THE PURSUIT OF THE TRUTH by Nicki Fellenzer
THE PURSUIT OF THE TRUTH
by Nicki Fellenzer
January 22, 2002
KeepAndBearArms.com -- Throughout my college career I was lucky to have studied under some well-known, very knowledgeable history professors. These were men of integrity and vision, who taught their classes with passion and honesty. These learned scholars provided me with the tools I needed to seek the truth of the past and the willingness and interest to explore the lessons of my forefathers.
I graduated Johns Hopkins in the spring of 1993. During my four-year stay at Hopkins there were a few attempts to hijack history and political science by “progressives” who wanted to force students to specifically view the world through their ivory-tower, collectivist, let’s-change-history-to-suit-our-own-purpose glasses, instead of the students' own eyes. However, in the late 80’s and early 90’s the Hopkins student population was still considered relatively conservative. Students were unwilling to put up with revisionism and lies in favor of political agendas. The attempted hijacking of the curriculum was halted at its root with numerous well-placed comments in student newspapers, complaints to student advisors and snide remarks within earshot of these self-professed “progressives.”
I graduated with a lingering respect for historical scholars as people who relentlessly hunted for the truths of the past. There must be an obstinate integrity and ability to face facts when examining history. While it’s acceptable to have a political agenda in an attempt to support your own theories, it definitely is not OK to change facts to suit your purpose. It’s certainly not OK to alter the truth to support your personal or political agenda. And it’s certainly not OK to pass off fraud as fact in furtive hopes of betraying reality. Any historian who has been defrauded in such a manner would be seething, right? A scholar in search of the truth would certainly feel intellectually mutilated and incensed that a colleague would attempt to betray history in such a manner, right?
You’d think so.
CONDEMNING THE SEEKER
Clayton E. Cramer is an unassuming, shy intellectual, whose interests run the gamut from computer science and astronomy to history and politics. He is an author, a historian, a software engineer, a husband and a father. He is a true Renaissance man, who tends to shy away from large crowds, and he’s a relentless Second Amendment rights activist, even though his interest in shooting is limited to keeping himself proficient enough to deter an assailant.
Cramer has a passion for history. He has an unyielding desire to find out the truth and he pursues that truth mercilessly and without prejudice. He is driven by a desire to know the facts and he’s not afraid to have history prove him wrong. He has the courage and conviction to dig deep and learn the truth, and he expects the same historical integrity from others in his field.
This is the man whom disgraced former history professor Michael Bellesiles – in a bout of acerbic hypocrisy – called “an ideologically driven polemicist.” This is the man who became a hero to many Second Amendment rights activists and something resembling the anti-Christ to the anti-gunners.
Because Clayton E. Cramer had the courage and tenacity to delve deeper into the fantastic claims of Michael Bellesiles and to uncover one of the biggest frauds perpetrated on the scholarly community ever! Bellesiles claimed to find a completely new and different version of America. He claimed gun ownership was very rare in our country’s early history. He claimed hardly anyone hunted, and that private ownership of firearms was uncommon, as the government didn’t trust the citizens to be armed. This was a completely new and different theory about life in early America – a theory anti-gunners, with their wild claims of a peaceful utopia if only guns were outlawed, were only too eager to swallow. However, Bellesiles’
Arming America was much more than its original hype touted.
“It was massive fraud!” Clayton Cramer exclaims. “We’re not talking about a few things that were left out. We’re talking quotes altered; we’re talking dates changed; we’re talking gross misrepresentations. And it wasn’t just in one area – it was everywhere! I have personally found many hundreds of examples of misrepresentations, altered quotes, dates changed, sources cited that he clearly didn’t actually read, and I haven’t even done an exhaustive examination of the book!”
What Clayton E. Cramer found was that Bellesiles’ spectacular claims about life in early America were fabricated. Bellesiles had perpetrated one of history’s biggest frauds, and had Clayton Cramer not come across some of the same sources Bellesiles claimed to use in his own work…
…had Cramer not been tenacious and curious enough to dig deeper and examine closer…
…Bellesiles would have gotten away with deceiving the scholarly community and every single person who bought and read his book.
One would have thought historical scholars would have been outraged with Bellesiles’ treachery. One would have thought a closer examination of his work would have immediately commenced. But no…
…the scholarly community was outraged with Clayton Cramer!
When Cramer first brought the allegations about Bellesiles’ fraud to several email lists for professional historians, he made himself very unpopular for a while. Bellesiles immediately responded that Cramer was not a professional historian, but someone with a political agenda. Two of the list moderators refused to allow discussion to continue on this topic. Only one list – the Early American History List – allowed discussion of Bellesiles’ work, and eventually historians had to grudgingly agree that there were some serious problems with his claims. Slowly but surely, the historical community began to realize
it had been defrauded. Many, who initially defended Bellesiles realized they’d been had. Bellesiles was eventually stripped of the prestigious Bancroft Prize, the publication of his deceptive piece of fiction ceased, and his professorship a thing of the past. Bellesiles has been discredited and humiliated. Clayton Cramer is beginning to get some grudging respect from his colleagues. But his saga raises numerous issues within the scholarly community.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Bellesiles reportedly once remarked in private that there’s a lot of fraud going on in history, because no one ever bothered to check sources. Indeed, Clayton Cramer agrees. There’s a certain amount of trust that’s endemic to the scholarly community, according to Cramer. Sources are rarely checked, as witnessed by Bellesiles’ use of numerous sources, which he had obviously never
read. His intentional and obvious alteration of quotes and dates were right
there in plain sight, but historians tend to trust their own, swallowing whatever is fed to them with a lackadaisical complacency. Many of today’s historians appear to hold personal and political agendas above truth and the examination thereof. This arrogance leads to sloppiness and an unwillingness to verify facts – either due to laziness or fear that the neat little world that’s been built by the “historian” in question will crumble when facts are introduced into the equation. It apparently never occurred to today’s historians that one of them would intentionally fabricate evidence, and most were too complacent to verify facts and check sources.
Indeed, the behavior of a number of Clayton Cramer’s colleagues after his discovery of Bellesiles’ deception amply illustrates this point. A UC Irvine history professor recently published a long ad hominem attack on Cramer himself in “The Nation.” Why? Apparently unable to refute the facts Cramer presented, he resorted to personal invective as retribution for the toppling of a colleague. Another professor from a university in the
East warned Cramer, “You may be a fine historian, but you’ll never be a gentleman.” Apparently, in this alleged “scholar’s” eyes, truth should be sacrificed to political correctness and history itself can be butchered on the sacrificial altar of professional
There are numerous lessons to be learned from Clayton Cramer’s experience with the Michael Bellesiles saga. Clearly the complacency that prevails in the historical community and the hostility of scholars when one of their own gets caught in blatantly unethical behavior points to a decreased desire to uncover the truth, fear and trepidation at the thought of having one’s theories disproved, a lack of intellectual curiosity, and a cowardly unwillingness to confront and expose a member of the community as a liar. No wonder today’s universities graduate sanctimonious, indolent cowards with little work ethic and a lack of initiative, integrity and intellectual inquisitiveness. If there’s anything that can be learned from the fraud that is Michael Bellesiles, it’s that the pursuit of truth must always outweigh any personal agendas or political schemes.
I’m one of many who hope that the new generation of historical scholars will have the courage and intestinal fortitude to pursue the truth, instead of languidly sitting back and swallowing the party line with slack-jawed compliance. History demands the courage to uncover the truth. Anything less is a disservice to history, to academia and to truth itself.