Friday, November 09, 2007

'A Liberal Only A Libertarian Could Love'

Harry Elmer Barnes: A Liberal Only A Libertarian Could Love

by Dan Spielberg

"Nevertheless, despite the seemingly insuperable difficulties involved, it may safely be maintained that, unless we throw off the yoke and menace of globaloney and interventionism, any and all efforts to attain the good life in the United States – civil liberty, intellectual freedom, economic security, social justice, and the like – are doomed to ultimate and complete failure. Until we free ourselves from the octopus of world-meddling, reformist zeal will remain comparable to excitement over engraving invitation cards to a gala party on a sinking ocean liner."

~ Harry Elmer Barnes in "The Chickens of the
Interventionist Liberals Have Come Home to Roost,"
a privately published monograph from 1954

With much sadness it must be said that rejecting the necessity of the state's favorite activity, war, does not come naturally to Americans. Those of us who do reject it generally have come to our position by gathering enough information to see behind the rhetorical smoke screens put up by the propagandists for war. The official rationales for every past war that we learn in school are generally lies (e.g., ending slavery, keeping the Hun at bay, protecting the "Free World") and alternative sources of information are hard to come by. That explains why the mass of Americans generally believe the intellectual myths of the war system that Murray Rothbard discussed in his insightful contribution to Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader, a 1968 Festschrift for one of my political heroes, Harry Elmer Barnes (1889–1968). When I read Rothbard's article, "Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War," on LRC I had never heard of Barnes before, and after reading it I felt compelled to read everything by Barnes I could get my hands on.

Barnes was a historian, criminologist, sociologist, journalist, social critic and political crusader. Educated at Syracuse University and Columbia, he held academic positions at such institutions as Clark University, The New School for Social Research, Smith College, wrote for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and was intimately involved with practically every revisionist book dealing with World War II and its aftermath that was published in the U.S. from 1945 until his death. He believed that the entry of the U.S. into the European and Pacific wars in 1941, thereby making them truly "world wars," was a devastating blow to the causes of peace, freedom, indeed of civilization itself. In 1953, writing in the preface to Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and It's Aftermath, a collection of essays written by a group of esteemed contributors such as historian Charles Callan Tansill and the great newspaper man George Morgenstern, Barnes says "if trends continue as they have during the last fifteen years we shall soon reach this point of no return, and can only anticipate interminable wars, disguised as noble gestures for peace. Such an era could only culminate in a third world war which might well, as Arnold J. Toynbee has suggested, leave only the pygmies in remote jungles, or even the apes and ants, to carry on 'the cultural traditions' of mankind."

Barnes was the quintessential liberal of the period between the world wars, championing such causes as civil rights, birth control, free speech, prison reform and World War I revisionism. His column in the New York World-Telegram, which was called "The Liberal Viewpoint," ran from 1934 to 1940 and brought Barnes much admiration from the liberal intelligentsia of the day, until his anti-interventionist views led to his dismissal. Although Barnes did favor things most libertarians would oppose, such as world government and the New Deal economic programs, he dedicated much of his life to the cause that all libertarians believe is the most important in this day and age, opposing foreign intervention by the U.S. government. While he did support World War I at the time, a common fault among intellectuals in those days, in the 1920's he became one of the leading revisionists who so ably demolished all the myths about the glory of going "Over There." His activities along this line gained him a great deal of admiration, as in those days war revisionism was very much in fashion and the consensus among learned people generally was that the war had been a tremendous mistake. His 1926 book, The Genesis of the World War, is a comprehensive rebuttal of the arguments that the sole responsibility for the war lay with Germany and that the war was a battle for "democracy" rather than a clash of empires. The fact that Barnes stood fast against global interventionism immediately before, during and after the second global bloodbath, when many liberals had become warmongers, is what makes him such a unique and admirable historical figure, in my mind.

