James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

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James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Archie » 1 month 3 days ago (Thu Aug 20, 2020 1:43 am)

Here are some excerpts from a surprisingly level-headed article from May 1945, shortly after the camp liberations.

James Morgan Read, "Trials for the War Criminals," The Christian Century, May 30, 1945 (quoted in Ross, So It Was True, pg 237-238)

Finally, trials for the war criminals would establish the truth concerning atrocities. I have had a little experience in trying to weigh the evidence in atrocity stories. It is not easy when you have to rely on the testimony of reporters, ex parte official commissions, and even eye-witnesses unchecked by cross-examination ... Are these atrocities on a scale large enough to indict 5,000,000 Germans, as the Russians have suggested when they speak of the many war criminals? Or do they represent the work of a small number of sadists?

One illustration of what is needed in the way of impartial investigation into atrocity charges is provided by the account of the death chambers in German camps. Many of these camps were obviously fighting typhus epidemics and using fumigation chambers to delouse the prisoners as a preventive measure. The question is, "How many of these chambers represented genuine efforts to kill lice, and how many of them were flimsy excuses or even undisguised efforts to kill people? Court trials could establish such facts beyond reasonable doubt.

Read's line of thinking here sounds very proto-revisionist. The frequent unreliability of eyewitness testimony and reports from interested parties, the need for real impartial investigation, etc. But what most impressed me here is how Read seems to anticipate the dual interpretation argument that would be fleshed out decades later by Arthur Butz.

I looked for additional writings and it appears he published a book Atrocity Propaganda, 1914-1919. This prior work no doubt influenced his cautious and sober perspective here. It would be interesting to get his thoughts on Nuremberg because they did end up doing trials of a sort but something tells me the nature of those proceedings was not quite what he had hoped for.

His papers are at Swarthmore College.
http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/friends/ead/5128read.xml
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Morgan_Read

Some biographical notes
Born in Camden, New Jersey, the son of a Methodist Minister, Read graduated from Dickinson College (1929) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, earned a D. Phil. from Marburg University (1932) in Germany, and received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1940). He taught History at Lycoming College from 1932-34 and served as Associate Professor of History and then Chairman of the Social Sciences Department at the University of Louisville from 1935-43. In 1940, he married Henrietta Morton; they raised three children, Austine (Bonnie), James III, and Edward. In 1949, Read joined the Society of Friends as a member of the Gwynedd, Pennsylvania Monthly Meeting. Two years after Henrietta Read's sudden death from cancer in 1976, James Read married Theresa K. Dintenfass.

From 1943-45, Read was employed in Civilian Public Service. He then took a job as Associate Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington and focused his efforts on legislation for displaced persons. He continued that concern as Secretary in the Foreign Service Section of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) from 1947 to 1949, overseeing that organization's relief work in the immediate postwar period.

In 1950, James Read was named Chief of the Division of Education and Cultural Relations of the United States High Commissioner for Germany (State Department). From 1951 to 1960 he served as the United Nations (UN) Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, and was appointed Acting High Commissioner for a few months in 1956. He returned to the academic world as President of Wilmington College in Ohio from 1960 to 1969.

Judging from some of this, he would have been a well-informed commentator on holocaust issues had he ventured further into that realm. Too bad he didn't.

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Sannhet » 1 month 2 days ago (Fri Aug 21, 2020 8:55 am)

Good find.

We often see claims that no one was skeptical of or doubted the Holocaust (to use a simplifying term) in its immediate aftermath and this is an example of people who did. The arguments and lines of inquiry proposed should have been mainstream. That they weren't speaks to the censorship and pervasive self-censorship in effect in the war and immediate post-war, and only the bravest would dare pursue open skepticism of Holocaust claims.

Orwell in his immediate postwar newspaper columns shows clear signs of "proto-Revisionist" thinking.

Archie wrote:he would have been a well-informed commentator on holocaust issues had he ventured further into that realm. Too bad he didn't.

By the time the Holocaust controversy really got going in the 1978-79-80 period, he was into his seventies and in a far too important position to have risked diving in. He died in 1985 but still active until his last years.

