Classic EssaysReportsRevilo P. Oliver

The Price of the Head

A distinguished professor looks at an egregious case of corruption in the academy — corruption that contributed to the deaths of thousands of Americans and the betrayal of a sacred trust.

by Revilo P. Oliver

AT LONG LAST, we have a definitive solution of the Langer Mystery, which has puzzled observers for more than forty years. The historical record can now be cleared, and while the Langer affair was, in itself, only a minor incident, its implications for our present and future are enormous.

Harry Elmer Barnes (pictured) was for more than two decades the most prominent American historian. He was the real founder of what was called the New History, which focused attention on the cultural, social, and intellectual factors that underlie and shape the events of political and military history. He was an authentic Liberal — when he died in 1968, one shrewd observer called him “the Last Liberal.” Like many intelligent and learned men who grew up before 1914, he firmly believed that the increase of scientific and historical knowledge would inevitably produce universal progress, and he even had high hopes of what is called “democracy” in the United States. He held the old belief that the term “the human race” was more than a convenient biological category that embraced several quite different species of anthropoids, and since he did not perceive the innate incompatibility of those species, he dreamed that Progress could abolish war, which he held in great abhorrence as “crime on a larger scale.” He fancied, as did many Liberals when our race dominated the entire globe, that the elimination of war would produce a “decent world order,” in which, presumably, lions and wolves would frisk in happy coöperation with lambs and jackasses.

That Barnes shared the Utopianism of his generation cannot be denied, and that fact adds a touch of irony to the present story. His roseate conception of human nature, coupled with his understanding of what the once-honored Constitution implies and requires, led him to champion ardently various social “rights” and reforms that made ignorant patriots denounce him as a Communist, and the slander was enthusiastically promoted by the professional mystery-mongers, who felt that his insistence on human reason and the primacy of ascertained fact endangered their business. During his prominence as an historian, Barnes was one of the men whom emotional “conservatives” most feared, both in the 1920s and after he naïvely became an apologist for what cunning politicians called a “New Deal.”

Barnes was an honest man and a scholar. He believed that it was the function and duty of an historian to establish the facts of what had actually happened. He therefore took the lead in the historical writing that dissipated the mephitic cloud of falsehoods that had been used to stampede the United States into the European catastrophe that is called the First World War. He effectively demolished the hokum about “German war guilt” and “atrocities” that had been expertly manufactured by Lord Bryce and the professional liars in his employ, of whom the most talented was Arnold Toynbee, who later attained distinction as the author of a prolix and vaporous Study of History. Needless to say, Lord Bryce’s faked photographs and rhetorical rodomontade served as a model for the more inept efforts of American liars, including both the malodorous Creel Committee, financed by the very taxpayers it brainwashed, and the innumerable hacks of journalism, always ready to earn a fast buck by intellectual and moral prostitution. After Barnes and his disciples had exposed that criminal conspiracy, no rational man could any longer be ignorant of the causes of a national insanity that had been called a “war to end wars” by the babbler whom our domestic enemies had boosted into the White House.

William Leonard Langer

One of Barnes’ friends, protégés, and collaborators in the “Revisionism” that established the facts about the First World War was a younger man, William Leonard Langer. Barnes helped him attain his first professorial appointment, found publishers for his books, and praised him in print as the ablest American scholar of the diplomatic history of modern Europe. Barnes contributed greatly to, perhaps really made possible, Langer’s eventual ascent to the American Olympus, a professorship at Harvard.

At Harvard, Langer attained both eminence and popularity as a “Revisionist” historian and able lecturer, taking an objective and realistic view of recent history. But men who were at Harvard whether as colleagues or students, began to notice a strange and inexplicable change in Langer late in 1936. At first subtly and then ever more openly, the objective historian and keen critic of Woodrow Wilson’s purulent propaganda was transformed into a strident propagandist who, as unscrupulously as any member of the ill-famed Creel Committee, was whooping it up for another “war to end wars” and another insane Crusade against Germany, this time to punish the Germans for trying to have a country of their own, not under Jewish management. Langer, to be sure, never publicly endorsed the glorious plan formulated by Theodore N. Kaufman in his Germany Must Perish!, published before the great War Criminal in the White House had contrived open American participation in the war he had stealthily incited in Europe in collaboration with a British traitor named Winston Churchill. Kaufman proclaimed a “Sacred Purpose” to have all German men and all German women sexually mutilated so that the sterilized animals could not reproduce and the wicked race that did not venerate God’s People would thus be shortly annihilated. Langer did not commit himself to that idealistic scheme, but he yelled for a “righteous” war against the Germans, about whom he shamelessly lied.

After the disaster he had promoted had fallen on Germany, France, once-Great Britain, all of Europe, and the whole of the civilized world, Langer was a leader of the campaign to blot out forever the historical facts and to prevent the American people from ever discovering how they had been used by their implacable enemies. With an obscure collaborator, Langer published, among other things, The World Crisis and American Foreign Policy, which is as dishonest a work as was ever published by a man who once had a reputation for scholarly integrity. With sleazy sophistries and brazen lies, he tried to whitewash and sanctify our great War Criminal, and to institutionalize in our hapless land the techniques so ably and prophetically described by George Orwell in his 1984.

