The process of academic review
In the fall of 2005, I put forth my candidacy for promotion at the University of Washington. This sort of decision ultimately rests with the collegial body of the faculty—the candidate’s colleagues— and the object of the evaluation is a dossier, which includes the assistant professor’s scholarly, teaching and administrative record. The procedure is managed by a committee of three, generally chaired by an experienced, tenured faculty. The most sensitive component of the dossier is the set of (three to ﬁve) reviews of the candidate’s scholarly work, for whose procurement the Chair is responsible. These reviews should be commissioned from scholars that are recognized authorities in the applicant’s field (in my case, political economy). This is a task that takes on average three months—from the selection, contact, and acceptance of the reviewer to the reception of the review itself. After it had been assembled, I was informed by the Chair that I had an impeccable file: some of the reviews, incidentally, had been obtained from political economists of international repute. One of them had been so generous as to affirm that the perspective I was bringing to the field might have made me “the most influential heterodox economist of [my] generation.”
Originally, I had been hired by the University of Washington in 2000 to teach political economy on the basis of a presentation on the politics of Weimar and Nazi finance. Thereafter, in the course of five years I came to design and teach ten different courses, one of which, Exploring Nazism, built on pre—existing research and grew to become the platform for Conjuring Hitler. It was admittedly one of the most popular, difficult, yet highly valued courses on campus—one for which I was even formally commended by the Office of the Chancellor.
An unprecedented breach of the rules
When the time came to judge my tenure file collegially, a group of faculty members led by the program director, in an unprecedented breach of the rules of the university, stalled the process by convincing the colleagues to take a vote not to vote just yet on my file adducing as a pretext that the available external reviews did not assess critically and deeply enough a book as purportedly controversial as Conjuring Hitler. New reports were thus commissioned this time by the program director. They were crafted with extraordinary swiftness so as to arrive just in time for the vote, which had been postponed by a month. Whence they came could never be ascertained. I was told that these new reports—four of them—had been drafted by “respected historians." They were all virtually identical and, as I had suspected, stridently venomous. Clearly, the maneuver afoot—for that is what it was—was to produce a series of expert reports of the “right” sort with which the faculty could be swayed to vote against me—and thereby remove me from my post.
With the exception of one writer, who barely managed to observe a modicum of propriety, the other three, stylistically speaking, gave themselves with abandon to that dismaying practice—relished by mediocrities above all— of the savage critique under cover of anonymity: save for the conclusions, I shall spare the reader extensive quotations from the cataract of offensive epithets, snide punch—lines, and the sheer intellectual crassness of it all.
What was then the gist of such letters? - That the book was nonsense.
The nature of the criticism
About the sources the critics were particularly vehement—in fact, their reviews turned out to be refrains of bibliographical captiousness. They demanded serious primary research to substantiate the claims found in Conjuring Hitler, which, to them, amounted to unconvincing circumstantial evidence. That I hadn’t cited a slew of what these critics considered proper contemporary contributions to the history of the Third Reich was in their opinion “unforgivable.” Instead, they lamented my reliance on “outdated” diatribes of the thirties and forties.
Specifically, Mackinder’s theory was dismissed as irrelevant. Montagu Norman, on the other hand, was discarded as just another “shadowy” character. “Bewildering” for all of them was my mocking of Henry Turner’s claim that the Nazis had financed themselves by means of margarine. Furthermore, I was accused of having misused evidence, as in the case of that entry in Malcolm’s diary about the Kapp Putsch, which, in my interpretation, inculpates Churchill (pp. 108-9). 
The treatment of Carroll Quigley by these reviewers was no less exhilarating. Quigley was an insider. A professor of history at Georgetown University as well as mentor to Rhodes scholars, Quigley had had access to particularly sensitive materials for the length of two years, after which he compiled an impressive tome of contemporary history released by Macmillan in 1966. With cogency theretofore unseen, Quigley’s Tragedy & Hope featured a partial exposé of the dynamics of the Hitlerites’ rise to power, which were quite sensational. So much so that the major embarrassment they would have represented for the Establishment over the long run forced the latter to suppress the book, which has managed to survive ever since as an underground classic of dissident literature. One of my critics referred to Quigley’s opus as a “polemical source." And another, in a bout of disingenuousness bordering on the comical, wondered how Quigley could have been privy to superior information about the foreign bankrolling of the Nazis when all there is to know on the topic is readily available.
