Tag Archives: Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler

“The Plot against America” by Philip Roth

by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 1/26/15

I recently read The Plot against America by Philip Roth (2004), a gripping historical novel, a genre that I always enjoy for the challenging light that it sheds on both the past and a present that could have been marked by a different past.

Roth takes two and a half years out of US history—from June 1940 to November 1942—to build a rather plausible alternative scenario. The hero aviator Charles Lindbergh, playing on the popularity of his 1927 trans-Atlantic flight and his isolationist philosophy, triumphs as a Republican presidential candidate over FDR and installs an increasingly tyrannical and racist regime abetted by the watchful eyes of the FBI and its interrogators.

Roth, Plot

I don’t recall it being mentioned in the book, but the plot’s plausibility is enhanced by the fact that Lindbergh’s father served as a Republican congressman from Minnesota from 1906-16 and adamantly opposed US entry into World War I.

The novel has its heroes, who like the anti-hero Lindbergh were actual historical figures. The outspoken radio commentator Walter Winchell speaks truth to power until he is assassinated. New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, orating at Winchell’s funeral, evokes Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen here (p. 305: “It can’t happen here? My friends, it is happening here”). And FDR, after recovering from his 1940 defeat, wins a special election in 1942, after Lindbergh’s disappearance, in time to rejoin his historical role of leading the US in World War II.

I suspect that Roth must have drawn on the 1933 “Business Plot” or “Wall Street Putsch” against FDR, foiled by West Chester native Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler, whom I mentioned in a recent blog.

As Wikipedia (see there for notes, links, and more info) summarizes that affair,

The Business Plot was an alleged political conspiracy in 1933 in the United States. Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler claimed that wealthy businessmen were plotting to create a fascist veterans’ organization and use it in a coup d’état to overthrow President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt, with Butler as leader of that organization. In 1934, Butler testified before the United States House of Representatives Special Committee on Un-American Activities (the “McCormack-Dickstein Committee”) on these claims. In the opinion of the committee, these allegations were credible. No one was prosecuted.

That Wikipedia post (which, as often, keeps evolving) mentions Jules Archer’s 1973 book The Plot to Seize the White House, about the Business Plot, as well as Sally Denton’s 2012 The Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right. The similarity of these titles to Roth’s seem to suggest an influence.

Wikipedia (see links and notes there), however, says:

…Roth has stated that the idea for the novel came to him while reading Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s autobiography, in which Schlesinger makes a comment that some of the more radical Republican senators of the day wanted Lindbergh to run against Roosevelt. The title appears to be taken from that of a communist pamphlet published in support of the campaign against Burton K. Wheeler’s re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1946….

The pamphlet in question is entitled “The Plot Against America: Senator Wheeler and the Forces Behind Him.”

Though Roth’s novel occurs later in FDR’s presidency, and though Roth puts an actual anti-FDR figure in power, it features the same right wing views, leadership of corporate chiefs, and fear of a duly elected US president. (As pointed out by Denton in “When The Bankers Plotted To Overthrow FDR,” NPR, the corporate fears of FDR as he took over the presidency in 1933, of JFK in 1961, and Obama in 2009 have something in common.)

Up until the melodramatic unraveling of the Lindbergh regime, this is an appealingly convincing excursus into the possibilities of US history, already replete with plenty of horrors from slavery to, as Roth amply brings out, anti-Semitism as witnessed by the 8-year-old central character who just happens to be named Philip Roth. One would like to be able to say that the “reeducation” and “redistribution” plans to “Americanize” Jewish Americans can’t happen here, but one would be optimistic, judging from the Native American and Japanese American experiences.

Still, as in history, Roosevelt emerges from both plots–the one denounced by Butler and the one imagined by Roth–in his essential historical role as the powerful leader at the time he was most needed.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Nathaniel Smith

Hoping Mr. Costello is inspired by Gen. Butler

by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 1/14/15

I was happy to have a letter in the Daily Local News on 1/9/15.

Ryan Costello, is the just-elected member of the US House of Representatives for PA district 6. Michael P. Rellahan’s article “Ryan Costello set to take seat in 114th Congress” in the 1/3/15 Daily Local started out:

The politicians from West Chester who have served as U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District hold remarkable and sometimes colorful biographical histories.

Like the private in the U.S. Army during the Civil War (Smedley Darlington, who served from 1887-1891) and grew to be a banker and the eventual grandfather of a military man known as the “Fighting Quaker.” Or the businessman who began his career (William Everhart, 1853-1855) in Congress 30 years after surviving the sinking of the ship Albion off the coast or Ireland.

Or the war veteran (John Hickman, 1855-1863) who led the impeachment hearing of a federal judge from Tennessee in the 1860s; and the Everhart scion (James Bowen Everhart 1883-1887) who supplemented his work as a Harvard-educated attorney by publishing works of poetry, notably “The Fox Chase….”

Yes, Costello joins a distinguished and varied roster. Time will tell whether he will be serving the public or his party.

I felt called on to react after Mr. Rellahan mentioned Smedley Darlington Butler….

continue reading at Politics: A View from West Chester

Leave a comment

Filed under Nathaniel Smith, Peace, War

A remarkable man

Major General Smedley Butler wrote:

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations….

Yes, a remarkable man.

From Denton Sally Denton, The Plots Against the President: FDR, a Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right, quoted at “When The Bankers Plotted To Overthrow FDR” at NPR Books, 2/12/12:

…The Wall Street Putsch, as it’s known today, was a plot by a group of
right-wing financiers.

“They thought that they could convince Roosevelt, because he was of their, the patrician class, they thought that they could convince Roosevelt to relinquish power to basically a fascist, military-type government,” Denton says.

“It was a cockamamie concept,” she adds, “and the fact that it even got as far as it did is pretty shocking.”

The conspirators had several million dollars, a stockpile of weapons and had even reached out to a retired Marine general, Smedley Darlington Butler, to lead their forces.

“Had he been a different kind of person, it might have gone a lot further,” Denton says. “But he saw it as treason and he reported it to Congress.”…

Denton says that as she was writing the book, she was struck by the parallels between the treatment of Roosevelt and that of Barack Obama. For example, a cottage industry much like the birther movement grew up around proving that the Dutch-descended Roosevelt was actually a secret Jew.

–Bill McLaughlin

For more on local and national hero Smedley Darlington Butler, see also:

“War Is A Racket” by Smedley Darlington Butler

“Historical Interlude: Smedley Butler and Benito Mussolini” by John Grant

“The Business of War (an excerpt about Smedley Butler)” by Wade Frazier

“War Is a Racket” by Amy Goodman

“BBC: Bush’s Grandfather Planned Fascist Coup In America” by Paul Joseph Watson

“Smedley Darlington Butler of West Chester” by Nathaniel Smith

“When The Bankers Plotted To Overthrow FDR” by Nathaniel Smith

“Smedley Butler,” Wikipedia

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Security, Terrorism, War

Historical Interlude: Smedley Butler and Benito Mussolini

by John Grant, 11/8/11

Smedley Butler was raised in West Chester, Pennsylvania, as a Quaker. His father was a US congressman there who helped his 16-year-old son Smedley join the US Marines. As a very green second lieutenant, young Smedley served at the end of the initial phase of the Spanish American War in the hills around Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Butler went on to the Philippines, where he had a Filipino carve a large Marine globe, anchor and eagle emblem into his skinny chest. He went on to serve in China, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti and Europe in WWI. Over his 33-year career, he earned two Congressional Medals of Honor and reached the top rank in the Marine Corps of two-star, Major General. He was a classic soldier’s soldier.

His Quaker upbringing may explain the amazing loyalty he was shown throughout his career from men in the enlisted ranks and for his ability to use wit, non-violence and arbitration to accomplish his missions. It also explains why he ran afoul of stuffed-shirt political types and at the end of his career wrote a pamphlet called “War Is a Racket” about how in Central America he had been “a gangster for the Brown Brothers Bank.” He wrote: “I could have taught Al Capone a thing or two.” The pamphlet ends with: “To Hell with War!”

Butler was a very colorful and entertaining public speaker who used obscenities and didn’t mince words; if he felt someone needed to be raked over the coals, he was unafraid to do it. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Peace, Security, Terrorism, War