What is even more significant, Langer was one of the chief promoters of the campaign of filthy intrigue and vicious defamation that eventually closed to his whilom patron and benefactor all the normal channels of publication, so that Barnes was first forced to place Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace with a small and struggling firm in Idaho, and eventually to resort to small booklets printed at his own expense to publish the indisputable facts about the treason against the United States and against Western Civilization that precipitated the calamity of 1939-1945 and what a judicious observer has justly called the Suicide of the West. This act of blackest ingratitude, for which Langer even used his prestige as President of the American Historical Association in 1957, coupled with his metamorphosis from an historian to a professional liar, made the more odious by his imitation of the methods of scholarship, has long been known as the Langer Mystery. What happened?

Gratitude, we are told by the well-known maxim, is a lively anticipation of future favors, and no doubt Langer, safely planted on the Olympian heights of Harvard, had no further need of Barnes’ help. But despite that cynical maxim, there is — or was — in our race an innate sense that when benefits are conferred, they create an obligation. That feeling is a peculiarity of our race, although few have pondered the significant observation of Sir Richard Burton (in his Al-Madinah and Meccah) that there is no word for gratitude in the languages of the Middle East that he knew, since the very concept is alien to the mentality of the Semitic and mongrelized peoples of that region, although they have, of course, their own norms of conduct. Our race, however, once believed, and doubtless some of us still believe, that a decent man feels an obligation to friends who have helped him and should not stab them in the back whenever it is convenient or profitable to do so. Langer was, on the record, a member of our race. He had the manners of a gentleman and had grown up in a time in which the code of gentlemen was still respected. He would not have violated that code lightly and from mere caprice.

The crucial period is 1936-1939. By the time the Japanese were induced to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, Langer had committed himself irretrievably. He became a power in the odd outfit that the legitimate intelligence agencies called the “Office of Soviet Stooges,” and after the catastrophe, he moved up into the State Department, the C.I.A. and various lush committees to “advise” the President and the top echelon of the Council on Foreign Relations. When a man has joined the pirates, there is no turning back, and self-preservation, if nothing else, led him to the conception of history that was openly stated by Professor Eric Goldman, the ranking Professor of History in Princeton University (as quoted by Professor James J. Martin in his section of Harry Elmer Barnes, Colorado Springs, Ralph Myles, Inc., 1968). Langer was never so explicit and candid as Professor Goldman, who claimed that he and “most historians” regarded history as a “weapon” to be used for “determining people’s ideas and attitudes.” History, in other words, is just a device to be used by well-paid boobherds to drive the American cattle in bovine content to their pastures or to the abattoir.

But let us go back to 1936, three years before the Crusade Against the West began in Europe. What happened in Langer’s mind? Is it conceivable that a man who had studied and analyzed the foul propaganda of lies and forgery produced in 1914–1918 could have been fooled by the even cruder and less credible hogwash administered to the Americans to prepare them for a new Crusade Against Civilization that had been secretly planned even then? Was it blackmail for some secret peccadillo or vice? Did some personal sorrow or misfortune make the cogs slip in a previously efficient intellect? Had he perhaps decided that the future so vividly portrayed by George Orwell was inevitable eleven years before Orwell’s book was published? Leaders of the “America First” movement were puzzled when they found that their most formidable opposition, at least in the northeastern part of this country, came from Langer and other war-mongers, who were howling like Apaches from the intellectual mountain-top, where men eminent for scholarship were performing scalp-dances. There was much conjecture, then and ever since, but no solution of the puzzle.

That has now been provided by a reader of Instauration who informs us that he was a friend of George Sylvester Viereck, a talented man of letters who suffered much for his efforts to prevent the stampeding of the American cattle in 1917 and again in 1941. Viereck told him that he had been summoned to the White House in the late 1930s, where he was confronted by Roosevelt and his flunky, Fulton Oursler, who urged him to change his attitude toward the “European situation,” since it would be very profitable to do so. At the height of the discussion, Oursler asked Viereck why he was being difficult. “After all,” Oursler said, “Langer took $75,000,” and intimated that it was unreasonable to expect much more than a Harvard Professor. To the amazement of Roosevelt and his flunky, Viereck refused to be bought at any price, so the tyrant had him thrown into jail for four years illegally, where he was subjected to all the horrors described in his Men into Beasts.

So now the Langer Mystery is solved at last. The sum of $75,000 in the partly debased currency of that time was the equivalent of at least half a million dollars today — the equivalent indeed of $1,400,000, if one computes according to a gold standard. Harvard men will be pleased to learn that Harvard professors commanded top prices on the auction block at that time. And young academicians of today will be sullen when they reflect that they sell their intellectual integrity for no more than a pat on the head from their dean and a chance of getting a handout of a few thousand dollars from some “foundation” for “research” and all the bother of manufacturing a book in some approach to correct English.

As an individual, Langer is of little importance. His books will soon be superseded and he forgotten. But judicious observers will see in the incident a foreshadowing of the governmental corruption of scholarship and science that so dismayed Norbert Wiener (I Am a Mathematician) when he encountered scientists who “intrigued and lied” for a fast buck.

Not long ago the head of what should be a strictly scientific department in one of the major universities commented on the odd (and ominous) phenomenon that persons who can claim to be scientists on the basis of the technical training that won them the degree of Ph.D. are now found certifying the authenticity of the painted rag that is called the “Turin Shroud” or adducing “scientific” arguments to support hoaxes about the “paranormal” or an antiquated religiosity. “You can hire a scientist [sic],” he said, “to prove anything.” He did not adduce himself as proof of his generalization, but he did boast of his cleverness in confining his own research to areas in which the results would not perturb the Establishment or any vociferous gang of shyster-led fanatics.

If such is indeed the status of science and scholarship in our darkling age, Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls.

— March, 1980

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