Unwritten books

[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

I'm often surprised by the books that historians haven't written. The years I am researching are between two and three generations distant, yet it's not hard to find (what seem to me to be) big, important topics which deserve to have academic monographs devoted to them, but have somehow been neglected. Sometimes this might be a matter of historiographical fashion: the cultural turn in military history is still relatively young, for example, and not all areas have been touched by it yet. In others there already exists a detailed account, which was written decades ago and seems to have obviated the need for further research. Sometimes the gap in the literature seems inexplicable. And, OK, sometimes the topic isn't all that big and important, it's just obscure ...

Here are some of the unwritten books I think I know of in my field:

  • The Sudeten crisis. Of course, there are multiple accounts of this from the diplomatic, political and (to a lesser extent) military perspectives. Though, surprisingly, this is generally only at the chapter level -- there aren't many books on the Sudeten crisis proper (as opposed to the 'lessons of Munich') more recent than Keith Robbins' Munich 1938 (1968). But what I'm thinking of is the crisis in Britain: a synoptical account of, yes, diplomatic, political, and military responses, but more importantly, the crisis as it impacted on and was perceived by the public. Public opinion, the press, private diaries and correspondence. How did the crisis alter Britain's preparedness for war, both materially and psychologically? Maybe even the counterfactual question, too.
  • Air raid precautions. I know of nothing more recent than the relevant volume of the official history of the Second World War, Terence H. O'Brien's Civil Defence (1955). There have been books on aspects of ARP, evacuation seems fairly popular, for example, and some on civilian morale which are relevant. But the political, bureaucratic and financial issues involved in ARP after 1935 (or maybe early 1938) had far-reaching implications, and led to debates about conscription, democracy and deep shelters which reveal ideologies at work. O'Brien is very thorough on the legal and organisational aspects, but he was writing more than half a century ago: surely there's something new to say? And he was not much interested in popular assent to or dissent from the government's ARP regulations, for example.
  • Transnational airmindedness.
  • The Scareship Age.
  • Britain and the Bomb. A bit outside of my field, so maybe I've missed something. What I'm thinking of is a cultural history of British responses to the possibility of nuclear warfare, from Lord Vansittart through CND, The War Game, Where the Wind Blows, Threads and "Two Tribes". There are many books on American atomic culture, and rightly so, but there must be enough material for at least one British equivalent. Something like Paul Boyer's By the Bomb's Early Light (1985), perhaps.
  • The Blitz. As a correspondent pointed out to me, rather incredibly there have been no academic monographs written about the Blitz. Again, there's the official histories, but it's spread out across a number volumes: O'Brien again, Richard Titmuss's Problems of Social Policy (1950) and Basil Collier's The Defence of the United Kingdom (1957). And of course it's central to histories of the home front, and there's Angus Calder's The Myth of the Blitz (1991), which is more about the memory of the Blitz than than the Blitz itself. And any number of popular works. But nothing by academic historians trying to pull all these threads together.
  • Zeppelin and Gotha raids. Ditto, pretty much, though in this case there's much less to draw together because not a lot has been written about the British experience of bombing in the First World War since Barry D. Powers' Strategy With-out Slide Rule (1976), not by academics at least.

Somebody needs to write these books! And if they could get them published in the next six months or so, I'd really appreciate it :)

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32 thoughts on “Unwritten books

  1. George Shaner

    I think you just laid out your academic writing career.

    I myself am still waiting for a good institutional history of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force.

  2. Post author

    Dan:

    Thanks, I look forward to reading his book when it comes out! Though, the literature on Cold War civil defence almost seems burgeoning compared with the WWI/WWII period — maybe due to the lack of the deadening presence of an official history? Or maybe because of the inspiration from studies of American civil defence in the same period?

    George:

    Well, some of those I might consider taking on one day, however in general the best plan is to 1. hatch chickens; 2. count chickens …

  3. Jakob

    Dr Jeff Hughes at Manchester has done stuff on Cold War Culture and the bomb – I don’t know whether it’s the kind of stuff you’re looking for.

  4. Didn’t the Official History of Civil Defence go through several different authors? I don’t know whether that implies that it’s a tough subject to write about, or whether it tells us more about the inter-personal relations of the official historians. I agree that something that talked more about voluntarism versus compulsion in ARP and CD would be very useful: I also think that the post-41 culture of home defence, both civil and military, is worthy of an integrating study. Penny Summerfield and Corinna Peniston-Bird’s book on the Home Guard shows something of what’s out there, but there’s loads more to be done, particularly on the direct transition into the Cold War.

  5. Ian Brown

    Have you read “BENEATH THE CITY STREETS” by PETER LAURIE ?.
    It was first published in the early 1970s,based on an interesting SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE article on British Civil Defence.
    The book was republished in 1979 in an updated edition.
    It covers how Britain planned and built to face the threat of the Zepplin,Bombers and ICBM.

  6. Post author

    Jakob:

    Thanks! Cold War stuff is just idle curiosity for me at the moment, so it’s all good.

    Dan:

    You’re right! O’Brien was the 5th author to try it: one died, one had to go back to the British Museum (Wormald), two didn’t even manage to produce a chapter draft. O’Brien himself wasn’t able to work at it full-time. It’s a big subject, true enough, but whether any more so than the other subjects of official histories, I couldn’t say.

    I talk about voluntarism vs. compulsion in my current thesis draft but very superficially — like a page at most — there is much more that could be said!

    Ian:

    Thank you, I didn’t know of that.

  7. This thought re-triggered by Brett’s post-blogging the Sudeten Crisis.

    Will someone please write a “contemporary” account of the Western Front air-war in the ETO in WWII.