The best and loudest was saved for last: Irving and Degrelle, of course. After barking jubilantly at my having quoted these two, one reviewer maligned that much of the most damning material that appears to identify Britain as the real force behind the outbreak of war in 1914 was drawn from Degrelle. The unconscionable reprobation of this reviewer was magnified by the vituperative inanity of another, who snarled that to invoke Degrelle as an authority bordered on academic malfeasance. As for Irving, I had allegedly cited him “at his vaguest and worst,” and that is in connection with the Zionist financing of The Focus, the anti—Nazi, bellicist faction led by Churchill.
Most likely, fearing they might jeopardize their contacts at the University of Washington by hurling about unfounded charges of Anti—Semitism a bit too freely, two reviewers conceded that I was “no apologist for Hitler.” But for nothing, on the other hand, would they abstain from indulging that pathetic inquisitorial libido to pin on a dissenter the standard slander of Anti—Semitism by way of innuendo:
Historians of Germany are particularly sensitive to efforts to diminish German agency in the crimes of the world wars; and Preparata’s hook serves in effect as a book—length apologia for German colonialism, aggression and genocide. The Preface [of Conjuring Hitler], and I say this upon reﬂection and soberly, reads like a chapter out of Mein Kampf both for its depiction of an innocent Germany bedeviled by Anglo—American moneyed elites and for its hysterical and utterly unsubstantiated charges of vast international conspiracy by these elites (the Club) which manipulated world politics for ﬁfty years and continue to do so.
Because they knew not what to argue, these academics had to have quick resort to the standard lynching toolkit of the system, employing in turn bibliographical and caviling decoys, insults ad hominem, and their favorite: the tacit charge of anti—Semitism via guilt by association with Holocaust deniers. And so it went.
Regardless, in the short—run the tactic succeeded: a majority of colleagues voted against my candidacy. Thereupon I appealed to the University to have the whole case officially and formally reassessed by a jury of impartial faculty drawn from other departments of the University. Altogether this ordeal lasted a year and a half. By the end of it, I had garnered a total of nine positive scholarly evaluations—an exceptional, if not unique occurrence in the history of the entire school. Moreover, a first—rate academic expert in the field of German economic history deposed in my favor as a witness during the hearings, in which the Chancellor of my campus acted as defendant on behalf of the opposing faculty members. In the course of this mock trial, the defendant attempted at first to justify its ratification of the negative vote on the basis of the implicit charges of anti—Semitism that had been leveled at my book. When this line of defense failed on account of its baselessness, it was switched to the imputation that my “research methodologies” were unsound. When, questioned on the meaning of this accusation, the opposing party found itself incapable of elaborating, it finally settled for the allegation that Conjurjng Hitler was a “polemic unsupported by fact.” Asked by the panel to substantiate the allegation with detailed exposition in writing, the Office of the Chancellor was powerless to produce even a single instance.
This appellate recourse afforded me as well the opportunity to probe further into and expose gradually the chain of procedural violations that had allowed a group within the department to poison my file. Along this path, I could only go so far for it emerged eventually that the highest echelons of the University had been complicit in the maneuver.
In recognition of my meritorious academic work I was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in early 2007. I officially parted ways with the University of Washington in 2008.
The lesson of the academic review process
In conclusion, I should like to stress that this experience has shown me that, in the United States, an honest academic debate around an issue as delicate as Nazism is impossible. The theme is so overwhelmingly laden with political and symbolical valence that all avenues for the unfolding of a healthy skepticism find themselves, for the time being, fully obstructed. So long as Mackinder’s theorem holds, they will perforce remain so. The several testimonials of esteem that I have received from North—American scholars in the course of this adventure are, indeed, a sad exception to a rule of generalized conformity, which is animated by ignorance and fear.
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests