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Political Correctness in The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History

Historians/History




Mr. Lipkes (Princeton PhD in History, 1995), the author of Politics, Religion, and Classical Political Economy in Britain (Macmillan/St. Martin's, 1999) and Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914 (Lannoo, forthcoming).

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Ignoring the advice of his academic friends for a second time (he’d already responded to a review by Max Boot), Thomas Woods complained recently on this site that reviewers of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History have dismissed it without bothering to refute its evidence or arguments. He has a point. Critical reviews have been long on indignation and short on substance. Most reviewers have been content to cite his claims as if they were self-evidently wrong.

Focusing in particular on his latest critic, David Greenberg, Woods accuses him of objecting to his politics and to the topics covered in PIGAH, but not to"the facts." These, Woods is confident, pass muster. He ran them by David Gordon of the Mises Institute, whose encyclopedic knowledge encompasses the contents of the Library of Congress, and then some.

Unfortunately, Woods’s confidence was misplaced. He especially gets things badly wrong when he crosses the Atlantic. But it’s worth making a couple of observations first about what he covers and what he ignores.

The first thing likely to strike any historian is the paucity of information on the American Revolution. In a book purporting to expose politically correct myths, one might have assumed he would take a moment to defend the Founders from the jejune charges of racism and sexism. But textbook writers also tend to ignore the extent to which the revolutionaries were inspired by fears of British liberality toward Catholics, Indians, and slaves, an unwillingness to pay for the costs of defending the colonies, and some other compelling economic motives. Instead of wading in like a genuine iconoclast, Woods recycles Revolutionary propaganda that the colonists were merely defending their"ancient chartered rights" against the usurpations of Parliament–a view no historian has taken seriously for generations. (Not coincidentally, the Declaration of Independence is never even mentioned.) Politically-correct history is apparently fine if it’s of old enough vintage.

Some of Woods’s criticisms of textbook versions of the Civil War and Reconstruction reek of the current brand of PC as well. Apparently, Northerners were"insensitive" to Southern honor both before and after"the War of Northern Aggression" and Lincoln, it turns out, did not have early 21st century views on race.

It is disingenuous for Woods to claim that he simply chose not to cover slavery in the detail his critics would have liked. His version of the origins of the Civil War is really Hamlet without the Prince. The debate over slavery is represented as merely a surrogate for a more profound and meaningful struggle over tariffs and political power between the North and South. At the same time, constitutional arguments for secession are accepted at face value, as if they didn’t conceal another agenda. It’s not the case, then, that Woods’s gaze is merely directed elsewhere; rather, he simply misrepresents the centrality of the slavery issue in American politics in the four decades before the Civil War.

In my view, however, there’s a lot that Woods gets right in PIGAH. I confess to finding myself wincing as much at the one-star reviews the book has garnered on Amazon.com as at the five-star reviews. The ways in which judges and politicians have subverted the intentions of the men who ratified the Bill of Rights (and Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution and its"general welfare" clause) are ably summarized, and some of the more dramatic contortions that the 14th Amendment has been subjected to are discussed in Chapter 7. Commendable chapters on economic history follow. Given the format and space limitations, Woods does a good job of documenting the destructive tramp of government’s"invisible foot." Anti-trust laws and the New Deal receive their due. Affirmative Action is also deftly skewered, though Woods practices his own version: he devotes a page and a half to JFK’s plagiarisms but ignores MLK’s.

When Woods ventures abroad, however, the book becomes a disaster. On the critical question as to who started World War I, he is clueless. Revisionists, he claims, notably Harry Elmer Barnes, who blamed Britain and France, held sway until the early 1960s, then"the pendulum began to swing back toward German guilt with the work of historian Fritz Fischer. Not all scholars were persuaded by Fischer," however, and the pendulum swung back toward British guilt with Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War.

Lots of problems here. No reputable historian took Barnes seriously. He was an embarrassment to the profession and especially to the leading revisionist, Sidney Fay, who made no attempt to exculpate Germany. But Fay’s quasi-relativist case was soon superceded by the work of other historians, especially Luigi Albertini’s three 700-page volumes, required reading for any historian who wishes to write intelligently on the war’s outbreak. The evidence for German guilt in starting the war is overwhelming. Fischer’s great merit was to make the case in Germany itself; he didn’t add much new information. Woods misrepresents Ferguson. Of the ten questions his book attempts to answer, only three concern the war’s outbreak, and Ferguson has no doubt about how the thing started. Question two:"Why did Germany’s leaders gamble on war in 1914?"

Worse follows. In a section devoted entirely to the invasion of Belgium, Woods tells readers that the country was not truly neutral:"it had agreements with France and Britain, and forts dotted its border with Germany (unlike its border with France, which had none)." The first statement is wholly inaccurate: Belgium had no military agreements with either country. Until the very last minute, the anxious French Minister in Brussels was convinced Germany would be given a free passage through Belgium. In 1914 the country had three rings of fortresses, one around Antwerp, one around Liege, and a third around Namur. Woods perhaps had trouble locating Namur on the map. (Hint: check the French border). Belgium scrupulously distributed its six army divisions around the country. Even after the German ultimatum, it sent no reinforcements to the Meuse.

The section on Belgium is devoted mostly to debunking stories about German war crimes, and concludes that"After the war it was well established that the Belgian atrocities were largely fabricated, but the lies did their damage." No footnotes, of course, but Woods’s ultimate source, whether he knows it or not, is most likely an influential book by socialist lightweight Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in Wartime. You don’t have to read the persuasive testimony in five hefty volumes published by Belgian investigators (There was no international investigation), nor the shelves of books by survivors, especially of the destruction of Louvain, the Oxford of Belgium, to see the sheer silliness and implausibility of most of Ponsonby’s charges. No, German soldiers did not cut off babies’ hands. (In fact, there are almost no contemporary newspaper references in Britain and the U.S. to this red herring.) However, the German Army did massacre 5,500 civilians, mostly during a seven-day period in late August. The evidence is irrefutable and appalling, as informed historians have acknowledged for half a dozen years, after decades during which Americans were held in thrall by Leftists citing Ponsonby. (See, for example, J. Horne and A. Kramer, German Atrocities 1914 (New Haven, 2001).) Once again The Politically Incorrect Guide is recycling discredited politically-correct myths, this time from the1920s and 30s.

