Sunday, January 23, 2022

My book report: It keeps happening here

 Sally Denton, The Plots Against the President:  FDR, a Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right, 2019, Nevada Smith Press

We need a good, thorough investigation of the 1933 conspiracy by industrialists, bankers and admirers of European fascism to install a Mussolini-style government here.  This isn't it, but it has some useful information for those who have no idea what I'm talking about.  The whole affair has vanished from the history texts, at least the ones I used, along with General Smedley Butler.  

There are two things wrong with this book.  First, I know proofreading is a lost art but you shouldn't have to guess what the author means.  And second, an awful lot of space is devoted to Giuseppe Zangara's attempt on Roosevelt's life in Miami, perhaps to justify the title, although there was no evidence he plotted with anyone despite attempts to tie him to Communists, anarchists and even the Camorra.  An index would have been useful.  I'm also suspicious of a work of history that lists Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism in its bibliography.  By the time Denton gets to the Business Plot it's almost an afterthought.

The single best chapter is about the Bonus Marchers, the Great War veterans who arrived in Washington in the summer of 1932 to demand payment of the bonus due them in 1945 (to make up for wages lost during military service).  Ragged and hungry, they camped out in Anacostia Flats, an abandoned army base, and began to petition Congress for payment which the government was too broke to afford.  Most upsetting for a Southern city like Washington and a bone-deep racist like J. Edgar Hoover, they were racially integrated.  The director of the Bureau of Investigation warned the president that he was under attack by "473,000 trained men" with 123 machine guns and 116 airplanes (these men barely had shoes), all Communist-controlled.  President Hoover ordered them cleared from the streets but specified that the force was not to cross the bridge into their camp.  In the late afternoon of July 28 Washington witnessed the last cavalry charge on US soil as General Douglas MacArthur, accompanied by an excited Major George Patton and a reluctant Major Dwight Eisenhower, led mounted troops with drawn swords, along with infantry and five tanks, in a Cossack-like assault on pedestrians, mainly government workers on their way home.  Never one to obey the commander in chief unless it suited him, MacArthur led his forces into Anacostia where they proceeded to destroy the camp with grenades and artillery, sending hundreds to the hospital and killing several children.  There was one positive development that day:  the political career of Herbert Hoover was ended.

Had the scheming businessmen approached MacArthur instead of Butler, history might be different, but in 1933 "Dugout Doug's" publicity machine was not yet up to speed and the retired Marine, two-time winner of the Medal of Honor, had far more cred with veterans.  As an outspoken critic of American imperialism and interference in other countries, Butler would have provided a liberal-seeming face for the takeover the fascists had in mind.  Instead, he shared details with the House Committee on Un-American Activities chaired by Morris Dickstein of New York, and with such journalists as he could interest.  There was no response from the administration, which apparently chose to downplay it, and Butler himself was derided and marginalized in Time and other publications.  

The book provides basic information about the various forerunners of today's "Oath Keepers" et al.:  The Liberty League (including Al Smith); the apocalyptic Christian Silver Shirts; the Khaki Shirts, pro-Mussolini Italian immigrants; the Gray Shirts, whose target was "Communistic" college professors; and multi-hued Klan spin-offs.  Someone should write a book about them one day.  Roosevelt was simultaneously called "a traitor to his class" and "that Jew cripple in the White House" who was protecting the "real kidnappers" of the Lindbergh baby.  Oh, and demented.  The right never seems to come up with new material.

We are about to find out what happens when fascists control an entire major party and most people don't seem to care.  The important thing to remember is, we've been here before.




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