Michael Shermer's Ugly Critique of the "New Revisionism"

A Review
Published: 2009-01-01

he current issue of Michael Shermer’s glossy newsstand magazine, Skeptic features his article “The New Revisionism: Would we be better off if Hitler had won?” Those familiar with Shermer and Skeptic recognize that while Shermer has covered topics such as Holocaust Revisionism, 9-11 theories, and Intelligent design, the magazine upholds only the orthodox view of any of these subjects. In fact, Skeptic is typically only skeptical of the skeptics and rarely if ever of the orthodox.

In his latest article, Shermer takes aim at what he calls “the new revisionism.” For those familiar with historical revisionism, it requires digging into the article, which features photographs of David Irving and Mark Weber to figure out what Shermer is driving at with his phrase and how this differs from revisionism in general.

Initially the article appears to address comments made at the June 2008 Institute for Historical Review (IHR) conference. In reality however, it is the recent books by Pat Buchanan, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, Niall Ferguson The War of the World, and Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke that seem to have stirred Shermer’s interest and vitriol. Shermer claims that this new brand of mainstream revisionism, “aims to reconfigure ‘the good war’ as ‘the unnecessary war’ combine the two world wars into one long ethnic and economic conflict that could have been avoided had England left Germany alone, and to demonstrate the moral equivalence between the Axis and the Allies in the outbreak and conductance of a war whose waging probably failed to help those who most needed it.”

Skeptic Magazine: The New Revisionism

It appears that Mark Weber, director of the IHR, pointed out that there is nothing particularly “new” about these recent revisionist treatments and that revisionism of this sort dates back to the 1950’s. Shermer seems somewhat doubtful of Weber’s assertion and rather than embracing the truth of the statement, he stands separated from it and notes “according to Weber,” when in fact any simple verification of the historiography of revisionism of ‘the good war’ dates back not only to the 1950’s but to the 1940’s and a whole host of revisionist authors who challenged the popular wisdom of the day.

The first generation of World War II revisionists included F.J.P. Veale and his 1948, Advance to Barbarism, Freda Utley’s The High Cost of Vengeance (1949), Montgomery Belgion’s Victor’s Justice (1949). The 1950’s brought several titles with similar themes to the books in question including, Russell Grenfell’s Unconditional Hatred (1953) , Harry Elmer Barnes’ Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Rene Wormser’s The Myth of Good and Bad Nations (1954) among others.

Shermer takes great issue with an assertion by Mark Weber that it is only a myth that the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany represented a triumph of good over evil. Weber argues as did many revisionists have for the past 60 years, that the British-American bombing of German and Japanese cities, general conduct of the war as well as the ethnic cleansing of civilians following the war shatters the popular myth of the Allies as “good” nations.

Another example of the “new revisionism” according to Shermer is the use of moral equivalence between the actions of the Axis powers and that of the Allies including the Soviet Union. Here although Shermer mentions the aerial bombardments of Hamburg and Dresden and the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima he quotes the court historians figures and attributes for example 35,000 dead (not murdered mind you) at Dresden. He plays fast and loose with the details attributing David Irving’s question “Is there any parallel between Dresden and Auschwitz?” to his 1971 [sic] book Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden. Irving’s book of that title was in fact published in 1995 and was a revised version of his earlier 1963 volume with a slightly abridged title.

Shermer reveals his limited vision and naivety when considering the question of moral equivalencies. He writes, “The Allies killed innocents on the road to victory, but the killing stopped the moment the Allies won.” He goes on, “Auschwitz and Nanking were no more. The Allies killed into [sic] order to stop the killing by the Axis, and for no other reason. The Axis killed for geography, for political control, for economic power, for racial purification, and for pleasure, and the killing would have gone on and on were it not for the Allies. Anyone unable to see the difference should have his license to practice history revoked.”

It appears astounding that Shermer is unaware of the murderous treatment of East European Germans from 1944 to 1950. The Allied revenge against the Germans has been described as “ethnic cleansing” by Alfred- Maurice de Zayas. Maybe “Auschwitz was no more” as Shermer states, but the Soviets ran death camps at Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. Tens of thousands of deaths have been documented in Soviet run concentration camps at former Nazi camps. In two major books, James Bacque addressed the huge death rate of German civilians and prisoners of war under Allied occupation. It is on the level of cheap propaganda to assert that the Allies killed only to stop the killing. Were the Polish officers at Katyn forest murdered by the Soviets to stop the killing? What of the brave defenders of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania? Were they not fighting the Allied powers when the Soviets rolled their tanks into their countries? Can Shermer really believe that the Soviets were not attempting to expand geographical power and political control?