The real atrocity of the war, for Woods, is the British blockade of Germany. He imagines the tactic is an innovation, apparently unaware that Prussia had blockaded Paris in the most recent of its previous wars, starving thousands. All Germany had to do to end the British blockade was to withdraw from territory it had conquered in Belgium and France, a demand that one might expect a champion of the Confederacy to sympathize with. What was an innovation in the Great War was the German submarine campaign, which Woods hotly defends. Blockaders had never hitherto attacked by stealth, sinking ships without warning, killing passengers and crews. The Germans also pioneered poison gas, flamethrowers, and the ariel bombardment of cities.

But German weaponry wasn’t the issue. The invasion of Belgium was the fourth time in fifty years that Prussian or German troops had poured over their borders to conquer and subjugate their neighbors. They had launched three similar blitzkriegs in the 18th century. Four more would follow World War I, not including the peaceful occupations of Austria and Czechoslovakia. There was a pattern here, and it obviously had nothing to do with the Versailles Treaty.

Historians are once again acknowledging what was self-evident to contemporaries: things were different in Germany. (See, for example, I. Hull, Absolute Destruction [Ithaca, 2005].) A military ethos held sway, fortified by Volkish nationalism, Social Darwinism, and fin de siecle recklessness. War and violence were not merely options, but honorable, necessary, and inevitable. There were no checks and balances. The German Chancellor was a courtier, answerable only to the Kaiser. The Reichstag had no real power.

Why does this matter? German culpability has to be suppressed if Woods’s main argument is going to wash, that American presidents sneakily ensnared an unwary nation in European wars the outcome of which was of no interest to the U.S.

The agenda is even more transparent in Woods’s discussion of the origins of World War II. Here is all he has to say about the rise of Hitler: the Nazi leader"appealed to the patriotism and honor of the German people, who detested the Versailles Treaty." Unfortunately, after the Munich agreement, Hitler"alienated Western opinion by going on to occupy nearly all of Czechoslovakia." In a book seething with outrage at Abolitionists and various U.S. presidents, the strongest condemnation Woods can muster is that Hitler was insensitive to public opinion in London and Paris. It is Roosevelt, of course, who is the villain."Even after Hitler abandoned his plans to invade Britain, FDR continued to lend support to the British." The nerve! A typically inaccurate section on German sub attacks on the Greer and Kearney is even entitled"How FDR got Americans into War," though Woods does eventually inform his readers that it was Hitler who declared war on the U.S., and more than three months after the Greer incident. As for Japan, FDR simply gave the country no choice.

Paleo-conservatives repeatedly accuse Neo-conservatives of being Leftist wolves in sheep’s clothing, secret fans of big government. But there are some uncanny resemblances between Paleos and Leftists. The latter reviled the opponents of Communism. If the Soviet Union was the workers’ paradise and Uncle Joe a progressive populist, then Cold Warriors were paranoid zealots. Similarly, if Germany and Japan were merely pursuing their national self-interest, rationally, if a tad aggressively, then Wilson and Roosevelt were unscrupulous demagogues and provocateurs. If you turn mass-murderers into benign statesmen, those who are alarmed by them appear delusional.

Woods condemns Roosevelt, with much justice, for his concessions to Stalin at the Tehran and Yalta Conferences. He seems to be aware that not only did Soviet domination of Eastern Europe create unspeakable misery for its inhabitants, but that it was not in American interests. But a Europe run by Prussian militarists or the SS? That’s something we could have happily coexisted with, apparently.

Conversely, he praises Reagan for having" challenged the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall and defeated Communism, while hardly firing a shot." Reagan didn’t have to fire a shot because he had challenged the USSR by more meaningful measures than his plea to Gorbachev to tear down the Wall. Among other things, in a provocative, interventionist act roundly condemned by Paleos and Liberals alike, he placed intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

Politically-correct history is offensive not because it seeks to celebrate the accomplishments of privileged groups, but because, in ignoring or denigrating the accomplishments of others and exaggerating or inventing their crimes, it does violence to the historical record. Particularly in his discussion of events in Europe in the 20th century, Woods’s contempt for the evidence is as thoroughgoing as that of any p.c.-textbook-writing hack. It does students no service to expose one set of myths if you’re going to substitute another.


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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I have not read the book, and am less likely to ever do so after reading this "review" of it. But, I have been around HNN long enough to be both unsurprised and highly skeptical of grossly one-sided "arguments". World War I did not "start" until at least month after Ferdinand was assassinated, and 99.9% of the world had little inkling that yet another Austrian mishap in the Balkans would soon result in Germany invading Belgium. On the other hand to pretend that Russia and France were nothing but victims of German agression in 1914 is ludicrous. Without the premature mobilization of Russia (against Germany) egged on by the French ambassador, Germany (the key initiator of the war but by far not the only country to blame) would not have bothered issuing its fateful double ultimatum.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 6/10/2005

Mr. Thomas,
It was my pleasure and thank you for your gracious comments.


Mr. Lipkes,
Excellent point and I agree with you wholeheartedly. I must say, however, that from the onset of this unnecessary and dreadful conflict there was a great amount of disparity between the goals of Austria-Hungary and Germany. For instance, as far as I am concerned (for whatever it is worth) and what is generally accepted among historians, the ultimatums given to Serbia were never meant by the Austro-Hungarian government to be met- they were simply put there as a pretext for war (not uncommon, especially these days...) (http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1914/austro-hungarian-ultimatum.html and http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/austriancouncilmeeting.htm). To place this in context, I should note that the Serbian terrorist organization Ujedinjenje ili Smrt’s (The Black Hand) ultimate ambition was “the purpose of realizing the national ideals- the Unification of Serbdom… the organization gives priority to the revolutionary struggle rather than relies on cultural striving… it will carry out a revolutionary organization in all territories where Serbians are living...” (http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1914m/blk-cons.html). My point is that Austria-Hungary was indeed under a threat, although, the severity can be argued. Nonetheless, Austria’s goal was to expand its frontiers from the beginning.

