Chickens of the Interventionist Liberals - Henry Elmer Barnes

Revisionism and Intellectual Integrity After Two World Wars

All this stands out in remarkable contrast to the attitude of the liberals after the first World War. During that war, most of the liberals, except for a few like Randolph Bourne and Oswald Garrison Villard, were swept into the crusade for "the war to end all wars," as a result of the eloquence of Woodrow Wilson. After the war, however, the liberals, almost to a man, recognized their tragic mistake and became the leaders of Revisionism down to the mid-1930's. As late as 1935, Walter Millis published his Road to War, the most scathing volume ever written criticizing American entry into the first World War. The liberals repudiated the thesis of unique German responsibility for the first World War and the nefarious treaty of Versailles, which was based upon this illusion. They logically denounced the failure to revise the postwar treaties, the absurd and disastrous attempt to collect astronomical reparations from Germany, and all the other outstanding international follies of the 1920's.

The Nation, under the courageous leadership of Oswald Garrison Villard, had opposed our intervention in the war. Hence, its espousal of Revisionism in the 1920's did not require any reversal of editorial attitude. The New Republic, on the contrary, had vigorously supported President Wilson and the war. Nevertheless, as if to atone for their greater sins, the editors of the New Republic advocated Revisionism in the 1920's even more vigorously than did the Nation. The reviews and other contributions which the author of this brochure made to the New Republic as early as 1924 may be regarded as the veritable launching of the popular revisionist movement in this country. Even the New York Times joined the movement through its Current History Magazine, which for many years opened its columns freely to the most forthright revisionist material. The Times reviewed revisionist books fairly, even my Genesis of the World War. Irita Van Doren was able to get a number of vigorous revisionist reviews into the Herald Tribune "Books," until Mrs. Ogden Reid became outraged over my review of John S. Ewart's Roots and Causes of the Wars, 1914-1918 (1925), which Mrs. Reid threw out of the issue, even though it meant stopping the presses and revamping the make-up.

The majority of our more alert historians warmly espoused Revisionism. Henry Steele Commager wrote a literally "rave" review of Professor Tamili's America Goes to War, (1938), the most scholarly and complete indictment of Woodrow Wilson and our entry into war in 1917. William L. Langer brilliantly and learnedly embraced the cause of Revisionism. Sidney B. Fay prepared the classic and generally accepted statement of the revisionist position relative to the first World War. Only an isolated "die-hard" here and there, such as Frank Maloy Anderson and William Stearns Davis, dared to raise a voice in defense of the illusions which prevailed from 1914 to the early 1920's. Whatever the mistakes of the liberals in the war period, they amply atoned for their errors by their subsequent revisionist zeal.

The net result of the Revisionism carried on by the liberals after 1920 was highly beneficial: it temporarily discredited interventionism and foreign meddling; it encouraged disarmament; it added strength to the movement for neutrality; it notably promoted world peace down to the mid-1930's; and it helped to restore public toleration.

Today, there is nothing of the sort. The Nation strove valiantly for armament and war in the late 1930's before the New Republic shifted its attitude, when Bruce Bliven began to call for even "more jitters" than those caused by President Roosevelt's fearsome warning of Hitler's timetable to invade Iowa via Dakar, Rio de Janeiro and the Caribbean. The Nation has never given the slightest evidence of any sense of guilt or accorded any remote hospitality to revisionist truth about the onset and issues of the second World War. If it has noticed revisionist books at all, it has been only for the purpose of smearing them. The only revisionist symptom displayed has been with respect to the Korean War which has to some extent outraged its Leftist tendencies.

The same is true of the New Republic. It has not published a revisionist paragraph or fairly reviewed a revisionist book. Indeed, its editor, Michael Straight, went so far as to charge that Professor Tansill's Back Door to War (1952), the book comparable to Professor Fay's masterpiece on the first World War, was the product of a Catholic plot against the national interest of the United States. [In a promotional blast in October, 1953, the New Republic concentrated its fire on Senator McCarthy, nominating him for "Secretary of Fear," but there was no hint that the foreign policy so hotly supported by the New Republic is what produced "McCarthyism".]

