Publication Date

April 2019

Advisor(s)

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Major

History (HIST)

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

Contemporary historians have concluded that, during the World War I German invasion of Belgium, German soldiers committed a series of atrocities against Belgian civilians. However, the historical narrative regarding these atrocities has changed over time. Starting with a wave of revisionist history that began during the 1920’s and continuing until another shift in historical opinion that occurred during the 1990’s and 2000’s, with few exceptions, writers analyzing the atrocities denied that they had occurred. Consequently, during this approximately seventy-year period, German atrocities in Belgium were basically written out of history. This thesis analyzes how and why that happened. It is difficult to prove the authors’ motivations, but there are patterns of arguments present in the revisionist texts. Most British and American writers were disillusioned with World War I and sometimes with war in general. Many expressed negative opinions about the Treaty of Versailles and its assertion that Germany was responsible for the outbreak of the war. Some also condemned Allied actions during and after the war, including the British blockade of Germany and British military actions in the Irish War of Independence. Some felt that Allied wartime propaganda had been deceptive and had convinced the Allied peoples to support the war effort. Finally, 1930’s American revisionists sometimes expressed opposition to American involvement in World War II. The argument that the stories of German atrocities in Belgium were inaccurate serviced or complemented these concerns. German revisionists hoped to deny the atrocities to improve the image of their state and their military and to resist the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Also, in at least one example, atrocity denial connected to racist feelings common in Europe at the time. This thesis analyzes the way in which the atrocities were written out of history and explores the serious implications of this act. It discusses the ways in which writers of history can be induced into creating inaccurate or incomplete historical accounts. It examines the broader issues of what it means to be written out of history, the responsibility of historians, the construction of historical truth, and the ways in which historians can be affected by the context in which they create historical narratives.

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