I do not think Germany, on the other hand, ever desired to cross over into Belgium territory, let alone annex it. I could very well be mistaken, but my eyes have not seen the memoranda, diplomatic documents, or letters that would suggest this. During the period at question, from a strictly militaristic standpoint, invading Belgium is what Germany wanted to avoid, not because they were such nice people, but because it would and incidentally did enmesh France and Great Britain into the war against them. The 18-hour respond time allowed to France to declare their neutrality or belligerence (reference in above post) identifies France’s potential threat on their western borders as the main concern. Fighting two front wars, as you are probably well aware, is to play Russian roulette with only one chamber in the cylinder of a six-shooter revolver empty. It is often cited that The Schlieffen Plan is the "proof in the pudding" of German aggression towards both Belgium and France. Let us, however, place this in context. In 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, Count Helmuth von Moltke wrote a contingency plan in the event of a two-front war against France and Russia (Louis L. Snyder, Documents of German History: 290-291). This plan was nothing more than an emergency plan in the event of a war with France and Russia. The plan was later revised in 1879 with the German-Austrian Alliance. However, in 1891 Count Alfred von Schlieffen became Chief of the Great General Staff and revised the plan even further, “recognizing that a rapid decision against Russia could no longer be reached because of the unlimited amount of territory over which the Russians could retreat” (Ibid). Count von Schlieffen later devised a final draft of the contingency in 1905, which later became known as the “Schlieffen Plan”. It has been suggested that because the “Schieffen Plan” was written in 1905, it proves that Germany wanted war with Russia and France long before the outbreak of The Great War. I would say, however, that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, in 1906 during the Moroccan crisis, Count von Schlieffen was dismissed from duty by the German government when he called for war against France. Moreover, the German government did not adopt this plan until 1914, and when it was it was a modified form by the younger Moltke(Ibid). Before the outbreak of World War II, in the 1920s and 30s the United States had war plans drawn up for use against Great Britain (Plan Red), Japan (Plan Orange), and Germany (Plan Black). Under the same line of reasoning used against Germany’s “Schlieffen Plan,” the U.S. had always wanted war with Germany. This is, bluntly put, nonsense.

Even Hitler, to use the most severe and martial example, would later try to avoid embroiling another country against him to avoid a two front war. In September 1941, after the USS Greer depth-charged U-652 and U-652 returned fire and fled, Kriegsmarine Admirals Erich Raeder and Karl Donitz flew to Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia (Wolf’s Liar) and they pleaded for the Fuhrer to lift the restrictions on U-boat operations against American ships. Hitler declined, however, not due to him being a kind and gentle soul, but because it was militarily dim-witted to bring the U.S. officially against Germany, especially when he was still pursuing victory in the east (“The Battle of the Atlantic”: 154-55).

As aforementioned, Austria-Hungary and Germany had different interests and roles pre and post WWI, but they were bound by a common enemy, which placed them in an alliance system that was inevitably doomed. That, at least, is where my opinion stands of now.

Best regards,
Michael


Frederick Thomas - 6/10/2005


Agreed that our exchange is approaching the limits of its usefulness. I hope it has been as profitable for you as it was intended to be, and as it was to me.

Since you invite, I will throw a couple of additional coins into the fountain. I deliberately eschew such phrases as "you are ignorant", or "you obviously do not know the first thing" etc such as you use repeatedly, as the mainstay of your argument, as such phrases add nothing to knowledge and are reminiscent more of a cat fight in a bordello than a reasoned discussion of the facts of our complex history. " Points:

--------------------------

"It is grotesque to construe my comments on the Congo as endorsing what Leopold and his minions did, as you appear to do."

Your comments quite clearly sought to minimize Kongolese deaths from 10 million to half a million, and to assert that there were no slaves among them, etc. You tried to pretend that the mining of diamonds, which became the greatest export, was not deadly and did not occur. You were attempting to cut Belgium some slack for its murderous ways, so it would appear a better "victim" for your main thesis of "the evil Germans".

It further is a logical fallacy to assert, as you did, that because I included an excerpt from a book review, that that review is all that I have read. Frankly my readers are perfectly capable of perceiving my level of knowledge without your characterizations. Please see their comments above.

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"No one who had read Ascherson, Hochschild, or any other book dealing with the Congo under Leopold would state that slaves worked in mines."

What a silly comment. Since about 1890 diamonds were the primary export by value. By then Indonesian rubber was flooding the market, as Hochshield asserts in the review snippet I provided. Read it, OK?

Antwerp Belgium is where they are mostly cut, even today. While some diamonds are just lying there on the surface (wouldn’t that be nice), most were and are mined, and that is only slightly less dangerous today that it was then. Just accept it. You lost this point.

---------------------------------------------

"Of the nearly 1 million Belgians fleeing German terror, about 200,000 wound up in Britain."

Are you really saying that 200,000 people who were BEHIND GERMAN LINES, as they would have to have been to have seen the behavior of either side, then ex-filtrated Southward through first German then British trench lines, artillery and barbed wire, then found transport to Britain, and done so in only four to six weeks to end up in the December 1814 initial report?

No sir, they did not. Perhaps you should join the Army reserve and take a tour in Iraq. It might give you a feel for war which would be beneficial.

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"And you really think no British soldier was in Belgium during the war except as a POW? Have you heard of the Battles of Mons and Le Cateau in August? Where do you suppose Ypres is?"

Quoting out of context is another logical fallacy, sir, and always unconvincing. You left out my phrase "BEHIND THE GERMAN LINES", because that is where any "atrocities" would have occurred, or are you suggesting that the Germans were committing atrocities while sneaking behind British or French lines? That would be odd indeed!

I also stated that the Germans swept the poorly prepared Brits, largely colonial troops, before them, and indeed they did. They pushed them more slowly that Schlieffen might have liked, but they pushed them until they were almost completely out of Belgium. At no point were any significant numbers of Brits behind the German lines except as POWs, exactly as I said.

It is interesting to note that similar "atrocities" were not reported opposite the French lines-only opposite the British. If this were a coordinated German policy, surely it would have been evident elsewhere. But across the far wider French front and the even larger Russian front, only the most sporadic reports of "atrocities" appeared-the sort of thing which individual soldiers in every war might commit.