We can only wonder whether Read came across early Holocaust Revisionist material in this period and thought to himself, "It's about time."

Another sign of just how weakly rooted the Holocaust was in culture and politically before the 1970s, we see that Read's book debunking atrocity inflation from the 1914-18 war was republished by a New York publishing house (Arno Press) in 1972 which by that time was owned wholly by the New York Times.

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James Morgan Read: Biographical investigation into an early Holocaust Skeptic

Postby Sannhet » 1 month 2 days ago (Fri Aug 21, 2020 9:06 am)

I've done some genealogy research on this James Morgan Read using several archival sources to try to gain some insights into who he was, beyond the wiki bio. Below are some findings. They are personal-biographical facts about James Morgan Read, relevant, I believe, to the question of what kind of person was willing to be openly/publicly skeptical of early Holocaust claims as early as 1945:

  • Read was a colonial-stock American (as was Revisionist Harry Elmer Barnes, a generation older than Read) and I find no evidence of any kind of recent German ancestry in his immediate genealogy, or that of his wife (see below). (The claim of German-identitarianism driving Holocaust 'Denial' is sometimes seen against some Holocaust Revisionists. It does apply to Arthur Butz and Fritz Berg, for example, as well as former Revisionist Mark Weber, and obviously to Ernst Zundel, himself born and raised in Germany, and to figures like the Schaeffer siblings of Canada who have both recently been criminally prosecuted for Holocaust Denial.)
  • Given his affiliation with the Methodist Church and later the Quakers, and given that church affiliation is a signal of cultural identity, we may conclude that Read had no real cultural affiliation with German-Americana at any time throughout life.
  • However, as highlighted by Archie above, Read spent two years in his early twenties in late Weimar Germany, during the period of the Depression and the NS movement's political ascent and breakthrough (more on this below).
  • Father: Rev. J. Morgan Read Sr. (born in Maryland [his parents were b.1820s in Maryland, per 1880 Census]) (1858-1915), a Methodist pastor. See photo of Rev. James Morgan Read Sr..
  • Mother: Lucia Faulks (born in New Jersey [to New Jersey-born parents, per 1930 Census]); lived to old age.
  • James Morgan Read Jr. had two full siblings (born 1899 and 1905) and three half-siblings (born 1885 to 1891) via father's first wife. He was therefore the youngest child of his family. Was only 7 when his father died.
  • The gravestone of James Morgan Read Sr. is in a cemetery at Trenton, NJ, and renders him as "J. Morgan Read." It is mislabeled in the FindaGrave database as for James Morgan Jr., the "proto-Revisionist." (Both may well be buried at the same plot, but the photos clearly indicate the memorial stone is for the elder, the Methodist pastor.)
  • I find our James Morgan Read (Jr.) in the 1930 census and other records. In April 1930, the federal census taker recorded Read, then 21, as living at 115 N Montpelier Ave., in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Also living at the same house in 1930 were his mother Lucia, Lucia's aunt, and a young female boarder though not his wife.
  • A few weeks after the 1930 census-taker recorded Read (then a recent BA graduate from Dickinson College at Carlisle, Penn.) while he was hanging around Atlantic City, Read was awarded a scholarship by the Institute of International Education to go to Germany for further study, an event that no doubt changed his life forever. The announcement of his scholarship (with 97 other young Americans) is found in the May 17, 1930, edition of the New York Times. The article specifies the scholarship is through something called "the American German Student Exchange," probably in part financed by the Weimar government (my guess). Probably not but a few weeks at most after winning the award, Read would be aboard a ship bound for Weimar Germany, and there spent two years, taking a degree at Marburg in 1932. The scholarship announcement in the Times actually says "to study History at Munster," so he must have made a switch.
  • Read (presumably arriving on the ground in Germany in mid-1930) was therefore a first-hand witness to the political ascent of the National Socialists, which had previously gotten 2.6% of the vote (May 1928) and then suddenly broke through to 18.3% in Sept. 1930 when Read was newly on the ground in Germany. The NS party was bound for 37% in 1932 and then 44% in the March 1933 election (if we count that latter one).
  • Back in Chicago for PhD study through the mid/late 1930s. He got married months after being awarded his PhD, 1940. His bride was Henrietta B. Morton (1916-1976). Wedding date: Winter Solstice 1940, at an Episcopal church at Louisville, Kentucky. The bride's parents were both from Louisville.
  • His book, Atrocity Propaganda, 1914-19: A Study bore a publication date from Yale University Press of November 11, 1941. Armistice Day, the day WWI ended in 1918, a very important memorial day at the time in the US even if now hardly remembered (still attached to the day we call "Veteran's Day"). The book, Atrocity Propaganda, was announced in the New York Times the same day, Nov. 11, under "Books Published Today," page 21. I would guess the book was based on his doctoral dissertation. The date of publication (Nov. 11, Armistice Day) was obviously chosen for its symbolism -- another book published the same day and co-listed with Read's book also deals with anti-war or pacifist themes, In Peace and War: A Story of Human Service, by Alice Crew Gall, "a record of the Red Cross." Unbeknownst to Read or others involved in this book's publication, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was to come four weeks after publicaton, and the US would be catapulted into its now-familiar role of global power balancer, and in the immediate term as inheritor of the commitments of all the Western European powers (all of whom became irrelevant in global-geopolitical terms by 1945), a realignment which was of course in part based on fresh rounds of "atrocity propaganda" (which became much more important decades later, hence the need for CODOH even 75+ years after the artocity propaganda cycle of the 1940s).
  • James Morgan Read Jr. appears to have became a Quaker in his thirties in the 1940s. I find no immediate indication that his wife's family was Quaker (the marriage, in bride's hometown, was at the family's [?] Episcopal church), so it appears he made the change on his own volition out of conscience. He was to be highly involved with the Quakers from the WWII era onward until his death.
  • He was a conscientious objector to military service. An academic and professional in various capacities in the broad field of International Relations over more than forty years.
  • Among his daughters was an internationally successful artist who has recently died: Austine Wood Comarow [1942-2020] (see https://www.austine.com/about).
Conclusion: Read appears to have been a mid-20th century US liberal and Quaker by choice. Not someone outside the usual ideological range you would expect among the Quakers of the period. James Morgan Read's skepticism of the Holocaust in 1945 came, therefore, not from any ideological sympathy with the accused or the NS regime.

