Fri Aug 3rd, 2007 at 07:56:54 AM EST
Is it common knowledge, or is it still an official secret, that a fairly serious conspiracy was thwarted in 1934, whose aim was to topple President F D Roosevelt and install a Fascist government in the US? and that memory of this attempted coup was then swept under the rug and erased from the public discourse?
From the diaries, with yawn poll - afew
Perhaps the most alarming slice of twentieth-century U.S. history is virtually unknown to the general public, including most scholars of American history. One hopes that a recent BBC documentary titled The Plot Against America, and an article of the same name by Columbia Law School professor and longtime human rights activist Scott Horton, on the website of Harper's magazine, will sound an alert. footnote
In 1934 a special Congressional committee was appointed to conduct an investigation of a possible planned coup intended to topple the administration of president Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace it with a government modelled on the policies of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The shocking results of the investigation were promptly scotched and stashed in the National Archives. While the coup attempt was reported at the time in a few newspapers, including The New York Times, the story disappeared from public memory shortly after the Congressional findings were made available to president Roosevelt. It was the recent release from the Archives of the Congressional report that prompted the BBC and Horton commentaries.
The Congressional committee had discovered that some of the foremost members of the economic elite, many of them household names at the time, had indeed hatched a meticulously detailed and massively funded plot to effect a fascist coup in America. The owners of Bird's Eye, Maxwell House and Heinz, among others, totaling about twenty four major businessmen and Wall Street financiers, planned to assemble a private army of half a million men, composed largely of unemployed veterans. These troops would both constitute the armed force behind the coup and defeat any resistance this in-house revolution might generate. The economic elite would provide the material resources required to sustain the new government.
This coup is mentioned in the enduring isolationist and anticorporate classic, War is a Racket by Smedley Butler. Butler was a disillusioned career soldier who -- after advancing to the rank of General -- became so angry about the disconnects between his conscience, US official propaganda, and the actual military/imperial ops in which he participated, that he resigned and wrote his whistleblowing book.
Smedley Butler is a name with which you may not be familiar, even though he twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor. If he were to appear on television today, he would be identified as "Maj. General Smedley Butler, USMC (ret.)" But even if he were still alive, he would not appear on any network television news shows because, late in life, he openly expressed his opposition to the war system. He went on to expose the symbiotic relationship existing between the institutional interests of corporate America and the state. Many former top generals and admirals have written memoirs around the theme "war is hell," but Gen. Butler went a step further, writing a book titled War Is a Racket. footnote
Smedley defined a racket as "something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people." War, he goes on, "is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious" of rackets. Reflecting upon his own early 20th century career, he noted that, "I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." He related how he had helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests, Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank, a number of Central American countries more pleasant for Wall Street interests, the Dominican Republic more conducive to the sugar industry, and China more compatible with the interests of Standard Oil. Then, after observing how he had helped supply the coercive, deadly force to advance corporate interests throughout various parts of the world, Butler added: "I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents." You can see that his book does for adults what The Emperor's New Clothes does for children.
-- sorry it's from lewrockwell, not the purest source, but you can check Wikipedia
and get the same basic outline.
It's entirely appropriate that Butler should mention the failed coup in his book. As the Wikipedia article on the conspiracy recounts, Butler was the charismatic and decorated military figurehead chosen by the plotters to lead the coup -- they intended to make him a kind of Generalissimo Franco. Instead, he went to Congress and blew the whistle.
Harpers recently ran a short review/recap about the failed coup.
In November 1934, federal investigators uncovered an amazing plot involving some two dozen senior businessmen, a good many of them Wall Street financiers, to topple the government of the United States and install a fascist dictatorship. Roth's novel is developed from several strands of this factual account; he assumed the plot is actually carried out, whereas in fact an alert FDR shut it down but stopped short of retaliatory measures against the plotters.
A key element of the plot involved a retired prominent general who was to have raised a private army of 500,000 men from unemployed veterans and who blew the whistle when he learned more of what the plot entailed. The plot was heavily funded and well developed and had strong links with fascist forces abroad. A story in the New York Times and several other newspapers reported on it, and a special Congressional committee was created to conduct an investigation. The records of this committee were scrubbed and sealed away in the National Archives, where they have only recently been made available.
The Congressional committee kept the names of many of the participants under wraps and no criminal action was ever brought against them. But a few names have leaked out. And one is Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the incumbent president. Prescott Bush was of course deep into the business of the Hamburg-America Lines, and had tight relations throughout this period with the new Government that had come to power in Germany a year earlier under Chancellor Aldoph Hitler. It appears that Bush was to have formed a key liaison for the group with the new German government.
Prescott Bush, of course, went on to service as a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, and his son, George H.W. Bush emerged from World War II as a hero.
