Selling America

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 25

Selling America

This is Part 25 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the 
first entry in the series, Part 1

 

 

wiz

In the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie, the character known as “Oz the Great and Powerful” wasn’t the supernatural being he appeared to be. He was just an illusion made with the proverbial smoke and mirrors.

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When he was separated from all his methods of illusion, the character played by Frank Morgan wasn’t imposing and fearful at all.

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Let me introduce you to someone else from back in that time period who also didn’t look powerful. He was short, plain.  In fact, some might say he appeared rather wimpy and ineffectual in person.

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His name was Edward (“Eddie”) Bernays. But don’t let appearances fool you. Unlike Oz’s phony wizard, over a period of decades Eddie manipulated masses of people more powerfully than most men before or since.

Obviously, we know that looks can be deceiving.

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After studying Eddie’s life and accomplishments for the first time back in 2012, I came to realize that Eddie Bernays was one of those “most influential people you’ve probably never heard of.” (In fact, he was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine.) Although I don’t remember ever hearing or reading his name before 2012, ever since the first time I noticed it I seem to see it everywhere in my history studies now. He’s a little like the fictional “Forrest Gump” character, showing up unexpectedly in all sorts of settings.

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Back in his heyday Bernays was somewhere around the fringes when all sorts of big things were happening…pulling strings but choosing to stay out of the public eye personally.

You can see him in a pic at age 26 in France at the end of a line of people at the Paris Peace Conference that ended WW1. (He had been employed as part of the ground-breaking “Committee on Public Relations,” an outreach that had been created by the US government to influence public opinion to support US participation in the war. In other words, its job was “selling Americans on the war.” The creation of that outreach is considered by many to be the historical “birth” of the field of public relations—and modern advertising—in the US.)

Or here he is on the right, at age 50 at an event with Eleanor Roosevelt.

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And it was indeed a long heyday—born in 1891, he died in 1995 at age 103!  Here he is in 1990 at about 99. Even then he was still giving interviews and talking about his career.

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So what did Eddie DO? He was, as one of his biographers called him, “The Father of Spin.

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He is considered by many to have had the most historical influence of any one person in the creation of the modern role of the “Public Relations man.”

Eddie did “P.R.” Some claim he personally even coined the popular use of the term “public relations.” In fact, it seems he coined it because he had been involved in creating “propaganda” for the government. But he knew that term came with a lot of unpleasant baggage. If he was going to use the same methods to influence attitudes and choices of the general public in non-governmental spheres…out in the market place of goods and services…he couldn’t refer to his efforts as propaganda. He needed a less threatening, more benign term.

His field wasn’t just “advertising,” he would be very quick to point out if you called him an “Ad man.” The typical ad man, from Eddie’s point of view, was a fellow who badgered people into buying a product, usually with methods that emphasized, either truthfully or deceptively, the details of the alleged fine qualities of the product that made it superior to similar products, and what a great value it was for the price. This is what “advertising” typically meant in the early years of the last century when Eddie began his career. Like this information from a Sears Roebuck catalog of 1908 on rocking chairs.

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This kind of “ad” was purely informational. Catalogs of the time were typically full of this type of advertising. It emphasized paragraph after mind-numbing paragraph of teeny print describing every excruciating detail of the bargain you were being offered, along with close-up photos or artist renderings of the item showing its every feature. Why?

Because the typical advertising man of the time was convinced that what people really wanted in order to make buying decisions was practical information, information they could use to make rational purchasing choices.

But you see—Eddie Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud! He had studied his uncle’s writings, and even arranged to have Freud’s “Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis” notes from 1915-1917 translated into English and published as a book in America, the first popular exposure American readers had to Freud’s theories.

Yes, Eddie knew all about the unconscious. He knew better than to think that the mass of humankind are coolly “rational beings.” In addition to the theories of his Austrian “Uncle Siggie,” Eddie was strongly influenced by the writings of the French author Gustave LeBron (who popularized the theory of “crowd psychology” with his 1895 book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind) and the British pioneering neurosurgeon Wilfred Trotter (who wrote a famous book in 1916 titled Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War.)

As a result of these influences, Eddie had been one of the first of his generation to realize—and act upon—the understanding that “persuading” people…to buy a product, to support a cause, to vote for a candidate…was much more effectively done by applying principles from psychology and psychiatry than by trying to “sell” it to them with a frontal assault on their “rational mind.”

Bernays had been acting on this understanding in his business career for barely a decade by 1923 when he wrote the very first book on the topic of Public Relations, Crystallizing Public Opinion. Listen to his opinion from that book about the ability for rational thinking of the common man:

The average citizen is the world’s most efficient censor. His own mind is the greatest barrier between him and the facts. His own ‘logic proof compartments,’ his own absolutism are the obstacles which prevent him from seeing in terms of experience and thought rather than in terms of group reaction.

Five years later, in 1928, he wrote another book on the topic, titled Propaganda.

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Listen to the “underpinnings” of his PR efforts on behalf of American businesses (as well as his role in “selling” more than one president to the public, the “selling” of more than one war to the public, the “selling” of much more…):

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mindis it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.

 He went on to pontificate:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic [!!] society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

…We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

He meant this to be encouraging! Otherwise, he insisted, there would be chaos and anarchy.

Does this sound all a bit creepily familiar? Perhaps that is because it was a well-known fact that Hitler’s Reich Minister of Propaganda, Josef Goebbels, was an admirer of Eddie’s writings. Yes, Crystallizing Public Opinion and Propaganda were in Goebbel’s personal library.

I remember a book I read called PR: A Social History of Spin. The author discussed how the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Josef Goebbels, was an ardent student of Mr. Bernays, despite the fact that Mr. Bernays was JewishGoebbels desperately wanted to meet Mr. Bernays and apparently sent numerous books to him to be autographed. We don’t know if Mr. Bernays autographed them, but Goebbels claimed that he did.

Goebbels, who had a PhD in philosophy (which is crucial in terms of understanding how he was able to understand Bernays and apply his writings in the way that he did), apparently had an even larger library on propaganda than Mr. Bernays and had not only read all of his books, but had largely memorized a good deal of them as well. Goebbels was able to utilize Bernays’ ideas on propaganda in a manner that was the most malicious and homicidal ever seen in the 20th century: to support the Final Solution. [Source]

 Eddie regretted this unwelcome connection when its significance became clear in later years, but didn’t take it as “criticism” of his theories—just an example of how they could be used by unscrupulous people. In the right hands … they were the “tools of democracy”!

In Eddie’s own hands they were tools over the years to promote a wide variety of products, ideas, people, causes, and even wars. His corporate clients had included, among many others, Procter & Gamble, the American Tobacco Company, the United Fruit Company (remember Chiquita Banana?), General Electric, Dodge Motors, and Knox Gelatin.

Causes he had helped promote included the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (he was the one who encouraged them in about 1949 to shorten the name of the disease in their promotional materials to simply MS), the NAACP, and the fluoridation of water.

He helped with the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and Calvin Coolidge in 1924. He helped promote US entry into World War 1, the overthrow of the democratically-elected president of Guatemala in 1954, the interests of South Vietnam in the early 1960s. And he was the publicity director for the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

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Even without Public Relations and Modern Advertising, the Industrial Revolution in America that began slowly before the Civil War and picked up speed throughout the ensuing decades up to the beginning of the 20th century had transformed the country to the point it was almost unrecognizable from its agrarian roots of the period of the Founding Fathers. Endless, ever-increasing production and consumption of goods had become “the way of life” of the land. Oh, there had been cyclical periods of economic upheaval in the last half of the 1800s. For instance, conditions during the Panic of 1893-1897—during the alleged “Gay Nineties”—were in many ways as bad or worse for some parts of the population than the Depression of the 1930s.

As a result of the panic, stock prices declined. 500 banks closed, 15,000 businesses failed, and numerous farms ceased operation. The unemployment rate hit 25% in Pennsylvania, 35% in New York, and 43% in Michigan. Soup kitchens were opened to help feed the destitute. Facing starvation, people chopped wood, broke rocks, and sewed by hand with needle and thread in exchange for food. In some cases, women resorted to prostitution to feed their families.  (Source)

But the country recovered, and by the time the Roaring Twenties began, optimism that ALL such economic problems were “behind us” was rampant among both business people and the public. America’s potential future seemed unendingly bright.

Businesses in particular were more and more confident that they would be able to use the new methods of Modern Advertising and Public Relations to build bigger and bigger markets. They would use psychology and subtlety to create “new wants and desires” in people for things they never knew they needed. One example:

 “You ask me what we need to win this war.
I answer tobacco, as much as bullets.”

Guess who said that, and when.

It’s a World War 1 quote, from General John J Pershing, leader of the US Expeditionary Force. And he wasn’t exaggerating.

Obviously, the boys in the trenches needed bullets. And food—here is a description of the rations they received, very similar to this later WWII ration:

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The reserve ration was first issued during the latter part of World War I to feed troops who were away from a garrison or field kitchen. It originally consisted of 12 ounces of fresh bacon or one pound of canned meat known as the Meat Ration – usually, corned beef. Additionally, two 8-ounce cans of hard bread or hardtack biscuits, a packet of 1.16 ounces of pre-ground coffee, a packet of 2.4 ounces of granulated sugar, and a packet of 0.16 ounces of salt were issued.

But Uncle Sam decided early on that bacon, bread, and coffee wasn’t enough to fortify the troops for battle.

There was also a separate “tobacco ration” of 0.4 ounces of tobacco and 10 cigarette rolling papers, later replaced by brand-name machine-rolled cigarettes.

And thus by the end of the war 14 million cigarettes a day were being distributed to the “doughboys.”

Before the Great War, men in America had been partial to pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. Smoking cigarettes was considered in many circles to be a sign of effeminacy. It was a habit affected by “dandies” maybe, but not “real men.” Still, tobacco—and its nicotine kick—was considered valuable in helping to calm nerves, and psychologically lighten hardships. With our men facing trench warfare, gas attacks, tanks, suffering, serious injury, and possible death, Uncle Sam considered the least he could do was provide them with the comfort of tobacco.

As it turned out, the easiest and most convenient form in which to distribute it and use it in the trenches was the cigarette. Thus the cigarette quickly lost its reputation as being for sissies.

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I didn’t understand until I looked it up a while back that the smoke from pipe tobacco and cigars had not traditionally been inhaled into the lungs. The type of tobacco used in cigars and pipes was (and evidently still is) very harsh on delicate tissue, and would immediately lead to coughing and gagging. The idea I guess is to kind of “roll around” the smoke in your mouth and then poof it out. (I found both “cigar smokers’ forums” and “pipe smokers’ forums” on the Internet where guys were discussing the process, and warning newbies not to inhale, but instead just “savor” the “flavors” of the tobacco in the mouth.) Thus nicotine would be absorbed primarily from the lining of the mouth.

