are submitted to peer review. Instead of submitting their work to the challenges of peer review, revisionists rewrite history to support an agenda, often political, using any number of techniques and logical fallacies to obtain their results.

Richard J. Evans describes the difference thus:

Reputable and professional historians do not suppress parts of quotations from documents that go against their own case, but take them into account and if necessary amend their own case accordingly. They do not present as genuine documents which they know to be forged just because these forgeries happen to back up what they are saying. They do not invent ingenious but implausible and utterly unsupported reasons for distrusting genuine documents because these documents run counter to their arguments; again, they amend their arguments if this is the case, or indeed abandon them altogether. They do not consciously attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources which in fact, on closer inspection, actually say the opposite. They do not eagerly seek out the highest possible figures in a series of statistics, independently of their reliability or otherwise, simply because they want for whatever reason to maximize the figure in question, but rather, they assess all the available figures as impartially as possible in order to arrive at a number that will withstand the critical scrutiny of others. They do not knowingly mistranslate sources in foreign languages in order to make them more serviceable to themselves. They do not wilfully invent words, phrases, quotations, incidents and events for which there is no historical evidence in order to make their arguments more plausible.

Law and historical revisionism

In some countries, historical revisionism of some issues (such as the Holocaust) is a criminal offense. The Council of Europe defines it as "Denial, gross minimisation, approval or justification of genocide or crimes against humanity" (article 6, additional protocol to the convention on cybercrime - see below).

International law

Additional protocol to the convention on cybercrime

An additional protocol to the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention, addressing materials and "acts of racist or xenophobic nature committed through computer networks," was proposed by some member States. This additional protocol was the subject of negotiations in late 2001 and early 2002. Final text of this protocol was adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 7 November 2002 under the title "Additional Protocol to the Convention on cyber-crime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems, ("Protocol"). The Protocol opened on 28 January 2003 and entry into force is 1 March 2006. By 17 February 2006 6 States had ratified the Protocol and a further 24 had signed the Protocol but had not yet followed with ratifications.

The Protocol requires participating States to criminalize the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material through computer systems, as well as of racist and xenophobic-motivated threats and insults. Article 6, Section 1 of the Protocol specifically covers the denial of the Holocaust and other genocides recognized as such by other international courts set up since 1945 by relevant international legal instruments. Section 2 of Article 6 allows a Party to the Protocol at their discretion only to prosecute if the offense is committed with the intent to incite hatred, discrimination or violence; or to make use of a reservation, by allowing a Party not to apply – in whole or in part – Article 6.

The Council of Europe Explanatory Report of the Protocol states "European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that the denial or revision of “clearly established historical facts – such as the Holocaust – [...] would be removed from the protection of Article 10 by Article 17” of the ECHR (see in this context the Lehideux and Isorni judgment of 23 September 1998)". However, the United States government does not believe that the final version of the Protocol is consistent with the United States' constitutional guarantees and has informed the Council of Europe that the United States will not become a Party to the protocol.

Domestic law

There are various domestic laws concerning negationism and/or hate speech (under which negationism is then included), such as the Belgian Holocaust denial law or the 1990 French Gayssot Act, which prohibits any "racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic" speech. Other European countries which have outlawed Holocaust denial are Switzerland (article 261bis of the Penal Code), Germany (§ 130 (3) of the penal code), Austria (article 3h Verbotsgesetz 1947), Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Poland (article 55 of the law creating the Institute of National Remembrance 1998).

February 23, 2005 French law on the "positive value" of colonialism

On February 23, 2005, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) conservative majority at the French National Assembly voted a law compelling history textbooks and teachers to "...acknowledge and recognize in particular the positive role of the French presence abroad, especially in North Africa. Criticized by many historians and teachers, among them Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who refused to recognize that the French Parliament had a right to influence the way history is written (while France already has laws against Holocaust denial, see Loi Gayssot). The law was also challenged by left-wing parties and in former French colonies. Several critics also argued that this amounted to a refusal to acknowledge the racism involved in French colonialism and was itself a form of revisionism.

In retaliation against the law, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika refused to sign the prepared "friendly treaty" with France. In Martinique, Aimé Césaire, the famous author of the Négritude literary movement, refused to receive UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy, the current president of France. On June 26, 2005, Bouteflika declared that the law "...approached mental blindness, negationism and revisionism.

