An Introduction to Revisionism: Some American Wars – Both Hot and Cold – Through Revisionist Eyes

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This
is chapter four of Jeff Riggenbach’s new book, Why
American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism
.
The preface, table of contents, etc. are here.

I: The U.S.
Civil War — the Revisionist View

As Gore Vidal
presents it in Lincoln, the U.S. Civil War was caused, not
by slavery, but by the intransigence of President Lincoln, who insisted
adamantly that no state could legitimately secede from the Union
and that the Union could never be broken up. In Vidal's account,
Lincoln cared nothing for the plight of the slaves. Nor did he
care about the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of individual liberty:
he shut down newspapers that opposed the war, imprisoning their
editors; he held prisoners indefinitely, flouting habeas corpus;
he imposed the first military draft in the nation's history, then
used troops to crush the riots that resulted; he financed his war
by imposing and collecting the nation's first tax on incomes, despite
the lack of any constitutional basis for such a levy.

Vidal might
well have found inspiration for such a view of the war in the writings
of Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams. For, as Beard wrote
in 1927 in Volume II of The Rise of American Civilization,

Since [...]
the abolition of slavery never appeared in the platform of any
great political party, since the only appeal ever made to the
electorate on that issue was scornfully repulsed, since the spokesman
of the Republicans emphatically declared that his party never
intended to interfere with slavery in the states in any shape
or form, it seems reasonable to assume that the institution of
slavery was not the fundamental issue during the epoch preceding
the bombardment of Fort Sumter. [200]

Williams agreed.
In his Contours of American History (1961), he wrote that
u201Cneither Lincoln nor the majority of northerners entered the war
in an abolitionist frame of mind or entertaining abolitionist objectives.u201D [201] Williams is even more explicit in his
1976 book America Confronts a Revolutionary World: 1776-1976.
u201CPut simply,u201D he writes, u201Cthe cause of the Civil War was the refusal
of Lincoln and other northerners to honor the revolutionary right
of self-determination — the touchstone of the American Revolution.u201D
And this was rank hypocrisy on Lincoln's part, according to Williams,
for on January 12, 1848, the Great Emancipator had intoned:

Any people
anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right
to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a
new one that suits them better. [...] Nor is this right confined
to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may
choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can,
may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much
of the territory as they inhabit. [202]

Joseph R.
Stromberg, the historian who touched off the current wave of serious
revisionist investigation of the U.S. Civil War among libertarian
scholars, had read both Beard and Williams. And in his influential
essay, u201CThe War for Southern Independence: A Radical Libertarian
Perspective,u201D published in 1979, while he was still a Ph.D. candidate
at the University of Florida, he staked out a position even more
radical than anything either Beard or Williams had ever proposed
— something very like the vision of the war laid out in Gore Vidal's
Lincoln. Stromberg didn't go into a lot of detail in presenting
his take on the war, but two other Libertarian historians have done
so. These are Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, in Emancipating Slaves,
Enslaving Free Men (1996), and Thomas J. DiLorenzo, in The
Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an
Unnecessary War (2002).

Hummel's view
of the Civil War is remarkably like Vidal's. u201CHistorians and buffs
debate the fundamental causes of the American Civil War almost as
hotly today as the combatants did then,u201D he writes. u201CWe can simplify
our understanding of the Civil War's causes, however, if we follow
the advice of one eminent historian, Eric Foner, and ask two separate
questions. Why did the southern states want to leave the Union?
And why did the northern states refuse to let them go?u201D These are
two separate questions, Hummel insists, because u201C[e]ven if slavery
explains why the southern states left the Union, it does not necessarily
either explain or justify the national government's refusal to recognize
their independence.u201D In fact, he maintains, u201C[n]ot only does slavery
fail to explain why the northern states resorted to coercion, but
letting the lower South go in peace was a viable, untried antislavery
option. As the most militant abolitionists themselves demonstrated,
there was no contradiction between condemning slavery and advocating
secession.u201D [203]

