By Richard A. Widmann-
Harry Elmer Barnes was born on this day in 1889. Earlier in the year Benjamin Harrison was sworn in as the 23rd President of the United States. John Philip Sousa’s Marine Corps Band played at the Inaugural Ball with a large crowd in attendance. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington were added to the union increasing the number of stars on the American flag to 38. The first issue of The Wall Street Journal was published in New York City.
Later that year Thomas Edison screened his very first motion picture, launching a new entertainment medium and an industry centered on moving pictures. Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederate States of America died that December at the age of 81.
Needless to say, when Harry Barnes was born on the family farm in upstate New York, America was a different place from what it is today. Barnes would become known not only as a historian, but also as a criminologist, a sociologist, and an economist. Barnes, who is perhaps best remembered as a bare-knuckled defender of historical revisionism, first became associated with it through his article “Seven Books of History against the Germans,” which appeared in the New Republic in 1924. In the years that followed he tirelessly attempted to revise the official history of the First World War. He called for a return to objectivity noting that without it we “will fail to recognize the futility and needlessness of the horrible tragedy of 1914-19, and will be fatally handicapped in any concerted and intelligent effort to prevent a recurrence of such a cataclysm.”
By the late 1930s academics were coming to embrace the revisionist position on World War One. If honest and truthful history is indeed able to prevent future cataclysms, the triumph of World War One revisionism came too late, for by 1939 an even more costly confrontation would be ignited.
In the years following World War Two, Barnes attempted to do as he had done with the First World War. He attempted to “bring history into accord with the facts.” Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Barnes published many pamphlets including “Revisionism and the Historical Blackout,” “The Court Historians versus Revisionism,” “Blasting the Historical Blackout,” “Revisionism and Brainwashing,” and “Revisionism and the Promotion of Peace.” He also worked closely with several other authors to help publish key volumes of Second World War revisionism including works by William Chamberlain, Charles Tansill, F.J.P. Veale, and R.A. Theobald. Perhaps his most important work during this period was the anthology Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace.
While a controversial figure in his lifetime, Harry Elmer Barnes is even more controversial today. While he barely commented in any of his many books and articles on the events that subsequently came to be known as “the Holocaust,” Barnes’s memory is tarred through zealous attacks by critics whose chief concerns are the Holocaust. His comments on the Holocaust are largely limited to his positive book review of Paul Rassinier’s trail-blazing work, The Drama of the European Jews (Le drame des juifs européens). Still, he has been slandered as a “Holocaust denier” by implacable and relentless defenders of the orthodox Holocaust story.
Barnes once wrote that in the minds of anti-revisionists the term “revisionism” savors of malice and vindictiveness. It is on this point that I am sure that both his defenders and detractors can agree.
Partial Bibliography of the Works of Harry Elmer Barnes
- The New History and the Social Studies, New York: The Century Co., 1925.
- History and Social Intelligence, New York: A. A. Knopf, 1926.
- In Quest of Truth and Justice; Debunking the War Guilt Myth, Chicago: National Historical Society, 1928.
- The Genesis of the World War; an Introduction to the Problem of War Guilt, New York: Knopf, 1929.
- The History of Western Civilization, New York: Harcourt, Brace and company 1935.
- An Economic History of the Western World, New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1937.
- A Survey of Western Civilization, Crowell, 1947.
- An Introduction to the History of Sociology, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.
- The Struggle against the Historical Blackout, 1949, 9th edition, 1952.
- Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Its Aftermath, New York: Greenwood Press, 1969, 1953.
- Blasting the Historical Blackout in Britain: Professor A. J. P. Taylor’s “The Origins of the Second World War”; Its Nature, Reliability, Shortcomings and Implications, 1963.
- Pearl Harbor after a Quarter of a Century, New York: Arno Press, 1972.
To learn more about Barnes, see the following articles:
Harry Elmer Barnes, Revisionism and the Promotion of Peace
Harry Elmer Barnes, The Public Stake in Revisionism
Richard A. Widmann, Barriers to Historical Accuracy