War Revisionism vs. Government Lies

A transcript of the Lew Rockwell Show episode 324 with Gary North at the 30th anniversary of the Mises Institute talking about War Revisionism v. Government Lies and the Urgent Need for De-bamboozlement.

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ROCKWELL:  Recently, at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Mises Institute, we had a talk by Dr. Gary North.  Gary is the author of 40 books — so far — (laughing).  He’s still writing!  He’s a great historian.  He got his Ph.D. at University of California at Riverside.  And he has especially got an extraordinary voice on questions of war and peace.  I highly recommend his talk on War Revisionism.

NORTH:  When I first heard that I would be speaking at the conference, I took a certain amount of liberties with Lew because, as old-time speakers know, it is usually best either to be the first speaker in the conference or the final speaker in the conference because, if you are, some of the people may actually remember something that you actually said.  And so I said, well, Lew, do you mind if I either get the final speech of the conference or the opening speech of the conference.  He said, well, OK, you can have the opening speech of the conference.  It was great.  What I didn’t understand — it was the opening “scholarly” speech of the conference.


And then I realized when I saw the list that I would be following Judge Napolitano.  And when I sat here listening to that, I gained a new sense of appreciation for the law which operates and has operated for many years in Nashville, which is summarized as follows:  When you are Minnie Pearl, you don’t want to follow Dolly Parton.


But having volunteered unknowingly to serve as the sacrificial lamb of the conference —


— I want to start this speech as Minnie always said:  I am just so proud to be here!


I’m going to be talking about the general relationship between what we would call the Misesian view of economics, decision making in economic affairs, and the issue raised by this conference of revisionism in war.  So I want to at least discuss briefly what we mean by revisionism.  All new historical material revises something.  Some young, hot-shot historian wants to make an impression on the peers that have employed him and certified him and so he’s got a new interpretation of this or that.  In other words, he revises in some way an existing interpretation.  That really is basic to the profession.

But that’s not what we mean by revisionist history.  Revisionist history refers to a major revision of interpretation, and that that interpretation has become so accepted within the historical establishment or historical guild that, to tamper with that particular interpretation, calls into question not only the competence of the guild but may even raise the issue of the competence of the government itself.

In the circles that we travel in, and I’ve traveled in for over half a century, the application of the world “revisionism” usually applies either or and to both, of World War I, our entry into it, or World War II, our entry into it.  And in a broader sense, it also applies to the general question of how it was that each of those European wars began.  And the battles have raged for decades over these wars, especially World War I.

Now, the battle has not raged publicly on the second war, that is World War II.  It could have raged but that debate never comes to the forefront in academic circles and certainly is never raised in the text books of either high schools or colleges.  And this has always been the case from the very beginning.

Why is it — I want to raise this question.  Why is it that at this conference at this time in this 30th anniversary assembly that an organization dedicated to the extension of the work of Ludwig von Mises in the field of economics should be raising the question of revisionism and war?  For if you read Mises’ volumes, you find virtually nothing in those volumes with respect to the issue of the origins of war and of specific wars that have been fought and theories regarding how those wars began.  This is not part of that body of work which has come down to us with Mises’ name on it.  However, with respect to Murray Rothbard, the issue of revisionism, especially the revisionism relating to the wars, was a basic question almost from the beginning.  And there’s a reason for this.  And the reason is the issue of non-intervention with respect to domestic policy.  Mises was the master of the principle of non-intervention and reconstructed economic theory in terms of that principle.  Rothbard took that same principle and said we’ve got to apply that principle to the field of government and its attempts to manipulate the public into war.  Same principle but now applied to foreign policy and, yet, never, ever separated from domestic economic policy.

Now, Murray had a gift of rhetoric.  And one of the great things about Murray is that he went into academic subjects with rhetoric that simply was not considered acceptable in terms of the etiquette of academia.  So I want to read briefly from a piece that he wrote in 1976 called Revisionism and Libertarianism.  Quote — by the way, you normally don’t give a long quote at a speech like this.  You can do it with Rothbard.