In fact, as
Hummel points out, one of the most prominent leaders of the abolitionist
movement, William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the weekly abolitionist
paper The Liberator and one of the organizers of the leading
abolitionist organization, the American Anti-Slavery Society, was
an enthusiastic proponent of secession — for the North. Garrison
and his followers u201Cfelt that this best hastened the destruction
of slavery by allowing the free states to get out from under the
Constitution's fugitive slave provision.u201D The seceded North, in
Garrison's vision, would have u201Cbecome a haven for runaway slaves.u201D [204]

Why did President
Lincoln choose another path — the use of military force against
the seceded Southern states? In August of 1862, according to Hummel,
Lincoln answered this question. u201CMy paramount object in this struggle,u201D
the president said,

is
to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy
slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any
slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all
the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some
and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about
slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps
to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do
not believe it would help save the Union. [205]

In effect,
Lincoln refused to allow, first the lower South, then the entire
Confederacy, to go in peace because he was committed to a conception
of the United States as a perpetual nation, with whose central government
the component states had no right to end their association — he
was committed, not to a voluntary Union, but to a compulsory one.

In defense
of this compulsory Union, according to DiLorenzo,

Lincoln implemented
a series of unconstitutional acts, including launching an invasion
of the South without consulting Congress, as required by the Constitution;
declaring martial law; blockading the Southern ports; suspending
the right of habeas corpus for the duration of his administration;
imprisoning without trial thousands of Northern citizens;
arresting and imprisoning newspaper publishers who were critical
of him; censoring all telegraph communication; nationalizing the
railroads; creating several new states without the consent of
the citizens of those states; ordering Federal troops to interfere
with elections in the North by intimidating Democratic voters;
deporting a member of Congress, Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio,
for criticizing the administration's income tax proposal at a
Democratic Party rally; confiscating private property; confiscating
firearms in violation of the Second Amendment; and effectively
gutting the Ninth and Tenth amendments to the Constitution, among
other things. [206]

u201COne victim
of Lincoln's suppression of Northern newspapers,u201D DiLorenzo writes,
u201Cwas Francis Key Howard of Baltimore, the grandson of Francis Scott
Key.u201D Howard spent u201Cnearly two years in a military prison without
being charged and without a trial of any kind.u201D u201CFort Lafayette
in New York Harbor,u201D he notes, u201Ccame to be known as the u2018American
Bastille' because it housed so many political prisoners during the
Lincoln administration.u201D At one point, u201CFort Lafayette was filled
with newspaper editors from all over the country who had questioned
the wisdom of Lincoln's military invasion and his war of conquest.u201D
[207]

DiLorenzo
quotes Clinton Rossiter in support of his contention that Lincoln's
war policies were widely regarded as unconstitutional even at the
time of their original enactment: u201CThis amazing disregard for the…Constitution
was considered by nobody as legal.u201D That being the case, however,
one must wonder how Lincoln explained his policies to the people
around him at the time. According to DiLorenzo, the president

u201Cjustifiedu201D
his unconstitutional power grab by u201Cdiscoveringu201D presidential
powers in the Constitution that no previous president, or, indeed,
anyone at all, had ever noticed. Specifically, he claimed that
the commander-in-chief clause of the Constitution, when combined
with the duty of the president to u201Ctake care that the laws be
faithfully executed,u201D gave him carte blanche in ignoring any and
all laws, and the Constitution itself, in the name of presidential
u201Cwar powers.u201D [208]