CODOH founder Bradley Smith reminded me, via his public persona, of a hippy version of a Quaker, based on some Quakers I've known. Bradley Smith could have been James Morgan Read's uncle (generation misalignment notwithstanding), the two chatting it up at family reunions and basically seeing the world in similar ways in general terms. What I mean is this was a cultural wavelength from which people could reach Revisionism. I haven't read Bradley Smith's autobiography but I'd expect to find similar things in it as this genealogy-focused overview of James Morgan Read's life I've attempted here.

______________________

His obituary appeared in the New York Times:

.James M. Read, 76, Educator And Ex-U.N. Refugee Official
Feb. 12, 1985

James Morgan Read, an educator and former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, died of a heart attack yesterday at New York Hospital. He was 76 years old and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Read headed the Quaker United Nations Committee at his death. During much of his career, he was associated with international activities for the American Friends Service Committee, and he was a member of its executive committee.

After working in the Office of the United States Commissioner for Germany, he joined the United Nations refugee agency, which is in Geneva, in 1950 and was its deputy chief for nine years.

On his return to the United States, Mr. Read became president of Wilmington (Ohio) College, a Quaker institution, where he remained until 1969. He then became vice president for program management of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation of Dayton, Ohio, where he worked for five years.

He wrote books on refugee problems and the role of Quaker colleges

Surviving are his wife, the former Theresa Kline Dintenfass of Manhattan; three children, Austine Wood Comarow of Boulder City, Nev., James M. Read 3d of Boise, Idaho, and Edward Morton Read of Laurel, Md., and four grandchildren.

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Archie » 3 weeks 3 days ago (Sat Aug 29, 2020 11:59 pm)

I found two articles he wrote for The New Republic that both appeared in 1945. Coincidentally, both of the them are about Jews. But unfortunately neither is really directly relevant to revisionism.