What we have said above about the Nation and the New Republic applies equally to the other interventionist-liberal magazines, such as Harpers, the Atlantic, and the Saturday Review of Literature. While frequently publishing articles repeating the mythology of wartime, they have never opened their columns to a revisionist article or published a fair review of a revisionist book. They have usually ignored Revisionism.

The majority of our liberal newspapers, led by the New York Times and Herald Tribune, became fiercely interventionist in the late 1930's. A few, like the papers in the Scripps-Howard chain and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, held out for neutrality until 1941. But even those which favored neutrality before Pearl Harbor have shown no cordiality to Revisionism since the war. They are as hostile to it as the liberal periodicals. Few of the liberal newspapers will fairly review a revisionist book, and most of them, like the periodicals, prefer completely to disregard Revisionism.

The lack of cordiality towards revisionist truth is also characteristic of the vast majority of our historians and academicians. Admiral Morison and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., at Harvard, Samuel Flagg Bemis, at Yale, Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, at Columbia, Gordon A. Craig, at Princeton, Quincy Wright and Walter Johnson, at Chicago, and others like them in our leading universities, have conditioned a whole younger generation of American historians to embrace interventionism, globaloney, and anti-Revisionism. Even many of those who were and still are Revisionists, relative to the first World War, became ardent apologists for Mr. Roosevelt and his war policy after 1937. Among former Revisionists who joined the war mob were William L. Langer, the most scholarly revisionist historian after the first World War, Sidney B. Fay, Henry Steele Commager, and Carl Lotus Becker the most ardent supporter of my revisionist writings in the 1920's. The renegade Revisionists continued in their support of the Cold War and the Korean War. On January 29, 1951, about 900 leading "liberal" historians and social scientists signed a manifesto upholding Secretary Acheson's policy of intervention in both Europe and the Far East.

Some of the interventionist historians have gone to the near-paranoid extreme of representing President Roosevelt as almost an "isolationist" down to Pearl Harbor, reluctantly pushed toward war by American public opinion, which was actually at least 80 percent isolationist to the day of Pearl Harbor. Good examples of this attitude are to be seen in the paper read by Professor Dexter Perkins before the American Historical Association in Chicago on December 29, 1950, the review of Langer and Gleason's The Struggle Against Isolation (1952) by Professor Edward M. Earle in the American Historical Review, July, 1953, and the review of Langer and Gleason's The Undeclared War (1953) by Samuel Flagg Bemis in the New York Times Book Magazine, September 6, 1953. Other historians, such as Richard W. Leopold and Selig Adler, have even gone back to attack the integrity of revisionist scholars for their work on the causes of the first World War. Not since it "slipped up" in giving Charles Austin Beard's American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932-1940 (1946) to Professor Louis Martin Sears to review, has the American Historical Review fairly reviewed a revisionist book. It has entirely ignored some of the best of them, such as W. H. Chamberlin's America's Second Crusade (1950), and F. R. Sanborn's Design for War (1951).

The reluctance of the interventionist liberals to accept revisionist realities is well illustrated by Gerald W. Johnson's review of Admiral Morison's By Land and By Sea (1953) in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, September 20, 1953:

"The volume includes Morison's famous attack on the isolationist philosophy of Charles A. Beard. This is one polemic that has gathered, rather than lost significance in the five years since it was written. The distortion of history that Morison accused Beard of practicing in a very mild way is now being practiced by lesser men with a recklessness hardly surpassed by either the Nazis or the Communists; so that what Morison said about Beard applies with multiplied force to Beard's successors in 1953."

These successors are, obviously, the distinguished historians and publicists, Frederic R. Sanborn, Charles Callan Tansill, William Henry Chamberlin and George Morgenstern. The best answer to such irresponsible and recalcitrant twaddle is the article by Howard K. Beale on "The Professional Historian: His Theory and His Practice," in the Pacific Historical Review, August, 1953.