It will be
noted that DiLorenzo indulges a marked taste for the polemical and
tends toward more than a bit of hyperbole in his writing. Lincoln
does not seem really to have believed that he had u201Ccarte blanche
in ignoring any and all laws,u201D for example; he does seem, however,
to have believed that he had carte blanche to ignore those laws
he felt were in conflict with what he saw as his duty — to save
the Union, price no object. DiLorenzo has also been accused, by
more than one reviewer, of u201Ccareless errors of fact, misuse of sources,
and faulty documentation.u201D Richard M. Gamble details these technical
criticisms of DiLorenzo's book at some length in the Spring 2003
issue of The Independent Review, and regards them as evidence
of a serious problem with DiLorenzo's scholarship. But even he
concedes that u201Cindividually these flaws may seem trivial and inconsequential.u201D
[209]
And so they do: a quotation cited as being on page 60
is in fact on page 61; information attributed to page 316 of a work
by a noted Lincoln scholar is instead to be found on the same page
of another work by the same scholar; an article cited as having
been published in 1988 was in fact published in 1998. Not only
are errors of this type (unfortunate though they are) both trivial
and inconsequential, but also not a few of them would appear to
have resulted from proofreading errors, which can hardly be blamed
on the author. In any case, as Peter Novick notes, u201Cwhen citations
[...] are illustrative of a synthetic interpretation arrived at through
u2018deep immersion,' even the demonstration that several citations
are faulty is far from constituting a refutation of the thesis they
underpin.u201D [210] And as Gamble himself
acknowledges, DiLorenzo's book u201Cis essentially correct in every
charge it makes against Lincoln,u201D and is, apart from its too numerous
technical errors, u201Ca sobering study in power and corruption.u201D
[211]

II: America
in the World Wars — A Revisionist Perspective

As Gore Vidal
presents it in Hollywood, American intervention in World
War I was engineered by the United States' Anglophile president,
Woodrow Wilson, who was always eager to help the British out of
any pickle they might have got themselves into. Even after creating
a special office of wartime propaganda to u201Csellu201D the war to the
American public, however — and after following the lead of Lincoln
and forcibly silencing those publishers who dared disagree with
his policies — Wilson still found it necessary to force young American
men into the U.S. army through a revival of the military draft;
too few of them were volunteering to come to England's aid.

When Vidal
researched the war, he could well have found all the intellectual
ammunition he needed to defend such a view in the works of the Progressive
historians, especially Harry Elmer Barnes. Barnes has been discussed
as a u201Csecond-generationu201D practitioner of the u201CNew Historyu201D pioneered
by James Harvey Robinson and Charles A. Beard. But, as Novick points
out,

u201CNew Historiansu201D
is a designation generally given to the Columbia group around
Robinson and Beard, and one which emphasizes methodology; u201CProgressive
Historiansu201D describes a descent from [Frederick Jackson] Turner
and Beard, and emphasizes substantive interpretations of American
history. The usage employed in the historiographical literature
generally depends on the subject under discussion. Because Turner
prefigured many New Historical themes, and Robinson, though a
Europeanist, was the ultimate Progressive, all three of these
men — plus [Carl] Becker, the student of both Turner and Robinson,
and an u201Cassociate memberu201D of both groups — are here treated as
both New and Progressive historians.
[212]

I follow Novick's
lead in this matter, reasoning that, since both Beard and his protg
Barnes were consistent advocates of Progressive reform, as well
as advocates of the use of the social sciences to inform historical
scholarship, they may be treated as both New and Progressive Historians.

Beard, writing
in 1930 in The Rise of American Civilization, characterized
the u201Cofficial thesisu201D as to the origins of World War I in the following
way:

Germany and
Austria, under autocratic war lords, had long been plotting and
preparing for the day when they could overwhelm their neighbors
and make themselves masters of the world. England, France, and
Russia, on the other hand, all unsuspecting, had pursued ways
of innocence, had sincerely desired peace, and made no adequate
preparations for a great cataclysm. When England and France were
trying to preserve equal rights for all in Morocco, Germany had
rattled the sword and now, taking advantage of the controversy
over the assassination of the Austrian archduke, the Central Powers
had leaped like tigers upon their guileless victims. [213]

Earlier, in
a 1926 article for Current History, Beard had been even more
sardonic: the conventional view of the war's origins, he wrote,
amounted to the claim that u201Cthree pure and innocent boys — Russia,
France and England — without military guile in their hearts, were
suddenly assailed while on the way to Sunday school by two deep-dyed
villains — Germany and Austria — who had long been plotting cruel
deeds in the dark.u201D
[214]
By 1926, Barnes had long since recognized this story
as so much twaddle, and by 1930 his old mentor had come entirely
over to his side of the question.