--

“It is Louvain (or, today, Leuven) not "Vouvain" and you obviously do not know the first thing about what happened there between August 25 and 27, 1914. …Do you assume all your readers share your ignorance?”

I believe the library was burned, in a nasty small battle, something which was repeated in WW II by the Allies, right? A number of un-uniformed Francs Tireurs (guerrilla snipers) were caught and shot, as later provided under the Geneva Convention, resistance was crushed and the German army pushed on against the British to the South, correct? Now, you would have me believe that the British soldiers were behind the German lines and observed atrocities calmly while taking notes and photos waving to their adversaries?

Perhaps you are unaware that “Leuven” or “Loewen” is a Flemish city, that Flemish is a German dialect, that the Flemish are cousins to other Germanic peoples, as are their first cousins the Dutch, that the old “Belgae” or eastern (Celtic) part of Belgium speaks Walloon, a variety of French. In Wallonia, opposite the French lines, there were no serious reports of atrocities-just at Flanders where the British were fighting. And you are saying that the Germans picked their cousins out of the whole theatre to abuse?

-----

I wish you well in your new book, but please correct your anti-German biases before you go to press. This will yield a more popular book and do you reputation some good.


Frederick Thomas - 6/10/2005

Thank you for your primary source citations, sound analysis and nuanced treatment of this tragic oft-misconstrued period.

Bismark: "The public should see neither sausage nor public policy being made."


Jeff Lipkes - 6/10/2005

Dear Mr. Thomas,
Thank you for responding, but I find your comments baffling.

I will reply briefly and then call it quits. You are welcome to carry on.

What does the ethnic background of Bavarians have to do with anything I wrote? Look, people make generalizations about Americans all the time, some astute, some obtuse. Does this mean they believe Americans are a race? Certainly it’s possible to make observations about a nation–especially after the advent of a public education system and a national press–and not believe they constitute an independent race. But this whole discussion is absurd. I never brought up the issue of national character. When one writes that Prussia invaded Silesia, one doesn’t mean that the Prussian people spontaneously trooped over the border en masse or that Frederick consulted the wishes of his subjects before proceeding.

It is grotesque to construe my comments on the Congo as endorsing what Leopold and his minions did, as you appear to do. My sentence on the subject had two purposes: 1) to show that, as with your statements about Denmark, Social Darwinism, Lloyd George, Balfour, etc., you were making claims about a subject you knew little or nothing about. No one who had read Ascherson, Hochschild, or any other book dealing with the Congo under Leopold would state that slaves worked in mines. (Now you’ve apparently read a review of Hochschild, a good first step.) 2) I wanted to highlight a revealing bit of irony, which I’m afraid was lost on you. In a review of an earlier review of his book, Woods claimed categorically that one million Iraqis died as a result of our sanctions prior to 9/11. You state 10-15 million Congolese were murdered. Obviously, both numbers are highly speculative. (FYI, The Casement Report of 1904, the most authoritative investigation, contains no direct evidence of atrocities. Casement guessed three million Congolese perished. But as Ascherson points out, “one of the most disastrous plagues recorded in human history” was raging between 1895 and 1908, sleeping sickness, and “there is no way of extricating from the general catastrophe the proportion of deaths by massacre or destitution that can be laid to the responsibility of Leopold’s regime.”) Yet both you and Woods resist, kicking and screaming, the abundantly well documented fact that the German Army killed just under 5,500 civilians in August 1914, the names and deaths of nearly all of whom are a matter of public record.

I have read the Bryce report in its entirety. You apparently believe it was a fabrication: "Since no British soldier was in Belgium except as a POW during the entire war, how were the Belgian “witnesses” brought from Belgium to the UK for interviews?" Of the nearly 1 million Belgians fleeing German terror, about 200,000 wound up in Britain. And you really think no British soldier was in Belgium during the war except as a POW? Have you heard of the Battles of Mons and Le Cateau in August? Where do you suppose Ypres is? Your ignorance knows no bounds.

It is Louvain (or, today, Leuven) not "Vouvain" and you obviously do not know the first thing about what happened there between August 25 and 27, 1914. Shelves of books, pamphlets, and articles have been written on the subject. Do you assume all your readers share your ignorance?

Most of my response concerned your erroneous observations on the outbreak of the First World War. You were parroting the revisionist line fashionable in the 1920s, but rejected by scholars since the ‘30s, though it has persisted, even flourished, outside academia. You say nothing about these comments. I suppose that is also a promising development.

The bulk of my review of Woods, by the way, did not consist of observations about Prussians or Germans, but called attention to his egregious factual errors concerning Belgian treaties, forts, and civilian deaths, as well as his weirdly skewed perspective on Hitler. You have not responded to any of these.


To Michael Thomin:
If diplomatic history consisted of taking treaties and proclamations issued by governments at face value, it would not be nearly so difficult and interesting an undertaking. For example, the Austrians declared repeatedly during the July crisis that they had no territorial ambitions in Serbia and would honor that country’s sovereignty. They only wished to “punish” her. But when you look at the diplomatic documents–communications between the Foreign Minister and his ambassadors–as well as memoranda, letters, etc. of government officials and military leaders, and the minutes of the meeting of the Council of Ministers on July 7, it is clear that Serbia was to be dismembered, portions going to Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania, the border “rectified" so that Belgrade would be in Austrian territory, and the royal family overthrown. German assurances to the governments of Luxembourg and Belgium also need to be viewed with just a soupcon of skepticism.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 6/9/2005

Mr. Lipkes and Mr. Thomas,

In my humble opinion, it is only right to put the German invasion of Belgium in context. On August 18, 1892, France and Russia agreed to the provisions of the Franco-Russian Alliance. The provisions set forth in the alliance stated, “If Russia is attacked by Germany, or by Austria supported by Germany, France shall employ all her available forces to attack Germany” (“Franco-Russian Alliance Military Convention,” http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1914m/franruss.html).
It further prearranged that French and Russian “forces shall engage to the full with such speed that Germany will have to fight simultaneously on the East and on the West” (Ibid). It is clear from this alliance that, upon war between Russia and Germany, France would invade German territory in the west.