    Rather than the now familiar hindsight-filled semi-objective analyses, I’d like to read a day-by-day (OK maybe month-by-month) book about that airwar from the POV of the protagonists. Nearest I’ve ever read is “The Other Battle” by Peter Hinchcliffe (recently deceased BTW) which is IMHO a fascinating objective presentation of the two battling sides in the Western Front night air war (Bomber Command vs Nachtjagd). But again that’s a post-war objective analysis.

    I’d be fascinated to read a two-sided history containing the prejudices, opinions and “known facts” of the two opposing forces (at that time). For example, Rotterdam would be on the one hand a terrible example of odious terror bombing, and on the other hand an obvious and regrettable snafu (whatever the German is for that) that anyone in his right mind would acknowledge as such.

  8. Post author

    Rotterdam’s an interesting one. It wasn’t reported much in the British press at the time (14 May 1940), but about week later reports appeared that thousands of people had been killed in the raid. It wasn’t until July that the claims of 30,000 dead were being circulated, coming via the Dutch government-in-exile. The true figure was something under a thousand, so whether the 30,000 number was propaganda from one side or the other (most likely the Germans I suppose, but could have been the Dutch themselves) or just a rumour, I don’t know.

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  10. “O’Brien is very thorough on the legal and organisational aspects, but he was writing more than half a century ago: surely there’s something new to say?”

    There’s a new book out which covers the clash between anti-civil defence disarmers and civil defence realists in the 1920s and 1930s:

    Professor Susan R. Grayzel, “At Home and Under Fire: Air Raids and Culture in Britain from the Great War to the Blitz” (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Pages 149-76 document the idealism propaganda versus dirty facts battle. The Womens International League (WIL) Executive Committee in May 1935 stated that civil defence (Air Raid Precautions, ARP) could cause a war (Grayzel, p173):

    “Such preparation is bound to contribute to the creation of a war mentality, which in itself is a contributory factor in causing war. … Where children are obliged to share in such preparations it is highly probable that such an experience will have a harmful effect on them. … Preparation of the people for gas attack is furthe to be deplored, because it is based on the assumption that obligations not to resort to war but which all the Governments concerned are bound, are not going to be kept. We believe this to be bad psychologically.”

    The Womens International League was then the first group to oppose the first (July 1935) Government ARP circular, stating a falsehood that civil defence was not an effective countermeasure: “the only measure of effective defence of the people from Air attack is the abolition of War Aircraft by all countries.”

    Wonderful idealistic idea, but how is the Government actually supposed to get fanatics to disarm without either coercion which risks starting the very war you’re trying to avoid, or else unilateral disarmament and being coerced into joining the Third Reich? No answer. Grayzel continues the story, p174:

    “When the Executive Committee of the British Section of the WIL learned of official plans for ‘the supply of gas masks to the whole population’, it deputized member Kathleen Innes to write a letter to the press pointing out that the only defense against poison gas was ‘abolition’. … A similar point was raised by Captain Philip Mumford’s 1936 Humanity, Air Power and War, which asserted that a future air war might well destroy civilization. The solution, akin to that proposed by Swanwick, was that ‘all air power must be removed beyond the reach of nationalism’. Mumford emphasized that ‘the ordinary civilian … can have no defence or protection’.

    Pseudoscience was also published by the “Cambridge Scientists’ Anti-War Group” in its 1937 book The Protection of the Public from Aerial Attack, which ignored the weather and exaggerated gas concentrations and used such deluded technical sophistry to “disprove” the value of British gas masks in deterring Nazi gas attacks (Grayzel, p175):

    “Taking on the conflation of aerial and chemical weapons, the group systematically demonstrated the limits of any individual or home-based protection. More particularly, it … suggested that the government’s real aim was to prevent uncontrolled alarm … the true purpose of ARP was thus the ‘acquiescence of the people’, not their protection.”

    On 6 March 1937, British science journal Nature published “The Civil Population and Air Attack” reviewing that book, and claiming that scientific facts are less important than a political consensus of opinion: “most scientific workers are agreed” that “there is no possible protection of the civilian population from air attack other than the abolition of bombing from the air.” (The lie of the “Cambridge Scientists” is made clear in O’Brien: they tested a non-Government gas mask and found it didn’t work. This was completely irrelevant. As Einstein said when 100 fascist scientists denounced him, facts are more important than politics in real science.)

    Two factual books were then published which fought back against these lies by “leading experts”. Labour MP Dr Leslie Haden-Guest in 1937 wrote the book If War Comes: A Guide to Air Raid Precautions and Anti-Gas Treatment, stating on page 5:

    “Air war will be the war of heroic defence … the nation will be victorious which is best organized in advance to bear the terrible effects of an air attack and yet maintain order and moral discipline in its life. And because the civilian population will be attacked by an air enemy, then defeat or victory for the nation will depend on the endurance and discipline of the civilian.”

    Finally, James Kendall (Professor of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh) in April 1938 published a scientific debunking of the Cambridge Scientists Anti-war propaganda and all the rest in his 179 pages long civil defence book, Breathe Freely! The Truth About Poison Gas (G. Bell & Sons, London):

    “The unsuspecting layman naturally swallows it whole … but they do want to get their manuscript accepted for the feature page of the Daily Drivel or the Weekly Wail. In order to do that, they must pile on the horrors thick.”

  11. Chris Williams

    Nicely even-handed attitude you have there, nc. I’ve not read many of the MHS papers, but I’ve read a few, and my overall impression of them is that you’re being rather too dismissive of the extent to which civil defence of civilians against gas was much other than a gallant gesture, designed to reassure as much as defend. We now know (objectively!), for example, that the Germans had developed tabun and sarin which the kit issued in 1939 was useless against.

    Against HE and (especially) incendiary attack, it’s clear that ARP was effective in reducing casualties and damage.