But in 1913, just shortly before WW1, the RJ Reynolds tobacco company introduced the Camel cigarette.

The new Camels were made from a blend of different tobaccos, cured in a way which made them mild enough to allow the smoke to be deeply inhaled. This 1915 ad explained how different this “new” kind of cigarette was.

camels

Inhalation results in nicotine “speeding” to the brain. It wasn’t long before regular daily use became the norm for many cigarette smokers, as more and more became addicted.

And as you can imagine, with smoking being just about the only “recreation” for the soldiers in the trenches during the War, millions of them came home from that war addicted to cigarette smoking. In fact, many of them came home with a preference for one or another of the brands of cigarettes. You see, the tobacco companies were more than happy to do their “patriotic duty” and provide cigarettes to the troops at or below cost … as long as they were distributed in their branded packages.

The government provided 50 cigarettes per week in the actual ration kits. And canteens across Europe also allowed soldiers to buy as many more cigarettes as they “needed” at or below their wholesale price. Evidently, the government agreed with the tobacco companies to distribute the various brands in the same “proportion” as their place in the market back in the United States.

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By the way, it wasn’t just the American soldier who “needed” tobacco. The other Allies made sure their boys’ nicotine needs were taken care of too. And those boys made sure the folks back home knew that they’d be even happier to receive a care package with extra smokes than to get a box of Mom’s homemade cookies—as you can see from this New Zealand postcard of the time.

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“Woodbines” were a popular UK brand of cigarettes at the time.

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Yes, as General Pershing said, smokes were recognized as being as vital as bullets to the war effort.

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And the American tobacco companies were happy to oblige.

… while the boys went to war to serve our country, the tobacco industry supplied the soldiers with free tobacco so as to do their part to “help” the war efforts.  Soldiers came home addicted to nicotine from all the free cigarettes generously supplied by the tobacco companies, and the industry had customers for life.

 Which brings us back to the efforts of Eddie Bernays.

 …. Cigarettes were manly things now, the stuff of warriors. And as their use among men soared, so did the profits of the companies making them.

All of which convinced cigarette makers that the time was ripe to open a second front, this time targeting females.

In 1928, just as they were beginning that push, Edward L. Bernays began working for George Washington Hill, head of the American Tobacco Company, which made America’s fastest-growing brand of cigarettes, Lucky Strikes.

“Hill,” Bernays recalled later, “became obsessed by the prospect of winning over the large potential female market for Luckies. ‘If I can crack that market, I’ll get more than my share of it,’ he said to me one day. ‘It will be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard.’”

The war and changing social mores already were helping Hill tap that lode. Many women who’d replaced men in factories or served abroad had taken up the habit, defying the taboo against female smoking, and college coeds were trying to tear down barriers against women smoking in public places. The share of cigarettes consumed by women more than doubled from 1923 to 1929, but it still was just 12 percent, far lower than Hill had hoped. [The Father of Spin, Larry Tye: unless otherwise noted, all further quotes in this entry are from this book.]

But of course, most middle class women of the time did not live lives of adventure and high risk. Offering them a smoke to calm their frazzled nerves wouldn’t be smart psychology. Hill decided that the biggest lure he could use for women would be to promise them that smoking Luckies would help them be attractive. In the “flapper” era of the 1920s, the “slim” figure for women was becoming the standard of beauty. And women were becoming conscious of the role over-eating played in stretching their waistlines. So Hill decided to sell the idea that smoking a cigarette was the most effective way to curb appetite.

 He’d already settled on a slogan—” Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet”—

 cigadlucky

…and to bring it to life he turned to the thirty-six-year-old Bernays, whom he’d been paying $ 25,000 a year just to be available.

It was a wise choice. Bernays didn’t invent fashions like the pursuit of a svelte figure, but he was becoming the acknowledged master of accentuating such trends and capitalizing on them for his clients, a process he termed “crystallizing public opinion.” And during his eight-year association with the tobacco tycoon he would make clear his willingness to employ whatever antics or deceptions it took to do that crystallizing, including trying to discredit new research linking smoking to deadly diseases.

 In earlier ad campaigns for other clients, Bernays had discovered the power of enlisting “experts” to endorse ideas that would be beneficial in promoting a product. So his first tactic to help promote Lucky Strikes was to start a buzz among experts who could “endorse” the idea that “slim is in.” His photographer friend Nickolaus Muray was persuaded to write to other photographers and artists and “solicit their opinions” on the new, more slender woman as the modern feminine ideal:

  “I have come to the conclusion,” Muray wrote, “that the slender woman who, combining suppleness and grace with slenderness, who instead of overeating sweets and desserts, lights a cigarette, as the advertisements say, has created a new standard of female loveliness.… I am interested in knowing if my own judgment concurs with that of others, and should be most happy to have your opinion on this subject.”  Who could argue that thin wasn’t better than fat? Few did, and the results were forwarded to newspapers, with similar “surveys” readied for actors, athletes, “beautiful girls,” society women, and male dancers.

Eddie hit the topic from many angles. He concocted news releases to send to fashion editors of magazines and newspapers that featured slender Parisian models in all the latest high fashion dresses. He circulated to news editors a testimonial from…

  … the former chief of the British Association of Medical Officers of Health warning that sweets caused tooth decay and advising that “the correct way to finish a meal is with fruit, coffee and a cigarette. The fruit,” Dr. George F. Buchan continued, “hardens the gums and cleans the teeth; the coffee stimulates the flow of saliva in the mouth and acts as a mouth wash; while finally the cigarette disinfects the mouth and soothes the nerves.”

 Eddie also embarked on less direct approaches, aimed at “changing the culture” even more than changing the habits of one potential Lucky Strike buyer at a time:

 Hotels were urged to add cigarettes to their dessert lists, while the Bernays office widely distributed a series of menus, prepared by an editor of House and Garden, designed to “save you from the dangers of overeating.” For lunch and dinner they suggested a sensible mix of vegetables, meats, and carbohydrates, followed by the advice to “reach for a cigarette instead of dessert.

And he proposed that homemakers hire kitchen cabinetmakers to provide special spaces to hold cigarettes the same as they did for flour and sugar, urged container makers to provide labeled tins for smokes just as they did for tea and coffee, and encouraged home economics writers to “stress the importance of cigarettes in home-making.… Just as the young and inexperienced housewife is cautioned not to let her supplies of sugar or salt or tea or coffee run low, so she should be advised that the same holds true of cigarettes.”

The “reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” ads had been around for about a month when a new wave of ads came out…

  this time stressing moderation. The “moderation” he had in mind, of course, meant consuming fewer sweets and more cigarettes.

The slogan for this wave of the sales campaign was “When tempted to over-indulge, Reach for a Lucky instead.”

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As you can see, the kicker in these ads was the “Future Shadow.”

And as usual, Eddie outdid himself brainstorming on ways to expand the plan.

 Bernays responded with an intricate proposal for a Moderation League, one that, ironically, he wanted to model on the “the Anti-Tuberculosis Association, Anti-Cancer Associations, Cardiac Associations etc.”

Hill balked at the long-range program, but loved Bernays’s proposal to sign up the glamorous Ziegfeld Girls. Six of the dancers formed the Ziegfeld Contour, Curve and Charm Club, signing a pledge to “renounce the false pleasure of the table— fattening foods, drinks, and cloying sweets. But I make no sacrifices: I shall smoke cigarettes.”

  And it wasn’t all just “glamour girls” who were enlisted in the sales blitz. One of the most popular female celebrities of the time was aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Charles Lindbergh had recently completed his famous solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 when Earhart was invited to take part in a June 1928 flight that also became a “first”…the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. No, she wasn’t the pilot, just along for the ride on the plane Friendship. (The flight was almost totally on “instruments,” and she hadn’t yet been trained for that type of flying.) But it was known that she was an accomplished pilot, and she went on to fame in her own right.

Conveniently for Lucky Eddie and Lucky Strikes, Amelia had a slim, trim figure.  Here she is in flight gear in 1928, and more demure in formal attire in 1932.

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So they could easily capitalize on her Friendship trip, that came right in the middle of their Lucky campaign.

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Yes, Amelia gave testimony that Lucky Strikes were the cigarette of choice on the famous flight, and that she, the pilot, and co-pilot basically chain-smoked them for most of the 20 hour trip. As she was quoted saying in another Lucky ad of the time, “I think nothing helped so much to lessen the strain for all of us.”

 So…how successful were all these hidden and not-so-hidden methods of persuasion in actually selling the product?

 Hill exulted in a December 1928 letter to Bernays, American Tobacco’s revenues rose by $ 32 million that year, and Luckies “show a greater increase than all other Cigarettes combined.”

 

Yes, by 1929, corporate America and their Public Relations experts like Eddie Bernays had become greatly adept at selling just about anything to America. Part of this success was the fact that totally new and modern outlets became available for influencing the public. Experimental radio broadcasts to the public had barely begun by 1921…

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Yet by 1929 there were something like 13 MILLION radio sets in homes across the land, likely reaching over 50 MILLION people with regular programming from sports to opera to drama and comedy shows. And advertisers were taking full advantage of a captive audience listening to such programs as that wildly popular new 1929 show, Amos ‘n’ Andy. By 1939, the number of homes with radio was up to 28 million, with a total audience of likely over 100 million…with the total US population only 130 million. Almost everybody was plugged in to the new mass media, rich and poor alike. In fact, both rich and poor could both have “front row seats” to the performances!

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The same was true of the new wave of popular national magazines that sprung up in the 20s, including Reader’s Digest, Time, True Confessions, and Better Homes and Gardens. They were being used more and more effectively also to sell just about anything to America.

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And sell they did, throughout the Roaring 20s.

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Better Homes and Gardens plumbing ad, 1930

 

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Better Homes and Gardens, Bell Telephone ad, 1930

 

But then…with what must have seemed like no warning to many, if not most, eternally optimistic corporate titans…it all came crashing down.

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And then the blame game started.

But see, the Stock Market crash, and ensuing Depression, obviously didn’t happen because of choices made by common laborers and the poor. Factories didn’t drastically cut back production and employment, or close, because those common laborers were too lazy to work. They closed for reasons enmeshed within decisions made “up at the top” of a complex, systemically-flawed economic reality in the country.

Those titans, including the CEOs of America’s biggest corporations, were faced with a public relations problem of vast proportions by the mid-1930s. They had been operating for a long, long time on the theory of the pre-eminence of the principle of unfettered capitalism. Its prime directive was: “If government would just leave big business alone we would soon arrive at utopia.”

That theory worked beautifully for the Roaring Twenties. In the Great Depression of the 1930s…not so much.