Supporters of the law were decried as a resurgence of the "colonial lobby," a term used in late 19th century France to label those people (deputies, scientists, businessmen, etc.) who supported French colonialism. The public uproar surrounding this law finally pushed president Jacques Chirac to publicly oppose it and his own majority (the UMP which had voted the law). In defiance of this revisionism, Chirac stated that "In a Republic, there is no official history. It is not to the law to write history. Writing history is the business of historians. He then passed a decree charging the president of the Assembly, Jean-Louis Debré (UMP), with modifying the controversial law, taking out the revisionist article about the "recognition of the positive role of the French presence abroad." In order to do so, Chirac ordered prime minister Dominique de Villepin to seize the Constitutional Council, whose decision would permit the legal repeal of the law. The Constitutional Council judged that history textbooks regulation is not the domain of the law, but of administrative reglementation [regulation] As such, the contested amendment was repealed in the beginning of 2006.

The debate lifted on the February 23 2005 law point out, however, to a further debate in France concerning colonialism, which is linked to immigration. As the historian Benjamin Stora pointed out, colonialism is a major "memory" stake that is influencing the way various communities and the nation itself represent themselves. Official state history always had a hard time accepting the existence of past crimes and errors. Historian Olivier LeCour Grandmaison also criticized the law. Indeed, the Algerian War (1954-1962), previously qualified as a "public order operation," was only recognized as a "war" by the French National Assembly in 1999. In the same sense, philosopher Paul Ricœur (1981) has underlined the needs for a "decolonization of memory," because mentalities themselves have been colonized during the "Age of imperialism."

Holocaust denial

Many Holocaust deniers do not accept "denier" as an appropriate term to describe their point of view, using the term "Holocaust revisionist" instead. Scholars, however, prefer the term "Holocaust denier" to differentiate Holocaust deniers from historical revisionists who consider their goal to be historical inquiry using evidence and established methodology. According to the Holocaust historian Alan Berger, Holocaust deniers argue to support a preconceived theory, namely that the Holocaust simply did not take place or was largely a hoax, ignoring extensive historical evidence to the contrary.

Holocaust-deniers have attached themselves to the issue of the Heimatvertriebenen, and have in the view of their opposition attempted to use the sympathy for the plight of those Germans who suffered so as to blame the Jews for the suffering of the Heimatvertriebenen, or to retroactively minimize the suffering of the Holocaust.

David Irving, discredited author, lost his English libel case against Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books (for identifying him as a Holocaust denier). The trial judge Justice Charles Gray concluded that:

On February 20, 2006, Irving was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison for Holocaust denial under Austria's 1947 law banning Nazi revivalism and criminalizing the "public denial, belittling or justification of National Socialist crimes". Besides Austria, eleven other countries — including Belgium (1995 Belgian Holocaust denial law), France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland and Switzerland — have passed laws which make denial of the Holocaust a criminal offense punishable by prison sentence.

Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

Turkey has drafted laws like Article 301 that state "A person who publicly insults Turkishness, or the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly of Turkey, shall be punishable by imprisonment". This law has been used, for example, to bring charges against writer Orhan Pamuk for stating that "Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it". The charges were later dropped.

On Tuesday 7 February 2006 the trial opened against five journalists charged with insulting the judicial institutions of the State, and also of aiming to prejudice a court case (Article 288 of the Turkish penal code). The five were on trial because they criticized a court order to shut down a conference in Istanbul about the mass killing of Armenians by Turks during the Ottoman Empire – the conference was nevertheless eventually held after having been transferred from a state university to a private university. The case was adjourned until 11 April, when four of the journalists were acquitted on a technicality. The case against the fifth journalist, Murat Belge, proceeded. On 8 June 2006, Murat Belge was acquitted by the Istanbul court. The trial is seen as a test case between Turkey and the European Union (EU), which insists that Turkey must allow increased rights to free expression as part of the negotiations on EU membership.

The aim of the conference, organized by a number of academics and intellectuals, was to offer a critical look at the official approach to the events of 1915, a topic that has long been taboo in Turkey.

Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink was assassinated by Ogün Samast because of Dink's personal recognition of the Armenian genocide (for which he had previously been legally prosecuted). While much of the Turkish community condemned the act, several ultranationalist factions lauded it, and even after the assassin was captured, a photo of him was leaked showing Samast posing in front of a Turkish flag and a poster of Ataturk with two police officers on either side, suggesting that such nationalist elements are working within the Turkish government.

Article 301 was introduced as part of a package of penal-law reform introduced to bring Turkey up to EU standards, in the process preceding the opening of negotiations for Turkish EU membership. The Republic of Turkey does not deny the Ottoman Armenian casualties, but claims that they were not genocide. Specifically, the authorities claim that the deaths were due to wartime upheaval plus crimes committed outside the government of the Ottoman Empire and that the crimes were committed without said government's approval.

Examples of historical revisionism

Japanese war crimes

After-action attempts at downgrading the various war crimes committed by Japanese imperialism are examples of historical revisionism. For example, some modern Japanese revisionists claim that Japan's invasion of China and World War II itself was a justified reaction against racist Western practices of the time, just as contemporary political thinkers did so at the time of the invasions. On 2 March 2007, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe denied that the military had forced women into sexual slavery during World War II in an orchestrated way. He stated, "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion." Before he spoke, a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers also sought to revise Yohei Kono's 1993 apology to former comfort women.

Yasukuni Shrine has been criticized by people such as Tsuneo Watanabe (editor-in-chief of conservative newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun) as a bastion of revisionism: "The Yasukuni Shrine runs a museum where they show items in order to encourage and worship militarism. It's wrong for the prime minister to visit such a place". Others point out that multiple individuals that would today be seen as "Korean" or "Chinese" are enshrined for their military actions carried out as subjects of the Japanese Empire.

The history textbook controversy centers on how a junior-high history textbook called the "Atarashii Rekishi Kyōkasho" or "New History Textbook" allegedly downplays or "whitewashes" the nature of Japan's military aggression in the First Sino-Japanese War, in Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910, and in World War II. The textbook was created by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a conservative Japanese organization, which, as its name implies, aims to alter the traditional and international view of Japanese history in that period.

In Japan, the Ministry of Education vets all Japanese history textbooks. Any submitted textbook which does not mention several atrocities committed by Japan during the WWII cannot pass this vetting process. . However, this particular textbook places less emphasis on the nature of wartime atrocities and de-emphasizes the subject of the Chinese and Korean comfort women, which some feel is at least partly inappropriate at the junior high level.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings

Hibakusha and various historians have often criticized the attempts of downgrading the importance of the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which they sometimes call "nuclear holocaust", as an example of revisionist history.

Soviet and Russian history

During the rule of dictator Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, a variety of revisionist tactics were employed to ignore unpleasant events of the past. Soviet school books would constantly be revised to remove or alter photographs and articles that dealt with politicians who had fallen out of favor with the regime. History was frequently re-written, with past events modified so they always portrayed Stalin's government favorably.

Russian textbooks on the 20th Century

The textbook History of Russia and the World in the 20th Century, written by Nikita Zagladin, in 2004 replaced Igor Dolutsky's National History: 20th Century. Zagladin's text was implemented under the guidance and encouragement of Vladimir Putin, who wanted a textbook that was more "patriotic". Critics of the new book cite a lack of detail in addressing historical events such as the Siege of Leningrad, Gulag labor camps, Soviet attack on Finland and the First and Second Chechen Wars as serious factual inaccuracies. According to these critics, the Holocaust is not mentioned, and the rule of Joseph Stalin is glorified in the book.

Macedonia Naming Dispute

While moderates in the Republic of Macedonia support that ethnic Macedonians are a Slavic people, in the last few decades, various ethnic Macedonians claim that they are direct descendants of ancient Macedonians who are historically considered to be Greek. The trend is directly connected to the Macedonia naming dispute since such assertions more clearly support the exclusivity of the name for ethnic Macedonians.

Historical revisionism in literature

In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government of the main character's country (Oceania), which is nominally led by the enigmatic Big Brother, is constantly revising history to be in harmony with the current political situation. For instance, if Oceania is at war with Eurasia, then the official position is that they have always been at war with Eurasia. If the situation changes, the civilians are brainwashed accordingly. In this novel, historical revisionism is one of the main policies of the propaganda arm ("Ministry of Truth") of Oceania's government. The main character, Winston Smith, is employed to revise newspaper articles and doctor photographs.

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