It is difficult to believe that Shermer is being genuine in his argument. Perhaps the key to understanding his thoughts is revealed by his statement that the “Axis killed for racial purification.” Shermer takes issue with the idea that the “decline of the west” was a consequence of the Allied victory. That World War II was not a victory for the Allies, but rather a defeat for Western values is anathema to Shermer. This argument is not only taken up by Mark Weber, but is an important subtext of Baker’s, Buchanan’s and Ferguson’s works.

Shermer launches into a half-baked critique of the “what if” history that he takes such issue with. In fact, of course, if we can attribute negative consequences to the Second World War or the First World War as the author’s above have, or to the Holocaust myth (as I have in my “The Holocaust Myth: The New Founding Myth of American Society”), then it is only reasonable that had such events never occurred that the consequences would be entirely different.

While little of this sounds “new” to the informed student of revisionism, Shermer’s attribution of “new” is intended to suggest some sort of evolving revisionist evil, an angle that he may simply be exploiting to sell more magazines to those even less informed than himself.

Shermer claims that the bottom line of the “new revisionism” is the race question. He believes that the “new revisionists” are longing for a return to some aristocratic order “where everyone knew their place.” Although he calls this aristocratic romance “ridiculous,” he asserts that the real problem of this “new revisionism” is that it will lead to “racial and ethnic cleansing.” Such critiques however crass are not new at all. In 1994, Deborah Lipstadt in her anti-revisionist screed Denying the Holocaust likened revisionists to rats that threaten “to kill those who already died at the hands of the Nazis for a second time by destroying the world’s memory of them.” Shermer in fact takes the argument further than Lipstadt and grossly charges that the logical consequence of “new revisionist” thought is ethnic cleansing.

To prove his point, Shermer looks back to Adolf Hitler. As a flimsy bit of evidence to prove Hitler’s desire to exterminate the Jews of Europe, Shermer relies on Hitler’s comments of January 23, 1942, “It’s the Jew who prevents everything. I restrict myself to telling them they must go away. But if they refuse to go voluntarily, I see no other solution but extermination.” Shermer’s quote end short however. He doesn’t reveal to his readers that Hitler continues by saying, “A good three or four hundred years will go by before the Jews set foot again in Europe. They’ll return first of all as commercial travelers, then gradually they’ll become emboldened to settle here—the better to exploit us.” A couple of days later Hitler would say, “The Jews must pack up and disappear from Europe. Let them go to Russia.” Although Hitler’s language is harsh, his thoughts indicate a program of mass deportation and certainly not mass extermination.

Shermer asserts that the “new revisionism” will lead to the “extermination of masses of people racially or ethnically different from those in power.” For Shermer the topic of race is foolishness. He writes, “Every person on Earth comes from a single population of a thousand to ten thousand individuals.” He goes on to babble that “differences… are literally only skin deep.” Shermer’s naivety in this area is incredible.

Shermer surely believes that his egalitarian world view is morally superior to those who accept racial differences or would prefer to live among their own people. He doesn’t provide any philosophical musings on the subject but seems to accept his own perspective as a type of “natural law” without any need of explanation. Shermer apparently has not spent time challenging his own paradigms or perhaps he simply understands that political correctness pays his bills.

Shermer’s critique of what he calls the “new revisionism” is not only incorrect, it is cheap propaganda, and it is outright dangerous. Shermer is unwilling to accept any criticism of “the good war” or the “great generation.” Such criticism of our own behavior during those conflicts will apparently lead to genocide.

Shermer misses the point that revisionism has at its core the desire to promote peace and goodwill among nations. To question the need to drop atomic bombs on undefended Japanese cities while the Japanese were making peace overtures or to firebomb cities filled with innocent civilians is part of what makes us moral beings. Shermer, it seems, would argue that it is okay to torture prisoners or wipe out entire cities in order to prevent the spread of Islamic terrorism.

Since the Second World War millions of people have been murdered by various regimes. Some by the USA in the name of “democracy,” some by our old ally, the Soviet Union, some by our trading partner, the People’s Republic of China, and some by dozens of other “enlightened” countries around the world. I am not aware of anyone who was killed by a revisionist – not the old ones nor the "new" ones.

This article originally appeared in Smith's Report No. 157, January 2009

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Author(s): Richard A. Widmann
Title: Michael Shermer's Ugly Critique of the "New Revisionism", A Review
Sources: Smith's Report No. 157, January 2009
Published: 2009-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Jan. 30, 2009, 6 p.m.
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