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But it was the only theory that most industrialists and bankers had to work with. When FDR made it into the White House, and made it clear that he had different Prime Directives, they panicked. The threat of government intervention in such issues as labor relations, banking rules, wage and price controls, industrial working conditions—made them cringe.

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It would appear from many of the writings of the time that a large proportion of these titans were convinced that none of what had happened was their fault. The unemployment, hunger, and starvation wasn’t their fault. The repossession of homes, the default in consumer credit loans… all of it was someone else’s fault.

It would appear that for many, it was easier to blame the victims of a deeply flawed economic and social system for much of their own plight (as president Herbert Hoover had with his promotion of his “rugged individualism” theory), and to look to evil outside influences…a manufactured ogre like communism, leftists, bleeding heart liberals…as the true source of the plight of the system, and its failure to rebound.

But convincing the struggling, hungry masses that this was so was not an easy job. It was, to put it mildly, a public relations disaster. They needed a new public relations approach. Over the decade of the 1930s, the leaders of many of America’s most well-known corporations got together regularly to brainstorm how to dig themselves out of the ditch they had become mired in. They were utterly convinced themselves that the economy could rebound to even greater heights of prosperity…but only if the government would just keep out of “their business” and let “the market” right itself. There was no need for such methods as tax-supported “public works” programs, welfare handouts, wage and price controls.

The problem was, circumstances kept deteriorating so quickly in the country that the new administration under FDR had the support of much of the populace to intervene in that market. FDR was beginning to look like the hero in the white hat, and Big Business was beginning to look more like the Big Bad Wolf. Something had to be done at the public relations level to change this “perception” held by the populace.

Big Business eventually came to what they felt to be a brilliant solution. They decided they had been so busy “selling goods to America,” they had not realized that they had totally ignored selling themselves to America. Consumers had become so accustomed to focusing on what they wanted to acquire that they had not “seen behind” the collection of goods spread out before them…to the saintly Santa Claus-like figures that were providing the bounty! There was no gratitude for the nigh-unto-miraculous cornucopia of goodies that American Unfettered Capitalism had blessed the nation with.

As one leader commented at a gathering of CEO’s in the 1930s…there was no reason they couldn’t sell American-style Capitalism the same exact way they sold cornflakes! And thus began a series of long-term projects of Selling America…selling its people on the (unfettered) Free Enterprise system. Projects that in many ways mimicked the methods perfected by Eddie Bernays.

Their first attempt was a campaign promoting “the American Way.”  Launched by the National Association of Manufacturers in the depths of the Depression, it got off to a pretty rocky start.  Because its two main premises seemed pretty hollow.

The first premise was that “The American Way” wasn’t “democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom to choose any career” or any other general factor of what most patriotic citizens believed the American way of life was. While giving lip service to those things, to the corporate leaders, the term “The American Way” was really, very specifically, intended to be short-hand for…The American Way of Economics…Unfettered Capitalism. Unfettered BOTH from government interference, and…from the efforts of the despised labor unions.

The second premise that would have seemed hollow to many spectators at the time was that this American Way was currently providing a magnificent, wonderful, prosperous utopia in America…in spite of what people could clearly see around them. And as you can see by the photos juxtaposed below, most of them taken in 1937. Some are of the billboards put up by the National Association of Manufacturers touting the prosperity of America…and linking that prosperity tightly to unlimited “free enterprise.”  And others, often taken near the same spot on the same day, showing “real life,” making that message pretty hard to swallow. Most of these photos were taken by photographers, such as Dorothea Lange, hired by the US government’s Farm Security Administration to document Depression Era conditions across the country. (Most people are familiar with Lange’s work because of this classic “Migrant Mother” photo from 1936…)

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Birmingham, Alabama, 1937

 

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ALSO Birmingham, Alabama   1937

 

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Birmingham Once Again   1937

 

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California Highway , 1937

 

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SAME California Highway  1937 “on the flip side”

 

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SAME California Highway  1937 … “just down the road”…

(They were on their way from Missouri…to who knows where…)

 

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A Beneficiary of Unfettered “Private Enterprise” meditating… 1940

 

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The classic photos of billboards above, and many others like them, have become the most enduring representation of Big Business’s Depression Era public relations efforts. You can find collections of them all over the Internet. But there was much more to those efforts, which will be discussed in the next entry in this series.

Strangely enough, one can trace a pretty clear path from those efforts forward to the politics in America in 2017, and particularly among Donald Trump’s base of Evangelical supporters—and the Strange (religious) Bedfellows he has surrounded himself with.

Stay tuned for…

The Baptism of Capitalism

 

 

 

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The Original Big Mac Attack

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 24

The Original Big Mac Attack

This is Part 24 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on
information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the 
first entry in the series, Part 1

The late 1970s saw the beginning of a long-running series of bright, cheerful ads promoting the premier hamburger sandwich of the McDonald’s menu, the Big Mac, with warnings about hungry people having “Big Mac attacks.” They were cheerfully informed that the only satisfying “cure” for this attack was to hustle to the nearest McDonald’s restaurant and order a Big Mac from the smiling employee at the counter.

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This blog entry is NOT about that kind of Mac Attack. It’s about a much earlier, much darker, decidedly uncheerful situation. With a much less satisfying solution.

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General Douglas MacArthur had been personally overseeing the preparations for the sneak attack for some time. When the day came, he was at the Front, watching over the progress of the tanks and the troops relentlessly moving forward in gas masks with their rifles, bayonets, swords—and tear gas grenades—at the ready. The enemy was routed in chaos before them, fleeing across the river. For a time, the General had his troops “stand down.” Word came from the President…do NOT cross the river and engage the opposition again at this time. There were too many dangers in that tactic. The president sent word twice, through leading military men… STAY WHERE YOU ARE until further orders.

But from MacArthur’s point of view, the President was not there to evaluate the situation clearly. MacArthur, infinitely sure of himself because of his long experience in the field, ignored the orders and by the end of the day his troops had crossed that river and attacked.

And we all know the ultimate outcome of that level of insubordination!

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Or do we? Aren’t we speaking here of General Douglas MacArthur in 1950, in North Korea, attacking North Korean and Chinese troops, defying the directives of his Commander in Chief, President Harry S Truman?

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No, we are speaking here of General Douglas MacArthur in 1932, in Washington DC, attacking over 20,000 US Army veterans of World War I…and hundreds of wives and children of some of them…defying the directives of his Commander in Chief, President Herbert Hoover.

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And therein is a story many Americans are totally unfamiliar with.

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Washington, D.C. Chief of Police Pelham D. Glassford [shown above in uniform] was driving south through New Jersey the night of May 21, 1932. Suddenly, a sight appeared in his headlights that he later described as “a bedraggled group of seventy-five or one hundred men and women marching cheerily along, singing and waving at the passing traffic.” One man carried an American flag and another a banner that read, “Bonus or a Job.” Glassford pulled over to have a word with the ragtag group. Atop one of the marchers’ pushcarts, he noted, an infant girl lay sleeping, nestled amid one family’s clothes, oblivious to the ruckus.

Glassford, who had been the youngest brigadier general in the Army in World War I, understood almost immediately who these wayfarers were. For two weeks or so, newspapers across the nation had begun carrying accounts of marchers bound for the nation’s capital.

The demonstrators were part of a growing delegation of veterans and their families heading to Washington to collect payment of the “bonus,” promised eight years before, in 1924, to soldiers who had served in the Great War. (That year, wrangling over the federal budget had ordained that this compensation be deferred until 1945.) Now in 1932, the men, who called themselves the Bonus Army, were dubbing the deferred payment the “Tombstone Bonus,” because, they said, many of them would be dead by the time the government paid it. [Smithsonian Magazine]

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The life expectancy of males in 1924 was 58.1 years, so this wasn’t an unreasonable theory. It might pay out for the young men who were drafted into service in the Great War at age 21 or so. But by the end of that war, they were drafting men ages 18 to 45. And another 2 million men of all ages volunteered, no doubt many of them in their 30s and 40s.

Plus, of course, a bonus that far in the future would not help men in staving off starvation for their families during the Great Depression.

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Such as for this family with 5 stair-step children (the son way in back is pushing an infant in a baby buggy, the dad pulling a toddler in a wagon), walking the 120 miles on a bleak highway from one small Oklahoma town to another where he hoped to find work, in 1938. He had lost the family farm during the severe Dustbowl drought, at the same time he was battling pneumonia. The family was not eligible for any kind of relief aid from the county where they had lived.  If he was due a bonus from WW1, but had to wait until 1945, his children might well all be dead by then.

Glassford drove on to Washington.

By the time he got there, morning newspapers were carrying stories about the progress of the Bonus Army. The Washington Star reported that “One hundred unemployed World War veterans will leave Philadelphia tomorrow morning on freight trains for Washington” and that other vets were converging from as far away as “Portland, Oregon and the Middle West.” [ibid]

Started by a single veteran named Walter Waters in Oregon, the ragtag “movement” grew very swiftly by word of mouth… and newspaper…to eventually consist of well over 25,000 veterans, accompanied by over 1,000 wives and children.

Most of the men had been part of the World War 1 “American Expeditionary Force” (AEF) sent to Europe to aid the Allies. They dubbed their new effort the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” … BEF.

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The chief was quick to grasp the logistical nightmare he faced.

…In 1932, nearly 32,000 businesses failed. Unemployment had soared to almost 25 percent, leaving roughly one family out of every four without a breadwinner. Two million people wandered the country in a futile quest for work.

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Many of the homeless settled in communities of makeshift shacks, called “Hoovervilles” after the president they blamed for their plight. Like this huge Hooverville in Seattle.

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Glassford knew he would have to create a sort of Hooverville of his own to house the Bonus Army. But where? In the end he chose a tract of land known as Anacostia Flats, at the outer reaches of the District of Columbia, which could be reached from Capitol Hill only by a wooden drawbridge spanning the Anacostia River.

Glassford oversaw the establishment of the camp as best he could, making sure that at least a certain amount of building materials—piles of lumber and boxes of nails—were supplied. [The rest was scavenged from a nearby dump…and the nearby fields of straw. Where they could get “stuffing” for mattresses to sleep on.]

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The first contingent of Bonus Army marchers arrived May 23. Over the next two months, an estimated 25,000 more, many with wives and children, arrived to stake their claim to what they felt was their due.

They came on foot, or in rattle-trap autos and trucks…

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Some even commandeered empty rail cars along the way.