"Which Way Zionism," The New Republic, 14 May 1945
"In Behalf of Judaism," The New Republic, 19 Nov 1945 [review of A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem by Milton Steinberg]

The first article appeared just two weeks prior to The Christian Century article. Read doesn't really take any hard stances here or explicitly advocate for any particular course of action, but he seems sympathetic to the Zionists and more or less frames the issue from a Jewish perspective.

The second article is a book review. Read talks quite a bit about anti-Semitism. Overall, he seems pretty pro-Jewish.

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Carto's Cutlass Supreme » 3 weeks 2 days ago (Sun Aug 30, 2020 4:20 pm)

Hi Archie,

You're doing some interesting stuff. Even the book:
So It Was True : The American Protestant Press and the Nazi Persecution of the Jews Hardcover – January 1, 1980 Seems interesting to me.
The second article is a book review. Read talks quite a bit about anti-Semitism. Overall, he seems pretty pro-Jewish.
which is why he got an obit in the NYT probably.

American Protestantism (by way of Puritan ancestry) from way back is my background on my dad's side and most of the time you see them completely fooled by war propaganda and thus pro war. An example would be Reader's Digest. They were completely independent. They were huge. They were protestant, and they went pro-war really easy. Even publishing one of the first mentions of the 6 million in Ben Hecht's mid-war article "Remember Us."

And proto-revisionist is an apt word. I've never heard of the delousing/gas chamber issue that early as your May 1945 reference.

Nice job on original research.

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Carto's Cutlass Supreme » 3 weeks 2 days ago (Sun Aug 30, 2020 8:39 pm)

Also to add, the Quakers as an NGO were major helpers at Belsen at the end of the war. After Daybreak: The Liberation of Belsen, 1945 by Ben Shephard mentions them often and Shephard used their archives; that book shows that Belsen wasn't a deathcamp and was used as Psych Warfare propaganda. I don't know if there could be any tie in to Read's views.

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Archie » 3 weeks 2 days ago (Sun Aug 30, 2020 10:25 pm)

Carto's Cutlass Supreme wrote:And proto-revisionist is an apt word. I've never heard of the delousing/gas chamber issue that early as your May 1945 reference.

Nice job on original research.


I found the article in the Ross book but I should mention it has been previously noted very briefly by Thomas Kues in his series on early revisionism. Kues also cites Ross.

In his article “Trials for War Criminals”, James Morgan Read speaks of the necessity of an impartial investigation of atrocity allegations.

Although I must say I think he sells it short by not mentioning Read's typhus/delousing insight.

https://codoh.com/library/series/a-chronicle-of-holocaust-revisionism-2/en/

This old revisionist bibliography includes Read's book on WWI atrocity propaganda. "Probably the best exposé of WWI 'Black propaganda.'"
http://ihr.org/books/stimely/stimely.shtml

That's all the discussion I've found of him in revisionist sources.

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Sannhet » 2 weeks 6 days ago (Wed Sep 02, 2020 4:01 pm)

Carto's Cutlass Supreme wrote:American Protestantism (by way of Puritan ancestry) from way back is my background on my dad's side and most of the time you see them completely fooled by war propaganda and thus pro war.

This depends on the era.

It also depends what we mean by "American Protestantism" (which was, strictly speaking, a supermajority of the US for most of its history and can hardly be assumed to be one single entity).

If you specify New England, by which we take to mean New England Puritans and their descendants, we know for example they were against the War of 1812 and against the war with Mexico in 1846-48. No idle opposition, several New England states refused outright to send their state military units in support of those two wars.

(An aside: It used to be that there hardly was a "US military" as such, hardly much of a real federal military apparatus, with federally controlled forces a tiny fraction of the usual sizes of European countries' standing armies. This was because the US once sought to treat the states as largely sovereign entities, joined in union -- not provinces with governors as satraps of a central bureaucracy, which is kind of what we have now.

