Letter: Branyon channels revisionist history

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[Regarding “Dear John Francis Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil IV (Jack),” May 10, Xpress:]

“Freelance historian” Bill Branyon should have learned the basic lesson to watch where one lies down on the chance that one may get up with fleas. I must first note that I agree with Mr. Branyon (ignoring his “channeling of Lord Robert Cecil”) that the Raytheon contract in Buncombe County should be stopped. That contract is part of a pattern of powerful corporations extracting tax breaks and various subsidies to allegedly create local jobs, while too often failing to deliver on the promises made. From the point of view of the U.S. war-making machinery, moreover, that contract is part of a pattern of inadequate national oversight over what weapons systems should be built and to what purpose, especially in the context of the general absence of international conflict reduction and negotiation where possible.

I part company with Branyon, however, on the company he keeps. The article as a whole is a facile effort at revisionist history. The anti-war movement of the years between the First and Second World Wars were poisoned, not enriched, by people like Sen. Gerald Nye, a founder of the America First Committee, a profoundly anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and antisemitic movement that was an unstinting apologist for Hitler and the Nazi government in Germany.

That movement dissolved on the morning of Pearl Harbor, but from the 1930s and throughout the Second World War, it was one actor that successfully pressured President Roosevelt and his government to refuse to accept refugees fleeing the Nazi regime in Germany and the nations that Hitler invaded starting in 1939. Countless lives, primarily of European Jews but also from other devalued groups, were lost because of Sen. Nye and his claque.

I again partially agree with Branyon about the contemporary knee-jerk anti-China rhetoric promoted by two succeeding administrations. What might have been a lessening of tensions accompanied by useful cooperation in some areas — in Reagan’s words, “Trust but verify” — instead undermines a possibly more productive and manageable relationship.

But Branyon engages in a caricature of history regarding Ukraine. I agree that NATO expansion after 1989 beyond the Baltic states was unnecessary and ill-advised, but that expansion was not the proximate cause of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. And there is a better case to be made that that war will not “easily become World War III.”

There are many other fallacies in Branyon’s article, including the silly conceit of who actually “wrote” it. The bottom line is that it takes a very amateur historian to assert that the “merchants of death” are the cause of war. Every war has multiple causes that are far more complex than Branyon makes out. (And, yes, it would be far better to find means to avoid war and resolve conflicts peacefully.) But the “merchants of death” and the “pro-war Hollywood propagandists” targeted by Sen. Nye and the America First Committee were and are scapegoats who can easily become victims of ethnic cleansing or mass incarceration or genocide.

— Paul Weichselbaum
Hendersonville

SHARE

Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

4 thoughts on “Letter: Branyon channels revisionist history

  1. North Asheville

    Than you to Mr. Weichselbaum for that thoughtful, informed analysis.

  2. Voirdire

    yes, thank you for this… much appreciated. Bill Branyon’s missive was as shallow as it was callow. Fortunately, few but the already initiated/ completely lost to this world would fall for it.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.