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July 2024
1min read

Thomas A. Bailey, the distinguished history professor emeritus at Stanford University, has taken exception to our editorial judgment in connection with material he submitted to us on the Lusitania . We are pleased to print herewith his letter to us: “Who Sank the Lusitania? ” is a review-article that appeared in A MERICAN H ERITAGE , December, 1975. Written by editor E. M. Halliday, it combines a generally favorable appraisal of The Lusitania Disaster , authored by myself and Captain Paul B. Ryan, with an unfavorable appraisal of an unpublished article that we had also written on another book on the same subject.

The background is that in 1972, a London publisher brought out that other volume, Lusitania , by a British journalist, Colin Simpson. Nearly forty years earlier, I had published two scholarly articles on the same subject, and I immediately spotted much sensationalized misinformation in Simpson’s work. I therefore suggested to A MERICAN H ERITAGE that my collaborator and I write a detailed review of Simpson’s book pending the appearance of our own volume on the subject. A MERICAN H ERITAGE responded cordially, and when our article of some 4,200 words was submitted, it was accepted promptly and enthusiastically.

Some two months later, after our article was set in type, A MERICAN H ERITAGE ’s editors came to the conclusion that our account was “immoderately severe,” especially as it came from “competing authors,” but delayed proposing specific changes for about a year and a half. When our own book was announced for publication, they decided at last to run a critique of our article in connection with a review of our book. This took the form of Mr. Halliday’s article, which attacked our original—and unpublished —review as too “agitated,” while praising the book as “far calmer and more detached.” We feel confident that if the unpublished article was as “fierce” and “nasty” as Mr. Halliday claimed, A MERICAN H ERITAGE would never have accepted it originally.

We admittedly used strong words, such as “fictionalized,” because they were true words. Truth can be harsh, and justice must be uncompromising to be justice. Colin Simpson, in our judgment, had forfeited all right to what is commonly called fairness.

Mr. Halliday’s article-review argued that we should not be “agitated” because Simpson’s bad history will fade away before long. We disagree. Few things are longer-lived than a conspiratorial myth, such as Churchill’s alleged exposure of the Lusitania . Simpson is already being cited with respect in standard reference books and in college classrooms.

Simpson’s volume no doubt contains more truth than fiction, but only a few informed readers can tell the difference. The historian has a duty to warn them, and this we tried to do in the unpublished article and in our own published book.

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