Monday, January 28, 2013

"The Untold History of the United States"

I've been reading The Untold History of the United States, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. Although this work has been disparaged -- by the liberal bloggers! -- as a collection of wacky conspiracy theories, it is anything but. (I suspect that the critics who say such things have read only the byline, not the text itself.) Although I haven't completed the book, the material in the early chapters is verifiable and backed by the citation of reputable sources. Much of it is probably familiar to Cannonfire readers.

That said, we should confess that Cannonfire readers probably know about a lot about matters which remain hidden from the general population. For example, Stone and Kuznick pay much attention to America's ghastly war in the Philippines -- an adventure which prompted Mark Twain to suggest changing our flag to red, white and black, with skulls replacing the stars. To the best of my recollection, that hideous war received no mention in my high school American history text -- and I took an AP course! I doubt that this war receives much coverage in the books approved by Glenn Beck and the Fox News crowd. (As you may know, the rightists have been concocting their own appalling answers to Howard Zinn.)

Stone and Kuznick do make some errors of judgment; for example, Theodore Roosevelt deserves better treatment than he receives in these pages. TR was a complex figure, now admired by liberals -- who applaud his willingness to take on the "malefactors of great wealth" -- and by neo-cons like Karl Rove, who don't understand that TR's dreams of empire were mostly just verbal bluster, not an actual program.

Many readers may be surprised by what Stone and Kuznick have to say about that other Roosevelt, FDR:
Magazines began calling bankers “banksters.” The Nation observed, “If you steal $25, you’re a thief. If you steal $250,000, you’re an embezzler. If you steal $2,500,000, you’re a financier.”... In this climate, Roosevelt had pretty much a free hand to do what he wanted. Brain Truster Raymond Moley noted, “If ever there was a moment when things hung in the balance, it was on March 5, 1933—when unorthodoxy would have drained the last remaining strength of this capitalist system.” Senator Bronson Cutting concluded that Roosevelt could have nationalized the banks “without a word of protest.” Rexford Guy Tugwell, director of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and other advisors urged Roosevelt to do just that.

A run on a bank, February 1933. Between 1930 and 1932, one-fifth of U.S. banks failed. By the time Roosevelt was inaugurated, banking had been halted completely or sharply limited everywhere.

But Roosevelt chose a much more conservative course of action. He declared a four-day national bank holiday, conferred with the nation’s top bankers on his first full day in office, called a special session of Congress to pass emergency legislation, and calmed citizens’ fears with the first of his famous fireside chats. Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the Emergency Banking Act, written largely by the bankers themselves. The banking system had been restored without radical change. Congressman William Lemke remarked, “The President drove the money-changers out of the Capitol on March 4th—and they were all back on the 9th.”... Roosevelt’s solution to the banking crisis would serve as a template for how he would handle most issues. His instincts were fundamentally conservative. He would save capitalism from the capitalists. As Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet officer in the nation’s history, explained, Roosevelt “took the status quo in our economic system as much for granted as his family . . . he was content with it.”... But the means he would use to save capitalism would be bold, visionary, and humane. They would transform American life for decades. Perhaps longer.

Though clearly not a radical, Roosevelt laid out an ambitious recovery program during his first hundred days in office.
This chapter gives us some idea as to why FDR succeeded while Obama (so far) has largely failed. In part -- but only in part -- Obama has had to take a more conservative course of action because he operates against a very different political background. The financial power structure had stronger muscles in 2008 than in 1933, and the American electorate remained quite conservative as it entered the 21st century. Thirty years of neo-liberal propaganda will inevitably have an impact on which thoughts are considered permissible and which proposed solutions may be open for discussion.

The important point to take away the Stone/Kuznick account is that FDR was not a radical, not a socialist who hated capitalism. At the time, many considered Roosevelt the man who would save capitalism from itself. Quite a few people (including his own Vice President) thought that he should have gone much further.

We need to say a word or two about the Glenn Beckians who insanely try to conflate the New Deal with Hitler's fascism. These people never research the actual history of the time, and never look into what the actual followers of Hitler thought about Franklin Roosevelt.