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… Evalyn Walsh McLean, 45, heiress to a Colorado mining fortune and owner of the famed Hope diamond, had heard the trucks rumbling past her Massachusetts Avenue mansion. After 1 a.m. on a night soon after the vets began pouring into the city, she drove down to the Anacostia camp, where she came upon Chief Glassford, whom she had encountered socially as she moved among Washington’s power elite, just on his way to buy coffee for the men. McLean drove with him to an all-night diner and told an awestruck counterman that she wanted 1,000 sandwiches and 1,000 packs of cigarettes. Glassford placed a similar order for coffee. “We two fed all the hungry ones who were in sight,” McLean recalled later. “Nothing I had seen before in my whole life touched me as deeply as what I had seen in the faces of the Bonus Army.” When McLean learned that the marchers needed a headquarters tent, she had one delivered along with books, radios and cots.

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About 1,100 wives and children populated the main camp, making it, with more than 15,000 people, the largest Hooverville in the country. The Bonus Marchers named their settlement Camp Marks, in honor of the accommodating police captain S. J. Marks, whose precinct encompassed Anacostia. The vets published their own newspaper (the BEF News), set up a library and barbershop and staged vaudeville shows at which they sang such ditties as “My Bonus Lies Over the Ocean.”

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“We used to watch them build their shanties,” says then eighth grader Charles T. Greene, now 83, a former director of industrial safety for the District of Columbia who lived just a few blocks from the camp in 1932. “They had their own M.P.s and officers in charge, and flag raising ceremonies, complete with a fellow playing bugle. We envied the youngsters because they weren’t in school. Then some of the parents set up classrooms.”

Almost daily, Chief Glassford visited the camp riding a blue motorcycle.

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He arranged for volunteer physicians and medical corpsmen from a local Marine Corps reserve unit to hold sick call twice a day. All the veterans, wrote syndicated Hearst columnist Floyd Gibbons, “were down at the heel. All were slim and gaunt. . . . There were empty sleeves [arms blown off in combat] and limping men with canes.”

James G. Banks, also 82 and a pal of Greene’s, remembers that neighborhood people “took meals down to the camp. The veterans were welcomed.” Far from feeling threatened, most residents saw bonus marchers as something of a curiosity. “On Saturdays and Sundays, a lot of tourists came down here,” says Banks.

Frank A. Taylor, 99, had just gone to work that summer as a junior curator in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. (In 1964 he would become the founding director of the Smithsonian’s Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History.) “People in Washington were quite sympathetic [to them],” Taylor remembers. “They were very orderly and came in to use the rest room. We did ask that they not do any bathing or shaving before the museum opened.”

While newspaper reporters produced almost daily dispatches on camp life, they largely missed the biggest story of all: in this Southern city, where schools, buses and movies remained segregated, Bonus Army blacks and whites were living, working, eating and playing together. Jim Banks, the grandson of a slave, looks back on the camp as “the first massive integrated effort that I could remember.” Roy Wilkins, the civil rights activist who in 1932 wrote about the camps for The Crisis, the NAACP monthly, noted that “there was one absentee [in the Bonus Army]: James Crow.” [ibid]

Organizer Walter Waters went to great efforts to organize a temporary encampment for the BEF men and families that was respectable, safe, and orderly.

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The camp quickly became a local attraction.  Washingtonians brought them much needed supplies, from sleeping bags to vegetables, to cigarettes, and often tossed coins to camp musicians.  Soon the camp…came to resemble a small city.  There were named streets, a library, a post office, and a barber shop.

Classes were set up for the children. They published their own newspaper, and staged vaudeville shows and boxing matches. Camp rules prohibited alcohol, weapons, fighting, and begging.

Some historians note that those veterans wanting to encamp with the marchers were required to register and prove they had been honorably discharged.

And since the veterans wanted their motives to be unambiguous, communists were not allowed. Dozens of American flags could be seen waving above the shacks and mud. 

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Marine Corps legend and retired Major General Smedley Butler turned out to praise and encourage them. It was the largest Hooverville in the nation. [Source]

In addition to Camp Marks (which ultimately held over 20,000), across the Anacostia River from the main part of DC, another 8,000 or so set up smaller camps in empty lots and in and around abandoned buildings throughout the city of Washington..

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The main group of those occupied some abandoned buildings, slated for demolition, right on Pennsylvania near the Capitol building.

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Although the main BEF group of marchers rejected any connection with Communist agitators, there was a small “rival” group in its own camp, also demanding their bonuses, that identified itself specifically as Communist.

But of course, all these men had arrived not just to have a huge social “camp out.” The main reason they had made the long trek to Washington was to lobby Congress to pass a measure to pay them their War Bonus.

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Within days of his arrival, Walter Waters had a full-blown lobbying operation under way. On June 4, the B.E.F. marched in full force down the streets of Washington.  Veterans filled their representative’s waiting rooms, while others gathered outside the Capitol building. On June 14, the bonus bill, opposed by Republicans loyal to President Hoover, came to the floor. When Congressman Edward E. Eslick (D-TN) was speaking in support of the bill, he suddenly fell dead from of a heart attack. Thousands of Bonus Army veterans marched in his funeral procession, while congress adjourned out of respect. The following day, June 15, the House of Representatives passed the bonus bill by a vote of 211 to 176.

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On the 17th, about 8,000 veterans gathered at the Capitol, feeling confident that the Senate would pass the bill. Another 10,000 were stranded behind the Anacostia drawbridge, which police had raised to keep them out of the city.

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Debate continued into the evening. Finally, around 9:30, Senate aides summoned Waters inside. He returned moments later to break the news to the crowd: the bill had been defeated. For a moment it looked as if the veterans would attack the Capitol. Instead, at the suggestion of a reporter, Waters asked the veterans to sing “America”. When the song was over, they slowly filed back to camp.

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In the days that followed, many bonus marchers went home. But Waters and 20,000 others declared their intention “to stay here until 1945 if necessary to get our bonus.” They continued to demonstrate.

On July 13, 1932, Police Chief Glassford addressed a rally on the Capitol grounds. He asked the veterans to raise their hands if they had served in France and were 100 percent American. [ibid]

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The reality was, no doubt, that many of these men HAD no “home” to go back to. And they hadn’t left jobs to make the trip. If they HAD jobs, there would have been no desperate need for the bonus. As the caption on many of the protest signs said, “Bonus OR JOBS.” If they went back to “where they came from”… where there had been no jobs in the first place…they and their families had nothing to look forward to but begging or hunger…or outright starvation. It is thus understandable why many clung on to what, in hindsight now, was a fruitless hope that if they stayed, their plight would somehow change the mind of the government.

But it didn’t.

As the weeks passed, conditions at the camp worsened.  Evalyn Walsh McLean contacted Vice President Charles Curtis, who had attended dinner parties at her mansion. “Unless something is done for these men, there is bound to be a lot of trouble,” she told him. McLean’s efforts backfired. Vice President Curtis became paranoid when he saw veterans near his Capitol Hill office on the anniversary of the day the mobs stormed France’s Bastille.

President Hoover, Army Chief of Staff [Douglas] MacArthur, and Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, increasingly feared that the Bonus Army would turn violent and trigger uprisings in Washington and elsewhere. Hoover was especially troubled by the veterans who occupied abandoned buildings downtown.  [ibid]

And thus we come to that infamous scenario described in the beginning of this story.

Fed up with the stand-off, on July 28 Secretary of War Hurley ordered Police Chief Glassford to use his police force to evacuate the Bonus Army men from their encampments in and around the abandoned buildings near the Capitol. The Bonus men resisted. They had no firearms, but did start throwing rocks and bricks at the police…and, fearing for their safety, police opened fire. One veteran was killed instantly, one mortally wounded. And the situation escalated to a flash point from there on.

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The police retreated, and Glassford’s superiors called the president to send federal troops to restore order. Hoover had been waiting for just such an opening. He had Hurley send the following orders to MacArthur:

“You will have United States troops proceed immediately to the scene of the disorder. Surround the affected area and clear it without delay. Any women and children should be accorded every consideration and kindness. Use all humanity consistent with the execution of this order.”

Unfortunately, General MacArthur had a bit more in mind than just briskly carrying out the limited order about clearing downtown D.C.

Not surprisingly, MacArthur now executed his orders in a manner seemingly designed to maximize media attention. In a highly unusual but characteristic decision — one purportedly against the advice of his aide, 42-year-old Major Dwight Eisenhower — he chose to oversee the operations in the field with the troops.

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Military protocol called for a commanding officer to remain at headquarters. This was especially true for MacArthur, whose post was administrative rather than operational. So while he charged General Perry Miles with carrying out the eviction, MacArthur assumed the real responsibility. Although no other situation offers an exact comparison, MacArthur’s action was as if General Maxwell Taylor, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1963, had led National Guard troops to the University of Alabama to confront Alabama Governor George Wallace. [ibid]

During the military operation, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, later the 34th president of the United States, served as one of MacArthur’s junior aides. Believing it wrong for the Army’s highest-ranking officer to lead an action against fellow American war veterans, he strongly advised MacArthur against taking any public role. [Source]

In fact, in an interview much later with historian Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower recalled the Bonus Army incident. He told Ambrose, “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch he had no business going down there.” But of course part of MacArthur’s “business” was to put on a personal spectacle, and he couldn’t do that from a desk.

Yes, none of this was left to chance. MacArthur had actually been planning this dramatic moment for many weeks, and obviously intended to milk the drama for all it was worth.

For two months, General MacArthur, anticipating violence, had been secretly training his troops in riot control. By the time the deadly conflict commenced, MacArthur, acting on orders from the president, had already commanded troops from Fort Myer, Virginia, to cross the Potomac and assemble on the Ellipse, the grassy lawn across from the White House.

…What happened next is etched in the American memory: for the first time in the nation’s history, tanks rolled through the streets of the capital. MacArthur ordered his men to clear the downtown of veterans…

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At 4:30 p.m., nearly 200 mounted cavalry, sabers drawn and pennants flying, wheeled out of the Ellipse.

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At the head of this contingent rode their executive officer, George S. Patton,…

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…followed by five tanks and about 300 helmeted infantrymen, brandishing loaded rifles with fixed bayonets.

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The cavalry drove most pedestrians—curious onlookers, civil servants and members of the Bonus Army, many with wives and children—off the streets. Infantrymen wearing gas masks hurled hundreds of tear-gas grenades at the dispersing crowd.

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The detonated grenades set off dozens of fires: the flimsy shelters veterans had erected near the armory went up in flames. Black clouds mingled with tear gas. [Source]

 About that “tear gas.” We are not talking here of something that just made your eyes sting and water. Nor was it the sort of chemical used in “riot control” in the 21st century. That stuff is nasty and harmful, but can’t hold a candle to what MacArthur’s troops used on the Bonus Army veterans and their families. It was a chemical called Adamsite, or “DM.” And it was from a stockpile left over from its use in the trenches in the Great War.