And Barnes's
side of the question was rather different. He wrote in 1926 in
The Genesis of the World War, that

the only
direct and immediate responsibility for the World War falls upon
France and Russia, with the guilt about equally distributed.
Next in order — far below France and Russia — would come Austria,
though she never desired a general European war. Finally, we
should 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 activities 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. [215]

As for U.S.
intervention in the war, the reasons for it, Barnes wrote in 1928
in In Quest of Truth and Justice: De-Bunking the War-Guilt Myth,
were u201Cmany and complex.u201D One factor was u201Cthe pro-British sources
of most of our news concerning Germany in the decade prior to 1914.u201D
Another was the u201Cenormous sumsu201D lent to Allied governments by American
bankers. Another was the simple fact that President u201CWilson was
[...]very pro-British in his cultural sympathies. [...] He did not
desire to have the United States enter the war if England seemed
likely to win without our aid, but as soon as this appeared doubtful
he was convinced that we should enter as early as he could persuade
Congress and the country to follow him.u201D u201CLater,u201D Barnes added,
u201CMr. Wilson added to his pro-British reasons for desiring to enter
the War the conception that unless he was at the Peace Conference
he could not act decisively in bringing about a peace of justice
and permanence.u201D Unfortunately, u201C[t]here can be little doubt that
the entry of the United States into the World War was an unmitigated
disaster for all concerned. It made it possible for one set of
combatants to win a crushing victory, whereas, as Mr. Wilson once
wisely said, the only enduring peace would have to be a peace without
victory.u201D [216]

Earlier, in
The Genesis of the World War, Barnes had seen another motive,
something different from the desire to build a u201Cpeace of justice
and permanence,u201D behind Wilson's change of heart on U.S. participation
in the war. He saw lust for power. He suggested that u201CWilson's
decision was affected by the conviction that he could assume world
leadership only if he led the United States into the war.u201D [217] In 1948, looking back,
Charles Beard saw a closely related sort of megalomania lurking
behind Wilson's benign, professorial visage — the delusion u201Cthat
the President of the United States has the constitutional and moral
right to proclaim noble sentiments of politics, economics, and peace
for the whole world and commit the United States to these sentiments
by making speeches and signing pieces of paper on his own motion.u201D
[218]
In 1939, Beard recalled the violence Wilson had done
to the Constitution in the service of his megalomaniacal vision:
u201CI saw the freedom of the press trampled by gangs of spies, public
and private.u201D [219]
Thirteen years earlier, in 1926, in History and Social
Intelligence, Barnes, too, had noted the domestic consequences
of Wilson's commitment of U.S. troops to the European war — the
fact that, in prosecuting his war, the president had u201Csanctioned
[...] the most serious inroads upon democratic practice and human
liberty in the history of our country, wiping out in three years
most of the solid gains of a century and a half of struggle against
arbitrary power.u201D
[220]

In Barnes's
view, the Versailles Treaty that ended the war, based as it was
on the very u201Ccharge of German war guiltu201D that had since been exposed
as arrant nonsense, was so grossly unfair to Germany as almost to
guarantee a resumption of hostilities within a few years at best. [221] And, of course, hostilities did resume
in the 1930s. When they did, both Beard and Barnes were wary of
any analysis of current events that appeared to see merit in another
U.S. intervention. Had nothing been learned from the experience
of World War I?, they wondered.

