[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