Revisionism for Our Time

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This article
first appeared in the Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought,
Spring 1966.

as applied to World War II and its origins (as also for previous
wars) has the general function of bringing historical truth to an
American and a world public that had been drugged by wartime lies
and propaganda. This, in itself, is a virtue. But some truths of
history, of course, may be largely of antiquarian interest, with
little relevance to present-day concerns. This is not true of World
War II revisionism, which has much critical significance for today’s

The least of
the lessons that revisionism can teach has already been thoroughly
learned: that Germany and Japan are not uniquely "aggressor
nations," doomed from birth to menace the peace of the world.
The larger lessons have, unfortunately, yet to be learned.

The United
States is again being subjected to that "complex of fear and
vaunting" (in the brilliant phrase of Garet Garrett’s) which
drove us, and the Western world, into two other disastrous wars
in our century. Once again, the American public is being subjected
to a nearly unanimous barrage of war propaganda and war hysteria,
so that only the most searching and rational can keep their heads.
Once again, we find that there has emerged upon the scene an Enemy,
a Bad Guy, with the same old Bad Guy characteristics that we have
heard of before; a diabolic, monolithic Enemy, which, generations
ago in some "sacred texts," decided (for reasons that
remain obscure) that it was "out to conquer the world."

then, the Enemy, darkly, secretly, diabolically, has "plotted,"
conspiratorially, to conquer the world, building up a vast and mighty
and overwhelming military machine, and also constructing a mighty
international and "subversive" "fifth column,"
which functions as an army of mere puppets, agents of the Enemy’s
central headquarters, ready to commit espionage, sabotage, or any
other act of "undermining" other states. The Enemy, then,
is "monolithic," ruled solely and strictly from the top,
by a few master rulers, and is dominated always by the single purpose
of world conquest. The model to keep in mind is Dr. Fu Manchu, here
trotted forward as an international bogeyman.

The Enemy,
then, says the war propaganda, is guided by but one purpose: conquest
of the world. He never suffers from such human emotions as fear
– fear that we might attack him – or belief that
he is acting in defense, or out of self-respect and the desire to
save face before himself as well as before others. Neither does
he possess such human qualities as reason.

there is only one other emotion that can sway him: superior force
will compel him to "back down." This is because, even
though a Fu Manchu, he is also like the Bad Guy in the movie Western:
he will cower before the Good Guy if the Good Guy is strong, armed
to the teeth, resolute of purpose, etc. Hence, the complex of fear
and vaunting: fear of the supposedly implacable and permanent plotting
of the Enemy; vaunting of the enormous military might of America
and its meddling throughout the world, to "contain," "roll
back," etc., the Enemy, or to "liberate" the "oppressed

revisionism teaches us that this entire myth, so prevalent then
and even now about Hitler, and about the Japanese, is a tissue of
fallacies from beginning to end. Every plank in this nightmare evidence
is either completely untrue or not entirely the truth. If people
should learn this intellectual fraud about Hitler’s Germany, then
they will begin to ask questions, and searching questions, about
the current World War III version of the same myth. Nothing would
stop the current headlong flight to war faster, or more surely cause
people to begin to reason about foreign affairs once again, after
a long orgy of emotion and cliché.

For the same
myth is now based on the same old fallacies. And this is seen by
the increasing use that the Cold Warriors have been making of the
"Munich myth": the continually repeated charge that it
was the "appeasement" of the "aggressor" at
Munich that "fed" his "aggression" (again, the
Fu Manchu, or Wild Beast, comparison), and that caused the "aggressor,"
drunk with his conquests, to launch World War II. This Munich myth
has been used as one of the leading arguments against any sort of
rational negotiations with the Communist nations, and the stigmatizing
of even the most harmless search for agreement as "appeasement."
It is for this reason that A.J.P. Taylor’s magnificent Origins
of the Second World War
received probably its most distorted
and frenetic review in the pages of National Review.

It is about
time that Americans learn: that Bad Guys (Nazis or Communists) may
not necessarily want or desire war, or be out to "conquer"
the world (their hope for "conquest" may be strictly ideological
and not military at all); that Bad Guys may also fear the possibility
of our use of our enormous military might and aggressive posture
to attack them; that both the Bad Guys and Good Guys may have common
interests which make negotiation possible (e.g., that neither wants
to be annihilated by nuclear weapons); that no organization is a
"monolith," and that "agents" are often simply
ideological allies who can and do split with their supposed "masters";
and that, finally, we may learn the most profound lesson of all:
that the domestic policy of a government is often no index whatever
to its foreign policy.

