Harry Elmer Barnes
|Harry Elmer Barnes|
June 15, 1889|
Auburn, New York
|Died||August 25, 1968
Mostly he was a writer, using his very wide reading and photographic memory to summarize vast quantities of information, all presented in a form of history that would be "usable" by his readers. He wrote over thirty books, over a hundred essays, and 600 articles and book reviews, making him one of the most prolific writers in all the social sciences.
He taught history at Columbia University 1918-29, and after that was a freelance writer and occasional adjunct professor at smaller schools. Through his position at Columbia and his prodigious scholarly output, Barnes was once highly regarded as a historian, but by the 1950s lost credibility by entering into the practice of Holocaust denial.
Barnes took a PhD at Columbia in 1918 in history with a study in the history of penology. He lectured widely in 1918-41 on current events and recent history.
During World War I, Barnes had been a strong supporter of the war effort with the anti-German propaganda he had written being rejected by the National Board for Historical Service describing Barnes's writing as "too violent to be acceptable". After the war, Barnes views towards Germany underwent a volte-face with Barnes becoming as Germanophile as he previously had been Germanophobic. Barnes took the view that the United States had fought on the wrong side in the First World War. In the 1920s, Barnes was noted as a vehement advocate that Germany had borne no responsibility for the outbreak of war in 1914, and had instead been the victim of Allied aggression. In 1922, Barnes was arguing that the responsibility for World War I was split evenly between the Allies and the Central Powers. By 1924, Barnes was writing that Austria was the power most responsible for the war, but that Russia and France were more responsible than Germany. By 1926, Barnes argued that Russia and France bore the entire responsibility for the outbreak of war in 1914, and the Central Powers none. In Barnes's view, "vested political and historical interests" were behind the "official" account that Germany started World War I.
Barnes's research on the origins of World War I in the 1920s was generously funded by the German Foreign Ministry, which wished to prove that Germany had not started World War I as a way of undermining the Treaty of Versailles. In his articles on the causes of World War I in The Nation, Current History, Christian Century and above all in his 1927 book The Genesis of the World War, Barnes portrayed France and Russia as the aggressors of the July Crisis of 1914, and Germany and Austria-Hungary as the victims of a Franco-Russian plot. After 1924, Barnes had a close relationship with the former völkisch activist Major Alfred von Wegerer's Centre for the Study of the Causes of the War, a pseudo-historical think-tank based in Berlin secretly funded by the German government, whose sole purpose was to prove Germany was the victim of aggression in 1914, and hence the alleged moral invalidity of the Versailles treaty. The Centre provided Barnes with research material, made funds available to him, translated his writings into other languages, and funded his trip to Germany in 1926. During Barnes's 1926 trip to Germany he received a most friendly welcome for his efforts as Barnes described it in "seeking to clear Germany of the dishonour and fraud of the war-guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles". During his European trip, Barnes met with the former Emperor, Wilhelm II at his estate in the Netherlands who told Barnes that he "was happy to know that I did not blame him for starting the war in 1914", but that "He disagreed with my view that Russia and France were chiefly responsible. He held that the villains of 1914 were the international Jews and Free Masons, who, he alleged, desired to destroy national states and the Christian religion". Besides meeting Wilhelm, Barnes during his trip in 1926 met all of the surviving German and Austrian leaders of 1914, whose statements to Barnes had the effect of confirming him in his belief that Germany was not responsible for World War I. To assist Barnes with his writings against the so-called Kriegschuldlüge ("war guilt lie"), the Germans put Barnes into contact with a disreputable former Serbian diplomat living in Berlin named Milos Boghitschewitsch, who in exchange for German gold provided false testimony about the actions of the Serbian government in 1914. In his 1926 book, The Genesis of the World War, the first American book written about 1914 based upon the available primary sources, Barnes argued the First World War was the result of a Franco-Russian plot to destroy Germany. Wegerer himself wrote about The Genesis of the World War that it would "scarcely possible to provide a better book than this one".
Barnes was opposed to the idea of World War I as "just war", which he believed to have been caused by the economic imperialism of France and Russia. In 1925, Barnes wrote:
If we can but understand how totally and terribly we were "taken in" between 1914 and 1918 by the salesmen of this most holy and idealistic world conflict, we shall be the better prepared to be on our guard against the seductive lies and deceptions which will put forward by similar groups when urging the necessity of another world catastrophe in order to "crush militarism", "make the world safe for democracy", put an end to all further wars, etc.