  12. Post author

    nc:

    I’m looking forward to Grayzel’s book, which appears to cover much of the same ground as (ahem) my own, but more as cultural history whereas mine is, I guess, closer to intellectual history. I hope, however, the lack of even-handedness Chris notes is your reading of the evidence, not hers. I’ve read most of the sources you cite above and it’s more complicated than you make out.

    To take just one point, you say:

    The lie of the “Cambridge Scientists” is made clear in O’Brien: they tested a non-Government gas mask and found it didn’t work. This was completely irrelevant. As Einstein said when 100 fascist scientists denounced him, facts are more important than politics in real science.

    But they weren’t lying; they quite clearly stated that their tests were based on a non-government mask as they were unable to get one of the government-issued civilian masks:

    Unfortunately we have been unable to obtain one of this latter type [ARP civilian respirator], but we have carried out a number of tests on the former [privately manufactured mask]…

    (Cambridge Scientists’ Anti-War Group, The Protection of the Public from Aerial Attack: Being a Critical Examination of the Recommendations put Forward by the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office (London: Victor Gollancz, 1937), 49.) Nor was this unreasonable: the government mask was just a simple design too, not like the more effective (and more expensive, which was the point) military masks. Sure, facts are more important than politics in ‘real science’, and there’s no doubt the Cambridge Scientists were ideologically motivated. That doesn’t mean they were lying, as you claim. Facts are important in history too.

  13. Thanks, and sorry, I’ve only just seen this reply. I was trying to argue (ineffectively) that the non-government gas mask cigarette smoke test (like their gas proof room test, based on CO2 escape rates from the room) was “completely irrelevant” to practical civil defence. J. B. S. Haldane states in ARP (1938, chapter 1):

    “Most of the books and pamphlets on the subject seem to me to be of the nature of propaganda … a great many opponents of the Government state that such things as gas-masks and gas-proof rooms are completely useless, that London could be wiped out in a single air raid, and so on. … I think that a frightful responsibility rests on those who expose British children to such a death in order to score a point … In 1915 … I was at that time a captain in a British infantry battalion and was brought out of the trenches to St. Omer, where I assisted my father [J. S. Haldane] in the design of some of the first gas masks. … one would be safe in a phosgene concentration of one part per thousand, of which a single breath would probably kill an unprotected man. Hence in practice such a mask is a very nearly complete protection. … These gases can penetrate into houses, but very slowly. So even in a badly-constructed house one is enormously safer than in the open air.”

    Haldane of course experimented with gas. So did Professor Kendall, a 1917 Chemical Warfare Liaison Officer:

    “The whole world, it would appear, is gradually arranging itself into two camps: democratic countries on one side and those ruled by dictators on the other. … Ever since the Armistice, three classes of writers have been deluding the long-suffering British public with lurid descriptions of their approaching extermination in the next war … pure sensationalists, ultra-pacifists, and military experts. … they do want to get their manuscript accepted for the feature page of the Daily Drivel or the Weekly Wail. In order to do that, they must pile on the horrors thick … The amount of damage done by such alarmists cannot be calculated, but is undoubtedly very great. … It is significant that they concentrate almost unanimously on poison gas, and that the dangers of high explosive and incendiary bombs are seldom stressed. The reason, of course, is obvious – poison gas has a much greater news value. It is still a new and mysterious form of warfare, it is something which people do not understand, and what they do not understand they can readily be made to fear. … Millions of people, perhaps, have been impressed by the authority and reputation of Mr H. G. Wells into believing that this picture represents the plain truth.”

    - Professor James Kendall, Breathe Freely! The Truth About Poison Gas, G. Bell & Sons, London, 1938, pp. 2, 11-13.

    Kendall thus untruthfulness or dishonesty on the part of Wells, and he argues on p13:

    “The recent film, Things to Come, in particular, has provided a picture of chemical warfare of the future which shows how simply and papidly whole populations will be wiped out.”

    This was the situation into which the Cambridge Scientists were injecting their criticisms. Seen in this context, it was unhelpful:

    “Naturally the public’s greatest fear was that the enemy’s bombers … would lay waste cities bereft of an adequate system of civil defence. Such lack of confidence in the Home Office’s Air Raid Precaution (ARP) programme was partly the responsibility of the Cambridge Scientists’ Anti-War Group [set up by Dr J. D. Bernal in 1932] … Though the mere mention of the Cambridge group’s name could provoke, quoting Hansard, peals of ‘ministerial laughter’ in the House of Commons, its experiments and criticisms did cause the government some concern in private.”

    - Gary Werskey, “A Most Popular Front”, New Scientist, 21/28 December 1978, v80, no. 1134, Nostalgic Science supplement, p4.

    There is however a case to be made that the government’s secrecy over civil defence fed the problem: O’Brien states that civil defence was given ministerial control, and they decided to keep the data secret which was needed to justify the reliability of gas masks and gas proofed rooms:

    “Measures of defence against gas had continued to progress faster than schemes of defence in other spheres. … The chemical Warfare Research Department [prior to 1927] had been making experiments to determine how long persons could remain under certain conditions in a ‘gas-proof’ room … a broadcast in February [1927] by Professor Noel Baker, on ‘Foreign Affairs and How They Affect Us’ … claimed, ‘all gas experts are agreed that it would be impossible to devise means to protect the civil population from this form of attack’. The Chemical Warfare Research Department emphatically disputed the accuracy both of the details of the picture and of this general statement. They considered it unfortunate that statements of this nature should have been broadcast to the public, particularly after the Cabinet’s decision that the time was not ripe for education of the public in defensive measures.”

    - O’Brien, Civil Defence, 1955, p31.

    Noel-Baker had stated in that Feb 1927 BBC broadcast, “Foreign Affairs and How they Affect Us”:

    “‘In the first phase of the next war,’ says a high authority, ‘there is little doubt that the belligerents will resort to gas bomb attack on a vast scale. This form of attack upon great cities, such as London or Paris, might entail the loss of millions of lives in the course of a few hours. Gas clouds so formed would be heavier than air and would flow into the cellars and tubes in which the population had taken refuge. As the bombardment continued, the gas would thicken up until it flowed through the streets of the city in rivers. All gas experts are agreed that it would be impossible to devise means to protect the civil population from this form of attack’.” (Source: Peter Adey, Aerial Life, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, p189.)

    The Cambridge Scientists were riding on the back of Noel-Baker’s consensus of anonymous experts, who all agreed that there is no protection possible. How very convenient for Noel-Baker’s social status as a disarmer, and for his chances of winning a Nobel Peace prize and becoming a Lord, enabling him to repeat his 1927 ploy in the House of Lords Home and Civil Defence Debate on 5 March 1980 (Hansard, vol 406 cc260-386):

    “… I want to argue that no measure of civil defence, in any war which we can realistically expect to have, will save a single life, and that to nurse a hope of safety from civil defence is to indulge a self-deceiving, futile and dangerous illusion—self-deceiving and futile because, as I said, civil defence will not save our lives; dangerous because it diverts attention from the only policy that gives us any genuine hope. It makes the public think that there will be safety where no safety is. It obscures the fact that the only way to avert disaster is to avert the war, and to abolish those offensive weapons without which aggressions cannot be begun. … My Lords, the first atom bomb weighed two kilogrammes—less than 5 lbs [sic]. … Against such a danger civil defence offers us no help …”

    In addition, he dismissed civil defence against biological warfare in a letter to the New Scientist (14 Dec 1961, no 265, p700), after they published an article called “Biological agents in warfare and defence” by Dr LeRoy D. Fothergill of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps:

    “May I express my gratitude to you for publishing the article … Dr Fothergill writes with admirable restraint … very little progress has been made in … defending the citizen … there is at present no defence against them, and none likely in the measurable future. … we must thank him for lifting a corner of the veil of secrecy … both dangerous and undemocratic.”

    The end of the letter may be a justifiable attack on secrecy; but the rest is completely misleading. Fothergill’s article (aimed at raising concern to encourage more research and defences) gave outdoor data for wind dispersion of spores. Being inside with the windows closed gives good protection while the cloud is blown past. Fothergill didn’t mention this, and Noel-Baker seized on the omission as if it were a proof that countermeasures do not exist. This might not be “lying” per se.

  14. Chris, thank you for raising the relevant objection:

    We now know (objectively!), for example, that the Germans had developed tabun and sarin which the kit issued in 1939 was useless against.

    Germany made 12,000 tons of tabun between April 1945 and May 1945, but didn’t use any, not even in V-1 or V-2 warheads! Mustard gas civil defence (mustard and lewisite were the major gas threat in the 1930s) is, as Haldane in his 1938 ARP book points out, is valid for all large vapour molecules (which are large, and can’t get through activated charcoal without absorption) and droplets of persistent liquid poisons, whereas all small molecules (with high volatility) were already well known and presented no surprises:

    “… even if a new gas is produced, it is very unlikely that it will get through our respirators.”

    All the nerve gases are relatively large molecules, which are slow-evaporating (low vapour pressure), so they have to be dispersed as liquid droplets. Today’s “modern” nerve agent gas mask absorbers use exactly the same activated charcoal absorber as that used in the 1938 model.

    Haldane’s 1938 ARP uses hard evidence to debunk the use of both non-persistent and persistent liquids like mustard gas (applicable to liquid droplets of tabun/sarin/VX) against civilians in cities because of the large areas, the buildings to take cover in (which don’t exist on a battlefield), and a paradox: the slower the evaporation rate of a liquid, the lower the air concentration, while the higher the evaporation rate, the shorter the period of time the threat lasts, which can allow dispersal without significant casualties. He debunks volatile, non-persistent gases using phosgene:

    Fantastic nonsense has been talked about the possible effects of gas bombs on a town. For example, Lord Halsbury said that a single gas bomb dropped in Piccadilly Circus would kill everyone between the Thames and Regent’s Park. … On Sunday, May 20th, 1928, at about 4.15 p.m., a tank containing 11 tons of phosgene burst in the dock area of Hamburg (C. Hegler, “On the mass poisoning by phosgene in Hamburg: I. Clinical observations”, Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift, v54, 1928, pp. 1551-3). The weather was warm, and there was a mild, north-easterly breeze. The gas-cloud passed mainly over open spaces, but it also passed through the suburb of Nieder-Georgswerder. There was no warning. Most of the victims were out-of-doors, playing football, rowing, or even going to vote in an election. The windows were open, so a few people were killed indoors, at least one on the first floor. Casualties occurred up to six miles away. In all 300 people were made ill enough to be taken to hospital, and of these ten died. About fifty of the rest were seriously ill. These casualties are remarkably small. They would have been much greater had a southerly breeze taken the cloud into the main part of Hamburg. But they would probably have been nil had the people received ten minutes’ warning, so that they could have got into houses and shut the windows. . . . It is sometimes objected that the Hamburg explosion occurred in the summer, and that gas clouds liberated in summer are ineffective. It is true that in winter they stick more closely to the ground. On the other hand windows are shut. …”

    Hitler and his gas staff would have been aware of such experiences of gas in urban environments. If 11 tons of phosgene kill 10 people who have no warning and no gas masks, you can see why volatile gas wasn’t used in WWII.