Adamsite is usually dispersed as an aerosol, making the upper respiratory tract the primary site of action. Although the effects are similar to those caused by typical riot control agents (e.g. CS), they are slower in onset but longer in duration, often lasting for 12 or more hours. After a latency period of 5–10 minutes irritation of the eyes, lungs and mucous membranes develops followed by headache, nausea and persistent vomiting.

DM was produced and stockpiled by the British and the United States at the end of World War I.

In the United States, it was used against the Bonus Army who demonstrated in Washington, DC, in 1932, reportedly causing the death and serious injury of several children who had accompanied their parents on the protests. It was again used in the Vietnam War.

DM was allegedly used by Venezuelan authorities in the 2014–17 Venezuelan protests and described as “green gas” with reports of protesters vomiting following exposure and regional human rights groups condemning the usage of “green gas”, stating that its usage is “internationally banned”. [Source]

Naaman Seigle, now 76, was 6 years old that day. He remembers a detachment of cavalry passing in front of his house in southwest D.C. that morning. “We thought it was a parade because of all the horses,” he says. Later in the day, the boy and his father happened to go downtown to a hardware store. As they emerged from the shop, they saw the tanks and were hit with a dose of tear gas. “I was coughing like hell. So was my father,” Seigle recalls. [Source]

And in the midst of it all was Big Mac.

As cavalry dispersed a group of outnumbered veterans waving a U.S. flag, a shocked bystander, his face streaked with tears from the gas, accosted MacArthur as he rode along in a staff car. ‘The American flag means nothing to me after this,’ the man yelled. The general quieted him with a stern rebuke, ‘Put that man under arrest if he opens his mouth again.’ The energetic officer was in his element.

One reporter observed, ‘General MacArthur, his chest glittering with medals, strode up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, flipping a riding crop against his neatly pressed breeches.’ [Source]

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Some reports put the total crowd that had been on the streets in DC that day as 8,000 spectators, and 2,000 Bonus Marchers, including some of their wives and children.  By 7 PM, the crowds were totally dispersed and the encampments evacuated and the remnants of housing and possessions smashed and torched.

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But all that was just the beginning. Although Mac’s orders had been to just assist the DC police in quelling the disturbance in the city and removing the squatters from the buildings and grounds along Pennsylvania Ave., he had a much more complete plan for his troops. He planned to put a total end to the Bonus Army by invading the Mark Camp across the river, driving out all the occupants, and destroying it.

By 9 PM the troops were stationed at the bridge ready to cross into the camp. Realizing what was about to happen, a veteran came dashing across the bridge waving a white shirt for a “flag of truce” and begged for time to evacuate the women and children. MacArthur granted the request…some historians say he gave them an hour. Some report it was twenty minutes. Either way, it was horrific.

Eyewitnesses, including Eisenhower, insisted that Secretary of War Hurley, speaking for the president, had forbade any troops to cross the bridge into Anacostia and that at least two high-ranking officers were dispatched by Hurley to convey these orders to MacArthur. The general, Eisenhower later wrote, “said he was too busy and did not want either himself or his staff bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders.” It would not be the last time that MacArthur would disregard a presidential directive—two decades later President Truman would fire him as commander of U.N. military forces in South Korea for doing just that. (Truman explicitly ordered that Chinese bases in Manchuria should not be bombed, a move that would have caused China to escalate even further its role in the Korean conflict. [Source]

And so, ignoring Hoover’s orders, Big Mac sent the troops storming over the bridge. Bayonets fixed to brandish at resisters, and lobbing tear gas as they pushed forward through the camp. Panic ensued as the veterans were routed, and their makeshift Hooverville, with all their pathetic personal possessions was torched.

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By morning virtually nothing was left.

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That morning one of the veterans returned to the barren site, where Patton was inspecting the grounds. His name was Joe Angelo.

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Angelo was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the Meuse-Argonne offensive on September 26, 1918, as an orderly with 304th Tank Brigade, commanded by future General George S. Patton, Jr.

During the battle, in an exposed position Patton was seriously wounded by a machine gun. Showing great courage under enemy fire, Angelo dragged Patton to safety. He had thus saved the life of the man who would one day become an American legend.

In the spring of 1919, an interview appeared in American newspapers in which Patton declared Angelo “without doubt the bravest man in the American Army. I have never seen his equal.”  [Source]

Evidently Patton changed his mind. That morning in July, 1932, Angelo approached him on the Anacostia Flats, and all Patton could do was turn to an aide and say, “I do not know this man. Take him away and under no circumstances permit him to return.”

He later admitted privately that indeed he DID remember Angelo, and he and his mother had even helped Angelo financially at times in the past, but it “wouldn’t have looked good” if headlines and stories about the meeting between the two of them at the scene of the ignominious Bonus Army horror had hit the newspapers.

The aftermath was mixed.

Senators Hugo Black (D-Alabama), William Borah (R-Idaho), and Hiram Johnson (R-California) were outraged at the Army’s behavior.

Representative Fiorello LaGuardia (R-New York) sent a telegram to Hoover, in which he stated:

Soup is cheaper than tear gas bombs and bread is better than bullets in maintaining law and order in these times of Depression, unemployment, and hunger.”

In Albany, Eleanor Roosevelt [FDR was NY governor at the time] read the reports of the Army’s assault on the Bonus Marchers with horror. Professor Rexford G. Tugwell, a Roosevelt confidante, was spending the night in the Governor’s Mansion. Roosevelt called him into the governor’s bedroom. Roosevelt confessed that he had once promoted Hoover for president, and now regretted that act. “There is nothing inside the man but jelly,” Roosevelt angrily said.

“Why didn’t Hoover offer the men coffee and sandwiches instead of turning Pat Hurley and Doug MacArthur loose?” Roosevelt said he might feel sorry for the spineless Hoover if he didn’t feel worse for the Bonus Army men and their families now tramping on the roads and railways.

Most newspapers, like the New York Times, supported Hoover and MacArthur’s actions. MacArthur was praised for averting revolution but never firing a shot. Yet, the Washington News declared: “If the Army must be called out to make war on unarmed citizens, this is no longer America.”

…The next day, the War Department declared that almost none of the Bonus Marchers had been veterans. Hoover later described the Bonus Army as a mixture of “hoodlums, ex-convicts, [and] Communists”. The angry Governor of Pennsylvania said that this was an out-right lie: Nearly all of them were veterans, and two-thirds had served overseas during the Great War. Over the next few weeks, the B&O Railroad—which had once denied travel to the Bonus Army—now  helped disperse them across the country again. [Source]

Later investigations did conclude that the vast majority of the men were just what they claimed to be…veterans of the Great War, down on their luck and needing a helping hand in the form of the bonus that they felt their service to the nation had earned. As they often pointed out, in 1918 they had come home heroes, but in 1932 they were just cast-offs. In 1918… “nothing was too good for them” to show the country’s gratitude for their sacrifice. In 1932, nothing…was what they got.

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Notice Hoover’s explanation above. He brought out the Communist Ogre once again. From his perspective, all the hubbub of the Bonus Army was just “invented” by the Commies to threaten US Democracy. It couldn’t be that tens of thousands of veterans were at their wit’s end how to keep their families from starving. It couldn’t be that they really DID just want the bonuses they had earned in the trenches of Europe in the Great War, to help them through the devastation of a Great Depression that they had done nothing themselves to create.

No, according to Hoover, and many conservatives in the government, that was just a ruse. They really wanted to overthrow the government in a Bolshevik-style revolution. Yes. Such a threat! 25,000 or so emaciated, exhausted, disheartened men with almost no belongings, and no weapons other than rocks and stones. Against the fully-equipped military might of the United States Army. (About the only thing the military didn’t do was fly over the Anacostia Camp in WW1 biplanes dropping dynamite bombs. Or worse.)

Quite a devilishly clever Communist plot, eh?!

Were there some Communist agitators more than willing to show up and “stir the pot” in this situation? Of course there were. But once again, as in the First Red Scare of the post-WW1 era, the answer to fending off their efforts at persuasion would have been for the US government and American industry to actually be honestly, openly working toward immediate solutions to the dire poverty and starvation in the country. And honestly and openly working on creative, long term solutions to solve the economic problems that led to the Stock Market crash and the Depression in the first place.

The effective answer to incursions by Communist ideas should not have been mostly turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering all around, putting the blame for bad publicity on “the Communists,” spouting platitudes about things “turning around” soon—evidently by some miraculous “unseen hand” of the marketplace intervening. Or something…

But that is what Hoover chose to do. And that approach lost him the 1932 election four months after the rout of the Bonus Army.

During his presidential campaign in 1928, Republican Party campaign literature claimed that if Herbert Hoover won there would be “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”

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That election was less than a year before the Stock Market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. It wasn’t long before the reality was that many Americans found their cars repossessed, and eventually their homes and garages too. As for the chickens…for millions of Americans, the only time they had chicken was when lining up for chicken soup at the soup kitchens that sprang up everywhere during those desperate times.

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By the summer of 1932 Hoover had had almost three years to do something, anything, to relieve the crushing, mind-numbing, relentless poverty and despair in the country. The evidence was that he had no workable ideas at all. Just pious platitudes… like this one:

During his tenure in office, Hoover had a favorite catch phrase: “Rugged individualism.” It was a significant part of his answer to the crisis of the Depression. It refers to the idea that there is no need at all for government intervention in the economic lives of individuals, nor in the economics of the nation. Each individual should be able to help themselves out. But the Bonus Army fiasco made it painfully obvious that in a complex, huge society like the USA, there were times when no matter how rugged many individuals were, there was no way for them to “go it alone.” Many of those veterans of the Bonus Army were very rugged individuals. They had survived fighting in the trenches of the most horrific war in history. Most wanted nothing more than a chance to work hard at a job. ANY job. But they were unable to make jobs appear out of thin air.

So the Republican Party’s efforts in public relations to attempt to get Herbert re-elected were pretty pitiful. As you can see by these campaign buttons from that year.

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There is no question that the ideas of Franklin Roosevelt for dealing with the Depression through introducing a  New Deal in the coming years would end up being very controversial in some circles. But coming up to the election of 1932, a majority of the voting public became convinced anything would be better than Hoover and his Hoovervilles. FDR got 23 million votes to Hoover’s 16 million. And he pretty much swept the electoral college as you can see by this map.

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As for the Bonus Army men…FDR chose a different way to deal with some of the same men in the first year of his presidency.

Just months into FDR’s first term, in March 1933, bonus marchers began drifting back into Washington. By May, some 3,000 of them were living in a tent city, which the new president had ordered the Army to set up in an abandoned fort on the outskirts of Washington. There, in a visit arranged by the White House, the nation’s new first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, braved mud and rain to join the vets in a sing-along.

