HNN Poll: Should Knopf Withdraw Arming America?


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Latest Developments
Summary of the Emory Report
Bellesiles's Response to the Report
Other Responses to the Report
Remaining Questions

    NOTE: On the afternoon of Friday December 20, the software used to measure the number of readers responding to our poll jumped in the course of a few hours from fewer than 500 to over 1,800. The overwhelming number of votes cast during this brief period were"no." Between Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, in yet another sudden shift, thousands of"yes" votes were cast. The sharp increase in"no" votes on Friday afternoon and"yes" votes afterwards casts doubt on the poll's reliability as a measure of reader response.

What is to be done with Michael Bellesiles's Arming America?

Two months ago Emory University's outside panel of historians concluded that Bellesiles was guilty of"egregious misrepresentation" and"unprofessional and misleading work." In sum the committee found that"his scholarly integrity is seriously in question."

Last week Columbia University's Board of Trustees, in an unprecedented move, withdrew the Bancroft Prize that had been awarded to Bellesiles's book.

Following the university's move Knopf, which published the book, released a statement indicating that the paperback edition of Arming America would remain in print, saying it"already contains corrections."



If Knopf continues to stand"behind" Arming America and fails to confront the fact that it is not simply a slightly flawed book that can be tinkered with and fixed with a few" corrections" here and there but it is rather a deeply dishonest book, one that is racked by invented, falsified, and grossly distorted renderings of the historical record, then Knopf will be doing itself and its great publishing tradition a monumental disservice. More importantly, however, by keeping Arming America in print and not recalling it Knopf will be doing an even greater disservice to the reading public. It will be saying to those who care about history that even America's leading publisher is more concerned with profits than integrity, and is more interested in selling deceitful, though politically correct books than works of enduring merit. The editors at Knopf need to rethink their position, just as Emory University and Columbia University reconsidered their positions. And they need to do so quickly. They should cease printing the Vintage paperback of Arming America and recall all remaining copies from the bookstores. They can do no less and live up to the example of the firm's founder who, though he valued loyalty to his authors, valued scholarly integrity and intellectual honesty even more.

Note: This is an unscientific poll.

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More Comments:

Tim Matthewson - 12/5/2007

I think that the whole controversy over Arming America would have been dismissed had it not been for the NRA and the pressure that the group brought on Vanderbilt and historians. Beliesle had some problem with stats, but the general thrust of the book is accurate and historians of the subject acknowledged that Arming America did not have a novel thesis, indeed, it conclusion were generally known by historians before the publicaitons of the Bellesiles book.

Pat Squire - 4/28/2003

Just as flawed and dishonest as Bellisiles' Arming America, Michael Moore's "documentary" on guns in America, Bowling For Columbine, is filled with deliberate misinformation and political polemics, such that it should never have qualified for inclusion in the "documentary" category of the Academy Awards. The Academy should investigate Bowling For Columbine, disqualify it and withdraw the Oscar.

copycat - 12/25/2002

If you wish to continue to publish "Arming America" by discredited author and former professor Michael Bellesile's book, by all means do so. Propriety requires, however, that you label the book truthfully, and publish it under "Fiction."

John Gillman - 12/23/2002

...why assault the author with malice?...

Because the author is assaulting our rights and the Constitution with extreme malice.

T.J. Stiles - 12/22/2002

I have replied to Mr. Yeatman's comments in the other thread he mentions, article 1158.html, "Historians & History," by Jerome Sternstein, 12/15/02.

Thomas L. Spencer - 12/22/2002

Is bundle AA along with books like THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION, etc., and launch a new line, "Zontar Books", with a flying saucer logo, marketing these at a major discount in mass paperback. Or maybe have a leather bound series they offer in conjunction with the Franklin Mint, or some similar entity, in a limited numbered edition [naturally followed by mass paper]. The editor for the series would be a fictitious individual, with a Ph.D in History from one of these pay-for-your-diploma outfits, with spurious book credits listed. The aforementioned would give an introduction, more of an appeal, to potential readers to "keep an open mind" and generally. Hey, maybe they could just crib from the Knopf editor's defense of B.' book, plaigerise the statement she made, and maybe some of the stuff in the NATION and posted on this board by B's apologists.
hawk the books to the unwary.

Ted P. Yeatman - 12/21/2002

I happen to agree with you. On another thread I go into a different case, also involving a Knopf production, where the author's earlier work contradicts his current Knopf book without any explanation for the thesis reversal, or mention in the biblio. of his earlier published work. I have another book now in the works and I will be instructing the agent to be sure that Knopf does not get it. I am tempted to add the parent Random House Group.