    Now for persistent “gases” (liquid drops) like mustard, nerve. Haldane’s 1938 ARP dismisses all of them as a military threat very simply:

    “… Mustard gas … was used very effectively by the Italians in Abyssinia, who sprayed it in a sort of rain from special sprayers attached to the wings of low-flying aeroplanes. … But this would only be possible if the spraying aeroplanes could fly to and fro over the town in formation, and at a height of not more than 300 feet or so. A fine rain of mustard liquid would probably evaporate on its way to the ground, or blow away, if it were let loose several thousand feet up in the air. Spraying from low-flying aeroplanes was possible in Abyssinia because the Abyssinians had no anti-aircraft guns and no defensive aeroplanes. It would probably not be possible in Britain.”

    The idea that a nerve gas negates civil defence is simply wrong: buildings protect you from rain, gas masks from vapour. Rothschild’s appendix C in Tomorrow’s Weapons, 1964, points out that the 50% lethal concentration-time product for skin exposure to sarin is 15,000 mg.min/m^3, which is about 430 times greater than that for inhalation. Respirators do provide temporary protection against nerve gas spray when moving to a building, where a person was wash and decontaminate. The usual VX scare story is that on 13 March 1968, 9 kg was killed 6,000 sheep off range at Dugway, Utah. But the sheep weren’t able to take shelter, and didn’t have respirators. The point is that gas is does has an effective countermeasure, although it can be lethal if people are deluded into panic, instead of correct civil defence countermeasure.

  15. Post author

    Thanks, and sorry, I’ve only just seen this reply. I was trying to argue (ineffectively) that the non-government gas mask cigarette smoke test (like their gas proof room test, based on CO2 escape rates from the room) was “completely irrelevant” to practical civil defence.

    Again, you are giving a partial and misleading summary of the primary source in question. In fact, the Cambridge Scientists’ Anti-War Group did not only run a cigarette smoke test on the commercial gas mask (to test the size of the particles which the filter would block), but also chlorine gas and irritant smoke (Cayenne pepper, to test whether this could be used to force wearers to pull off their masks and so lose their protection against any kind of gas at all). See pp. 117-20 of their book.

    I don’t see how this is completely irrelevant. Of course it was possible to have scientific objections to their experiments, and Haldane did so (even though he largely shared their politics). But to misleadingly summarise their work as you have is not good science, or good history.

    The Cambridge Scientists were riding on the back of Noel-Baker’s consensus of anonymous experts, who all agreed that there is no protection possible. How very convenient for Noel-Baker’s social status as a disarmer, and for his chances of winning a Nobel Peace prize and becoming a Lord, enabling him to repeat his 1927 ploy in the House of Lords Home and Civil Defence Debate on 5 March 1980 (Hansard, vol 406 cc260-386):

    This is utterly absurd. Just because you think the pacifists and disarmers were mistaken does not mean they were not sincere in their beliefs and were in it for their personal gain. You need to provide some actual, you know, objective evidence for a claim like this.

  16. The Cambridge Scientists’ Anti-War Group’s report is completely debunked in Professor Kendall’s 1938 Breathe Freely! The Truth About Poison Gas, whereas Haldane (a Marxist with respect for Bernal’s Anti-War Group) tried to defend it scientifically in his book A.R.P. also supporting government civil defence in 1938. Kendall points out that the gas masks and gas proof rooms had been tested under realistic conditions, whereas the Cambridge report in each case presented very accurately tests which were scientifically misleading to the average reader at that time. Cigarette smoke went through the mask because it didn’t have any filter, just a charcoal absorber for gas.

    CO2 quickly diffused out of the room, Kendall explains, because a room has six surfaces (4 walls, ceiling and floor) to diffuse through and CO2 doesn’t react appreciably with plaster, brick or wood so it isn’t filtered appreciably. The reactive gases (phlogiston, chlorine) and liquid droplets of mustard or tabun, is blown by the wind towards one side of a house, and will be absorbed unlike CO2. True, the Cambridge Scientists did not have to put this relevant fact in their report, and they didn’t. But it affects the results, and turns it into a contrived piece of propaganda, as far as Kendall is concerned. Haldane more diplomatically states that the report is entirely correct, but misses out vital facts. The title of the report is the most misleading part of it. If it was more neutral in title (“Some experiments which may or may not be relevant to ARP”) then your comments would certainly ring true. They were certainly aware that gas masks worked in WWI… I’ll leave it here.

  17. Noel-Baker is singled by Paul Mercer, in Peace of the Dead (1986) which goes into Noel-Baker’s motives for trying to prevent war in the 1930s by disarming. Noel-Baker in a 1965 essay for a book compiled by the New Scientist’s editor wrote that “the militarists” sabotaged disarmament efforts in 1935. Hitler and Churchill were militarists for different reasons, as far as Noel-Baker was concerned. Bertrand Russell’s suggestion to simply disarm and tell Hitler to do his worst was the prevailing view of disarmers like Noel-Baker, but Kendall in 1938 lampooned this advice. I’m aware of the prevailing disarmament views in the 1930s, not just of Oxford Union King and Country debate position of Cycil Joad, and the arguments of Norman Angell’s pre-WWI Great Illusion which appeared validated by WWI and which gave assurance to the disarmers. But Churchill and a few “militarists” were opposing them.

  18. Professor Kendall, Beathe Freely, 1938, p110:

    “The alarmist and the ultra-pacifist love to quote the fact that one ton of mustard gas is sufficient to kill 45,000,000 people. This would indeed be true if the 45,000,000 people all stood in a line with their tongues out waiting for the drops to dabbed on, but they are hardly likely to be so obliging. One steam-roller would suffice to flatten out all the inhabitants of London if they lay down in rows in front of it, but nobody panics at the sight of a steam-roller.”