On July 31, 1914, upon the declaration of war with Russia, the German government sent a telegram to the Imperial Ambassador in Paris to “ask the French government whether it intends to remain neutral in the Russo-German war,” and that a “reply must be made in 18 hours,” because Germany was aware of the French allegiance to the Czar (Collected Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the European War: 433). The following day of August 1, upon “repeated definite inquiry whether France would remain neutral in the event of Russo-German war, the Prime Minister declared that France would do that which her interests dictated” (Ibid. 434). This, of course, indicated that France would indeed hold true to the Franco-Russian Alliance, which meant that French troops would invade via western Germany borders.

In 1913 France could fully mobilize an army for war of 3,500,000, and Russia had a fully mobilized army for war of 4,400,000 (Steven House and William Maltby, Western Civilization: A History of European
Society, Belmount, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999: 789). Combined, French and Russian troops would outnumber Germany’s fully mobilized army for war by 4,100,000. A force of that size opening up two different fronts against Germany would overwhelm and overstretch German troops to the breaking point, and insuring Germany’s complete destruction.

After the French government decided that it would side with Russia upon the 18 hour respond time allowed by Germany in regards to neutrally over the war between Germany and Russia, on August 2, 1914, the German Ambassador at Brussels, von Below Saleske, delivered a message to M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, which asked for free passage through their territory (Charles F. Horne, Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed., National Alumni, 1923, http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/kingalbertaddress.htm). The next day, Belgium replied that it would not allow German troops to pass their borders because of their neutrality, but due to the certainty that France would attack Germany because it was stipulated in the Franco-Russian alliance and France did not claim neutrality, Germany was forced to cross Belgium territory. The borders of Luxemburg were also crossed by German troops, however, Germany made it clear to Luxemburg “that the military measures taken in Luxemburg do not constitute a hostile action against Luxemburg, but are only intended to insure against a possible attack of a French army… Full compensation will be paid to Luxemburg for any damage…” (Collected Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the European War: 96).

Furthermore, on August 4, 1914, Germany stated that it only intended on passing through Belgium, but that “even in the case of armed conflict with Belgium, Germany will, under no pretence whatever, annex Belgium territory… Germany had consequently to disregard Belgian neutrality, in being for her a question of life or death to prevent French advance" (Ibid, 109).

In regards to Great Britian's economic concerns of the newly formed state of Germany surpassing it as a world player, personally, I think the evidence suggests this is the case. There is no doubt that the British government grew very weary when Kaiser Wilhelm II arrived in Constantinople on a state visit to the Sultan, and succeeded in obtaining a concession to build the Baghdad Railway (Geoff Simons, Iraq: From Sumer to Post-Saddam, Third Ed., New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004: 181).
In Damascus Wilhelm delivered a speech, stressing, “His Majesty the Sultan and the three hundred million Moslems… may rest assured that they will always have a friend in the German Emperor” (Ibid, 183). For Great Britain this concession was a direct threat to their supremacy in the Persian Gulf, and perhaps more importantly, a potential threat to their hegemony over their prized jewel India. In fact, the threat of the French under Napoleon gaining a foothold in modern day Iraq that would enable him to launch a military campaign into India is what got the British interested in Mesopotamia in the first place.

Best regards,
Michael


Frederick Thomas - 6/9/2005

I choose to respond only to your points apparently or actually based upon facts, and will leave such remarks as “no reputable historian would believe_____” (fill in the blanks) in my “humorous” folder, since these bald assertions are so very unconvincing.

Mr. Lipkes, I was not kidding that I hope that your forthcoming book will be well-substantiated and reasonable. My post is submitted in the tradition of peer review.

I was gratified that you were able to repost little or nothing to defend your central blanket denunciations of “Germans pouring over borders, subjugating, etc.”, “militarism”, and “blitzkriegs” in the eighteenth century. You seem to tacitly acknowledge that you had little or nothing to back these up.

There is insufficient time to do the following properly, but we may benefit from addressing a few salient points.

“While there was much talk about Slavs, Latins, and Teutons in the 19th c., and then Aryans, no one, not even Adolph Hitler, believe that the citizens of the German Reich constituted a race.”

No kidding. This proves my point, of course, not yours - if they are not a coherent ethnicity how can they be accused as a uniform group? (See:”The Myth of Nations”).

Further to this point, the Bavarians are about 55% Celtic ethnically (proven by the thousands of Celt burial mounds all over the country, the metallurgical bent of Bavarian manufacturers, such as BMW, and even the look of the people there-they could be Scots or Bretons). The Swabians are about 70% Celtic, the Silesians, Bohemians and Moravians about 60% Slavic, the Rhenish (intellectually the most active “Germans?”) are only 50% Aryan, and, best of all, the “Prois” who constitute over 70% of Prussia, and who are the poster boys of “German Militarism”, are almost entirely Slavic. Hitler was probably mainly Slavic and Celtic mix, given his Northwest Austrian roots, and perhaps 25% Jewish, depending on exactly who got his grandmother pregnant.

It turns out that the “Germans” were pretty “inclusive” if I may use a PC shibboleth in my cause.

“The Congolese worked on rubber plantations, not mines, under Leopold’s personal rule, and were not slaves. Any evidence for the figure? Sure it’s not 16 million? Or 5 million? Or 500,000?”

The number of 10 million dead black Kongoans gets the most play, five million the least, and 20 million a bit. I tend to the middle. The initial main products were (1) ivory and (2) rubber, before diamonds, copper and zinc replaced them as the key products by about 1890. The casualties were highest in the mines, where cave-ins and suffocation added to disease, malnutrition, maltreatment, etc as causes of death. Were they slaves? Well, they were purchased from other blacks, the “Kongos”, forbidden to leave, had their hands cut off if they did, were whipped, etc. You want references? Try these:

-Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa" (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). Review: ‘Hochschild describes how, along with the uncounted thousands who died of disease and famine, many Congolese were killed by Leopold's agents for failing to meet production quotas for ivory and rubber, the territory's principal sources of wealth before its diamonds, copper and zinc were discovered. Mr. Hochschild estimates the total death toll during the Leopold period at 10 million.’