Gary - 12/21/2002

Sure they can put a disclaimer. Just sell it as fiction since it doesn't represent any vague form of the truth. Perhaps hysterical fiction. :)

Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

I urge everyone to print copies of the following notice on small slips of paper and insert them into copies of the book at all libraries and book stores.

You might also print up the notice on stickers and seek permission to paste them into the books. But seek permission or you will be committing vandalism.


In October of 2002, Michael Bellesiles resigned from Emory University after an independent panel of PhDs wrote that his work "does move into the realm of falsification" and Emory deemed him to be "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."

In December of 2002, Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize for his work, saying "his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize"

Mr. Bellesiles' research fraud ranged from selectively editing source materials to citing non-existent San Francisco probate records that actually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

source: AP Wire: 12/13/02

Kaylee - 12/21/2002

Pulling the book is as bad a mistake as publishing it, in my opinion. However... were I in Knopf's shoes, I'd rework future editions to include a disclamer of the events of the last year as a preface. I'd also suggest to the distributors and retailers they add such a preface (perhaps in the form of a bookplate) to books on the shelf.


richard a. garcia - 12/21/2002

Knopf should get this book in print, but with a postscript. The postscript should either be Emory University's report by the historians panel that judged the book: an "unprofessional and misleading work," or any essay by another historian(s( detailing the main problems with the researh. This type of printing would help educate students, other historians, and the public on these type of problems. I do not think that a book should be kept off the shelves since, with the addition I mentioned, it could be a learning experience, especially for graduate students. However, I do concur with others that the book/author should be stripped of all prizes.

Richard A. Garcia
Professor of History
California State University, Hayward

Bill Heuisler - 12/21/2002

Mr. Arkin,
Your excuse of incorrect interpretation assumes there is a correct interpretation. How can a scholar correctly interpret data that does not exist? Does the Bellesiles data exist? No.
You mention validity. Honest interpretation of accepted fact is valid, but extracting meaning from missing or occluded data is clearly unscrupulous as long as that data remains questionable.
Motive then becomes issue. Bellesiles' motive darkens as his dissimulation clouds the inquiry.
Your defense of a friend or colleague is understandable, but do you realize your arguments for Mr. Bellesiles exactly match the Ken Lay defense for his "interpretations" of Enron's future?
Bill Heuisler

Peter Hodgson - 12/21/2002

Put a large yellow banner diagonally across the cover declaring
"WARNING: This book contains fabricated data".

Truth in advertising, you know.

Out of curiousity, have any of those who wrote those glowing reviews on the back of the cover recanted? (I think I know the answer.)

A tip 'o the derby to Steve Smith (Asking for Responsible Editorial Judgment is not Censorship) for cataloguing the fate of other fakes (Hitler Diaries, etc.), which put this discussion into proper context.

Albert Krause - 12/21/2002

I read the book when it first came out (a Know Thy Enemy type of thing).

When I saw him claim that the Kentucky rifle was inaccurate, it put everything else, not matter how scholarly it looked, under a cloud.

The more I read the more I was comvinced he didn't know what he was writing about or he had an agenda.

Evidently the publisher and cohorts have one or they would have pulled this book as an act of intellectual honesty. Oh yeah, I forgot, there are no absolutes any more, it's all "subjective".

Jim Noble - 12/21/2002

>>If his book is unavailable how will anyone be able to judge if the sentence was just

John Lyons - 12/21/2002

Liberals have for years avoided the truth about firearms, and this book serves only to promote liberal ideology. Perhaps it should re-titled "Lies, Damn Lies, and Liberalism."

Bruce Tiemann - 12/21/2002

Freedom of speech only applies when the government censors a work, which is not the case here.

An "open and free" debate is what one gets when different sides have opposing interpretations of generally the same sets of facts. But Bellesiles is a fraud who fabricated data, who misquoted original sources and who selectively deleted unwanted facts. He is therefore not a participant in a "debate" in any reasonable sense of the word; he is a fraud and a liar, and deserves to be dismissed as such.

What is the value gained by some people in representing otherwise?
Bellesile's positions hold as much water as those of the Holocaust deniers, none at all. Are they too "just another side of the debate?" No!

John Gillman - 12/21/2002

Was Michael Bellesiles actually attempting to defraud his fellow historians and academia in general?

Absolutely he was.
If he works again within the field it will be a disgrace.
He should be working at a car wash.