Gore Vidal
must have wondered much the same thing. As he depicts it in The
Golden Age, American intervention in the new European War began
as a move to protect and advance the interests of England, this
time with a fully conscious and deliberate eye on the main chance
of replacing England as the leading world power. Specifically,
Vidal depicts U.S. intervention in the new war as the result of
a plot by President Roosevelt to provoke the Japanese into attacking
U.S. territory, thereby justifying the president's pre-existing
intention to break his campaign promise not to send American boys
to die in any foreign war. Again, Vidal would have needed to look
no farther than the works of Beard and Barnes to draw such conclusions.
In 1939, in an article in Harper's magazine, Beard argued
that

[t]he era
of universal American jitters over foreign affairs of no vital
interest to the United States was opened in full blast about 1890
by four of the most powerful agitators that ever afflicted any
nation: Alfred Thayer Mahan, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge
and Albert J. Beveridge. These were the chief manufacturers of
the new doctrine correctly characterized as u201Cimperialism for Americau201D
[...] the policy of running out and telling the whole world just
the right thing to do.
[222]

President Franklin
Roosevelt now appeared to be falling for the lure of this policy,
Beard reported in February 1941, when he testified before the Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations against the Lend-Lease Bill, calling
it

an Act to
place all the wealth and all the men and women of the United States
at the free disposal of the President, to permit him to transfer
or carry goods to any foreign government he may be pleased to
designate, anywhere in the world, to authorize him to wage undeclared
wars for anybody, anywhere in the world, until the affairs of
the world are ordered to suit his policies, and for any other
purpose he may have in mind now or at any time in the future,
which may be remotely related to the contingencies contemplated
in the title of this Act.

Beard proposed
u201Cthat Congress reject this bill with such force that no President
of the United States will ever dare again, in all our history, to
ask it to suspend the Constitution and the laws of this land and
to confer upon him limitless dictatorial powers over life and death.u201D [223]

It was in
the service of this imperialistic conception of the U.S. role in
world affairs, Beard thundered in that 1939 Harper's article,
that u201CPresident Roosevelt [...] was maneuvering his country into the
war.u201D Convinced that FDR had set up the defenders of Pearl Harbor
for a Japanese attack he had deliberately provoked, while making
sure that no one in Hawaii knew of it in advance as he himself did,
Beard u201Cfollowed the course of the congressional investigation of
Pearl Harbor with an almost microscopic scrutiny. To what the investigation
brought forth he added more that he gathered himself,u201D publishing
his final statement on the matter in President Roosevelt and
the Coming of the War, 1941 (1948), only a few months before
his death. This book, according to George R. Leighton, Beard's
editor at Harper's, u201Cwas a ponderous volume in which, with
detail and fact piled upon detail and fact until the weight is almost
crushing, Beard sought to nail down the proof of Roosevelt's deception
so firmly that it could not be got loose.u201D [224]

Five years
later, in 1953, Beard's longtime protg Harry Elmer Barnes published
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of
the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Its Aftermath,
dedicated u201Cto the memory of Charles Austin Beard.u201D In this volume,
Barnes wrote that u201CAmerican policy toward Japan in the decade preceding
Pearl Harbor [...] was the same hostile policy developed by Stimson
during the latter part of the Hoover Administration. It was rejected
by President Hoover but was adopted and continued by Roosevelt.u201D
According to Barnes, FDR u201Cdiscussed war with Japan in his earliest
cabinet meetings,u201D immediately commenced u201Can unprecedented peacetime
expansion of our naval forces,u201D u201Claid plans for a naval blockade
of Japan in 1937,u201D and relentlessly pursued a u201Cprogram for the economic
strangulation of Japanu201D that u201Cwas generally recognized by Washington
authoritiesu201D at the time as likely to lead to war. u201CRoosevelt was
personally responsible,u201D Barnes wrote, u201Cfor the location of our
Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, in which move he disregarded the
advice of Admirals Richardson and Stark. The State Department backed
Roosevelt and Richardson was relieved of his command.u201D
[225]

u201CJapan veritably
crawled on its diplomatic belly,u201D Barnes wrote, u201Cfrom the end of
August, 1941, until after the middle of November of that year in
an attempt to reach some workable understanding with the United
States. The effort met with cold and hostile rebuffs.u201D Finally,