American poet Vachel Lindsay wrote, in horror about chopping off hands as punishment:
Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost /
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host /
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell /
Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.

-Many prominent writers of the time took part in international condemnation of Leopold II's exploitation of the Congo, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Booker T. Washington.

King Leopold's Belgian Congo was described as a colonial regime of slave labor, rape and mutilation in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Mark Twain wrote a biting sarcastic political satire, King Leopold's Soliloquy.

Neal Ascherson: The King Incorporated, Allen & Unwin, 1963. ISBN 1-86207-290-6 (1999 Granta edition).

Congo: White king, red rubber, black death (2003) is a documentary by Peter Bate (BBC) on Leopold II and the Congo.

Everyone who cares about human freedom should be familiar with what “innocent little Belgium” did in the Congo. Enjoy your reading.

“The phony Bryce Report” and “alleged Belgian ‘atrocities’”... Have you read the Bryce Report?”

Truthfully, not every page, nor have you, sir. I present however the following excerpt, which delineates the major problems with the “evidence”:

QUOTE:

…For some three or four months before the appointment of the Committee, the Home Office had been collecting a large body of evidence. [Taken from Belgian witnesses, some soldiers, but most of them civilians from those towns and villages through which the German Army passed, and from British officers and soldiers….

…Professor J. H. Morgan has collected a number of statements mainly from British soldiers, :which have also been submitted to the Committee.

…The depositions were in all cases taken down in this country by gentlemen…

…The Committee have also had before them a number of diaries taken from the German dead. … A good many of these were collected on the field when British troops were advancing over ground which had been held by the enemy….

UNQUOTE

Any reasonable person might entertain reasonable doubts regarding the above:

-The Germans were through Belgium before the British were fully deployed in France. When they came into contact, the British were forced back, and never entered Belgium behind German lines. The above report (initial version) was produced in December 1914, four months after the “event”. How, then was it possible to gather these diaries, assemble Belgian “witnesses”, and directly observe events there?

-Since the British soldiers were never able to get behind German lines, except as a POW, how could they testify as to what was happening there?

- Since no British soldier was in Belgium except as a POW during the entire war, how were the Belgian “witnesses” brought from Belgium to the UK for interviews?

You have correctly admitted that no children’s hands were cut off, no babies were tossed up and bayoneted, no nuns raped, etc This report describes hands cut off and all the other alleged offenses. The cutting off of hands was actually taken from what old Leopold did to the poor blacks in the Congo.

The reports about what happened in Vouvain, however regrettable, are so muddied that it is impossible not to admit that it could have been done in a battle, with the Belgians in and out of uniform using the town as a fortification. I have not been able to find original German after action reports. (If anyone has seen them, in the original, please advise.)

In propaganda, it is important to ask the question, cui bono? Clearly, the UK benefited from this gross propaganda. Every lurid allegation was printed in US papers as if hands really had been cut off, and Wilson was able after a while to persuade innocent US citizens to board the Lusitania, jammed as its hold was with artillery rounds, black powder, mine and artillery fuses, dynamite, etc. knowing that any single torpedo would cause the ship to blow itself to hell. Did the government know? A Federal harbormaster charged with enforcing the neutrality laws supervised loading the cargo, and enough said. Britain also grabbed Germany’s colonies, and exacted horrific reparations after the war. Pretty good bebefits for them.

Mr. Lipkes, myth is sand in the gears of history, and this is history we do NOT want to repeat. Remember that when Wilson claimed “a war to end wars”, Santayana answered “only the DEAD have seen the end of war”.

Last September 26th, at 5:00, jump off time for the US 79th and 37th Divisions in the 1918 Meuse-Argonne offensive, I was standing in the rain with all my siblings assembled on the Montfaucon-Verdun road, 2 kilometers east of Montfaucon, where my father was so terribly wounded that he was in the hospital for over a year. I say that not because his sacrifice was less than any of the others-at least he lived-but because it may convey how serious I am about accuracy. It amazed me that after such an awful wound, he always insisted on accuracy, regarding the Germans, and always claimed great respect for them.

Please accept this lesson, the toughness of which I apologize for, and come out with a really great book. I look forward to reading it.


Jeff Lipkes - 6/9/2005

Thanks for the excellent observations. Many witnesses of the German invasion commented on the ferocity of the anti-Catholicism of the troops. “It’s a religious war,” wrote a Dutch professor after viewing smashed statues and desecrated altars in Aarschot. Forty-three priests were executed and scores more tortured, abused, and jailed.

The analogy with Turkey is interesting It would be more exact if the U.S. had for 75 years guaranteed Turkish independence and, once it entered Turkey en route to Iraq, immediately made plans to annex it.


Jeff Lipkes - 6/9/2005

I appreciate the time you’ve obviously spent on your comments and the initial kind remarks about some of my kind remarks about Woods’ book. I don’t mean to be rude, but I think it would be time better spent reading about the origins of the war and about German history than repeating half-truths and quarter-truths and pure inventions passed down from decade to decade.

Something of the tenor of your comments is revealed in your charging me with “racist propaganda,” a familiar p.c. slur. While there was much talk about Slavs, Latins, and Teutons in the 19th c., and then Aryans, no one, not even Adolph Hitler, believe that the citizens of the German Reich constituted a race. Nowhere do I say anything about race or racial characteristics.

You may choose to call all German speakers “Germans,” (as in Frederick the Great’s wars were “German on German exercises”) but that’s certainly not how Saxons, Hanoverians, Westphalians, Bavarians, etc., not to mention Austrians, thought of themselves. They fought and died not to conquered by Prussia as surely as “Italians” in the mezzogiorno resisted being subjugated by the Piedmontese. National unification was a bloody business not only in the U.S. Unfortunately, Prussian elites brought with them a set of caste values inimical individual rights and, ultimately, to the peace of Europe. The tragedy of German history is that, for complex reasons, the middle classes bought into this ethos.

I mentioned Albertini’s monumental work. Have you read this? How about taking a look at the selection of documents edited by Imanuel Geiss, July 1914, a condensed English version of his 2-v. Julikrise or Collected Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the War (collected by Kautsky and edited by two German historians)? I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s always useful to take a look at primary sources.