We are
still, in the last analysis, suffering from the delusion of Woodrow
Wilson: that "democracies" ipso facto will never
embark on war, and that "dictatorships" are always prone
to engage in war. Much as we may and do abhor the domestic programs
of most dictators (and certainly of the Nazis and Communists), this
has no necessary relation to their foreign policies: indeed, many
dictatorships have been passive and static in history, and, contrariwise,
many democracies have led in promoting and waging war. Revisionism
may, once and for all, be able to destroy this Wilsonian myth.

There is only
one real difference between the capacity of a democracy and a dictatorship
to wage war: democracies invariably engage much more widely in deceptive
war propaganda, to whip up and persuade the public. Democracies
that wage war need to produce much more propaganda to whip up their
citizens, and at the same time to camouflage their policies much
more intensely in hypocritical moral cant to fool the voters. The
lack of need for this on the part of dictatorships often makes their
policies seem superficially to be more warlike, and this is one
of the reasons why they have had a "bad press" in this

The task of
revisionism has been to penetrate beneath these superficialities
and appearances to the stark realities underneath – realities
which show, certainly in this century, the United States, Great
Britain, and France – the three great "democracies"
– to be worse than any other three countries in fomenting and
waging aggressive war. Realization of this truth would be of incalculable
importance on the current scene.

should not need to be reminded of the flimsiness of the "democratic"
myth; we are familiar now with the concept of "totalitarian
democracy," of the frequent propensity of the masses to tyrannize
over minorities. If conservatives can see this truth in domestic
affairs, why not in foreign?

There are many
other, more specific but also important, lessons that revisionism
can teach us. The Cold War, as well as World Wars I and II, has
been launched by the Western democracies so as to meddle in the
affairs of Eastern Europe. The great power-fact about Eastern Europe
is that the smaller nations there are fated to be under the dominance,
friendly or otherwise, of Germany or Russia.

In World War
I, the United States and Britain went to war partly to help Russia
expand into the part of Eastern Europe then dominated by Austria-Hungary
and Germany. This act of meddling on our part, at the cost of untold
lives, both West and East, and of an enormous increase in militarism,
statism, and socialism at home, led to a situation in Eastern Europe
which brought the United States and Britain into World War II, to
keep Germany from dominating Eastern Europe.

As soon as
World War II was over (with its enormous consequent increase in
statism, militarism, and socialism in the United States), the US
and Britain felt they had to launch a Cold War to oust Russia from
the dominance over Eastern Europe which it had obtained as a natural
consequence of the joint defeat of Germany. How much longer is the
United States to play with the fate of the American people, or even
the human race itself, for the sake of imposing a solution of our
own liking on Eastern Europe? And if we should wage a holocaust
to "destroy communism," and there should (doubtfully)
be any Americans remaining, how distinguishable from communism will
the American system, in reality, be?

There have
been two major facets to the Cold War: trying to establish US and
British hegemony over Eastern Europe, and attempting to suppress
nationalist revolutions that would take undeveloped countries outside
of the Western imperialist orbit. Here again, revisionism of World
War II has important lessons to teach us today. For in World War
I, England, backed by the United States, went to war against Germany
to try to hobble an important commercial competitor which had started
late in the imperialist game. Before World Wars I and II,
Britain and France tried to preserve their imperialist domination
as against the "have-not" nations Germany and Japan that
came late in the imperialist race.

And now, after
World War II, the United States has assumed the imperialist scepter
from the weakened hands of Britain and France. Revisionism thus
provides us with the insight that America has now become the world
colossus of imperialism, propping up puppet and client states all
over the undeveloped areas of the world, and fiercely attempting
to suppress nationalist revolutions that would take these countries
out of the American imperial orbit.

Garet Garrett also said: "We have crossed the boundary that
lies between republic and empire." Communism having allied
itself with the immensely popular movements of national liberation
against imperialism, the United States, in the hypocritical name
of "freedom," is now engaged in the logical conclusion
of its Cold War policy: attempting to exterminate a whole nation
in Vietnam to make very sure that they are rather dead than Red
– and to preserve American imperial rule.

these lessons revisionism has to teach us. For revisionism, in the
final analysis, is based on truth and rationality. Truth and rationality
are always the first victims in any war frenzy; and they are, therefore,
once again an extremely rare commodity on today’s "market."
Revisionism brings to the artificial frenzy of daily events and
day-to-day propaganda, the cool but in the last analysis glorious
light of historical truth. Such truth is almost desperately needed
in today’s world.

This appeared

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic
vice president of the Mises
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell
— of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as
his literary executor. See
his books.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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