Secretary
Hull dispatched an ultimatum to Japan on November 26 which, he
fully recognized, decisively closed the door to peace. He himself
said that it took the Japanese situation out of diplomacy and
handed it over to the Army and Navy. From this time onward it
was only a question of when and where the Japanese would attack.

u201CThe decoded
Japanese messages between November 26 and December 7 indicated,
with relative certainty, when the attack would be made, and they
also revealed the strong probability that it would be aimed at Pearl
Harbor.u201D Yet u201Cnothing was done to warn General Short or Admiral
Kimmel at Pearl Harbor.u201D
[226]

The president,
Barnes wrote

expressed
himself as greatly u201Csurprisedu201D at both the time and place of the
attack, and his apologists have accepted these words at their
face value. Neither the President nor his apologists have ever
given any satisfactory explanation of why he could have been surprised.
[...] If they had any reason at all to be surprised, it was only
over the extent of the damage inflicted by the Japanese. But
there was little reason even for this, in the light of Roosevelt's
personal order to keep the fleet bottled up like a flock of wooden
ducks, of the order that no decoding machine should be sent to
Pearl Harbor, and of the fact that Washington had deliberately
failed to pass on to Short and Kimmel any of the alarming information
intercepted during the three days before the attack. December
7 may have been a u201Cday of infamy,u201D but the infamy was not all
that of Japan. [227]

III: A Revisionist
Look at America in the Cold War

As Gore Vidal
depicts it in The Golden Age, the Cold War was started by
the United States, by a Truman administration determined to show
Joe Stalin who was boss of the postwar world. When Vidal researched
the Cold War, he could, once again, have found much intellectual
ammunition in the work of Harry Elmer Barnes. The conventional
historical account of the origins of the Cold War places much emphasis
on the warlike and imperialistic intentions of the Soviet Union,
to which the United States was forced, reluctantly, to respond.
Barnes would have none of this. In 1953, in his essay u201CHow Nineteen
Eighty-four Trends Threaten American Peace, Freedom, and Prosperity,u201D
he wrote that

the Russia
which is now portrayed as about to spring at the world and devour
it is the same Russia that Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, and other
administration leaders presented to the American public as our
most potent and suitable ally in the global struggle to suppress
totalitarianism, assure democracy, promote liberty, and make peace
secure throughout the world. There is very little today in Russian
policy, domestic or foreign, which any informed person did not
know about back in 1941. In fact, nothing which Russia has done
since 1945 has been as aggressive and brutal as the invasion of
Poland in the autumn of 1939, the later mass murders of Polish
officers in the Katyn Forest in 1940, or the mass murders and
deportations of Baltic peoples during the war.

Barnes considered
the likelihood of the Soviet Union making war against the United
States to be extremely remote. u201CEven leading Russophobes like Eugene
Lyons,u201D he wrote, u201Cfrankly admit that there is every reason to expect
that Russia will not start a war.u201D Moreover, he pointed out, when
General Alfred M. Gruenther, General Eisenhower's chief of staff,
testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 25,
1952, he too u201Cconceded that he did not believe the Russians will
start a war, now or at any time.u201D
[228]