Directly after his election, some fascists (both European and domestic) felt cautiously optimistic about FDR. But within months, they turned on him, mounting a very powerful subversive movement which prefigured the Tea Party:
Hitler, too, had more than his share of U.S. defenders. Among the more notorious was Republican Congressman Louis T. McFadden of Pennsylvania. He took to the floor of the House in May 1933 to decry the international Jewish conspiracy, reading passages from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic screed purporting to prove a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, into the Congressional Record and announcing that the president’s abandonment of the gold standard “had given the gold and lawful money of the country to the international money Jews of whom Franklin D. Roosevelt is the familiar.” “This country has fallen into the hands of the international money changers,” he charged. “Is it not true,” McFadden asked, “that in the United States today the Gentiles have the slips of paper while the Jews have the gold and the lawful money? And is not this repudiation bill a bill specifically designed and written by the Jewish international money changers in order to perpetuate their power?”
Not only did the New Deal reject fascist solutions, it resisted attempts to impose any unified, coherent philosophy. It was more of a hodgepodge of agencies. Raymond Moley wrote that viewing the New Deal as the product of a consistent plan “was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.” Roosevelt was more pragmatic than ideological. And he was willing to allow government to play a vastly bigger role than any of his predecessors could have imagined.
Eventually, these same fascist forces within the United States tried to mount a coup against Roosevelt. The military leader they chose for that program was General Douglas McArthur -- a man later revered by the Birchers, and, later still, the Tea Partiers.

Don't decry Stone and Kusnick's work until you can prove to me that the history books being taught in today's schools give a more accurate account of that era.


Anonymous said...

Or was it Gen. Smedley Butler?


Joseph Cannon said...

Butler was recruited first. He blabbed.

Mac said...

The film Gabriel Over the White House, a Hearst propaganda film from that period encouraging "benevolent dictatorship," has been put online by Glenn Beck, or his cohorts. Apparently, they imagine that William Randolph Hearst was a communist.

Andy Tyme said...

It's extremely telling that in the book version of Stone's new "alternative history" pageant, the JFK hit merits only a passing reference (to "conflicting opinions") on less than a full page of text, with a waffling conclusion no better than the pap offered up in public-school history textbooks.

And this after all the intricate conspiracy hullabaloo Stone once embraced (back in 1991) and promoted, as he quoted and paraphrased extensively from Fletcher Prouty and Jim Marrs.

Methinks that Arnon Milchan, the money man behind Stone's JFK film (one of the chosen tribe, of course) initially backed the project because it promised to wholly deflect suspicion away from the Meyer Lansky/Mossad factions at work back in '63 -- but in later years Stone has been "re-educated" that it's wiser (for his remaining career) to stay even further away from the shadow of the temple. Hence his full support of the official 9/11 myth, with a big-budget cinema spectacular that (ironically) also demonstrated how realistic imagery of the (mysteriously small) rubble pile could be perfectly SIM-ulated with Hollywood craftsmanship.

Stephen Morgan said...

I don't buy on books that might not be any good, can't afford to anymore, so I thought I'd watch the series to see if it was alright. Didn't get halfway through the first episode, couldn't take all the hard-right rah-rah jingoism.

Doesn't Andy Tyme's comment go dangerously close to CD, or even holographic planes and actors? And anti-semitism.

cracker said...

Congressman McFadden was such an "anti-semite" that he believed the privately owned and mostly foreign controlled Federal Reserve Bank was a threat to the freedom and independence of American citizens. The quote about him also fails to mention that he survived two assassination attempts shortly before his death, one by gunfire and one by poisoning. His death was almost certainly a result of poison. In the 1930's, congressmen didn't fly on aircraft all that much, so classical methods of murder had to be employed. Historical footnote:
the value of the US dollar has dropped by 99% during the 99 years of the Federal Reserve's existence.
Look up Andrew Jackson and his war against a central national bank. He must have been an anti-semite too.

joseph said...

Rules for determining whether a conspiracy exists, apply and you won't wind up sounding like Andy or Crakcer;
1. Determine known facts
2. Apply law of Parsimony

ColoradoGuy said...

Saw the series on Showtime; sounds like the book is good too.

A question for Joe: just how would Wallace have worked out as the new President? The standard histories say that his refusal to expel Communists from the Progressives in 1948 is what doomed his candidancy. Certainly, by 1948, the die for Eastern Europe had been cast; democracy there had been exposed as a sham, and Stalin was giving everyone a good scare.