The madness ends here

From Peter Stansky, The First Day of the Blitz: September 7, 1940 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), 10:

Bertrand Russell wrote in 1936 that when London was bombed it would be "one vast raving bedlam, the hospitals will be stormed, traffic will cease, the homeless will shriek for help, the city will be a pandemonium."

It's a great quote, and one I use myself in the current draft of my thesis. Except that there I attribute it to J. F. C. Fuller in 1923! You wouldn't think it was easy to confuse Russell (interests: philosophy, pacifism, free love) with Fuller (interests: armoured warfare, fascism, yoga) but this isn't the first time I've seen this misattribution made. Obviously there's a bit of copying of other people's (erroneous) footnotes going on, though I think Stansky is the first I've come across to do the right thing and note where he got the quotation from: Ken Young and Patricia L. Garside, Metropolitan London: Politics and Urban Change, 1837-1981 (London: Edward Arnold, 1982), 222. Which does indeed attribute the quote to Russell and not Fuller. Whether Young and Garside are the original source of the mistake, I don't know. The Russell book in question, Which Way to Peace? (London: Michael Joseph, 1936), 37, does have the passage, but says fairly clearly that it's a quote from Fuller (although without giving the title of the source!)

So here's the original quote from the original source:

I believe that, in future warfare, great cities, such as London, will be attacked from the air, and that a fleet of 500 aeroplanes each carrying 500 ten-pound bombs of, let us suppose, mustard gas, might cause 200,000 minor casualties and throw the whole city into a panic within half an hour of their arrival. Picture, if you will, what the result will be: London for several days will be one vast raving Bedlam, the hospitals will be stormed, traffic will cease, the homeless will shriek for help, the city will be in pandemonium. What of the government at Westminster? It will be swept away by an avalanche of terror. Then will the enemy dictate his terms, which will be grasped at like a straw by a drowning man. Thus may a war be won in forty-eight hours and the losses of the winning side may be actually nil!

J. F. C. Fuller, The Reformation of War (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923), 150.

I should add that The First Day of the Blitz is very good, and this mistake shouldn't be held against it ... although I do wonder who Paul Overy (193) and Daniel Tolman (198) are? :)

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9 thoughts on “The madness ends here

  1. I agree that Stansky's book is good, but I do think it raises traditional questions about the use of primary quotations from other published sources and what gets footnoted. With good reason - the sources are good - Stansky does make quite extensive use of quotations from other historians' work - including FitzGibbon's The Blitz and Mack and Humphries London at War. I don't have a problem with this - as you say, Stansky always makes it clear where these sources have come from, and I'm having to do the same sort of thing in my own writing at the moment. But I do think it's necessary to be hyper-aware of the historical echo effect in these circumstances - for example, in Stansky's claim (4) that until mid 1944 there were more British civilian than military deaths. The footnote here gives no source, but does note that the military total was ultimately much higher.

  2. Post author

    Yes, I winced on your behalf when I read that bit! I agree about the echo -- the quotation this post is about is an example of that, even aside from the mistaken attribution. It's very widely quoted in secondary sources, and often is taken to stand for a great many primary sources. If you've only got room for a short discussion of the expected holocaust, that's fair enough, but there's plenty of diversity in the sources which it doesn't reflect. And many, many books only have room for a short discussion. Somebody should write a thesis about this stuff to set them all straight ...

  3. I was just searching this to verify the quote (originally from my thesis as well) - which I also cited as Fuller. I was perplexed to see all the Bertrand Russell results pop up. The misattribution has clearly multipled and, I suppose, in the digital age will only continue to. Fortunately your website appeared in the search results, and I knew it would not guide me wrong!

  4. Post author

    Yes, that's the same process I went through: what are all these people talking about, surely it's Fuller not Russell! So I had to double check and make sure I wasn't the crazy one here.

  5. Neil Datson

    You wouldn’t think it was easy to confuse Russell (interests: philosophy, pacifism, free love) with Fuller (interests: armoured warfare, fascism, yoga)

    Hmm. Surely Fuller too advocated free love, at least as a young man? He apparently changed his opinion at about the time of his marriage.

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