John Gillman - 12/21/2002

I recommend that you keep the bogus tome, Arming America in print so that generations to come can witness the utter intellectual and moral depravity of the the Anti-Constitutional left. Anyone with an ounce of historical perspective recognized the failed work for the strident propaganda and nonsense that it was from the very beginning.

It seems only the hardcore left is capable of accepting as gospel, blatant lies and distortion simply because it fits their foul agenda.

Duane K. Wolcott - 12/21/2002

Knopf should continue publishing the book--however, they should be required to add an appendix/disclaimer outlining the findings of the academic commission at Emory University that essentially censured Bellesiles for "committing fraudulent research".

Ken - 12/21/2002

This book should remain available. It is largely through such big lies and the utter corruption of truth that the professional fascist Left may be properly judged. Works by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et cetera, remain available for just such a purpose. We and our children need to be constantly reminded of just how far the Left will go in lying to further its agenda.

Henry Scott Arkin - 12/20/2002

The point of my response was not the pulp or platitudes. The fact that certain data may have been destroyed or even misinterpreted, only digresses from the paramount issue as to whether the different interpretation of American History is valid or not.

If one were consider the interpretation to be incorrect, one is certainly free and possibly compelled to undertake a critical response to support another view by either writing an article or a book. A Marxist Historian may indeed have a convoluted view of the French Revolution or America during the period in which Manifest Destiny was tantamount, but the Historian does not deserve to be crucified.

Michael only offered his view of events. If others view the interpretation differently, why assault the author with malice? Perhaps a bit more forethought or thought would enable an open and free debate on the subject versus silencing any opposing voice. I am shocked and dismayed that conservative historians would stoop so low! Are they no better than those on the Left that clearly want to stop Freedom of Speech?

Bill Heuisler - 12/20/2002

Mr. Arkin,
You mention Bellesiles' "destroyed legal pad containing his original data" as though this "pad" were a negligable piece of information. According to Bellesiles there were numerous pads, each important, each rendered blank by water.
One hysterical miscreant often on seen this site wrote an exhaustive paper on the desecrated legal pads and their lost data. He reported that, according to Bellesiles, there was a flood in a storeroom where (Probate? Wills?) data for AA was kept on a whole series of legal pads. No data survived.
That must have been quite a storm to flood the room and destroy all the writing on stacks of pads, right? But there was no enormous storm in that geographic area at that specific time.
No pipe broke either. Further, this same annoying miscreant says he tried to recreate the legal-pad-flood-erasure with a hose. Gallons later, ink remained on unexposed pages of the top pad, some quite legible.

This miscreant will muffle his hysteria, Mr. Arkin, if you will kindly explain the mystery of your author's missing ink.
Bill Heuisler

Henry Scott Arkin - 12/20/2002

Many of you at this sight have been hypercritical regarding a somewhat radical idea on the theory of gun ownership in America.

Was Michael Bellesiles actually attempting to defraud his fellow historians and academia in general? I certainly do not believe that was the case because Michael Bellesiles other major work, for instance “Revolutionary Outlaws: Ethan Allen and the Struggle for Independence on the Early American Frontier,” while garnering critical and professional claim, did not receive the scrutiny that permeated his rather unique theory on the utilization of firearms by the masses.

Michael certainly proved that historical probate records have not fully been explored nor have the records been cataloged or stored properly. Surely, inconsistencies exist.

While it appears that he may have misinterpreted the raw data, his theory has enabled a debate to be conducted regarding his theory. The virulent outbursts from his opposition have done a grand job besmirching his reputation and literally causing him to resign his position, when Emory caved into to Political Pressure. I thought that the left wing was trying to shut off the debate and had a monopoly on political correctness.

Clearly this website concludes that Michael’s theory to be worth no more than the remains of his destroyed legal pad containing his original data. However, the basic reason to issue the book remains that of his thesis. Was it 100% accurate? Apparently not. Is this adequate justification to ad hominem attack the author? I think not. The correct approach is to provide written documentation that counters the argument and publish a book with an opposing theory.

Are you truly Historians or hysterical miscreants?

Rick Schwartz - 12/20/2002

"...why would a careful and thoughtful scholar entrust their research and scholarship to a publisher who is unable or unwilling to to distinguish between good and bad scholars?"

A "careful and thoughtful" scholar who now trusts Knopf with their book is akin to a major league baseball player hanging around with Pete Rose. Knopf may sell a lot of books for you, and Rose may teach you a lot about baseball, but right now neither one will do much for your integrity in the eyes of the public.

