Recently a colleague wrote me asking why I had expressed an interest in historian David Irving who everyone knows was convicted in a British court of being an antisemite, holocaust denier and blatant apologist for Adolph Hitler. This is my reply.

Thank you for asking if I find anything of value in David Irving. I am pleased to share my impressions of Irving plus my sources of information. I ask that if you disagree with me you do so also on the basis of your own experience.

I am not a professional historian and my knowledge of what went on in WW II is not extensive but for most of my life I have been trained in the methods of rational thinking and can follow an argument like a rat terrier. I recognize a good argument when I see one and have familiarized myself with most of the rhetorical counterfeits of reasoning. I consider myself an expert truth-seeker.

As a scientist, seeking truth is part of my profession but I also consider truthseeking a sport--I love to witness and participate in good debates. My favorite pieces of literature are the speeches of Brutus and of Marc Antony in Shakepeare's "Julius Caesar"--in high school I memorized large sections of these speeches which I regard as some of the most beautiful examples of persuasive speech in the English language.

You can imagine my delight when I read of David Irving's upcoming trial in the SF Chronicle and in a long magazine article (Guttenplan in the Atlantic Monthly). The prospect of an active debate by expert historians about some of the most important historical events in the Twentieth Century hit me like a jolt of acid.

I spread the news to all my friends about what I called "the thinking man's O.J. Simpson Trial." Certainly the subject matter of this debate is up there with the Lincoln-Douglass debates about slavery or the William Jennings Bryan/Clarence Darrow debate about evolution. And as a sport for truthseekers I envisioned the Irving trial as the modern equivalent of some great boxing match like the Joe Louis fights my father & I listened to on the radio in the 40s. I was not disappointed.

Jesus! I imagined that every newspaper in the civilized world would print front page accounts from ring side of the Colossal Debate of the Century! Was I ever disappointed to find that American newspapers maintained a virtual blackout on the details of the debate--all that I managed to find in the American press was the verdict!

David Irving is a British historian, author of more than 30 best-selling books including "Hitler's War" and a recent biography of Churchill. He is the son of a British Navy Commander and military historian and financed his college education by working as a laborer in the steel mills of the Ruhr Valley where he acquired a first hand knowledge of the German language and its people. Irving is no stranger to controversy but was unprepared for the disproportionate attack on his reputation he suffered after publishing the Leuchter report (see below) which presented physical evidence that seemed to cast doubt on the official holocaust story. Rather than responding to Leuchter's evidence with reasoned examination and debate, Irving was assaulted instead by an avalanche of defamation, demonization and dirty tricks which continues to this day.

This relentless campaign to discredit Irving rather than debate him included the publication of a book "Denying the Holocaust" by Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar at Emory University in Georgia in which Lipstadt accused Irving of, among other things, distorting history to exonerate Hitler, denying the holocaust and consorting with the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

An edition of Lipstadt's book was published in England whose libel laws require the accused to demonstrate that what they say is actually true.

Exonerating Hitler, consorting with terrorists and denying the holocaust--could Lipstadt's lawyers actually prove that David Irving was guilty of all these charges?

Television is banned in British courts so news about a British trial would normally be filtered thru the eyes of print journalists--but not this time. Thank Allah for the Internet! After each day's trial, the court presents a transcript of the day's proceedings to each of the parties allowing them to review their arguments and to prepare their next day's rebuttals. The court supplies these transcripts in the form of floppy disks and David Irving took the unprecedented step of publishing each day's raw transcripts on his web site.

As an avid fan of free and open debate I was delighted with this open-handed move on David Irving's part and was disappointed when Deborah Lipstadt's legal team tried every trick in the book to prevent the transcripts from reaching the public eye. For a few terrible days during the trial Lipstadt's lawyers managed to stop Irving's postings--and on those days I almost wept, deprived of my daily hit of high-class, industrial-strength intellectual combat.

But then--Hooray!--Irving's legal arguments prevailed--and the transcripts were released. Now I fortified myself with pots of black coffee and glut-read myself silly on three straight days of Irving-Lipstadt debate, scrolling down my computer screen long into the night, getting up only to pee.

In the daytime I would meet at the gym or in the Blue Sun Cafe with my friends who were also reading the transcripts and we would discuss every detail of the ups and downs of the Great Debate. Some of my friends who have spent their lives studying history added their expertise to the mix and I shut up (for a change) and listened, hoping to fill the many gaps in my education concerning the details of the Second World War.

During the Irving trial I talked about nothing else. I must have appeared to outsiders like a convert to Hari Krishna. But for intellectual sports fans like myself and my friends, those days were pure bliss. Shouting and arguing with my pals over each attack Irving would make, and the merits of each punch and counterpunch was for me like living on Mount Olympus--I felt truly in the presence of Gods.