Revisionism is an historical discipline made necessary by the fact that all states are governed by a ruling class that is a minority of the population in which subsists as a parasitic and exploitative burden upon the rest of society.  Since its rule is exploitative and parasitic, the state must purchase the allegiance of a group of court intellectuals whose task is to bamboozle the public into accepting and celebrating the rule of its particular state.  The court intellectuals have their work cut out for them.  In exchange for their continuing work of apologetics and bamboozlement, the court intellectuals win their place as junior partners in the power, prestige and loot extracted by the state apparatus from the deluded public.  The noble task of revisionism is to de-bamboozle, to penetrate the fog of lies and deception of the state and its court intellectuals and to present to the public the true history of the motivation, the nature and the consequences of state activity.

And that’s why we’re here.  We are here to de-bamboozle.  There was no such word before Rothbard but I believe it should be in the Webster’s Dictionary


— across every language.  Everybody’s dictionary, it should have the concept of de-bamboozle, especially with respect to the state.

Now, I want to tell you and remind you of the uniqueness of this conference in that what you are going to be presented with over a period of two days was inconceivable not just 50 years ago; it was inconceivable really before the establishment of the Mises Institute.  It would not have been done.  You are going to be presented with a series of lectures from scholars on this subject of de-bamboozlement, which no group of Ph.D.-level historians has been exposed to, which you simply cannot find on the web.  You cannot find it anywhere that I can think of as a product of any kind of an assembly with this many people in it.

Now, I want to talk of a specific incident, a specific case of how the court intellectuals — and as Rothbard and others have called it, the court historians — manipulated the public.  This, I believe, is the classic case.  And I speak now as someone who has gone through the system of Ph.D. granting to historians, to trained historians.  And this was part of my training.  This is what I personally went through and I want you to understand it.


NORTH:  There was, after World War I, a great reaction against America’s entry into the war throughout the 1920s.  And a number of books were published not just opposed to America’s entry but also opposed to the war itself, and it should never have begun.  And it was led by major academic figures, the most famous being Charles Tansill, but there were others of almost equal authority.  This was a widely shared view all the way to the top of academia and all the way down to what you would call the intellectual press.  This led to real concern after World War II.  So in 1946, the following statement appears in the annual report of the Rockefeller Foundation, quote:

“The Committee on Studies of the Council on Foreign Relations is concerned that the debunking journalistic campaign following World War I should not be repeated and believes that the American public deserves a clear, competent statement of our basic aims and activities during the Second World War.”

The Rockefeller Foundation made a grant of $139,000 to promote a book — actually, as it turned out, a pair of books — to defend our entry into that war.  In today’s money, call it $1.7 million.  And to that was added a $10,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation; add to it, in other words, another $120,000.  Two books came out of it.  It was a two-volume series.  These were standard works when I was in graduate school almost two decades later, and they are still standard works.  One is called — and I love the title because it gets right to the point — The Challenge to Isolation, 1937 to 1940; and volume II, The Undeclared War.  Now, the next year — it was published, first, it was ’52, next was ’53.  In ’54, the American Historical Association gave the second volume the Bancroft Prize as the finest piece of academic historical scholarship on the United States published the previous year.

Who did they select?  In grad school, I knew who they selected.  I knew who they were.  They were a team.  You always spoke of it — you didn’t speak of the book itself because there were two titles; you always forgot those.  But you knew the authors, Langer and Gleason.  I mean, it was a team.  It was like Abbot and Costello.  The scholarship was almost as good as Abbot and Costello but I didn’t think quite as good.

Langer and Gleason.  Well, who were Langer and Gleason?  We were never told who Langer and Gleason were.  All we knew was that they had Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University and that Langer was on the faculty.  But who were they?  Well, you can go now to Wikipedia and find out.  But I was not told really the background to it until Percy Greaves told me this about 1971 when I was just finishing up my work.  Now, I was no ignoramus about this.  I took a course in revisionist history in 1962, probably the only course in the country on this issue of World War I/World War II revisionism, taught by Warren Cohen, who was not a revisionist, but was a good historian and a fair historian in his dealing with the issue.

