Revisionism and the Historical Blackout - Henry Elmer Barnes

Smearing Chamberlin's Second Crusade

The reception accorded Chamberlin's America's Second Crusade was in keeping with the blackout procedure and in line with that given to the Morgenstern and Beard volumes. Chamberlin was a too-important and well-known author to be given the silent treatment by all newspapers and periodicals, though the leading liberal periodicals tended to ignore his book. It was, naturally, glowingly praised in the Chicago Tribune, and equally lavishly smeared by the New York Post.

The New York Times treated the book about as badly as feasible under the circumstances. While it placed a long review of a slight book by the elder Schlesinger on page 3 of the Sunday Book Review, it relegated Chamberlin's striking volume to page 34. It chose as the reviewer of the book Samuel Flagg Bemis, well known as perhaps the bitterest critic of revisionist writing among the historians.

But even Bemis was unable to make much headway against Chamberlin' facts and logic. He frankly admitted that he would not "argue the case with Mr. Chamberlin." In reviewing the Morgenstern book, Bemis had written that the American situation in late 1941 constituted "the most awful danger that ever confronted our nation." He still stuck to this thesis, despite his admission that there is no factual basis for it:

"That captured Nazi archives do not reveal any actual plans to attack the New World, as Mr. Chamberlin repeatedly stresses, does not make any difference. The intention was there."

Bemis pictured Germany and Japan as "the two colossi whose power in victory would have closed on our freedom with the inexorable jaws of a global vise." Therefore, our second crusade was a success and a necessity, even though Bemis admits that Russia is now more powerful than Japan and Germany combined could ever have become, and its power is concentrated in one nation rather than being divided among two, who might often have clashed:

"Stalin has stepped into everything that Hitler and Japan first started out to get, and more. Soviet Russia has rolled up an agglomeration of power greater than ever menaced the United States, even in 1941."

Bemis concluded his review with what is possibly the most incredible example of "foot-swallowing" in the whole history of book reviewing:

"One thing ought to be evident to all of us: by our victory over Germany and Japan, no matter what our folly in losing the peace, we have at least survived to confront the second even greater menace of another totalitarian power . . . We might not stand vis-a-vis with the Soviets today if President Roosevelt had not entertained a conviction that action against the Axis was necessary."

In other words, all the physical, financial, and moral losses of the United States in the second World War were justified and well expended in order that we might face another world war against a far stronger enemy. With these comments we may well leave Bemis to the logicians.

The New York Herald Tribune Book Review handled the Chamberlin book much as did the Times. It placed the review on the twelfth page, following reviews of many relatively trivial volumes. It did not seek out a professorial critic, but assigned one of its own "hatchet men," August Heckscher, to write the review. While the book was smeared as a revival of "pre-war isolationism," Heckscher was not able to succeed any better than Bemis in disposing of Chamberlin's material and arguments. He had to rest satisfied with espousing the "perpetual-war-for-perpetual-peace" program of our current internationalists. If the first and second crusades have failed to provide peace, security, and prosperity, we can "keep on trying." Other and more bloody crusades may turn the trick, though even Arnold J. Toynbee has admitted that any further crusades may leave only the pygmies—or, perhaps, only the apes or ants—to wrestle with the aftermath.

Perhaps the most remarkable example of smearing the Chamberlin book was the review which was published in the New Leader, written by our old friend, Harry D. Gideonse.

The New Leader is a sprightly journal controlled mainly by Socialists and ex-Socialists who deserted Norman Thomas in his brave stand against our entry into the second World War, and by totalitarian liberals. Both groups were fanatically in favor of our intervention in the second World War and are now in the vanguard of those who wish us to enter a third crusade in the interest of perpetual war for perpetual peace and the suppression of Red sin throughout the world. Chamberlin writes for this periodical, though his presence seems somewhat incongruous in such an editorial group.

But the fact that Chamberlin is a regular contributor to the New Leader weighed less heavily with the editor than his offense in debunking our first and second crusades and his warning against our entering a third. Therefore it was decided that Chamberlin's book must be smeared, and a man was chosen to do it who could be relied upon. There was no doubt about Gideonse's dependability for the task, both from his well-known general attitude toward interventionism and from his earlier elaborate smearing of Beard in the New Leader.

Gideonse did not let the editor down, except that he was only able to bring to bear against Chamberlin the same threadbare smears that he had used against Beard. He led off with a blanket condemnation: "This is a bitter and unconvincing book." The worthlessness of much of Chamberlin's book, according to Gideonse, required nothing more in the way of proof than to show that he agreed with Colonel McCormick and the Chicago Tribune: "At least half of the contents of Mr. Chamberlin's book is another rehash of the Chicago Tribune history of World War II." Gideonse repeated the old alarmist dud to the effect that, if we had not gone to war against Hitler, he would have made a vassal of Stalin and Soviet Russia and would have controlled the Old World "from the English Channel to Vladivostok." In the December 18, 1950, issue of the New Leader, Chamberlin submitted a crushing answer to Gideonse and other smearing reviewers.

The New York Post called Chamberlin a "totalitarian conservative" and painted him as a special favorite of the McCormick-Patterson axis. The overwhelming majority of the reviews of the book did not rise above the level of smearing, the lowest point of which was reached in the review by James M. Minifie in the Saturday Review of Literature.

That the progress of disillusionment with respect to the results of the second crusade and the shock of the Korean war may have made a few editors a trifle more tolerant of reality in world affairs was, possibly, demonstrated by the fact that Chamberlin's book was warmly praised in the review in the Wall Street Journal and was accorded fair treatment in the interventionist Chicago Daily News.