But if it
was not Soviet aggression that launched the Cold War, what did launch
it? u201CBarnes concluded that it was initiated by Truman and Churchill,
largely for domestic political reasons, and since then has been
used by each of the various governments to cement its rule over
its subjects.u201D [229] What Barnes seems to have
regarded as the first official act of the Cold War, Truman's decision
to drop the newly developed atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is depicted in conventional accounts of
American history as primarily a military decision — an attempt to
force Japanese surrender without the necessity of an invasion of
the islands and a prolonged land war on Japanese soil, with its
attendant American casualties, possibly numbering in the millions.
Again, Barnes would have none of this. In May 1958, he published
an article in National Review called u201CHiroshima: Assault
on a Beaten Foe,u201D in which he pointed to

the highly
significant MacArthur memorandum to F.D.R. of January 20, 1945.
This forty-page memorandum explicitly set forth the terms of an
authentic Japanese peace offer which were virtually identical
with the final surrender terms that we accepted from the Japanese
seven months later — at the cost of countless needlessly expended
lives, Japanese and American alike.

In the same
article, u201CBarnes also disclosed, for the first time, the personal
testimony of Herbert Hoover that President Truman, by early May,
1945, informed him that he knew of the extensive Japanese peace
offers and admitted then that further fighting with the Japanese
was really unnecessary.u201D Barnes concluded u201Cthat the major reason
for dropping the bomb [...] was a sabre-rattling gesture to the Russians
against whom we were already preparing the Cold War.u201D [230]

A very similar
view of the Cold War had already been articulated by this time byWilliam
Appleman Williams. In 1952, in his first book, American-Russian
Relations, 1781-1947,

[c]ontradicting
the prevailing notion that the Cold War had come about through
the actions of an aggressive and expansionist Soviet Union, Williams
argued that the United States itself bore the primary responsibility.
Even before Pearl Harbor, he wrote, American policymakers had
committed themselves to achieving a postwar world dominated by
an alliance between Great Britain and the United States. By attempting
to force upon Russia this Anglo-American world order without regard
to her minimum security needs, American leaders forced an essentially
conservative Soviet Union into acting unilaterally in her own
defense.

Among the methods
Williams claimed American leaders had used in pressuring the Soviets
was u201Cbrandishing atomic weapons.u201D
[231]

Williams's
student, Gar Alperovitz, who earned his B.S. in History at the University
of Wisconsin in 1959, took his old teacher's argument and ran with
it, devoting two entire books to presenting the relevant details
and working out their implications. The first of these books, Atomic
Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, the Use of the Atomic Bomb and
the American Confrontation with Soviet Power, was published
in 1965; the second, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and
the Architecture of an American Myth, appeared thirty years
later, in 1995. According to Robert James Maddox, Atomic Diplomacy

is devoted
to showing that from the time Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency
he undertook to reverse Franklin D. Roosevelt's policy of cooperation
with the Soviet Union, thereby precipitating the Cold War. In
direct violation of wartime agreements, some explicit and some
understood, Truman sought to construct an American-dominated world
order (particularly in Eastern Europe and the Far East) at the
end of World War II. When economic coercion failed to achieve
this goal, Alperovitz claimed, Truman bided his time until the
United States acquired the atomic bomb, with which he meant to
cow the Russians into submission. The use of nuclear weapons
against an already defeated Japan, according to this view, amounted
to a diplomatic rather than a military act. The evidence u201Cstrongly
suggests,u201D he wrote, that the bombs were used primarily to demonstrate
to the Russians the enormous power America would have in its possession
during subsequent negotiations. As a lesser factor, he cited
the wish to end the war quickly before they [the Soviets] could
establish a strong position in the Far East. [232]

To quote Alperovitz
himself, from one of his Cold War Essays (1970), u201Cthe over-riding
reason for the use of the bomb was that (implicitly or explicitly)
it was judged necessary to strengthen the United States's hand against
Russia.u201D Commenting in the same essay on Herbert Feis's then newly
published book, The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II (1966),
Alperovitz stresses the author's establishment credentials — u201Cspecial
consultant to three Secretaries of War,u201D u201Ccomes close to being our
official diplomatic historianu201D — and judges the volume under consideration,
predictably, as the work of a man perhaps overly interested in u201Cavoiding
serious criticism of the eminent officials he has known.u201D He comments
further:

One [...] would
also like to believe that the sole motive of the eminent men he
knew was to save lives. It is not pleasant to think that they
were so fascinated by their new u201Cmaster cardu201D of diplomacy that
they scarcely considered the moral implications of their act when
they used it. That, however, is precisely what the evidence available
strongly suggests. [233]

NOTES

[200] Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, The
Rise of American Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1930),
Vol. II, pp. 39-40.