The stock argument of the interventionist liberals in regard to their refusal to accept and promote Revisionism since 1941 is that there is no factual basis for it now, as there was after 1918. The outpourings of White House interventionist propaganda after 1937 and of the Office of War Information after 1941 are represented as being gospel truth on the diplomatic history of the United States and the world from 1937 to 1945. The reverse of this attitude is the real truth. Whatever the errors and exaggerations in interventionist propaganda from 1914 to 1918, they were trivial when compared with the mendacity and mythology that accompanied interventionism and war following 1937.

Woodrow Wilson really tried over a considerable period to keep the United States out of war, and was swept into it by developments partly beyond his control. He surely had no ambition to base his fame mainly upon being a war president. Even the night before he delivered his war message to Congress, he shuddered at its consequences, as Frank I. Cobb has told us.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's greatest ambition was to go down in history as a war president and he discussed war with Japan as a method of solving the depression in his very first meetings with his Cabinet in 1933. He began definite war plans by the autumn of 1937. He "lied us into war" as adroitly and speedily as possible. He cooperated heartily with the leaders of the war movement in England and elsewhere. He rejected all Japanese overtures for peace after it was evident that Hitler could not be provoked into declaring war as the result of flagrant American violations of neutrality. He approved the steps that he knew would inevitably lead to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was immensely relieved, if not overjoyed, when the attack actually came.

Hence, the historical and moral need for revisionist historical research and writing is far greater in the 1950's than it was in the 1920's and 1930's.

It might be argued by many that any return to the true liberalism and the neutrality of the early 1930's would be calamitous. This would lead us into another theme which we do not propose to discuss at this time. It may, however, be stated without the slightest fear of valid contradiction that there is no hope of returning to the freedom and tolerance which our current crop of alarmed totalitarian liberals now recall with such tearful nostalgia unless we repudiate, root and branch, the militant globaloney and the perpetual-war-for-perpetual-peace program which have produced all the serious defections from the life and policy of the early 1930's which the liberals now lament.

The double-thinking tendency of interventionist liberals to lament the passing of intellectual freedom and at the same time to support with intolerant fervor the continuance of the policies that have destroyed this freedom is illustrated in an eloquent article by Bernard De Voto. He portrays the glories of free thought, reading and writing before 1937 and yearns for their return: "We had that kind of a country only a little while ago, and I'm for getting it back." But few American writers assail more ferociously than does De Voto the neutralism and continentalism which offer the only hope of regaining a free and tolerant civilization.

So long as any liberals applaud and support globaloney and worldwide interventionism against public sin, they are only getting just what they deserve, and richly deserve, to receive.

Whether they are fully conscious of it or not, a main reason for the sense of fury and frustration on the part of the totalitarian liberals today is the fact that their anti-Communist Republican opponents have scooped up the ball where the fumble occurred in the fall of 1952 and are now dashing down the sidelines with the ball in one hand and a megaphone in the other heaping abuse on the fumblers in all directions where their voices can be heard. It is hard enough on the interventionist liberals to have their internationalist program carried on by a group supposed to be congenitally unable to do any such thing. What is even worse is to have to absorb at the same time harsh and voluminous abuse for the manner in which the program was conducted under interventionist-liberal sponsorship. The bitter attacks upon Secretary of State John Foster Dulles by Senator Wayne Morse well reflect this resentment felt by the totalitarian liberals over the situation just described.

The author of this brochure cannot fairly be accused of being one who has only recently awakened to the menace of interventionism to liberty. A few nights after Mr. Roosevelt delivered his famous "dagger in the back" speech at the University of Virginia Institute of Politics in June, 1940, I gave an address before the Institute on the same spot. Here, I predicted that our intervention in the second World War would produce exactly the system of intolerance against which the liberals now protest with such vigor. The essentials of this address were printed in the Virginia Quarterly Review (Autumn, 1940). I had given much the same lecture before the members of the history and social science faculties at the University of Michigan a month before. It caused a great uproar among the interventionist-liberal professors who thereafter persecuted for months their colleagues who had been responsible for inviting me to give the address.