    The circular argument is that exaggerations for any idealistic agenda grow and grow to keep feeding it and to counter realistic opposition. You end up with an argument allegedly “scientific” and “provable”, which bears no relation to the real world problem whatsoever…

  19. Post author

    The Cambridge Scientists’ Anti-War Group’s report is completely debunked in Professor Kendall’s 1938 Breathe Freely! The Truth About Poison Gas, whereas Haldane (a Marxist with respect for Bernal’s Anti-War Group) tried to defend it scientifically in his book A.R.P. also supporting government civil defence in 1938.

    ‘[C]ompletely debunked’ is far too strong here. Kendall made some strong and valid criticisms of some of their claims; in other areas he is much less convincing (for example regarding the lack of gas protection for babies and toddlers).

    Kendall points out that the gas masks and gas proof rooms had been tested under realistic conditions, whereas the Cambridge report in each case presented very accurately tests which were scientifically misleading to the average reader at that time. Cigarette smoke went through the mask because it didn’t have any filter, just a charcoal absorber for gas.

    I’m not sure where you’re getting this from. The Cambridge Scientists’ didn’t claim that cigarette smoke ‘went through’ the mask they used; they in fact found it provided fairly good protection in both the cigarette smoke and the cayenne pepper smoke tests (e.g in the former case, no visible smoke passed through, but it could be smelled). They don’t say specifically whether there was a dust filter in the mask they test, but given that it did filter smoke to a reasonable extent it seems like that it did. What’s your source for that?

    The title of the report is the most misleading part of it. If it was more neutral in title (“Some experiments which may or may not be relevant to ARP”) then your comments would certainly ring true. They were certainly aware that gas masks worked in WWI… I’ll leave it here.

    The Protection of the Public from Aerial Attack: Being a Critical Examination of the Recommendations put Forward by the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office seems like a pretty straightforward and accurate title to me; certainly it’s not telling the reader what to think like Kendall’s Breathe Freely! The Truth about Poison Gas. That’s propaganda for you.

    And of course they were aware that gas masks worked in WWI. But that is not a ‘fact’ which stands on its own. As I’ve already pointed out, the civilian masks were simpler, cheaper and afforded less protection than the military masks. And civilians weren’t disciplined troops; it was (and is, for that matter) an open question whether they could put on their gas masks or prepare their gas refuges or whatever, when a gas alert came. And so on. I’m not saying the Cambridge Scientists were right; I’m saying they had what they saw as good reason to query the claims of the Home Office about gas protection.

    BTW, I’m sure you mean ‘phosgene’ not ‘phlogiston’!

    Noel-Baker is singled by Paul Mercer, in Peace of the Dead (1986) which goes into Noel-Baker’s motives for trying to prevent war in the 1930s by disarming. Noel-Baker in a 1965 essay for a book compiled by the New Scientist’s editor wrote that “the militarists” sabotaged disarmament efforts in 1935. Hitler and Churchill were militarists for different reasons, as far as Noel-Baker was concerned. Bertrand Russell’s suggestion to simply disarm and tell Hitler to do his worst was the prevailing view of disarmers like Noel-Baker, but Kendall in 1938 lampooned this advice. I’m aware of the prevailing disarmament views in the 1930s, not just of Oxford Union King and Country debate position of Cycil Joad, and the arguments of Norman Angell’s pre-WWI Great Illusion which appeared validated by WWI and which gave assurance to the disarmers. But Churchill and a few “militarists” were opposing them.

    This doesn’t make me any more eager to read Mercer’s book. Noel Baker didn’t argue that Britain should disarm unilaterally; he was a strong advocate of an international air force, a form of collective security which would use the power of the bomber to keep the peace. This was an important and popular idea in the 1930s, a kind of third way between disarmament and rearmament. Again, this happens to be something I’ve published on; you can get a copy of my article here (I discuss Noel Baker’s views extensively). Russell also suggested something along these lines in Which Way to Peace, though he both went further (a world government) and gave less detail.

    And yes, Russell’s suggestion that Britain and France disarm and shame Germany into abandoning militarism was pretty silly. But not as silly as it appears to us. He made it in 1936, when it was still possible to see Nazi Germany as a relatively normal state: this was before Guernica, Munich, the Anschluss, the occupation of Prague — not to mention everything that came after. It was possible to see Hitler as a passing phase who might be overthrown or civilised. (It’s ages since I’ve read Which Way to Peace? but I suspect his inspiration for this idea was Gandhi’s non-violent protest campaign against British rule, which was highly publicised in the 1930s.) We know now that this was not going to happen, and there were people then who thought the same. But nobody knew for sure. Hindsight is not helpful here.

    Incidentally, the shifts in Russell’s thinking provide a good example of somebody who was trying to honestly grapple with the problems of war and peace: see the discussion in Martin Ceadel, Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945: The Defining of a Faith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 215-9. On Ceadel’s account, before Russell wrote Which Way to Peace? he did not consider himself a pacifist; he wrote it to convince himself of his new views acquired after the failure of collective security (in the form of the League of Nations) to stop Italy conquering Abyssinia. It was only then that he felt able to sign the Peace Pledge. But then in 1940 he changed his mind: with more evidence about the nature of Hitler’s ambitions (and also of the duplicity of the USSR) he rejected his pacifism and supported the war. In the early atomic era he wrote that he could support the pre-emptive nuking of the USSR in some circumstances; but then of course became the first president of CND. This may be the biography of a fool but it is not one of an ideologue.

