World War I: A Revisionist Reading List

Revisionist history, as applied to World War I, began as an effort to challenge Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, which claimed that the war had been imposed on “the Allied and  Associated Governments” by “the aggression of Germany and her allies.” By extension, revisionist history also criticizes the decision of the United States in 1917 to enter the war, the bad results of the treaties that ended the war, and the propaganda designed to induce the public to accept the war against the Central Powers.

Barnes, H.E. The Genesis of the World War. A pioneering revisionist book, first published in 1926. Argues that a plot between Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Izvolsky and French President Raymond Poncaré played a major role in the origin of the war.

——. In Quest of Truth and Justice. A comprehensive account of the many controversies over war origins in which Barnes was involved.

Bourne, Randolph. War and the Intellectuals: Essays, 1915–1919. Bourne broke with John Dewey and other Progressives over American entry into WWI. He indicts American intellectuals for viewing the war as means to enhance their own power and influence. “War is the health of the state.”

Butterfield, Herbert. History and Human Relations. Contains the important essay, “Official History: Its Pitfalls and Criteria” suggests that Germany was responding to fear of Russian expansion.

Cochran, M. H. Germany Not Guilty in 1914. A sharp response to a leading anti-revisionist account of war, B.E.Schmitt, The Coming of the War.

Denson, John V., ed., The Costs of War. Comprehensive anthology on America’s wars, from an anti-war perspective. Ralph Raico’s essays on Churchill and World War I are especially notable. Rothbard’s classic “World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals” is a must.

Dickinson, G. L. The International Anarchy, 1904–1914. Argues that secret diplomacy led to the world war

Engelbrecht, H. C. and F. C. Hanighen, Merchants of Death. A bestseller during the thirties; argues that arms dealers help promote war.

Fay, Sidney B. The Origins of the World War. (2 volumes) A balanced and comprehensive account of war origins. Guilt for the war does not rest primarily on any one country

Ferguson, Niall. The Pity of War. Britain ought to have stayed out of the war.

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. Detailed study of the impact of WWI. The analysis of the “war poets” is especially notable.

Gamble, Richard M. The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation. Shows how liberal ministers embraced WWI as a means to promote social reform. Good on the religious impulses behind Wilsonian policy.

Karp, Walter. The Politics of War. The Spanish-American War and American entry into WWI resulted from resistance to domestic reform measures.

Keynes, J. M. Economic Consequences of the Peace. A famous criticism of the Treaty of Versailles, arguing that Germany could not pay the reparations burden imposed by the treaty.

Nock, Albert Jay. The Myth of a Guilty Nation. Germany should not be portrayed as a “devil nation.”

Ponsonby, Arthur. Falsehood In Wartime. A criticism of British atrocity propaganda by a leading British opponent of war and a leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords.

Raico, Ralph. Great Wars and Great Leaders. A collection of essays by a great classical liberal historian. Raico emphasizes the warmongering of Winston Churchill.

Schmitt, Carl. The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. Defends the classical system of European diplomacy, in which wars between the European powers took place under limits, against the abstract universalism introduced by Woodrow Wilson.

Schroeder, Paul W. Systems, Stability, and Statecraft Contains an important essay arguing for British responsibility for the war through pursuing an encirclement policy toward Austria-Hungary.

Simpson, Colin. The Lusitania. Defends the view that Britain provoked the German attack on the Lusitania.

Tansill, Charles C. America Goes to War.  Published in 1939, this remains the most important account of America’s entry into the war. Stresses Wilson’s indulgence to British violations of American neutral rights, in contrast with his strictness toward German violations.

Thomson, G. M. The Twelve Days. Churchill’s role in pressing for war is stressed.

Wegerer, Alfred von. A Refutation of the Versailles War Guilt Thesis. The author was the leading German expert on war origins during the 1920s and 1930s.

Willis, Irene Cooper. England’s Holy War. Criticizes British portrayals of the war as a moral crusade.

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