Who were they?  Langer, immediately upon the outbreak of the war, was hired by the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, which under Truman morphed into the CIA.  And he was hired to be chief of research and analysis throughout the war.  Now, Gleason was the intelligence chief of the Office of Strategic Services until 1946.  They hired the two scholars who cleared all the information from the spooks and they became the writers of the classic book on the entry of this country into the war, which remains the classic book.

Now, the other one, the other one was Herbert Feis.  Actually, his book had come out earlier.  He did the Pearl Harbor issue, The Road to Pearl Harbor, in 1950.  Nobody told me who Feis was.  And it’s even now a little hard to find.  He worked under both Hoover and Roosevelt as the economic adviser for international affairs for the State Department.  And he had full access to everything in there because they knew he would pick and choose safely and reliably.

How important is Feis?  The American Historical Association has an award called the Feis Award.  I want to read this:

“Established in 1984, this prize is offered annually to recognized distinguished contributions to public history during the previous 10 years.  The prize is named in memory of Herbert Feis, public servant and historian of recent American foreign policy with an initial endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation.”

When I went through the meat grinder and even before, beginning — actually, I wrote my first paper on revisionism in 1958, a term paper on Roosevelt’s entry into the war and how he did it and how he manipulated Japanese responses.  So I’m an old-timer at this issue.

There were three publishers that dared to publish World War II revisionism.  One was Regnery, which at the time was tiny.  One was Devin-Adair, which was tinier.  And one was Katson, which would accurately be described as sub-atomic.  And that was it.  You did not get a book on World War II revisionism into print if you didn’t go to one of these three firms.  And that was maintained right into the late 1960s.  And there were a couple of books published by Arlington House that did raise the issue in the ’70s, and that was it.  This is pre-Net, pre-Internet.

Now, I want to mention one thing.  This is a story you won’t hear, but a significant story.  In 1963, I was brought into an organization called the William Volker Fund for one summer to have a student internship.  Best job I ever had.  I was paid for three months to do nothing but read.  Never had a job that good after that.  And the man next door to me was Tom Falken — not a household name.  Tom Falken later became the librarian at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, one of the major libraries in the United States.  But this was before.  And he sat down with me one day and he told me this story.  He said, “I want to tell you why I became a librarian.”  He said, “I studied in the ’50s under Charles Callan Tansill,” who is the greatest of the revisionist historians on the two wars.  And he said, “I was in a graduate program under Tansill.”  And he said, “Tansill came to me and said, look, if you get a degree out of this program under me and you go public with the position that I maintain, which I know you believe, you will never get a tenured position; your career will end; get out of the program.”  Now, this was at Georgetown.  And he did; he switched to Library Science.  And as it turned out for his career that was a good decision as to what he finally wound up doing.

But here’s the point — we had a generation, from 1947 to, at best, the late ’70s, and I really think into the mid ’80s, where we had no one coming out.  I was one of them, one of the rarities, but I never went into full-time academia and I shifted my interest to economics and not to revisionism.  I did not pursue it.

So you have a situation where we have been stymied since 19– basically — 45.  You are going to go to Warm Springs, Georgia — you’re in Georgia, you’re going to go to the Warm Springs Rockefeller — (laughing) — sorry.  Actually, a good slip of the tongue.


Roosevelt — location where he died in ’45.  We have not had a book on Roosevelt by a Ph.D. that attacks both his domestic interventionist policies and his foreign interventionist policies, and he has been dead since 1945.  We need that book.  We need that study.  And I hope one of these days somebody through the Mises Institute is going to have the courage to sit down for five or six or 10 years to produce a true comprehensive, anti-FDR volume.  We need it and I hope one of you younger ones will get to it.

Thank you very much.


ROCKWELL:  Well, thanks so much for listening to the Lew Rockwell Show today. Take a look at all the podcasts. There have been hundreds of them. There’s a link on the upper right-hand corner of the LRC front page. Thank you.

Podcast date, November 20, 2012