In his preface to The Genesis of the World War, Barnes called World War I an "unjust war against Germany". Barnes wrote in his preface that:
the truth about the causes of the World War is one of the livest and most important practical issues of the present day. It is basic to the whole matter of the present European and world situation, resting as it does upon an unfair and unjust Peace Treaty, which was itself erected upon a most uncritical and complete acceptance of the grossest forms of war-time illusions concerning war guilt.
Barnes said when writing The Genesis of the World War, he compelled by "an ardent desire to execute an adequate exposure of the authors of the late World War in particular". According to Barnes, the responsibility for World War I was as follows:
In estimating the order of guilt of the various countries we may safely say that the only direct and immediate responsibility for the World War falls upon Serbia, France and Russia, with the guilt about equally distributed. Next in order—far below France and Russia—would come Austria, through she never desired a general European war. Finally, we place Germany and England as tied for last place, both being opposed to war in the 1914 crisis. Probably the German public was somewhat more favorable to military activity than the English people, but ... the Kaiser made much more strenuous efforts to preserve the peace of Europe in 1914 than did Sir Edward Grey.
The German government so liked Barnes's writings on the causes of World War I that it provided free copies of his articles to hand out at German embassies around the world. Though most German historians in the 1920s regarded Barnes merely as a propagandist whose work was mainly meant to appeal to a mass as opposed to an academic audience, the right-wing German historian Hans Herzfeld called Barnes's work "a document in the struggle against the war guilt thesis whose noble spirit cannot be appreciated enough". The German-Canadian historian Holger Herwig has commented that Barnes's work on the origins of World War I together with others of a similar bent did immense scholarly damage as generations of university students accepted Barnes' "apologias" for Germany as the truth. In 1969, the British historian A. J. P. Taylor called The Genesis of the World War "the most preposterously pro-German" account of the outbreak of war in 1914.
In 1926, the American historian Bernadotte Schmitt wrote about The Genesis of the World War that:
It must be said that Mr. Barnes' book fall short of being the objective and scientific analysis of the great problems which is so urgently needed. As a protest against the old notion of unique German responsibility for the war, it will be welcomed by all honest men, but as an attempt to set up a new doctrine of unique Franco-Russian responsibility, it must be unhesitatingly rejected. The war was a consequence, perhaps inevitable, of the whole system of alliances and armaments, and in the origin, development, and working of that system, the Central Powers, more particularly Germany, played a conspicuous part. Indeed, it was Germany that put the system to the test in July 1914. Because the test failed, she is not entitled to claim that no responsibility attaches to her.
Barnes's very public attacks on the idea of World War I as a just war, and his thesis that the United States should not have fought in the war won him the admiration and friendship in the 1920s of many people in the United States such Oswald Garrison Villard, the Socialist leader Norman Thomas, the critic H. L. Mencken, and the historian Charles A. Beard. Long regarded as a leader of the progressive intelligentsia, Barnes joined many of its intellectual leaders such as Charles Beard in opposing from the left the New Deal and, at the price of their reputations, American entry into World War II. In the years following the war, he argued that Adolf Hitler did not want to go to war with the United States and that President Roosevelt had deliberately provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor. He also contested many aspects of the Holocaust, claiming death figures were far lower, arguing that all sides were guilty of equally awful atrocities.
World War II
In the late 1930s, Barnes emerged as a leading isolationist and German apologist who defended German foreign policy as a legitimate effort to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles, which Barnes regarded as monstrously unfair to Germany. In 1937, Barnes called himself "noninterventionist" opposed to the United States being involved in any sort of foreign war. After World War II, Barnes continued to expound his pre-war views of European diplomacy. In 1939, Barnes published an article that charged British diplomat Sir Robert Vansittart with scheming to commit aggression against Germany in the late 1930s. As a result, Vansittart sued Barnes for libel. In a letter to his friend Oswald Villard, Barnes called Vansittart's libel suit a "plot of the Jews and the Anti-Defamation League to intimidate any American historians who propose to tell the truth about the causes of the war". Barnes called Louis Nizer, Vansittart's lawyer, an "Anti-Defamation League stooge" who Barnes alleged had "needled Vansittart into action". Barnes wrote:
If I could raise money enough for a real defense we could make this an international cause celebre, but I cannot fight the thirty million dollars now in the coffers of the Anti-Defamation League to be used for character assassination on empty pockets. If we let them get away with this, we are licked from the start.
