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.
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.