America is the exceptional nation, chosen by Divine Providence to defend freedom and redeem the entire world. To those outside our mythic bubble, however, this is a story that we regularly tell ourselves about ourselves in order to convince ourselves – to still our doubts – that our long-term patterns of long-distance murder and denying of self-determination to other people have moral meaning.
But if we were honest with ourselves, most Americans – at least most white Americans – would still admit some adherence to this story, of which WW II is our most shining example. And studies have shown (despite popular impressions of the youth revolt of the 1960s) that the more educated we are, the more likely we are to hold such opinions.
This helps explain why our gatekeepers – historians and journalists – speak with nearly one voice (as they do now, concerning Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning) to condemn anyone who might question any aspect of our myths, regardless of their popularity or stature in their profession. I’ve written about Howard Zinn, who blurbed my book, in this context.
But Zinn (who was a bombardier in World War Two, and became a pacifist afterwards) taught and published in more forgiving times. To really understand what the the gatekeepers can do, we have to learn about what happened to Charles Beard.
Beard was the only scholar to ever serve as president of both the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association. Andrew Bacevich, an historian and retired officer, writes:
For several decades prior to World War II, Beard stood alone at the pinnacle of his profession. As a historian and public intellectual, he was prolific, influential, fiercely independent, and equally adept at writing for scholarly audiences or for the general public.
Beard wrote primarily outside the university context, disdaining the tenure track. So he didn’t have to toe the line of official dogma. Perhaps for that reason his books were both enormously popular and highly opinionated.
In 1947 the National Institute of Arts and Letters awarded him their gold medal for the best historical work published in the preceding decade.
But that same year he published President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941: Appearances and Realities, which blamed FDR for lying to the American people and tricking them into war. He also revealed (in an article entitled “Who’s to Write the History of the War?”) that the Rockefeller Foundation had generously subsidized the writing of an official history of how the war had come about. Yes, writes Gary North, Gary North,
…the victors always write the history books, but when the historians are actually policy-setting participants in the war, the words “court history” take on new meaning.
Indeed, those who did write such histories all attained high government positions, and many of them – including the above-mentioned Samuel Morison – savagely attacked Beard as at best an “isolationist” and at worst a senile old fool. They quickly and permanently destroyed his reputation because he had committed the grave sin – to this gatekeeping community – of questioning their heroic “Good War” narrative, or in current terms, of promoting a conspiracy theory.
Beard died in 1949. His book on Roosevelt went out of print almost immediately and was not reprinted until 2003. Today the public has forgotten him and his controversial charges. Even Zinn’s People’s History and the wildly popular Untold History of the United States, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (book and TV series), tiptoe delicately around the Pearl Harbor story. Within the profession, however, Beard remains a reviled and discredited figure. North writes:
This is why there are no tenured World War II revisionists who write in this still-taboo and well-policed field. The guild screened them out, beginning in the early 1950′s…What the guild did to…Beard (and others) posted a warning sign: Dead End.