The American historian Deborah Lipstadt has argued that the Anti-Defamation League had nothing to do with Vansittart or his libel suit against Barnes, and has argued that Barnes's claims otherwise were a sign of his anti-Semitism. In 1940, the New York World-Telegram newspaper dropped Barnes's weekly column, which led Barnes to claim that this was a result of a conspiracy against him involving MI6, the House of Morgan, and all of the Jewish department store owners in New York City, whom Barnes had alleged threatened the publisher of the New York World-Telegram with the "loss of all advertising if he kept me on any longer".
After the Second World War, Barnes's allegations which were expressed in increasing strident language alienated many, and as a result, Barnes had difficult finding publishers. Most of Barnes's work after 1945 was self-published. In particular, Barnes was emphatic about a historical black-out that he alleged to have covered up the real origins of World War II. In a 1947 pamphlet, The Struggle Against The Historical Blackout, Barnes claimed a massive blackout had been committed with regard to the history of the outbreak of war in 1939 with "court historians" alleged to have suppressed that Hitler was the most "reasonable" leader in the world in 1939, and that France's Premier Édouard Daladier wanted to commit aggression against Germany aided and abetted by a scheming and dishonest British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the same pamphlet, Barnes claimed that as part of the alleged smear campaign that had been committed against Germany, Allied governments had falsely charged Germany with responsibility for crimes that she did not commit.
In a letter to his friend Oswald Villard in 1948, Barnes stated that it was Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt "backed by certain pressure groups" who caused the outbreak of war in 1939. Later in 1948, Barnes wrote up a statement that announced France had repeatedly committed aggression against Germany, and that "Offhand I cannot recall a really unprovoked German invasion of France in modern times". Barnes's statement contained a list of every French invasion of Germany starting in 1552 and ended with: "1918 French invade Germany with American aid. 1944–45 French again ride into Germany on the backs of the Americans".
In a letter to his friend Charles Tansill in 1950, Barnes described German foreign policy in 1939 as the "most reasonable of them all". Barnes wrote it was Britain that "almost solely responsible for the outbreak of war on both the Eastern and Western fronts". In Barnes's view, Germany did not "precipitously launch" an invasion of Poland in 1939, but was instead "forced" into war by British "acts of economic strangulation".
In a 1953 essay "Revisionism and the Historical Black-out", which appeared in Barnes's self-published book Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Barnes wrote:
It is no exaggeration to say that the American Smearbund, operating through newspaper editors and columnists, "hatchet-men" book reviewers, radio commentators, pressure-group intrigue and espionage, and academic pressures and fears, has accomplished about much in the way of intimidating honest intellectuals in this country as Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, the Gestapo, and concentration camps were able to do in Nazi Germany.
In 1955, Barnes first met David Hoggan, and played a key role in helping Hoggan turn his 1948 PhD dissertation The Breakdown of German-Polish Relations in 1939: The Conflict Between the German New Order and the Polish Idea of Central Eastern Europe into his 1961 book, Der erzwungene Krieg (The Forced War), "based on, but quite different from, the dissertation," in which Hoggan blamed Britain and Poland for World War II. In 1963, Barnes self-published a pamphlet, Blasting the Historical Black-out, in which he offered some praise for A. J. P. Taylor's 1961 book The Origins of the Second World War. The only criticism Barnes had for Taylor was that he thought that Hoggan's book was better. In Blasting the Historical Black-out, Barnes about the "alleged wartime crimes of Germany" and that "Even assuming that all the charges ever made by the Nazis by anybody of reasonable sanity and responsibility are true, the Allies did not come off much, if any better". Barnes went to write that the suffering by ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia and Poland after World War II were "obviously far more hideous and prolonged than those of the Jews said to have been exterminated in great numbers by the Nazis".
In response to an extremely negative review of Der erzwungene Krieg by the American historian Gerhard Weinberg in the American Historical Review in October 1962, Barnes and Hoggan wrote a series of letters attempting to rebut Weinberg's arguments, who in his turn wrote letters replying to and rebutting the arguments of Hoggan and Barnes. The exchanges between Hoggan and Barnes on one side and Weinberg on the other became increasingly rancorous and vitriolic to such an extent that in October 1963 the editors of the American Historical Review announced that they would cease publishing letters relating to Hoggan's book in the interests of decorum.