Phillip Dancy - 12/19/2002

I have not had the opportunity to read the book but if it is dishonest and lacks intregity then it should be pulled or put in the fiction section. There are many anti-gun people in this cuntry or those who claim to be until a riot occurres like the Rodeny King situation years ago. The weeks folowing the 911 dissaster gun sells were never greater. If slaves had guns slavery years ago perhaps the family unit in black families would be more intact and united. Certainly slavery would have ended somewhat quicker. This country was build on the use of guns without them we could become slaves at our own doing.

Robert Harbison - 12/19/2002


Really? So that's what I have to do.
Well glad to know that.
''Note to self: go back to Little Brown with baseball bat. 'Persuade' them to publish your manuscript on Medieval Scottish Church History.

Bill Heuisler - 12/19/2002

Fraud is illegal. Furtherance of a fraud is illegal. Publishing a known fraud and profiting thereby is surely also illegal.
Most censorship arguments assume good faith in writing (and in publishing) Arming America. Strip away the political; given the structured lies and serial deceptions Bellesiles has committed, isn't AA really a knowingly fabricated confidence-game?
Some agency with jurisdiction could easily prove Arming America is a scheme to defraud by knowingly obtaining a monetary benefit by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises or material omissions. In most jurisdictions this describes a Class 2 or a Class 5 Felony.
Did the author intend money and power and fame? Yes.
Has he exhibited good faith during or after the event? No.
Mr. Livingstone paid good money for AA. Was he aware of the fraud? He says he was, but what about all the poor anti-gun victims whose money was taken as part of a wrongful scheme?
Shouldn't these unfortunate innocents have recourse?
Somebody tell me where I'm wrong.
Bill Heuisler

Will J. Richardson - 12/19/2002

Mr. Wolff's comment that if the book is withdrawn "Knopf is a 'fair weather' friend, one that must not be entrusted to publish their research" assumes that the book Bellesiles persuaded Knopf to publish contained "research", which is assuming facts contrary to the evidence. Contra, why would a careful and thoughtful scholar entrust their research and scholarship to a publisher who is unable or unwilling to to distinguish between good and bad scholars?

Eugene Volokh - 12/19/2002

I don't mean to be snitty or a killjoy (OK, maybe I am a snitty killjoy, but I don't *mean* to be one, darn it) -- but why is a thoughtful academically minded organization like HNN organizing yet another self-selected survey? As we know, it tells us nothing about the views of any group except for the rather irrelevant group consisting of those few people who heard about the survey, and cared enough about it to vote.

Fortunately, HNN is being candid in describing it as "unscientific," but then why run it? The best-case scenario is that people will ignore it. The worst-case scenario is that people will misunderstand the "unscientific" proviso, or will quote the results without repeating the proviso (which often happens).

Yes, I know that major media outlets regularly do this -- and shame on them for that. But it seems to me that academic organizations should do what they can to fight this trend, rather than to join in.

End of rant! Did I mention how much I generally enjoy HNN?

Eugene Volokh
UCLA School of Law

Clayton E. Cramer - 12/19/2002

Do you seriously argue that 3/4 of HISTORY books are "invented, falsified, and grossly distorted renderings of the historical record"? I'm not impressed with the gullibility of historians, but I've done enough cite checking of other serious history books to know that most are reasonably accurate. Their deficiencies tend to be in logic, not in manufacturing sources.

Al Magary - 12/19/2002

I voted No to the HNN poll question on whether Knopf should withdraw Arming America because there are a good number of books that are incompetent, erroneous, fraudulent, wrong, and a whole thesaurus page of other adjectives, and there's no good reason to single out Arming America among the hundreds or thousands of bad books. Whether the book lives or dies in the bookstores depends on the free market in ideas.

Steve Smith - 12/18/2002

Censorship is when a government forces a publishing house not to publish something.

Free speech is when one historian (Sternstein) tells a serious publishing house that they are acting irresponsibly by publishing a hoax.

If you read what Jerome Sternstein, Randolph Roth, James Lindgren, Gloria Main, Clayton Cramer, and the Emory outside committee have written, you can see that there is strong evidence that Bellesiles never looked at most of the probate records he claimed to have read, never read the militia statutes he cited as restricting gun ownership to propertied white males, never read the full court records of Plymouth that he purported to have counted homicides in, never read over 100 nonexistent wills in Providence that he claimed to have read, never read “hundreds” of nonexistent inventories in San Francisco and Los Angeles, never read the Contra Costa records before this year, never read almost all of the 80 travel accounts he cited as supporting his thesis, never had his office door set on fire, never had his records pulped in a flood, never had his computer hacked, never had his emails misrepresented, etc. Even Bellesiles now admits that some of these things never happened.