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Hoover sent the Army; Roosevelt sent his wife,” said one vet. By June 1933, about 2,600 vets had accepted FDR’s offer of work in a New Deal public works program called the Civilian Conservation Corps…[Source]

 

The reason I share this Bonus Army story at this point in this blog series is to provide a vivid example of the dark realities of the Great Depression. And to show how the specter of the “threat of Communism,” promoted by the government and the mass media, made its way from the period of the Red Scare of 1919, past the relatively prosperous Roaring Twenties, and on into the depths of the economic disaster of the 1930s. Because it is ultimately this focus on the Russian-birthed Communist Ogre that leads us onward down the path to the coalescing of the religious group that has formed around the 45th president that I have dubbed “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”

As I have mentioned in earlier entries, it is a circuitous, winding path. At this point, it may seem an odd claim to make, given the reality that the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, and the threat of a Communist revolution taking place in the United States is no longer given much credence anywhere. But the path should become clearer as we inspect the circumstances leading onward from the Great Depression.

The next stretch of the path will turn from a focus on the victims of the Depression, the Okie migrants of the Dustbowl, the unemployed men in the bread lines and soup kitchen lines, the bedraggled veterans in the Bonus Army. It will shift focus instead toward a group that you would think would have been at the top of most folks’ list in the 1930s as those “responsible” for that Depression…the titans of banking and industry. The Stock Market crash obviously didn’t happen because of choices made by common laborers and the poor. Factories didn’t drastically cut back production and employment, or close, because those common laborers were too lazy to work. They closed for reasons enmeshed within decisions made “up at the top” of a complex, systemically-flawed economic reality in the country.

Those titans, including the CEOs of America’s biggest corporations, were faced with a public relations problem of vast proportions by the mid-1930s. They had been operating for a long, long time on the theory of the pre-eminence of the principle of unfettered capitalism. Its prime directive was: “If big government would just leave big business alone we would soon arrive at utopia.”

That theory worked beautifully for the Roaring Twenties. In 1930…not so much.

But it was the only theory that most industrialists and bankers had to work with. When FDR made it into the White House, and made it clear that he had different Prime Directives, they panicked. The threat of government intervention in such issues as labor relations,  banking rules,  taxes and fees, industrial oversight—made them cringe. It would appear from many of the writings of the time that a large proportion of these titans were convinced that none of what had happened was their fault. The hunger and starvation wasn’t their fault. The repossession of homes, the default in consumer credit loans… all of it was someone else’s fault.

It would appear that for many, it was easier to blame the victims of a deeply flawed economic and social system for much of their own plight (like Hoover and his “rugged individualism theory), and to look to evil outside influences…a manufactured ogre like communism, leftists, bleeding heart liberals…as the source of the failings of the system.

But convincing the struggling, hungry masses that this was so was not an easy job. It was, to put it mildly, a public relations disaster. They needed a new public relations “slant.”

And they found it. We’ll explore their amazing solution in the upcoming next entry in this series,

THE BAPTISM OF CAPITALISM

But before you leave…if you would like to see amazing 1932 newsreel footage of the actual Bonus Army and its rout by Big Mac and his forces, check out this short (6 minute) documentary.

 

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Ignoring the Ogre

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 23

Ignoring the Ogre

This is Part 23 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,”
each builds on information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the 
first entry in the series, Part 1

 

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Nobody knows precisely how or where it started, but on a steamy Saturday night, July 19, 1919, the word began to spread among the saloons and pool halls of downtown Washington [DC], where crowds of soldiers, sailors and Marines freshly home from the Great War were taking weekend liberty.

A black suspect, questioned in an attempted sexual assault on a white woman, had been released by the Metropolitan Police. The woman was the wife of a Navy man. So the booze-fueled mutterings about revenge flowed quickly among hundreds of men in uniform, white men who were having trouble finding jobs in a crowded, sweltering capital.

Late that night, they started to move. The mob drew strength from a seedy neighborhood off Pennsylvania Avenue NW called “Murder Bay,” known for its brawlers and brothels. The crowd crossed the tree-covered Mall heading toward a predominantly poor black section of Southwest. They picked up clubs, lead pipes and pieces of lumber as they went.

Near Ninth and D streets SW, they fell upon an unsuspecting black man named Charles Linton Ralls, who was out with his wife, Mary. Ralls was chased down and beaten severely. The mob then attacked a second black man, George Montgomery, 55, who was returning home with groceries. They fractured his skull with a brick.

The rampage by about 400 whites initially drew only scattered resistance in the black community, and the police were nowhere to be seen. When the Metropolitan Police Department finally arrived in force, its white officers arrested more blacks than whites, sending a clear signal about their sympathies.

It was only the beginning. The white mob – whose actions were triggered in large part by weeks of sensational newspaper accounts of alleged sex crimes by a “negro fiend” – unleashed a wave of violence that swept over the city for four days. Nine people were killed in brutal street fighting, and an estimated 30 more would die eventually from their wounds. More than 150 men, women and children were clubbed, beaten and shot by mobs of both races. Several Marine guards and six D.C. policemen were shot, two fatally.  [Source]

A sample of one first-person testimony from the chaos:

“A mob of sailors and soldiers jumped on the [street]car and pulled me off, beating me unmercifully from head to foot, leaving me in such a condition that I could hardly crawl back home,” Francis Thomas, a frail black 17-year-old, said in a statement to the NAACP. Thomas said he saw three other blacks being beaten, including two women. “Before I became unconscious, I could hear them pleading with the Lord to keep them from being killed.”

Although no photo is available of that incident, here is a photo from a very similar “race riot” incident in East St. Louis, Illinois, in July 1917.

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The events of that earlier Illinois riot were even more tragic than either the Washington DC or Chicago riots of 1919, with at least 100 (maybe many more) African-Americans killed (along with 9 whites) and 6 THOUSAND African-Americans left homeless after their St. Louis neighborhood was burned down by white mobs.

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But the Washington riot was horrendous enough in its own right—and right in the nation’s capital, giving it a special significance.

The rioting only ended after 4 days, when 2000 federal troops called up by President Wilson… and a heavy thunderstorm…dampened the zeal of the mobs and everybody went home.

That was only one of over 20 such “anti-black riots” across the US in 1919, a period dubbed the Red Summer because of those incidents…and this:

…between January 1 and September 14, 1919, white mobs lynched at least forty-three African Americans [other estimates are much higher], with sixteen hanged and others shot; while another eight men were burned at the stake. [Source]

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September 28, 1919

As noted in the previous entry in this series, these riots occurred at the same time as violence that resulted from such worker’s strikes in 1919 as the Boston Police strike, the Seattle General Strike, the Ohio United States Steel Strike, the Colorado mines strikes, and many others across the US. The riots and strikes spawned a public anxiety, fed by the US government and the mass media, that somehow all these events were being “stirred up” by Communist conspirators. Here’s what one prominent publication had to say after the Washington riots…

“It is also charged that Bolshevists are inciting the negroes to revolt.”

In June 1919, US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer had told the House Appropriations Committee that all evidence showed that radicals would “on a certain day…rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop.”

The Communist paranoia of this “First Red Scare” came to a head when Palmer began claiming adamantly throughout April 1920 that an  insidious, huge cabal of radicals (headed by Communists, and joined by Socialists and Anarchists) in the nation had nefarious plans to attempt to overthrow the government of the United States on May 1, 1920.

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But of course that never happened.  And instead of Palmer realizing his dream of his anti-Communist efforts lifting him to the Presidency in the next election, he became a footnote in US history.

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By the way, given what we know of the “later” history of rabid anti-Communism in America (the name Richard Nixon comes to mind…as does that of Joseph McCarthy, one-time Democrat who changed parties in 1944 and was a Republican when at the height of his fame…or ignominy…in the late 1940s and early 1950s) one might have assumed  Palmer was a Republican. No, he was Attorney General under Democrat Woodrow Wilson. But he admittedly “out-patrioted”  most politicians in either party before his government career came to an end.

Palmer sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 1920. In a crowded field of candidates, he presented himself as the most American of all. Campaigning during the Georgia primary, he said: “I am myself an American and I love to preach my doctrine before undiluted one hundred percent Americans, because my platform is, in a word, undiluted Americanism and undying loyalty to the republic.”

Journalist Heywood Broun [a good buddy of the Marx Brothers, famous for his cheeky comments about politicians] pretended to investigate: “We assumed, of course, from the tone of Mr. Palmer’s manifesto that his opponents for the nomination were Rumanians, Greeks and Icelanders, and weak-kneed ones at that….We happened into Cox’s headquarters [Governor James Cox of Ohio was ultimately the nominee that year] wholly by accident and were astounded to discover that he, too, is an American. … Thus encouraged we went to all camps and found that the candidates are all Americans.” [Source]

After Palmer’s ignominious failure at prophesying a massive attempt at a Communist takeover, the intensity of the Red Scare dissipated within a short time. And although concern about Communist influence in America remained quietly simmering under the surface in some quarters, the topic was definitely on the back burner for most of the nation during the next whole decade.

The government and the media had worked hard to create a panic about the imminent, massive danger posed by the Communist Ogre. But when no actual ogreish rampage materialized, the public was more than happy to ignore the ogre. For instead of the US population becoming captives of a totalitarian dictatorship (like that which developed eventually in Russia under Stalin) and living bleak lives, the 1920s blossomed into something exactly the opposite in America… at least for the middle and upper classes.

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This is not to say that race riots and lynchings didn’t continue throughout the 1920s. They certainly did, fed often by the influence of the resurrected Ku Klux Klan. The Klan went from 15 people who gathered to greet its incarnation on Stone Mountain in Georgia in 1915…

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…to a nationwide, powerful movement just ten year later. By 1925 it was flexing its muscles in public for all to see in major demonstrations, such as this 1925 one, with 25 THOUSAND Klansmen marching right down Pennsylvania Ave in Washington DC, framing the Capitol Building in the distance!

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And it’s not to say that confrontations between business and labor didn’t continue also. They did, particularly in the earliest part of the decade. Wages in many industries continued to be chronically, abysmally low, working conditions continued to be miserable at best and limb-and-life threatening at worst in many industries. So workers continued to attempt to improve their lot through cooperative strike efforts. Such as this one:

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest labor uprising in United States history and one of the largest, best-organized, and most well-armed uprisings since the American Civil War.  For five days in late August and early September 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, some 10,000 armed coal miners confronted 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers, called the Logan Defenders, who were backed by coal mine operators during an attempt by the miners to unionize the southwestern West Virginia coalfields.

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But just as happened in the 1919 Ludlow Strike in Colorado, described in the last entry in this series, the efforts of the strikers ultimately failed.

The battle ended after approximately one million rounds were fired, and the United States Army intervened by presidential order.