In his 1962 pamphlet, Revisionism and Brainwashing, Barnes claimed that there a "lack of any serious opposition or concerted challenge to the atrocity stories and other modes of defamation of German national character and conduct". Barnes went to write that in his view there was "a failure to point out the atrocities of the Allies were more brutal, painful, mortal and numerous than the most extreme allegations made against the Germans". Starting at this time, Barnes started to cite the French Holocaust denier Paul Rassinier, whom Barnes called a "distinguished French historian" whom Barnes claimed had exposed the "exaggerations of the atrocity stories". In a 1964 article entitled "Zionist Fraud" published in The American Mercury, Barnes wrote that:
The courageous author [Rassinier] lays the chief blame for misrepresentation on those whom we must call the swindlers of the crematoria, the Israeli politicians who derive billions of marks from nonexistent, mythical and imaginary cadavers, whose numbers have been reckoned in an unusually distorted and dishonest manner.
In 1964, Barnes and Rassinier met, and became friends. As a result, Barnes translated Rassinier's book The Drama Of the European Jews into English, which was published by an anti-Semitic publishing house called Liberty Bell.
Using Rassinier as a his source, Barnes claimed that Germany was the victim of aggression in both 1914 and 1939, and the Holocaust was just propaganda to justify a war of aggression against Germany in the latter case. Barnes took the view that World War II had ended in disaster for the West with Germany divided and the United States locked into the Cold War, made the all worse in Barnes's eyes, as his view Germany never wanted war. Barnes claimed that in order to justify the "horrors and evils of the Second World War", required that the Allies make the Nazis the "scapegoat" for their own misdeeds. Barnes claimed there were two false claims made about World War II, namely that Germany started the war in 1939, and the Holocaust, which Barnes denied. In Barnes's opinion: "Hitler setting off the war was also deemed responsible for the wholesale extermination of the Jews, for it was admitted that this did not begin until a considerable time after war broke out." Barnes went to claim: "The size of the German reparations to Israel has been based on the theory that vast numbers of Jews were exterminated at the express order of Hitler, some six million being the most usually accepted number" (emphasis in the original). In his 1966 essay "Revisionism: A Key to Peace", Barnes wrote:
Even if one were to accept the most extreme and exaggerated indictment of Hitler and the National Socialists for their activities after 1939 made by anybody fit to remain outside a mental hospital, it is most alarmingly easy to demonstrate that the atrocities of the Allies in the same period were more numerous as to victims and were carried out for the most part by methods more brutal and painful then that alleged extermination in gas ovens. (Emphasis in the original.)
In 1967 pamphlet, "The Public Stake in Revisionism", Barnes claimed that the alleged historical "blackout" with regards to World War II had now become a "smotherout" as a result of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Writing about the Eichmann trial of 1961, Barnes claimed that the trial showed "an almost adolescent gullibility and excitability on the part of Americans relative to German wartime crimes, real or alleged" (emphasis in original). Barnes claimed that the charges against Eichmann rested on "fundamental but unproved assumptions that what Hitler and the National Socialists did in the years after Britain and the United States entered the war revealed that they were ... vile, debased, brutal and bloodthirsty gangsters" (emphasis in the original). Barnes accused the American media of publishing "sensational articles" about "exaggerated National Socialist savagery". Barnes described the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe as the "final solution" for the German people, and writing of the expulsion of the ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in 1945–46 claimed that "at least four million of them perished in the process from butchery, starvation and disease". Barnes wrote in his view that the Anglo-American bombing offensive together with the expulsions of the ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe were far worse than anything the Nazis were alleged to have done. In "The Public Stake in Revisionisim", Barnes wrote that "The number of civilians exterminated by the Allies, before, during, and after the Second World War, equaled, if it did not far exceed those liquidated by the Germans and the Allied liquidation program was often carried out by methods which were far more brutal and painful then whatever extermination actually took place in German gas ovens". Barnes claimed that certain unnamed "court historians" were guilty of ensuring that Allied war crimes were never "cogently and frankly placed over against the doings, real or alleged, at Auschwitz". Barnes admitted to the existence of concentration camps in Nazi Germany, but denied there were ever death camps. Barnes charged that when "court historians" were forced by "revisionists" to admit there were no death camps that the evidence for gas chambers at the death camps was manufactured. Barnes claimed that:
What is deemed important today is not whether Hitler started war in 1939 or whether Roosevelt was responsible for Pearl Harbour, but the number of prisoners were allegedly done to death in the concentration camps operated by Germany during the war. These camps were first presented as those in Germany, such as Dachau, Belsen, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and Dora, but it was demonstrated that there had been no systematic extermination in those camps. Attention was then moved on to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, Chelmno, Jonoska, Tarnow, Ravensbrück, Mauthausen, Breznia and Birkenau, which does not exhaust the list that appears to have been extended as needed." [Deborah Lipstadt notes here that Barnes did not know that Birkenau and Breznia were the same camp; Breznia being merely the Polish name for Birkenau.]