The way it used to be, from the earliest days of the 17th century and into the 20th century, when a war came or a threat of war came, governors had to raise had an effective "semi veto power" by choosing whether to activate their state militias and hand them over for federal service or not, and also choosing how much to support the war, how many men/units to mobilize. Both in principle and in practice. Anyone who knows the first thing about the US Civil War, 1861-65, knows almost all the men under arms on both sides were in units labeled things like "the 20th Maine Regiment," but most don't appreciate what that meant and perhaps think it was just some quite plan by both sides to let volunteers "stick with their chums" [as a 1917 recruiting slogan had it]. What it means was those units were all state units, existing under authority of the governor of their state. The governors raised them and gave them over for Federal (or Confederate) service during the war crisis. This system remained in place until the 1910s and then rapidly faded. The last gasp of that "governor's veto" on war is said to have been the 1917 call-up; given anti-war feeling, there was fear some governor(s) would refuse to activate their state militias for federal service in the war in Europe. That didn't happen, but it could have, if the Wilson administration had blundered into the European war very early and arbitrarily, without the long buildup of tensions.

After changes in the inter-war period, this was no longer possible even in theory by the WWII era, and certainly isn't today, as the US "federal" military emerged from the 1940s/50s interventions [the various commitments related to the geopolitical shock of WWII in Europe ans E.Asia and aftermath, and then the proxy war against the USSR and Red China that was the Korean War] with a gargantuan, permanent, "federal" military. While the states still today have nominal militaries of their own, since about the 1920s called "National Guards" with governors as commanders-in-chief, these National Guard units are not serious military forces and kind of a joke. They have long mainly used for flood relief and the like, or simply not used at all, as we see with the reluctance to send National Guard to keep order during periods of riots this summer.)


____________

most of the time you see them completely fooled by war propaganda and thus pro war

Another way to express the point I try to make above is: People are products of their times and places; degree of pro- or anti-interventionism among any identifiable group is always going to be shifting from era to era, and there are no fixed actors in history.

Every war generates a new 'for' and 'against' coalition. (Or, maybe better said given that we don't declare wars anymore, every "linked series of interventions" generates a new coalition.)

I think the New England WASP ethnopolitical class (including descendants of New England Puritans elsewhere in the US) was most pro-war in the 1914-18 war and some of the key individual figures pushing US buildup and for more and more intervention in the 1930s and up to Dec. 1941 seem to be of this group, but you'd have to check genealogies of people like Henry Stimson and Cordell Hull, to confirm or disconfirm. This drops away after 1945 to a great degree, I think.

It's also of course true within single lifetimes: My b.1940s father, of rural Upper Midwest origin, has described to me that he was pro-war with regard to Vietnam when the war began and then turned against it later. I have tried reconstructing the timing and I think he was definitely against it by 1970 but definitely for it 1967. When he told me he was in favor of the war at first, I was surprised. I'd always known him to be anti-war in general terms, and the narrative we have of the Vietnam War is one of how unpopular it was. I do recall him buying the WMD threat that was so aggressively marketed in 2002/03 but even so, he was against that war. (If he were a voting member of Congress in 2002/03, he may have ended up one of those "I was against the war before I was for it" types, out-maneuvered by the architects of the war.)

As for James Morgan Read in the 1930s/40s, he appears to have been a highly principled anti-war and willing to express open skepticism on atrocity claims. He probably felt confident in doing so since he was on record as a committed pacifist.

__________________

I am sure that if James Morgan Read, the 1945 Holocaust Skeptic, were around in our time, he would be a public skeptic against all the claims that led to our Mideast wars (which began thirty years ago with the then-unprecedented decision to intervene against Iraq over the dispute with Kuwait). Or, that would be his instinct. He felt empowered to express it in his 1930s/40s writings. Who knows how much he would self-censor today.

