Deborah Lipstadt, in her recent outstanding book, “The Eichmann Trial,” uses the term “soft-core” denial of the Holocaust to characterize the writings of those who grossly distort, without outright negating, historical reality. It would be charitable to apply that label to Nicholson Baker’s disturbing creation, “Human Smoke” discussed by Eric Herschthal in his thoughtful article, “The Limits Of Pacifism” (June 24).
I would urge readers to go directly to the book to judge if it is a legitimate plea for pacificism. Baker has not written a history book, nor is his work a novel. It is a loose collection of anecdotes and musings pieced together to manipulate the reader into believing that fighting Hitler was actually harmful to Jews and to the world. Among other techniques, Baker mocks British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his physical appearance and his alcoholism. He equates President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s patrician anti-Semitism with Hitler’s murderous crimes.
Because he has not actually written a work of history, he is not bound by the rules that would demand accuracy and critical insight applied to facts.
The historians quoted by Herschthal successfully refute Baker’s arguments.
Readers of The Jewish Week may not, however, appreciate the gross distortions of Baker’s work without actually reading it, particularly if they are sensitive to the issues raised by U.S. involvement in Libya. Baker, by connecting the Second World War with recent U.S. intervention in Libya, is hoping to enlist liberal support for his apology for totalitarianism in the guise of rational negotiation with Hitler.
Herschthal quotes Baker as asserting, “What I did in that book was take us up to the edge of the cliff and stop.” In my opinion, “Human Smoke” plunged over the edge.