Barnes claimed that "court historians" to keep the public from getting "bored", manufactured stories about German crimes against humanity that were "made more unceasing, exaggerated and inflammatory". In response to Barnes's claims, in 1962 the German historian Martin Broszat wrote a letter arguing for the differences between concentration and death camps. In his letter to the Die Zeit newspaper, Broszat wrote that he wanted to "hammer home, once more, the persistently ignored or denied difference between concentration and extermination camps". In his letter, Broszat claimed this was not an "admission" that there was no Holocaust, but rather an attempt to "set the record straight" about the differences between concentration and death camps. Broszat noted the differences between concentration camps, which were places where the inmates were consistently mistreated, but were not the subject of annihilation, and death camps, which existed solely for the purpose of exterminating their inmates. Broszat denied there was a functioning gas chamber at the Dachau concentration camp (though he noted that one was built shortly before the end of the war as part of the effort to convert Dachau into a death camp, but was never used). Broszat commented that though there were many concentration camps in Germany, all of the German death camps for the genocide of the European Jews were located in Nazi-occupied Poland. Broszat argued that this confusion between in the public's mind between concentration and death camps, and the tendency to erroneously describe Dachau as a death camp was aiding the early Holocaust deniers like Paul Rassinier, David Hoggan, and Barnes who were making much of the fact that there was no functioning gas chamber at Dachau. In the same way, Barnes denied that the Einsatzgruppen murdered millions of Jews in the occupied Soviet Union, and instead claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were merely "battling guerilla warfare behind the lines".
Barnes often attacked West Germany for apologizing to the Jews for the Holocaust. Barnes wrote that the West German government should challenge the "unfair" verdict and "false dogmas" of World War II, which he claimed prevented "the restoration of Germany to its proper position of unity, power and respect among the nations of the world". Barnes drew unfavorable contrasts between the Weimar Republic, which had in the 1920s vigorously fought the so-called Kriegsschuldlüge ("war guilt lie") that Germany started the First World War in 1914 with the "masochistic" behavior of the government of Konrad Adenauer in the 1950s. Barnes accused Adenauer of having "brainwashed" and "indoctrinated" the German people into believing an "indictment of German responsibility for the war". Barnes went on to accuse Adenauer of "opposing the discovery and publication of the truth". Barnes professed to be "deeply puzzled" that the West German government was willing to accept responsibility for the Holocaust and its "downright disinclination to seek to refute the most outrageous charges of cruelty and barbarism leveled against Germany by conscienceless atrocity mongers and the continuation to this very day of not-so-little Nuremberg trials". In 1962, Barnes attacked the West German president Heinrich Lübke for asking for a speech in Israel for forgiveness for the German people for the Holocaust. Barnes called the speech "almost incredible grovelling" and "subserviency" to the Jews. Barnes often claimed that Jews had promoted the view, which he considered false, that Jews had been the victims of anti-Semitism throughout the ages. Barnes claimed that those questioned this view were unjustly labeled anti-Semitic. According to Barnes, those behind the "smotherout" about Nazi Germany believed that "it was far worse to exterminate Jews, even at the ratio of two Gentiles to one Jew, than to liquidate Gentiles".
Lipstadt's 1993 book Denying the Holocaust devotes chap. 4, "The First Stirrings of Denial in America" to Barnes as the main link between revisionism in the 1920s (re-evaluation of German responsibility for the First World War) and the emergence in the 1950s of Holocaust Denial (arguing that the Jewish holocaust either did not happen or was exaggerated by wartime Allied propaganda and postwar Jewish politics.) The main difference, however, is that the German government of the 1920s enthusiastically supported and promoted Barnes's views as exonerating their country, while the postwar West German government accepted national responsibility for the Holocaust, solicited forgiveness and paid reparations to Jewish survivors. This difference meant that Barnes in his later years allied himself with American and European antisemites and cranks rather than with respectable or official opinion. Author Lucy Dawidowicz concurs.
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- "Pearl Harbor after a Quarter of a Century" by Harry Elmer Barnes
- "Harry Elmer Barnes, RIP"; obituary for Barnes by Murray Rothbard, which appeared, along with the previous essay, in Left and Right, Volume 4, Number 1; 1968.
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- "A Brief History of Holocaust Denial" by Ben Austin. Jewish Virtual Library.