World War I was fought ultimately over Austria’s unwillingness to submit one of its 10 demands to Serbia (the Serbs accepted the rest, outrageous as they were) to arbitration by the International Tribunal in the Hague or a Conference of Ambassadors, like the one that resolved disputes between the two countries (to Austria’s great advantage) following the second Balkan War. The German Ambassador to London was incredulous and outraged at his country’s refusal to support British proposals to set up such a conference. “The whole question could have been settled in one or two sittings,” he wrote. Germany had pointedly told Austria to back down after it mobilized in 1912. The reason it didn’t in 1914 was because its rulers–though hardly its civilian population–either wanted to humiliate Russia and break the Franco-Russian alliance or, in the case of the military, to finally “settle things” with France.

There are so many errors large and small in what you’ve written, and so many unwarranted assumptions, that it’s almost hopeless to continue.

There is really no point in discussing the origins of the war with someone who believes it was caused by “the bomb-thrower guy” and that Germany “did much to avoid the war.”

“Lloyd George, Balfour, and Churchill made no secret of their desire to destroy Germany as a competitor...” Oh, really. Any evidence? (They were, it’s true, a teeny bit concerned that Germany was building a navy to surpass the Royal Navy in size and firepower, just as Germany would have been had the British dedicated themselves to creating an army larger than the Kaiserreich’s. There was not the least threat to German shipping warranting Tirpitz’s program. What the British government did, however, was to try desperately to negotiate a mutual reduction in naval spending.)

“The phony Bryce Report” and “alleged Belgian ‘atrocities’”... Have you read the Bryce Report? Have you read the evidence in 4 hefty volumes collected by two Belgian commissions, and the 7 volumes of eyewitness testimony for Namur and Luxerbourg provinces alone collected by Schmitz and Nieuwland? All lies? I mentioned Horne and Kramer’s book from 2001. Are you familiar with it?

“Denmark aggressively invaded the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.” Really? The two (count ‘em) provinces were ruled by the King of Denmark (tho’ not a part of Denmark).

“the deaths of 10-15 million slave laborers in the mines of the former Belgian Congo.” The Congolese worked on rubber plantations, not mines, under Leopold’s personal rule, and were not slaves. Any evidence for the figure? Sure it’s not 16 million? Or 5 million? Or 500,000?

“Social Darwinism was principally a British (Victorian) phenomenon” Take a look at Social Darwinism in European and American Thought by Mike Hawkins, among many other books. Have you heard of Ernst Haeckel? There are even two or three books in English on him alone.

Please do some more reading. You may run across the Ems telegram, information on the planning and execution of Frederick the Great’s wars, the opinions of educated German-speakers of Prussia, and other interesting things. The one book you cite, by an English and film professor, is not taken seriously by most scholars of the Great War.


Jeff Lipkes - 6/9/2005

Why would anyone deny that colonists perceived a "threat to their rights posed by the actions of the British government"? Why else would they rebel? The question is where these rights were derived from. Were they the "ancient chartered rights" going back to the Magna Carta or were they "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God"? Obviously there were differences of opinion among the revolutionaries, but the writers of the Declaration of Independence spent considerable time and effort the document's first two paragraphs, and didn't bother referring to charters granted by kings of England from Runnymede forward.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 6/8/2005

Frederick,
I must comment that your post was perhaps one of the most intelligent and thorough response to an article on HNN that I may have ever read.

I honestly don't know enough about German history to comment on who is being more accurate, but I appreciate your disagreement being based on facts and history, rather than emotion and point-scoring. Well-written.


R.S. Taylor Stoermer - 6/8/2005

In Jeff Lipkes review of the "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," he makes a grossly inaccurate statement regarding the current state of the historiography of the coming of the American Revolution. Lipkes wrote, "Instead of wading in like a genuine iconoclast, Woods recycles Revolutionary propaganda that the colonists were merely defending their 'ancient chartered rights' against the usurpations of Parliament–a view no historian has taken seriously for generations." This is simply not the case as many historians, Jack P. Greene chief among them, continue to recognize the seminal role played by the colonists' appreciation of the perceived threat to their rights posed by the actions of the British government in the 1760s and 1770s. For the most succinct elucidation of the current point of view one need look no further than Greene's review essay of John Philip Reid's "The Constitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority of Rights" in the June 1988 edition of Reviews in American History.


Frederick Thomas - 6/7/2005

I appreciate the reasonable initial tone of this article, and the acknowledgement of many of the points made by this humorous little book.

However, much of the article is devoted to recycling the most tired anti-German myths which allied governments have used to justify their misdeeds during this past century.

These myths are victor’s propaganda, to extend financial advantages won by Britain and France, and to mislead. They are the worst form of political correctness, exceeded only by the ad hominum attacks with which they were too often delivered.

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"The evidence for German guilt in starting the war is overwhelming."

This is laughable. The war was directly caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofie by Serbian government-sponsored terrorists, who did not cover their tracks all that well. The bomb-thrower guy tried to blow himself up but failed, tried to drown himself but was pulled out, and sang like a canary.

Austria moved to punish Serbia militarily, whereupon pan-Slavic extremists in the Russian government ordered a full mobilization against Austria and Germany, which was until then uninvolved. Kaiser Wilhelm telegraphed his cousin Czar Nicolas, begging him not to allow this “catastrophe”. The Czar cancelled his ministers’ mobilization, whereupon they secretly overrode him.

France, allied with Russia had to mobilize. England, allied with France, had to mobilize despite Wilhelm’s telegrams to his many British royal cousins. These facts are well documented, all the paperwork still exists.

I see no guilt on Germany’s part in this. Indeed, they did much to avoid the war. The pattern of alliances and Pan-Slav extremism share much blame, but not all.

The “German war guilt” canard, like the phony 1915 “Bryce Report” on alleged Belgian “atrocities” and the Lusitania illegally and secretly loaded with over 20,000 artillery rounds, etc. were a way for British propagandists to persuade their former colony, us, to later come into the war, and for Britain and France to expropriate Germany’s colonies and exact huge reparations after the war.

Follow the money, you get to the truth. The larger incentive motivating Britain was undoubtedly that Germany had surpassed Britain economically, due to a superior universal educational system, and would soon pass Britain in colonial holdings.