  20. Thank you for your reply. Sources: Haldane’s ARP, the Home Office report, Antigas Protection of Houses, 1937 (refuting experiments), and James Kendall, MA, DSc, FRS, professor of chemistry at Edinburgh, formerly Lietenant-Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, acting as Liaison Officer with Allied Services on Chemical Warfare, Breathe Freely! The Truth About Poison Gas, G. Bell and Sons, 1938, Chapter 21, “Gas Proof Rooms”, pages 112-9:

    [page 112] “Many readers, no doubt, have already seen the series of Air Raid Precautions Handbooks issued by the Home Office. … Even those who have not examined the recommendations of the Home Office in detail, however, will have read summarized accounts of them in the papers, and will have noted criticisms of them in the House of Commons and in the public Press. …

    [page 113] “… Some objectors go even further; the Cambridge Scientists’ Anti-War Group, for example, has demonstrated, in its booklet entitled The Protection of the Public from Aerial Attack, that the ‘gas-proofed’ room prepared according to the Home Office instructions is not gas-tight at all; on the contrary, gas can pass fairly readily from inside the room to outside, and vice versa. Completely gas-tight rooms can only be constructed, it is claimed, at great expense, by experts. …

    “… The assumption was made that this leakage [of CO2] outwards is essentially comparable with the rate at which poison gas outside would leak inwards, and the results obtained [page 114 begins] were held to show that ‘if the air outside contains enough mustard gas to kill a man in an hour, it would be possible on an average to remain alive for about three hours in the ‘gas-proof’ room; in other words, the ‘gas-proof’ room is not gas-tight.’

    “Now is this a fair test? The carbon dioxide is at its full concentration over all the surface area of the room, and can leak out in six directions – through the four walls, the ceiling and the floor. A great deal will also disappear by adsorption on the wall surfaces. Poison gas leaking in from the outside, however, would enter in significant quantity, at first, only through the outer wall, i.e., from one direction only or, for such as were forced to use corner rooms, from two directions at most. Adsorption will here significantly impede the rate of entrance. …

    [page 115] “… between one and two tons of chlorine were released twenty yards from the cottage, so that a strong gas cloud was carried by the wind right against the rooms under observation for about an hour. Animals in an unprotected room were killed, men in an unprotected room were forced to put on their respirators after about seven minutes, but animals in the ‘gas-proofed’ room were unaffected and remained normal throughout the whole trial.

    “Mustard gas was next tested, the cottage being enveloped in a spray of gas for an hour and then subjected to the vapour of mustard gas, given off from trays of the liquid outside, for a further 20 hours. Animals in an unprotected room throughout this whole period were not seriously harmed, animals in the ‘gas-protected’ room were not affected at all.”

    I don’t have time to retype the entire chapter, but it goes on and quotes other sources which back this up, Colonel Prentiss’s Chemicals in War, and J. Davidson Pratt, Gas Defence from the Point of View of the Chemist which states that “French and Flemish peasants living in the forward areas came unscathed through big attacks by going into their houses, closing the doors – the windows were always closed in any case – and remaining there until the attack was over.”

    The Home Office released a summary of the experiments after questions ridiculing ARP in the House of Commons (T. H. O’Brien’s 1955 Civil Defence, states the experiments were done first prior to 1927, which is confirmed by 1970s Home Office Fission Fragments magazine articles on the history of Home Office civil defence scientific research, written by George R. Stanbury, who states they used Porton).

    Martin Ceadel’s Popular Fiction and the Next War, 1918-39 chapter 6 in Frank Gloversmith (ed.), Class, Culture and Social Change, 1980 (presumably not widely read due to its immense cost in 1980, £20) surveys and summarizes the 1930s works next war fiction and propaganda, and this background noise is what Professor Kendall was fighting. May I quote Ceadel, page 161:

    “Despite recent interest in the literature of the inter-war years and its relationship to the politics and society of the period, the proliferic genre of prophetic and alarmist ‘next war’ fiction, of which the above passages are typical [refers to a quote from Ladbroke Black's The Poison War, 1933: "The entrance to every tube station was piled high with the bodies of those who had made one last mad effort to escape from the poison gas. ..."], has not merely been neglected, but ignored.”

    Ceadel points out that after H.G. Wells had written The War in the Air in 1908, he turned future next war fiction into moralising (Kendall as discredit’s Wells’ descriptions of mustard gas as technically wrong, and exaggerations). Many writers followed Wells. In 1934, Frank McIlraith and Roy Connolly’s Invasion from the Air: a Prophetic Novel “dramatized the very real public unease, following the collapse of the Disarmament Conference, about whether Britain’s Locarno commitments would entangle her in a Franco-German quarrel … The effects of the various German gases and the indirect effect of what the authors called ‘gas fear neurosis’, reduced the population to violence and revolution. The British dropped their own ‘Breath of Death’ gas on Germany, with smilar results …” Other similar pulp moralistic fiction, Exodus A.D.: A Warning to Civilians (1934), The Black Death (1934), War Upon Women (1934), Air Gods’ Parade (1935), Thirty Million Gas Masks (1937, in which the pacifist heroine takes off a gas mask in a gas attack to make a moral point), and many others.

    The Cambridge Scientists as you say were literally correct, but their covery of anonymity, their use of “Cambridge” title authority, their sneakiness in presenting under the title of a plain study a set of experiments on a non-government gas mask (even though they state the fact in the report), and as O’Brien states in Civil Defence 1955, their failure to be constructively critical and offer any alternative practical suggestions, is to me the worst form of propaganda. The title, to my mind, does not correspond with the contents. It was however useful in forcing the Civil Service to be more open and less patronising in withholding the data needed to validate its stupid-sounding “wallpaper over the cracks” advice. Secrecy on civil defence countermeasure efficiency data in the 1920s seems one factor that led to appeasment in 1935, yet it continued due to Whitehall mandarins until 1937.