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WW I bi-planes dropped “bombs” full of shrapnel and bleach near the camps of union members. Machine guns were said to have been used by both sides.

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But of course the miners were outgunned, and ultimately had to surrender.

…In the short term, the battle was an overwhelming victory for management. UMW membership plummeted from more than 50,000 miners to approximately 10,000 over the next several years.

With the state and US governments more than willing to step in on the side of business almost without fail…including with force of arms, and with laws against picketing and such…none of the efforts of labor unions to use strikes to get higher wages and better working conditions in the 1920s got very far. And although a bit of agitation by home-grown Communist organizations could often be found to be part of labor unrest, this Communist influence changed nothing about the outcome of the strikes. Certainly not anywhere near being a threat of a “Russian Revolution” type of situation.

In fact, by the 1920s some viewed strikes as just something to make fun of…including the producers of the popular Mutt and Jeff comic strips and animated movie theater shorts. Such as this 1920 short…

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Rankled by the luxurious lifestyle of their animator [creator Bud Fisher], Mutt and Jeff demand lower hours and a percentage of his profits, and, when loudly refused, they announce their intention to strike and “animate ourselves.”

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When their first production flops, they scuttle back to their animator, assuring him they’ll work for nothing if taken back.

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So while African Americans in general, and poverty-stricken workers of all ethnicities, didn’t participate fully in the “good times” of the Roaring Twenties, they were mostly ignored rather than feared as Communist dupes by the middle and upper classes… who mostly quit worrying about Bolshevism. Instead they dove headfirst into the benefits of an increasingly automated and electrified and consumer-oriented society, built primarily on the economic principle of unfettered capitalism.

The 1920s were an age of dramatic social and political change. For the first time, more Americans lived in cities than on farms. The nation’s total wealth more than doubled between 1920 and 1929, and this economic growth swept many Americans into an affluent but unfamiliar “consumer society.” People from coast to coast bought the same goods (thanks to nationwide advertising and the spread of chain stores), listened to the same music, did the same dances and even used the same slang!

Yes, how could you find time to worry about Communists when you were busy buying…

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…and listening to…

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….and dancing to the 1923 hit, The Charleston?

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During the 1920s, many Americans had extra money to spend, and they spent it on consumer goods such as ready-to-wear clothes and home appliances like electric refrigerators. In particular, they bought radios. The first commercial radio station in the U.S., Pittsburgh’s KDKA, hit the airwaves in 1920; three years later there were more than 500 stations in the nation. By the end of the 1920s, there were radios in more than 12 million households. [Source]

One of the most powerful uses of radio to draw an audience from very early on was in “on the spot” news and sports broadcasting, including the amazing career of Babe Ruth.

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It was one thing for baseball fans in New York and nearby areas to be able to travel to New York City to see The Babe play, and for others across the nation to see newspaper reports of his feats. But starting with the first radio broadcast of a World Series, in 1921, hearing the roar of the crowd, the breathless play by play of announcers describing Ruth’s latest homerun, and even hear from the Great Slugger himself, baseball obsession in America grew exponentially, providing perhaps the ultimate distraction from Red Scare worries.

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That first year of World Series broadcasting in 1921, only a relative handful of baseball fans had access radio sets and were tuned in. But astonishingly, just one year later, 5 million listeners were tuned in.

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Fans in New York crowd around a car’s loudspeaker
playing a radio broadcast of the 1922 World Series between the Giants and Yankees.

As popular as radio was, it wasn’t the only mass medium that contributed to the dying out of Red Scare anxieties by the early 1920s. The fast-growing motion picture industry provided the ultimate escape. It is estimated by some that by the end of the 1920s, three quarters of the US population went to the movies every week.

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Movie goers often spent their evenings in venues identified as movie palaces, the ultimate in escapism.

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As an example of the details of luxury of these palaces, here is the famous Roxy theater in New York, on its opening night in 1927.

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The Roxy was the largest theater of its kind in the world for quite a while, with a grand lobby that had its own pipe organ, to entertain people waiting for the next show.

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Here’s the stage and orchestra pit, that held a 110 piece orchestra to accompany silent films, and the live stage shows also held there.

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Here’s a colored oil painting of the 5,920 seats inside the theater.

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…the theater boasted lavish support facilities including two stories of private dressing rooms, three floors of chorus dressing rooms, huge rehearsal rooms, a costume department, staff dry-cleaning and laundry rooms, a barber shop and hairdresser, a completely equipped infirmary, dining room, and a menagerie for show animals. There were also myriad offices, a private screening room seating 100, and massive engine rooms for the electrical, ventilating and heating machinery. The Roxy’s large staff enjoyed a cafeteria, gymnasium, billiard room, nap room, library and showers.

…The Roxy presented major Hollywood films in programs that also included a 110-member symphony orchestra (the world’s largest permanent orchestra at that time), a solo theater pipe organ, a male chorus, a ballet company and a famous line of female precision dancers, the “Roxyettes“.  [Source]

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… Elaborate stage spectacles were created each week to accompany the feature film…

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When the founder of the Roxy theater sold it and went on to open Radio City Music Hall, he took the dancing troupe along, eventually renaming them the Rockettes.

The theater’s orchestra and performers were also featured in an NBC Radio … The Roxy Hour, was broadcast live weekly from the theater’s own radio studio.[Thus the] theater was known to radio listeners nationwide.

If a night out at the Roxy didn’t take your mind off any lingering anxiety about “Reds,” I can’t imagine what would have!

Not only did millions upon millions of Americans visit the theaters weekly in big cities and small towns, but millions also obsessed on the “private lives” … and scandals…of the silver screen stars. LONG before the National Enquirer!

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Oh… and if folks in the 1920s still needed an ogre to replace the “Communist Conspiracy,” there was a new one on the scene, that came in with the imposition of the new Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution in 1919.

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Just to clarify, in case you didn’t know…under prohibition you could still drink alcoholic beverages…you just couldn’t buy them or sell them any more. I’ve read that even President Wilson bought a stock of his favorite adult beverages ahead of time…and stored them in the White House cellar! (He had not been in favor of the amendment.)

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The imposition of Prohibition in 1919 had led very quickly to the rise of a new Public Enemy in the 1920s to take the place of the Communist Ogre…the Big Time gangster of the bootlegging industry. The legislators of America may have agreed to vote to ban alcohol, but a huge proportion of the public hated the idea, and was willing to do just about anything to get around it. Including supporting a system of Organized Crime whose greatest profits were in booze, providing the underground of Speakeasies (like those shown here) with the banned adult beverages.

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The Mafia and other mobsters, with nicknames like Bugsy and Big Al, Vito and Tony, “Legs” and “Scarface,” and their high crimes and family feuds, provided constant fodder for the newspapers, and villains for the screens of the movie palaces.

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St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, 1929

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Another distraction from the old worries about the Reds was the growing passion of the populace, fed by the burgeoning advertising industry, to accumulate new “stuff.” The explosion of purchases of consumer goods and automobiles was made possible to a great extent by the push by producers and their ad companies to get everyone to “buy on time”… “buy now, pay later.”

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All of this cornucopia of goodies could be attributed to the beneficence of the system of unfettered capitalism.

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The big corporations of America were aiming at building an ever-expanding, never-ending Utopian economy. By the mid-1920s they were sure that they were on a trajectory that was destined to make America the Greatest, most Prosperous Civilization in history.

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Yes, there was no reason any more for the average American citizen to waste time and emotions on worrying about Bolsheviks! The government wasn’t taking property away from anyone. In fact, more people than ever could buy land…”on time”…and many did so, with the expectation of buying and selling enough plots to get rich quickly. Especially in the burgeoning land market in California and Florida.

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You could even buy stocks on time (“buying on margin” it’s called…) and lots of folks “got rich quick” that way. As the stock market climbed higher and higher.

For a while…

Unfortunately, all the methods of getting rich quick, from Florida swamp land purchases to trying to play the stock market, came crashing down around the ears of the speculators. And just about everyone else. As the Boom of the Roaring Twenties blew up in smoke at the end of 1929.

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Many Americans practically overnight lost almost everything that had made them part of the great Conspicuous Consumer Generation… their bank accounts, their stocks, their automobiles, even the household gadgets that they’d “bought on time”… and hadn’t paid off yet.

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The never-ending bountiful cornucopia provided by the Genie of Unfettered Capitalism…

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…suddenly ran dry.

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And as it did, the concern about Communism moved off the back burner and began more than simmering again in the US.

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At first, this threat of Communism may appear to have been a great concern to those in positions of power in the unfettered capitalism business, such as the wealthy CEO’s of many big US corporations. If there really did arise a serious threat of an uprising of the “worker class” in America as it did in Russia in 1917, they’d be the first to have to worry about ending up like the Tsar and his family! And surely a “Great Depression” would be an ideal, fertile field in which resentment could grow.

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We’ll travel a little farther down the winding path towards Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows in the next entry in this series. Click the link below to read about…

The Original Big Mac Attack

 

 

Posted in anti-communism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hatenannies??

This blog will get back to the series on on Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows in a few days. But so much is going on in the nation right now that is tied directly to US History that I feel a need to take a short detour and address some of that.  This is being written on the Tuesday after the hellish Neo Nazi/White Supremacist chaos in Charlottesville VA that led to the death of one woman, the injury of 19 others in that single terrorist incident, along with other injuries around the city.

With the bizarre press conference today, we now see the astonishing lengths Trump will go to, to distance himself from actually admitting what it is about Neo Nazis and White Supremacists that is despicable and deserving of strong public denunciation from the President of All the People.

In this context I offer a blog entry I wrote in March last year, when David Duke was also in the news as he is today. It gives a brief, documented and illustrated, overview of the history of the last time America saw a very open, in-your-face surge of Neo Nazism. And brings it up to the time of last year’s election season. The connections to today will be obvious.

I present for your consideration… the history of the HATENANNY.

This Land Ain’t YOUR Land, This Land is MY Land

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Manufacturing an Ogre

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 22

Manufacturing an Ogre

This is Part 22 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the 
first entry in the series, Part 1.

 

vintageflag

Washington Post, May 7 1919: 

CHICAGOANS CHEER TAR [Sailor] WHO SHOT MAN

Sailor Wounds Pageant Spectator Disrespectful to Flag.

Chicago, May 6 – Disrespect for the American flag and a show of resentment toward the thousands who participated in a victory loan pageant here tonight may cost George Goddard his life. He was shot down by a sailor of the United States navy when he did not stand and remove his hat while the band was playing the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Goddard had a seat of vantage in the open amphitheater. When he failed to stand he was the most conspicuous figure among the throng.

When he fell at the report of the “sailor’s” gun the crowd burst into cheers and hand-clapping.