Lloyd George, Balfour, and Churchill made no secret of their desire to destroy Germany as a competitor in public speeches and writings as far back as 1910, and may have secretly supported the Serbian terrorists. Look a bit further East and West for your “war guilt”, Mr. Lipkes.

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“The invasion of Belgium was the fourth time in fifty years that Prussian or German troops had poured over their borders to conquer and subjugate their neighbors.”

Let’s identify the “four instances” of “pouring over their borders, subjugating”:

1. Could it include the Franco Prussian war in which Napoleon III declared war on Germany and attacked it, arguably the dumbest move in all European history? N II then was defeated in six weeks and deposed. Bad mistake. But since the French attacked, it’s not exactly German aggression, ne c'est pas?

2. In 1860, a small dynastic conflicts between the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties took place, between Germans. Not exactly external aggression.

3. In 1856, Denmark aggressively invaded the German state of Schleshwig-Holstein-not exactly German aggression either.

4. How about the Napoleonic Wars, in which Napolean’s armies did indeed “pour out and subjugate”, subjugating and oppressing the Germans, who never won against Napoleon, until Waterloo, working with the Brits. The Germans were the greatest victims of Napoleon, so this is hardly aggression on their parts.

As I see it, Germany twice defended itself against French invasion in the century before WW I, the second time successfully. There was no external aggression.

The image of Germans “pouring out and subjugating” is racist propaganda, and pretty laughable.

By the way, it was the “poor little victim” Belgium whose King Leopold II had personally managed one of the greatest holocausts in history, leading to the deaths of between 10 and 15 million Congolese slave laborers in mines in the former Belgian Congo. This was still going on when WW I started. Great little ally, huh?

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“They had launched three similar blitzkriegs in the 18th century.”

Let’s trace these “three blitzkriegs,” somehow miraculously executed 2 centuries before motor vehicles were even invented. (You don’t “blitz” much if you gotta walk, Mr. Lipkes. Back then, war was lots more “sitz” than “blitz”.)

1. The Austrian-Prussian conflicts of Frederick the Great were essentially a German on German exercise, both German dynasties claiming Bohemia and Moravia. This was hardly external aggression. Ditto for Russia’s ill-considered attack on Brandenburg.

2. Napoleon’s invasion of South Tyrol, in Northern Italy, an Austrian possession, was French aggression, not German aggression.

3. The war of the Spanish succession was also a Holy Roman Empire inter-dynastic matter. No external aggression here.

Where is this “pouring out”, this “subjugation”? Where is the “blitzkrieg”? Honestly, Mr Lipkes, this hyperbolic choice of words is over the top.

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…”things were different in Germany. A military ethos held sway, fortified by Volkish nationalism, Social Darwinism, and fin de siecle recklessness. War and violence were…honorable…. The German Chancellor was a courtier, answerable only to the Kaiser. The Reichstag had no real power.”

Well, let’s see: you say that “Iron Chancellor” Bismark had no power over his Kaiser, right? Wilhelm’s entreaties to his closest relatives to avoid war were insincere, correct? British jealousy about Germany’s educational, economic and imperial successes did not exist, OK?. The Archduke was not murdered, right? The electoral method of choosing leaders which went back almost to Charlemagne, which had chosen almost every Holy Roman Emperor, while none of the French or English kings were ever elected, never existed, correct? And of course, every little German kid in his crib goose-steps around and salutes all day, nicht wahr?

By the way, Charles Darwin was British, not German, and Social Darwinism was principally a British (Victorian) intellectual phenomenon, used to justify the Empire.

Also, the “fin de siecle recklessness” you refer to was a French phenomenon, epitomized by “l’audace, toujours l’audace” motto ubiquitous in French military and diplomatic thought at this time.

The Germans cautiously implemented major improvements in artillery, engineering, and tactics, which made their one soldier equal to about 1.8 allied soldiers who did not have this new technology. This was an advantage of a superior German universal educational system.(Moser, “The Myth of the Great War”.)

Repeating a myth does not make it truer, Mr. Lipkes. I suggest, if you wish to make a real impact with your book, that you clean up your version to resemble the facts. I suppose that mindlessly trashing the Germans still passes for scholarship in some quarters, but then, think how much more satisfying it would be to stick with the truth.



James Stanley Kabala - 6/6/2005

I found the defense of the invasion of Belgium to be perhaps the strangest part of the book. Given Woods's general hostility toward American military action, it seems inconcievable to me that he would have condoned a similar invasion of a neutral power if carried out by an American army, particularly if it had occurred during the administration of one of the book's five principal villains (Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Clinton, and Bush 43). Imagine the (quite justified) howls of outrage that would have occurred if, after the Turkish government refused to allow the U.S. to invade Iraq through Turkey, Bush and Rumsfeld had done so anyway, killing Turkish civilians along the way! Yet when carried out by the German army, an act of such blatant aggression and militarism is suddenly treated as excusable.
In view of Woods's ardent Catholicism, one might also have expected him to have been horrified by the destruction of the library of Louvain, arguably the world's most distinguished Catholic unverisity.


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 6/5/2005

It has long bothered me that Woods himself recycled old myths without questioning them. The Founding Fathers were "conservative", in spite of the views of some of the Founders that were astonishingly unconservative:

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s12.html

(cited on June 5, 2005 C.E.)


However, I must say that Woods was right on one thing. The colonists were indeed defending traditional Freedoms under the Common Law. Most were not radicals. The Declaration of Independence, with all of its Enlightenment radicalism, even the spelling of "G-d" with a lowercase "g" in Jefferson's original draft, was written after the initial agitations began. The majority of the people involved in the Rebellion were defending the old order against the innovations of King and Parliament.

I could argue the same for the Civil Rights Movement, that it was a defense of Constitutional Rights already enjoyed by Black people, yet which they were unable to exercise. We have a long tradition of such conservative revolutions, including Populism, the Depression Era farm movements, and even, strangely, a fair number of Sixties New Left movements that claimed to hearken back to the Original Intent of the Founders as against the innovations of the Corporate State. I believe that conservative "radical" movements have shaped our history, whereas other Nations have drawn on the French model.