  21. So what the Cambridge Scientists had to say was (inconveniently) “literally correct”, but they failed to be “constructively critical” or “offer any alternative practical suggestions,” and they were “sneakily” presenting data the source and nature of which they openly acknowledged, so therefore they were disseminating “the worst form of propaganda”?

    “The worst form of propaganda”? Compared to what?

    Sorry, hard to take this line of unbalanced polemic very seriously any more.

  22. It is “literally correct” that hospitals, seatbelts, lifeboats, fire engines, etc are not 100% effective.

    If I were to write a book called The Protection afforded by Hospitals and simply gave a one-sided account of situations in which people die in a single example of a hospital, and excluded any discussion of the benefits and those who are saved, it would be propaganda despite being “literally correct”. This is the “worst form” because it’s the most sneaky when applied to a subject where there is a lack of official published information. It is unbalanced.

  23. As an example, readers of certain of David Irving’s books were receiving the “worst form” of propaganda, which consisted of presenting data the source and nature of which they openly acknowledged but doing it selectively to support one argument, and omitting relevant parts which reverse the meaning. Richard J. Evans has written an interesting book about the work he did in a court case to prove that David Irving had misrepresented facts by omission. Irving gave his sources openly, but his “selective” quotations from Goebbels’ diary entry of 27 March 1942, although “literally correct” were misrepresentative, and the full entry (not quoted) refuted Irving and helped to cost him his case. Irving’s case was that he told the truth, Evans’s case was it was incomplete truth. So there is a form of dishonesty in certain circles, consisting of witholding facts…

  24. Sorry, I’ve read Lying About Hitler, and your characterization of it is just plain wrong. As Evans recounts in great detail, Irving did far more than simply choose quotes selectively, which might have been mischievous but would not in itself have been a grossly unprofessional act. Irving simply made things up, inventing and falsifying data and continuing to reproduce it even when its bogus nature was demonstrated. I see no parallel here with what the Cambridge Scientists were or were not doing. Again, this mischaracterization suggests to me a worrying lack of objectivity in your approach to this material. You’re so invested in proving these guys wrong, wrong, wrong that you’ve lost your way.

  25. I’m not “invested in proving these guys wrong”, I merely pointed out an analogy which Evans used of misrepresentation. But thanks for your kind words of encouragement, I’ll still read your books.

  26. A year ago blogged about Irving’s made up “statistics” on the Dresden fire storm, but having read the book I sincerely the main thrust of the case centred around the quotation. Again thanks for your feedback.

  27. Post author

    nc:

    Thanks for the long quote from Kendall but (a) a page reference would do, as I’ve read it already and have it right here (well, a copy of a chunk of it) and (b) I’m not sure what it has to do with anything? I asked for a source for your statement that the commercial gas mask tested by the CSAWG had no particulate filter, only a charcoal adsorber. There’s nothing in the passage you quote about that. In fact, practically none of your lengthy comment addresses anything I say — for example, on Noel Baker and disarmament.

    I have read Ceadel’s chapter, and most of the novels he cites, as part of my thesis research (Invasion From the Air is one of my favourites, it’s probably the perfect knock-out blow novel). It’s a good article. As I said before (or maybe it was in the other thread), I agree with you, up to a point. I agree that there were many confused, misleading, exaggerated, even lying claims made in the interwar period about the danger of bombing. But I disagree vehemently about the reasons — it was all shades of gray, not black and white — and I can’t understand why you are so caught up in proving that it was lying communist propaganda (etc). And yes, I note you say you are not. Several times. But everything else you write seems to contradict this, and it’s clear I’m not the only person who thinks so. It’s odd, for example, that you are so ready to denounce the CSWAG book as propaganda, but are quite unconcerned about possible (by which I mean, glaringly obvious) ideological biases in works which support your way of thinking, i.e. Mercer.

    I’m nearly at the same point as Alan and Chris, to be honest.

  28. Thanks Brett: I’ve been researching this since 1990. Haldane examined the gas mask issue in depth, as did the Home Office after the report appeared. Activated charcoal is molecular gas absorber, while muslin cloth can be added to act as a filter for solid particles (which are not captured in activated charcoal). Both points out that there cigarette smoke particles were not filtered out by the mask tested, hence a lack of filter.

    It’s odd, for example, that you are so ready to denounce the CSWAG book as propaganda, but are quite unconcerned about possible (by which I mean, glaringly obvious) ideological biases in works which support your way of thinking, i.e. Mercer.

    Ideological biases are precisely what the facts debunk. I’m not “denouncing the CSWAG book as propaganda”, Haldane calls the entire class of one-sided books “propaganda”. That’s his word. Bernal who set up CSWAG was openly Marxist, which – if Mercer’s backers make his book “ideological bias” – must similarly have the same effect on that report. Can you have it two ways? Ignore Mercer as “ideologically biased” but not do the same for CSWAG? One argument I imagine is that CSWAG is different, because CSWAG were professional scientists, not historians like Mercer.

  29. Post author

    One argument I imagine is that CSWAG is different, because CSWAG were professional scientists, not historians like Mercer.

    That’s half right. It’s not that CSWAG were scientists, I don’t care about that. Their book is a primary source; their biases are certainly proper questions. I don’t think it was unduly biased, but if it was it wouldn’t bother me the way Mercer does. I’m not invested in proving or disproving the theory of the knock-out blow from the air; that battle was fought long before I was born.

    The problem is the idea that Mercer is a reliable historian. By infiltrating CND with the aim of exposing it he’s inserting himself into the story he’s researching. That is not history. He was clearly determined to prove his preconceived ideas about CND and the peace movement. This leads him into a distorted view of history (as discussed elsewhere) and I’m not going to trust him one bit. All historians have biases. But I still believe in objectivity as an ideal to be striven for and Mercer evidently does not. (Also, he keeps doing this kind of thing.)

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