While initially a supporter of FDR, once it became clear that the Anglophile, warship-obsessed Country Squire in the White Housewas determined to return to the scene of Woodrow Wilson's crime, Barnes became an outspoken critic of his. He saw clearly that Roosevelt's policies in Europe were designed to do nothing other than drag us into the war. He was not taken in by the President's lying denials of his belligerent intentions such as his famous "again and again" speech in Boston on October 30, 1940. It was October 5, 1937, while Barnes was waiting for a train in Auburn, New York, that he heard Roosevelt's voice coming over the radio, speaking from Chicago, saying that all the "peace-loving" peoples of the world must quarantine "the aggressors" that threatened "international anarchy" which would engulf the U.S. if nothing was done. This was the beginning of Barnes' break with the Administration and his eventual emergence of one of FDR's greatest critics with regard to foreign affairs. As one who had actually written Allied propaganda during World War I, this speech must have set off alarm bells in his mind, warning of the fire and brimstone ahead.

This was the beginning of his campaign to keep America out of the war, which he carried out in print and in public forums. He pressed the case against war in scholarly journals, magazines such as the Progressive (November 15 and 22, and December 6, 1941, notably) and in his regular column for Scripps-Howard. On June 18, 1940, at the University of Virginia Institute of Public Affairs, Barnes delivered an anti-interventionist lecture on the very spot where FDR delivered his famous "dagger in the back" speech eight days previous. One of his more notable appearances was a radio debate held March 2, 1941, broadcast on "American Forum of the Air" where he, along with then-Congressman Everett M. Dirksen, argued the anti-interventionist position against Thomas H. Eliot, who went on to become Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, and C.D. Jackson of the Luce publications. Another significant debate was held in Zeisler Hall in Chicago on March 26, 1941, before a full house. Barnes' opponent this time was one Clifton Utley, an NBC commentator and the Director of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. From all accounts, the majority of the audience were persuaded by Barnes' arguments on that occasion.

After the U.S. entered the war, Barnes was persuaded to take a job doing work unrelated to the military effort for the Prison War Industries Branch of the War Production Board. During this time he assumed that after the war the myths regarding U.S. entry into it would be put under the light of scrutiny and there would be a flourishing of revisionism like there was after World War I. He had no idea that the war myths this time would be harder to crack because of what Barnes would later refer to as the "Historical Blackout," by which he meant the efforts of "court historians" (academics bought and paid for by the regime) to suppress certain truths about the war (e.g. that Pearl Harbor was no "sneak attack"; that it was in large part the belligerence and intransigence of Roosevelt and Churchill which led to the German invasion of Poland, etc.). As the war wound down he began his first detailed investigations into the events leading up to American entry into the war in December, 1941. In the fall of 1944 he read John T. Flynn's first pamphlet on Pearl Harbor, "The Truth About Pearl Harbor," which was one of the early works of World War II revisionism. In the spring of 1945 he had dinner with Senator Robert A. Taft after Taft had spent a week with the lawyer for Admiral Husband E. Kimmell, commander of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor who became the scapegoat for the Administration's "failure" to prevent the attack. Taft had gathered many essential facts about the Pearl Harbor scandal which he relayed to Barnes. In November of that year he attended some of the meetings of the Joint Congressional Committee investigating Pearl Harbor and had the fortune of being there when General George Marshall testified and had a very convenient attack of amnesia. In December of 1945 Barnes was able to interview Tyler Kent who had just served time in a British prison for possessing "illegal" copies of secret exchanges between Churchill and FDR showing how they had schemed for two years to get the U.S. into the war.

Immediately after the war, some revisionist works appeared such as John T. Flynn's The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor(which revealed that Washington had been intercepting Japan's diplomatic messages which made it impossible that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise), Charles A. Beard's American Foreign Policy in the Making 1932–1940and George Morgenstern's Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War. This led Barnes to believe that revisionism would flourish in the years to come and that he would eventually write Genesis of World War II. However, by the end of 1947 it became clear that the truth about the war was going to be ruthlessly suppressed by those with a vested interest in keeping it shrouded in myth. In an article for the Saturday Evening Post of October 4, 1947 entitled "Who's to Write the History of the War?," Professor Beard revealed that both the Rockefeller Foundation and the Council on Foreign Relations intended to throw their weight against any effort by independent scholars and writers to reveal the truth about the war. The contours of the aforementioned "Historical Blackout" were coming into full view.

