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The Real Causes of America's Wars: A Revisionist View

Tags EducationWar and Foreign Policy

10/28/2011David Gordon
"War is the health of the state."

These famous words of Randolph Bourne have been confirmed throughout the course of American history. This course will examine the origins of a number of America's wars. In each case, we will study the real origins of the war and compare this with the officially circulated mythology.

All too often, America's wars are presented as conflicts between the "good guys," us, and the "bad guys," our enemies. Propaganda to view the wars in this way played a key role in advancing the power of the state, and it is essential for libertarians to understand the issues involved.

After World War I, a group of historians including Sidney Bradshaw Fay, Harry Elmer Barnes, and Charles Callan Tansill challenged the view of World War I popular during the war. These historians, called "revisionists" because they wanted to revise the war-guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles, denied that Germany bore exclusive responsibility for the onset of war. Tansill in particular exposed Wilson's unneutral conduct in leading America into war.

In part as a result of these historians' research, American public opinion in the 1930s came to see America's entry into World War I as a mistake. Unfortunately, this shift in opinion did not prevent Franklin Roosevelt from maneuvering America into a new war.

A similar revisionist movement arose during and after America's entry into World War II. Many of the World War I revisionists, including Barnes and Tansill, again joined battle against the official propaganda line. Murray Rothbard highly esteemed these writers and was himself a notable contributor to the movement.

This course will emphasize the contributions of the revisionist historians and will consider extensions of their approach to other wars, along the lines set out by Rothbard.

The course consists of six lectures, on the following wars:

Week 1: The War Between the States

Week 2; The Spanish-American War

Week 3: World War I

Week 4: World War II

Week 5: The Onset of the Cold War and the Korean War

Week 6: Vietnam


Contact David Gordon

David Gordon is Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute and editor of the Mises Review.