There was an editorial this year by a Jewish activist with brazenly pointed the finger of blame at "WASPs in New Hampshire" as being the sinister puppetmasters of US foreign policy:

Israelis don't want to be America's pawns in the Middle East any longer. We've suffered enough

I spent my childhood and my young adulthood in bomb shelters every time America had a spat with one of our neighbors. But the truth is we have so much more in common with Arab countries than with WASPs in New Hampshire

by Etan Nechin | New York | Thursday 09 January 2020

[opinion column appearing in The Independent, (UK)]

On this conspiracy theory about "WASPs" orchestrating the Mideast interventions:

James Morgan Read was not of New England origin, fwiw. He was raised a Methodist in New Jersey and as an adult became a lifelong Quaker. Still, these are at least roughly speaking he was the kind of person whom the author there -- Etan Nechin, a Jew with ties to Israel and New York City -- would accuse of being behind the wars. That an editorial like this could be published by a serious newspaper is emblematic of your point that there is a wide streak of naivete among consumers of this kind of thing, so maybe that's in part what you meant by:

most of the time you see the [US Protestants?] completely fooled by war propaganda and thus pro war

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Sannhet » 2 weeks 6 days ago (Wed Sep 02, 2020 4:17 pm)

A little more on James Morgan Read's ancestry. The goal her being to see what strains of ethnocultural inheritance may have influenced him to publicly oppose early Holocaust propaganda, following on from points raised by CCS above.

I mentioned his parents above in the portrait on his life. Here is an expansion of that genealogy research. I've dug around to find his grandparents' names and basic info on their origins:

______________

"Our" James Morgan Read's four grandparents were:

  • James Read (1821-1895); farmer in Carroll County, Maryland; parents listed by the 1880 census taker as both born in Maryland, seemingly associated with Baltimore
  • Eliza Jane Hilton (1823-1898); parents listed by the 1880 census taker as both born in Maryland
    • son: Rev. James Morgan Read (Sr.) (1858-1915), Methodist pastor active in New Jersey, father of "our" James Morgan Read (Jr.) who became a Quaker and anti-interventionist

  • Joseph DeCamp Foulks (1847-1917); also a farmer near Burlington, New Jersey; all four of his grandparents associated with Burlington area as of the late 18th century
  • Mary Eliza Shreve (1852-1909); all grandparents born in New Jersey and most associated with the Burlington area
    • daughter: Lucia Vail Faulks (name sometimes appears as Foulks and other variants in previous generations) (1874-1952), mother of "our" James Morgan Read (Jr.)
______________

I find no New England Puritan ancestry evident anywhere for "our" James Morgan Read on any branch of his family. We have records showing half his ancestors Maryland in the 18th century and half in New Jersey, probably all Protestants; whatever their original church affiliation, we see his father at least and maybe grandfather joining up with the Methodists. A typical colonial family. Not sure if he had any Quaker ancestry as such.

Richard Nixon, the most famous mid-20th century Quaker of them all, has a similar ancestral profile to James Morgan Read's, similar places and times, except that Nixon's ancestors pushed the frontier while the various lines that led to James Morgan Read Jr. stayed east.

James Morgan Read's Foulks/Faulks/Foulke line (mother's father's paternal line) goes back very far in New Jersey. An ancestor, Isaiah Foulke, was born at Burlington, New Jersey, 23 July 1704. Isaiah's father was born in Derbyshire, England, in 1665, so nowhere along the line did that line spend time in New England at all, and not associated with the 17th century Puritans.

I'm thinking the Quaker conversion must be a central part to the James Morgan Read story, I mean vis-a-vis his on-record opposition to early Holocaust atrocity propaganda.

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Re: James Morgan Read: A Proto-Revisionist?

Postby Archie » 2 weeks 4 days ago (Fri Sep 04, 2020 6:12 pm)

It's not surprising to me that a pacifist Quaker would have a fair-minded approach to atrocity propaganda. Maybe a naive pacifist would be highly sensitive to atrocity stories. But an informed one will understand that the purpose of these stories is to foment war. Atrocity propaganda serves to portray the enemy as uniquely barbarous and inhuman while your side is as pure as the driven snow. If both sides engage in this, it's a recipe for escalating violence.

Read's material on atrocity propaganda fits very well with Harry Elmer Barnes and the anti-war isolationist right (Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, etc) but Read seems to be coming at it from a bit of a different angle. Based on his affiliations with the UN he would seem to have been much more internationally minded than the right-wingers.


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