Harry Elmer Barnes

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The historian, sociolo­gist and teacher Prof. Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes was one of the most influential American scholars of the 20th century. He was a major figure in developing the school of history writing known as "revisionism,” that is, the critical, scholarly examination of official or orthodox history, especially of the origins and consequences of the two world wars.[1]

Harry Elmer Barnes (15 June 1889 – 25 August 1968) was an American historian, criminologist, sociologist and economist. He was one of the most influential early historical revisionists. Barnes authored and edited many books which questioned and contradicted the viewpoint that Germany was solely guilty for starting World War I.[2] Through his prodigious scholarly output, Barnes was highly regarded as a historian.


Barnes was born near Auburn, in Cayuga County, New York, United States, located at the north end of Owasco Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, in central New York City. He attended Port Byron High School, later graduated from the city's Syracuse University and obtained a Ph.D. from Columbia University, also in New York City, in 1918.

He became a Professor of History at Clark University before moving to Smith College as a Professor of Historical Sociology in 1923. In 1919/20 and between 1923 and 1937 he lectured regularly at the New School for Social Research.[3]

By 1926, Barnes had studied the diplomatic transcripts of all the concerned powers, as well as reading Count Max Montgelas now famous work, The Case for the Central Powers, which deconstructed the fiction of German War Guilt. Barnes argued that Russia and France bore the entire responsibility for the outbreak of World War I in 1914, not the Central Powers. In Barnes' view, "vested political and historical interests" were behind the "official" carefully manufactured stories that Germany started World War I.

In 1929, he more-or-less left teaching to work as a journalist, freelance writer and visiting Professor at smaller colleges. Following World War II, Barnes began to investigate American involvement in the war. Barnes initial focus concerning World War Two was in regard to the attack on Pearl Harbor. On the infamous Nuremberg Show Trials he said:

"The [Nuremberg] war-crimes trials were based upon a complete disregard of sound legal precedents, principles and procedures. The court had no real jurisdiction over the accused or their offenses; it invented ex-post-facto crimes; it permitted the accusers to act as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners; and it admitted to the group of prosecutors those who had been guilty of crimes as numerous and atrocious as those with which the accused were charged. Hence, it is not surprising that these trials degraded international jurisprudence as never before in human experience."[4]

In his substantial brochure The Struggle Against the Historical Blackout, he has once more become the pioneer in directing public attention to the subject of Revisionism, as bearing on the causes of the second World War, and to the great obstacles to the discovery and publication of truth in this field.

Around 1960, Barnes first read the works of Paul Rassinier, a prominent French Socialist who had been interned at Buchenwald-Dora concentration camp during WWII. Rassinier's books, published originally in French, disputed whether the Germans had a policy to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Rassiner argued that there were no gas chambers for the purpose of extermination of Jews at Buchenwald or elsewhere.

Barnes published more than 30 books, 100 essays, and 600 articles and book reviews, many for the (USA) Council on Foreign Relations journal Foreign Affairs, where he served as Bibliographical Editor.[5]

In 1961, Barnes oversaw the publication of David Hoggan's Der Erzwungene Krieg (The Enforced War).


In 1968, Barnes had a heart-attack in his Malibu home where he died. Barnes' research papers and letters are housed at the library of the University of Wyoming in Laramie. In 1994, Willis A. Carto established a historical revisionist journal named after Barnes, The Barnes Review.


  • The Rockefeller Foundation and the Council on Foreign Relations intend to prevent, if they can, a repetition of what they call in the vernacular "the debunking journalistic campaign following World War I." Translated into precise English, this means that the Foundation and the Council do not want journalists or any other persons to examine too closely and criticize too freely the official propaganda and official statements relative to "our basic aims and activities" during World War II. In short, they hope that, among other things, the policies and measures of Franklin D. Roosevelt will escape in the coming years the critical analysis, evaluation and exposition that befell the policies and measures of Woodrow Wilson and the Entente Allies after World War I.[6]
  • "Revisionism implies an honest search for historical truth and the discrediting of misleading myths that are a barrier to peace and goodwill among nations. In the minds of anti-Revisionists, the term savors of malice, vindictiveness, and an unholy desire to smear the saviors of mankind. Actually, Revisionism means nothing more or less than the effort to correct the historical record in the light of a more complete collection of historical facts, a more calm political atmosphere, and a more objective attitude. It has been going on ever since Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457) exposed the forged Donation of Constantine, which was a cornerstone of the papal claim to secular power, and he later called attention to the unreliable methods of Livy in dealing with early Roman history. Indeed, the Revisionist impulse long antedated Valla, and it has been developing ever since that time. It had been employed in American history long before the term came into rather general use following the first World War."[7]

Selected Works


  • The Struggle against the Historical Blackout (1947)


External links

Article archives


  1. Harry Elmer Barnes, 1889-1968
  2. Fabre-Luce, Alfred, The Limitations of Victory, English-language edition, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1926, p.25n, says Barnes was "a remarkable historian who works with absolute objectivity".
  3. Goddard, Arthur (1968). Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader: The New History in Action. R. Myles, 16f. 
  4. In Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, Torrance: Institute for Historical Review, 1983, p.148.
  5. (Summer 1973) "Harry Elmer Barnes" (in English). The Wisconsin Magazine of History 56 (4): 311–323. Wisconsin Historical Society.
  6. Revisionism and the Historical Blackout
  7. Revisionism and the Promotion of Peace https://codoh.com/library/document/186/