Michael K. Smith on The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes

Michael K. Smith, author of The Madness of King George and Portraits of Empire (Common Courage Press), hits all the right notes in his review of Samuel Crowell's The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes. From the top:   

Reading Samuel Crowell's, "The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes" is a little like stumbling across a rational mind in an insane asylum years after being taken hostage by the inmates. Following prolonged immersion in clashing dogmas, the dispassionate use of evidence and logic to arrive at a sensible conclusion comes as a jolting but thoroughly pleasant surprise. And Crowell's modesty in stating that conclusion tentatively, knowing that genuinely rational inquiry will and should be superseded by later efforts, is an equally refreshing departure from polemical norms.

Drawing on establishment and revisionist authors, along with a careful scrutiny of German source documents, Crowell deftly evaluates contending claims arguing that Nazi "gas chambers" were (1) weapons of extermination (2) disinfection chambers (3) bomb shelters designed to protect against aerial gas attacks. Aligning eyewitness testimony with the material and documentary record, he sketches out the basis for a rational opinion, putting readers in a position to make their own judgments, without first requiring that they join in partisan warfare. Thanks to this effort we no longer need choose between delusional orthodoxy and strident dissidence, but can simply weigh evidence. This should come as a relief to everyone, while hopefully expanding the number of readers who can move beyond ritual denunciation and actually take the gas chamber debate seriously.

Crowell's work contains not a trace of anti-Semitism. He makes no attempt to whitewash Nazi racial policy, which he characterizes as a "shameful and disgraceful chapter in Germany history," even if "we assumed revisionist theses to their maximum extent." The important consideration, he notes, is that "we would still be dealing with about a million dead European Jews, who died as a direct result of Nazi persecution, plunder, forced labor, deportation, and yes, mass killing." As for his personal beliefs, he says, "they remain what they have been for thirty years or more," that "there certainly was a Holocaust in the sense that Nazi Germany persecuted and massacred many Jews," with the likelihood "that this massacre ran into the millions." Philosemitic crusaders, please take note.

A self-declared "moderate revisionist" who clearly values the standards of rational investigation, Crowell avoids exaggeration, misrepresentation, and self-righteousness. He shows no reluctance to admit when a conclusion is debatable or when the evidence is open to varying interpretations; and he is able to perceive shortcomings in the views and tactics of those who share a revisionist stance – and even some merit in those who do not. This adds credibility to his analysis, and marks him as a rare breed of intellectual who actually does what he is supposed to do: face up to facts and plausibly explain them. It is truly sad that on such an important topic his open-mindedness is all but unique.

Read the whole thing.

Also, TGGP reminds me that I forgot to link to Trevor Blake's piquant review of L.A. Rollins' The Myth of Natural Rights and Other Essays (which is now sold out, alas — if the world doesn't end, we plan to do an enlarged reprint in 2012).

And for good measure, here's Keith Preston on Andy Nowicki's Considering Suicide (which still available from 9BB for $12, postpaid). 

Memento mori.