The Historical Blackout operated in various ways. One of the main ones being the simple method of just ignoring Revisionist works. In the essay "Revisionism and the Historical Blackout" from the early 1950's Barnes notes that Henry Regnery, one of the few publishers willing to print revisionist material, had shown him a careful survey of the treatment given to truth-telling works such as Charles Callan Tansill's Back Door to War, William Henry Chamberlin's America's Second Crusade and Frederic C. Sanborn's Design For War. Almost none were reviewed. Those that were reviewed were invariably given outrageously unfair treatment. Another method was by way of the granting of access to extensive official records only to historians who were sure to be sympathetic to the war, such as Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard, had been inducted into the Naval Reserve in 1942 (with the rank of Lieutenant Commander) to become the official historian of Naval Operations in World War II. Morison was obviously chosen for this task due to his ardent support for the interventionist policies of Roosevelt. He of course agreed that he would reveal no information that would endanger "national security." He later was promoted to the rank of Admiral for his extensive efforts to enshrine the interventionist viewpoint as our "official" version of history. (In fact a frigate, the USS Samuel Eliot Morison, was fittingly named after this bird.) Of course scholars who may have been suspected of wanting to publish the truth about the war found they had minimal, if any, access to official documents.

The role played by large foundations in the Historical Blackout is illustrated by relaying a personal experience of Barnes' that happened after the funding by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Sloan Foundation of the 1952 book The Challenge to Isolation, 1937–1940, by Professors W.L. Langer and S. E. Gleason, which was a complete whitewash of the Rooseveltian foreign policy. The Rockefeller Foundation's grant of $139,000 was supplemented by Sloan's grant of $10,000. When Barnes himself applied to the Sloan Foundation, on behalf of a project to be undertaken by an accomplished academic other than Barnes, for a grant of a small percentage of the amount allotted to the Langer and Gleason book, he received a perfunctory rejection letter from Alfred Zurcher, head of the Sloan Foundation. This was after receiving assurance, personally from Mr. Zurcher, that the Foundation was interested in subsidizing scholarship on all sides of the issue.

Due to this intellectually stifling atmosphere Barnes had to publish most of his own works with small firms such as Caxton or Devin-Adair, or he had to publish them privately. The first of his important works along this line was his pamphlet "Struggle Against the Historical Blackout" which was published first in early 1948 and was to go through nine editions over they years, each updated to reflect recent developments. The 1950's and early 1960's saw him continue to produce great revisionist works such as the symposium Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (1952) mentioned above, which he edited and which contained two chapters written by Barnes himself. The second Barnes chapter of this book, "How 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' Trends Threaten American Peace, Freedom and Prosperity" was actually suppressed at the time the book was published but appears in the editions currently available. This chapter prophetically describes what horrors America would face (and which have now become to be) as a result of the bi-partisan interventionist foreign policy that the elites have practiced for so many years. Other works by Barnes in this period which should be required reading are the essays "Revisionism and the Historical Blackout," "The Court Historians Versus Revisionism," "Blasting the Historical Blackout," "Revisionism and the Promotion of Peace" and the wonderful little 1954 brochure "The Chickens of the Interventionist Liberals Have Come Home to Roost," which chided the liberals for complaining about McCarthyism when they were the ones who had started the Cold War to begin with!

It goes without saying that his unyielding opposition to world War II and it's sequel, the Cold War, which he deals with in his later works, did not endear him to the historical establishment. As a result his career did not attain the heights that would be expected of a man with his wide-ranging knowledge and overall intellectual gifts. The writings of his which appeared in the mainstream journals were all unrelated to the history of the world wars, as were most of his major lectures. Revisionism continued to be suppressed and obscured for most of the rest of Barnes' life, but before he passed away in late 1968 he had the gratifying experience of seeing Revisionism make something of a come-back among the New left who were beginning to criticize American war-making in general and not just the Vietnam war. I think it can be safely stated that if the foreign policy advocated by those such as Harry Elmer Barnes had been followed, we would not be in the dire situation we are in today, with the U.S. military occupying Iraq and preparing to take Iran, possibly igniting a nuclear holocaust (perhaps not for us here but for those on the receiving end of the U.S. attack).

November 8, 2007

Dan Spielberg works in the real estate industry in Northern California.


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