[201] William Appleman Williams, The Contours
of American History (Cleveland, OH: World, 1961), p. 299.

[202] William Appleman Williams, America Confronts
a Revolutionary World: 1776-1976 (New York: William Morrow,
1976), pp. 113, 111.

[203] Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves,
Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (Chicago,
Open Court, 1996), pp. 3, 8.

[204] Ibid., pp. 351, 21.

[205] Ibid., p. 208.

[206] Thomas J. DiLorenzo, The Real Lincoln:
A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary
War (New York: Prima, 2002), pp. 131-132.

[207] Ibid., pp. 133-134, 140, 147.

[208] Ibid., pp. 132, 134.

[209] Richard M. Gamble, Review of The Real
Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary
War by Thomas J. DiLorenzo. The Independent Review
Vol. 7, No. 4: Spring 2003, p. 613.

[210] Novick, op.cit., p. 220.

[211] Gamble, op.cit., pp. 614, 612.

[212] Novick, op.cit., p. 92.

[213] Beard and Beard, The Rise of American
Civilization, op.cit., Vol. II, p. 617.

[214] Novick, op.cit., p. 207.

[215] Harry Elmer Barnes, The Genesis of the
World War (New York: Knopf, 1926), pp. 658-659.

[216] Harry Elmer Barnes, In Quest of Truth
and Justice: De-Bunking the War-Guilt Myth (Colorado Springs,
CO: Ralph Myles, 1972 [1928]), pp. 98, 101, 102, 105.

[217] Cohen, op.cit., p. 77.

[218] Charles A. Beard, President Roosevelt
and the Coming of the War, 1941 (New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press, 1948), p. 593.

[219] George R. Leighton, u201CBeard and Foreign Policyu201D
in Charles A. Beard: An Appraisal, ed. Howard K. Beale
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976 [1954]), p. 168.

[220] Barnes, History and Social Intelligence,
op.cit., p. 514.

[221] Novick, op.cit., p. 215. See also Harry
Elmer Barnes, u201CRevisionism and the Historical Blackout,u201D op.cit.,
p. 10.

[222] Leighton, op.cit., pp. 166-167.

[223] Ibid., p. 182.

[224] Ibid., pp. 180, 183.

[225] Harry Elmer Barnes, u201CSummary and Conclusionsu201D
in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, op.cit., pp. 636,
637.

[226] Ibid., pp. 642, 643, 645.

[227] Ibid., pp. 645-646.

[228] Harry Elmer Barnes, u201CHow u2018Nineteen Eighty-Four'
Trends Threaten American Peace, Freedom, and Prosperityu201D in Revisionism:
A Key to Peace and Other Essays, op.cit., pp. 148-149, 154.

[229] Murray N. Rothbard, u201CRevisionist of the Cold
Waru201D in Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader, op.cit.,
p. 324.

[230] Ibid., pp. 327, 328.

[231] Maddox, op.cit., p. 14.

[232] Ibid., pp. 64-65.

[233] Gar Alperovitz, Cold War Essays (Cambridge,
MA: Schenkman, 1970), pp. 72, 51, 73.

Why
American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to
Revisionism

by Jeff Riggenbach

Jeff
Riggenbach [send him mail],
the author of In
Praise of Decadence
, is a member of the Organization of American
Historians and a Senior Fellow of the Randolph Bourne Institute.
His articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times,
USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago
Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington
Times, Reason, Inquiry, and Liberty, among
other publications.

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