Archives On The Air 41: Sympathizing With Germany After WWI?—Harry Elmer Barnes Papers

Aug 13, 2018

What country do we blame for starting WWI? Most of us would say “Germany;” but not Harry Elmer Barnes.

Barnes was a professor at many universities including Harvard and Columbia. He was also a staunch revisionist in the years following WWI.

Around the 1930s, Barnes used his scholarly background to put forth an unpopular opinion: that it was wrong to blame Germany alone for WWI and that most of the blame falls on Russia, then France, then Austria, followed by Germany, Britain, and Italy.

Barnes received angry letters from other scholars and the public for years.

Later in life he wrote a book where he claimed "Truth is always the first war casualty. Disturbances and distortions in historical writing are greatest in wartime, thus calling for the need and material to correct the historical myths."

What do you think of Barnes' argument? Explore more in the Harry Elmer Barnes papers at UW's American Heritage Center.