The Plot Against America portrayed in this episode of the BBC series "Document" gives fascinating insight into a dark and little known piece of American history in which the nation stood on the brink of betrayal. The role of the most powerful political dynastic family in the nation's history in this whole affair is shocking.
[I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked. Go and round up the usual suspects!]
But seriously, for decades many mainstream readers dimissed Butler's book as crank literature. They knew that only in dystopian fiction (It Can't Happen Here) do conspiracies of corporate Mafiosi plot a takeover of the Federal government, much less succeed. The most useful belief system that power-seeking conspirators can instil in the public is that conspiracies are nonsense and never really happen :-)
It appears that in the intervening decades, the robber barons have figured out that if you want to take over the government, it's easier and cheaper to become the permanent government: set up revolving doors between the boardrooms and the most senior politically appointed desks, supply the secret and proprietary EVM technology to the voting districts, bankroll all the major electoral campaigns, concentrate media ownership into "the family," and so on. Once again Italy is a model for the US, as the Bush regime tries to out-Berlusconi Berlusconi?
One useful aspect of the exhumation of this story of the failed Corporadoes' Coup is that it undermines that infuriating USian exceptionalism, that fairytale about Amurka The Land of Freedom, a place where a Mussolini or a Hitler could never have happened, where there is no class system and democracy prevails, where "all red-blooded Americans" were united as one in the Great War Against Evil (v2.0, i.e. WWII). It undermines the notion of the WWII epoch as a simpler and nicer and kinder one where America was always on the side of good, and reminds us that significant players in the America of early C20 were on quite the other side (Lindbergh and Ford, for example, were prominent antisemites and fascist sympathisers) and that both in the UK and US the finance/business classes were still fawning all over Hitler as late as 1938:
Homes and Gardens interviews Hitler -- rediscovery and web-wide distro causes controversy.
How Prescott Bush was prosecuted under Trading with the Enemy Act
IBM was doing good business with the Hitler regime until war was officially declared by the US, and according to Wikipedia the company made special efforts to recover profits "owed" to it for Hollerith cards, machines, etc. deployed in the effort to exterminate European Jews.
Somehow, by a masterful blend of propaganda, guided amnesia and distraction, aided by generational disconnect, Americans have remembered the demonised badguys of WWII as devils in the national religious mythology, yet have forgotten the friendly relations that existed between the American business elite and those badguys -- much as, on a shorter time scale, they conveniently forgot that Donald Rumsfeld was busily selling to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s the "WMD" that the US was stridently accusing their pet dictator of owning in the early 2000s.
It is by this hat trick of amnesia and mythologising that naive beliefs are sustained such as Capitalism = Freedom, Corporations are our Friends, and Greed is Good -- and that the banality and profit-motive in evil such as that of the Hitler regime is rendered unrealistically super-evil and Unique, Ahistorical, Epic, and utterly divorced from daily realities. Whereas a more historically informed analysis might consider it an extreme case of processes of enclosure, primitive accumulation, crisis management by finance capitalists, patriarchal ideology, white supremacist ideology etc. that continue all around us in real time, and might reach further extrema if not held in check by such old fashioned things as a free press, educated public, democratic process, organised resistance, etc. [I pause to point out that Maria Mies' research rather convincingly suggests that the witch-hunting enthusiasts in an earlier Europe not coincidentally focussed their attentions on women who owned property, and this property swiftly passed into the hands of men, and/or of the Church, after the victim was convicted and burned, hanged, drowned or otherwise tortured to death. More of the same old... more method than madness.]
The hell with cherchez la femme, in short -- suivez l'argent. The ruling classes have never stopped their conspiracies against the rest of us, and the process we call democracy is basically the hard work of continually exposing and thwarting these wild dreams of absolutist authority, kingship, empire, racial purity, total control, and so forth.
That hothead Antifa puts it bluntly over at MoA
Our government of, by and for the economic elite is guiding their privately held nation into its post-Empire status quo, which shall be economic slavery for 90% of us, House N*gger and Technocrat status for three-quarters of the rest, and nobility and wealth beyond any current standards for two or three million Owners of the Ownership Society. thread: why did the Dems cave on Bush spying powers?
Ninety percent field hands is a high margin to deal with, for which purpose an Overseer class is needed. Nowadays, that means Total Information Awareness, and total economic tracking and control of every worker. Keeping the field hands in line is what surveillance is needed for.
Just as it was in Smedley's time, and Adolf's. Except now they have RFID, and Murdoch just bought the WSJ (who could have imagined their op/ed page getting any worse? but you can bet it will).
How can we best combat cultural amnesia, Snopes-ify and deconstruct official stories, un-revise history, and break the hypnotic trance of "We Are the Champions" that informs so much patriotic, paternalist, and technocratic hubris in our unravelling world? Is the Internet really enough? How do we get more people to take the whatever-coloured pill that instils a healthy skepticism of official stories?