As Sternstein revealed earlier on HNN, former Bellesiles booster Garry Wills now considers the book “a fraud” and Roger Lane now thinks that it is "100% certain" that Bellesiles made up some of the documents.

The recent book on the Vesey case was pulled by the publisher for errors far less serious than in Arming America.

The Poulshock book was pulled by the publisher for reporting on fewer nonexistent documents than Bellesiles reported on. The Hitler diaries were pulled not because they had nothing plausible or true in them, but because they were a hoax.

Would you have argued against people urging them to cease publication of the Poulshock and Hitler hoaxes because you were confused about the difference between free speech and censorship?

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2002

I strongly agree with John Fought that a book known, well-documented to to have many evidently deliberate politically correct unacknowleged errors is deceitful amd dishonest. It is not censorship for a newspaper to print a retraction of an error printed. If the publisher goes ahead to sell this book it is doing future generations a disservice. It will be every bit as deceitful as lying Soviet propaganda printed during the Cold War, as worthy as lying Nazi propaganda published during WWII. Something should be preserved solely because it is in print? It doesn't matter if it is chock full of deliberate objective lies? Give me a break. Don't forget the publisher is passing on this work of lies & deceit to future generations.

John G. Fought - 12/18/2002

The whole nonfiction publication process has what you call censorship built right into it. Errors of fact, careless or deliberate, are not supposed to be made; if they occur, they are supposed to be caught by prepublication review and corrected before publication. In the now well-documented Bellesiles case, this didn't happen. Instead, the time honored rhetorical tricks of suggesting the false and suppressing the true were used in a way that seems quite systematic. Now, even after hundreds of mistakes or falsifications, whatever they are, have been documented by post-publication review, Knopf does indeed face a crisis of trust, not in relation to future authors, but to future readers. By the way, I would not publish with them now for anything. It seems as if the inaccuracies may have been politically motivated, but they are nevertheless errors of fact, not matters of opinion. This is not a matter of 'intellectual hue', but of accuracy and honesty.

Dave Livingston - 12/18/2002

IMHO in the interests of the publisher's integrity the book should be withdrawn. On the other hand, I a student of history, longtime member of the N.R.A. and gun owner bought a copy of it as a curosity. Nevertheless I keep with the book news stories indicating that it has been discredited, including stories printed from this website.

It was evident from the beginning to me of that 25% of Americans who lives in a rural environment that Bellesiles' thesis was faulty. There was no way European man could have survived let alone prospered expanding westwards from Plymouth Rock onwards wothout adequate firearms for self defense and the killing of game.

Many moderns who object to hunting fail to equate hunting, the killing of eatable creatures, with putting food on the table. This was dramaticlly illustrated in Colorado Springs a few months ago when some college kids back from a long stay in Mongolia decided to have a Mongolian style cookout. The feast necessaited the aquistion and slaughtering of a lamb. This upset some of the neighbors. For instance, one gal actually went to the kids to offer to go to the meat market to purchase lamb chops, if the kids wouldn't kill the darling little lamb.

One wonders if she thoought the lamb chops she was going to buy were made of plastic, soy compound or dried newspaper?

I like to eat deer, elk, wild duck, goose & rabbit. Some urbaniute likes beef. I sometimes do my own killing for my table, the urbanite hires someone else to slaughter cattle, pigs, lamb, etc. for him.

Derek Bryant - 12/18/2002

Come now if every book which is "racked by invented, falsified, and grossly distorted renderings of the historical record" were pulled then the bookshops would be three quarters empty. As for"even America's leading publisher is more concerned with profits than integrity, and is more interested in selling deceitful, though politically correct books than works of enduring merit." Why that opinion sounds positively unAmerican. Belleisle has been burnt - after the event - by the public hangman which is all that John Milton demanded of censorship. If his book is unavailable how will anyone be able to judge if the sentence was just?

Robert Wolff - 12/18/2002

Why should Knopf keep ARMING AMERICA in print and on the bookstore shelves? Simple -- to do otherwise would be censorship. It would send a powerful message to academic authors of all intellectual hues who pursue politically sensitive topics that Knopf is a "fair weather" friend, one that must not be entrusted to publish their research.

Dan Kennedy - 12/18/2002