When Goddard failed to respond to the first strains of the national anthem Samuel Hagerman, sailor in the guard of honor asked him to get up. “What for?” demanded Goddard. “Hagerman touched him with his bayonet.

“Get up. Off with your hat.”  Goddard muttered and drew a pistol. With military precision Hagerman stepped back a pace and slipped a shell into his gun.

Goddard started away. As the last notes of the anthem sounded the sailor commanded him to halt. Then he fired into the air.  “Halt!” Goddard paid no attention.

The sailor aimed and fired three times. Goddard fell wounded. Each shot found its mark.

When he [Goddard] was searched, an automatic pistol, in addition to the one he had drawn, was found. Another pistol and fifty cartridges were found in a bag he carried. He said he was a tinsmith, out of work. Papers showed he had been at Vancouver and Seattle and it was believed by the authorities he had come here for the I.W.W. convention.

1919 was not a good year for anyone in the US who was not perceived by those around him as “100% American.”

And as you can see from the news report above, it didn’t take much to put someone under suspicion.

Looking back on the conditions of the time, it is easy to understand why. World War 1 created an upheaval in American society in many ways.

During the First World War, there was a nationwide campaign in the United States against the real and imagined divided political loyalties of immigrants and ethnic groups, who were feared to have too much loyalty for their nations of origin. Particular targets were Germans, with sympathies for their homeland, and Irish, whose countrymen were in revolt against America’s ally, the United Kingdom.

In 1915, President Wilson warned against hyphenated Americans who, he charged, had “poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.” “Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy”, Wilson continued “must be crushed out”. The Russian Revolution of 1917 added special force to fear of labor agitators and partisans of ideologies like anarchism and communism. [Source]

And things didn’t get better when the war was over. They got worse.

The emotional pitch of World War I did not abate with the armistice, and rampant inflation, unemployment, massive and violent strikes, and brutal race riots in the United States contributed to a sense of fear and foreboding in 1919. [Source]

As described in the previous entry in this series, for some reason many in government, the mass media, and citizens in the upper and middle classes of America had a difficult time conceiving that striking workers might have honest, legitimate, deep concerns about poverty-level wages, and miserable and dangerous (or even deadly) working conditions.

Yes, “outside influences” (such as Communist agitators) could exacerbate those concerns. But the solution to that problem ought to have been to work toward FIXING what was wrong. Negotiating fair wages and humane working conditions, putting the welfare of the workers on an equal level of importance with high profits for corporate leaders and stockholders, would assure that the outsiders had no foothold.

But sending state militia and National Guard troops to threaten and beat striking workers into submission and force them back to work had long been a quicker…and cheaper…fix. Too bad about the “collateral damage” sometimes to even wives and children of striking workers…as seen in these photos and information about the 1914 “Ludlow Massacre.” But that was one of the costs of doing Big Business.

The Ludlow Massacre was an attack by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company camp guards on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914.

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Ludlow miners’ tent city before the Massacre: 

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Miners and their families before the Massacre: 

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Ludlow tent city after the Massacre. 

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About two dozen people, including miners’ wives and children, were killed. The chief owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was widely criticized for the incident.

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The massacre, the culmination of an extensive strike against Colorado coal mines, resulted in the violent deaths of between 19 and 26 people; reported death tolls vary but include two women and eleven children [the youngest were 2 months and 6 months old], asphyxiated and burned to death under a single tent. [They were in a pit, originally dug as a makeshift cellar below the tent.]

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The deaths occurred after a daylong fight between militia and camp guards against striking workers.

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Ludlow was the deadliest single incident in the southern Colorado Coal Strike, which lasted from September 1913 through December 1914.

A contemporary description of the event:

… the militia “fired the two largest buildings—the strikers’ stores—and going from tent to cent, poured oil on the flimsy structures, setting fire to them. From the blazing tents rushed the women and children, only to be beaten back into the fire by the rain of bullets from the militia. The men rushed to the assistance of their families; and as they did so, they were dropped as the whirring messengers of death sped surely to the mark… into the cellars—the pits of hell under their blazing tents—crept the women and children, less fearful of the smoke and flames than of the nameless horror of the spitting bullets.

One man counted the bodies of nine little children, taken from one ashy pit, their tiny fingers burned away as they held to the edge in their struggle to escape… thugs in State uniform hacked at the lifeless forms, in some instances nearly cutting off heads and limbs to show their contempt for the strikers. Fifty-five women and children perished in the fire of the Ludlow tent colony. Relief parties carrying the Red Cross flag were driven back by the gunmen, and for twenty-four hours the bodies lay crisping in the ashes, while rescuers vainly tried to cross the firing line.”

In the end, the strikers failed to obtain their demands, the union did not obtain recognition, and many striking workers were replaced by new workers.

Eventually there was some sympathy across the nation when these gory details came to light. But early in the strike, media reports no doubt convinced many citizens that these strikers were just unreasonable men, bent on causing a civil disturbance that was extremely unpleasant for those who expected law and order in their nation. Here are a few details about what led to the strike. You decide if the miners had legitimate reasons to risk their lives to try to make changes in the industry.

ludlowcolormine

…Mining was dangerous and difficult work. Colliers [coal workers] in Colorado were at constant risk for explosion, suffocation, and collapsing mine walls. In 1912, the death rate in Colorado’s mines was 7.055 per 1,000 employees, compared to a national rate of 3.15. In 1914, the United States House Committee on Mines and Mining reported that “Colorado has good mining laws and such that ought to afford protection to the miners as to safety in the mine if they were enforced, yet in this State the percentage of fatalities is larger than any other, showing there is undoubtedly something wrong in reference to the management of its coal mines.”

Miners were generally paid according to tonnage of coal produced, while so-called “dead work”, such as shoring up unstable roofs, was often unpaid. According to historian Thomas G. Andrews, the tonnage system drove many poor and ambitious colliers to gamble with their lives by neglecting precautions and taking on risk, with consequences that were often fatal.

Between 1884 and 1912, mining accidents claimed the lives of more than 1,700 Coloradans. In 1913 alone, “104 men would die in Colorado’s mines, and 6 in the mine workings on the surface, in accidents that widowed 51 and left 108 children fatherless.”

 That was the year before the strike.

…Colliers had little opportunity to air their grievances. Many colliers resided in company towns, in which all land, real estate, and amenities were owned by the mine operator, and which were expressly designed to inculcate loyalty and squelch dissent.

ludlowcompanytown
…Historian Philip S. Foner has described company towns as “feudal domain[s], with the company acting as lord and master. … The ‘law’ consisted of the company rules. Curfews were imposed. Company guards – brutal thugs armed with machine guns and rifles loaded with soft-point bullets – would not admit any ‘suspicious’ stranger into the camp and would not permit any miner to leave.” Furthermore, miners who raised the ire of the company were liable to find themselves and their families summarily evicted from their homes.

“Feudal domains.” That sounds a lot like the life in Russia under the Tsars, eh?

No wonder many American industrialists were concerned about “Communist agitators.”

Concerned enough to create ads like this one that were published in newspapers across the land in 1919.

1919posteramlabor

Note the claims about American business and industry…”Our workers are well paid and many of them own their own homes…Employers and employees are getting closer together and the workers are participating in industrial affairs more and more every day.”

Try telling that to the workers in Ludlow. Or the Boston police who struck in 1919, as described in an earlier entry in this series. Or these child laborers, photographed circa 1910. I doubt that the working conditions in  industries they were involved in improved any from 1910 to 1919.

trapboy

I met one little fellow ten years old in Mt. Carbon, W. Va., last year, who was employed as a “trap boy.” Think of what it means to be a trap boy at ten years of age. It means to sit alone in a dark mine passage hour after hour, with no human soul near; to see no living creature except the mules as they pass with their loads, or a rat or two seeking to share one’s meal; to stand in water or mud that covers the ankles, chilled to the marrow by the cold draughts that rush in when you open the trap door for the mules to pass through; to work for fourteen hours—waiting—opening and shutting a door—then waiting again for sixty cents; to reach the surface when all is wrapped in the mantle of night, and to fall to the earth exhausted and have to be carried away to the nearest “shack” to be revived before it is possible to walk to the farther shack called “home.”

Boys twelve years of age may be legally employed in the mines of West Virginia, by day or by night, and for as many hours as the employers care to make them toil or their bodies will stand the strain. Where the disregard of child life is such that this may be done openly and with legal sanction, it is easy to believe what miners have again and again told me—that there are hundreds of little boys of nine and ten years of age employed in the coal mines of this state.

[John Spargo, The Bitter Cry of Children (New York: Macmillan, 1906), 163–165.]

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“View of the Ewen Breaker of the Pennsylvania Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrated the utmost recesses of the boys’ lungs. A kind of slave-driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. South Pittston, Pennsylvania.”

“Many of the breaker boys suffered from chronic coughs. “There are twenty boys in that breaker,” one of the foremen said, “and I bet you could shovel fifty pounds of coal dust out of their system.” … Their faces black with soot, they sat in rows on wooden boards placed over coal chutes. As coal came pouring through the chutes, the boys bent over, reached down, and picked out pieces of slate and stone that could not burn.

They had to watch carefully, since coal and slate look so much alike. If a boy reached too far and slipped into the coal that was constantly flowing beneath him, he could be mangled or killed. “While I was there, two breaker boys fell or were carried into the coal chute, where they were smothered to death.” [Lewis Hine]

I’m sure that those two were only two of many. Like this lad working in a mine in Wilkesbarre, PA in 1911.

1911wilkesbara

The reality is that there was much in the US in 1919 that would remind anyone…who had eyes wide open…of conditions in The Old World under feudalism. So it is no wonder that there was concern that “revolutionary attitudes” might be creeping into the lower echelons of American society. Since those in power and authority in the land were deeply entrenched in maintaining the way things had always been done, including Jim Crow laws and customs, and totally unfettered capitalism, there was no chance of any real societal changes.

Instituting equal rights for Negroes, and introducing truly widespread, meaningful changes in wages and working conditions in Big Industry—such as the mines, the mills, the factories—were not on the table as possible solutions.

What to do? What to do? Why of course…the logical solution left for those wanting to maintain the status quo and suppress the disruption of strikes and racial unrest…was to create a straw man enemy who could draw the attention of the masses away from any “practical” problems.

It was necessary to Manufacture an Ogre.

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Or, more correctly, to manufacture  the reputation that such an already-existing Ogre was an imminent threat to America the Beautiful.

Just a couple of years before, a ready-made ogre helped pull the nation together.

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(In case you ever wondered where the inspiration for the posters in a later era came from…)

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You’ll notice that these WW1 posters didn’t just create antagonism toward the “government” of Germany or the Kaiser of Germany…the purpose of the propaganda in these posters was to create a white-hot rage within Americans toward all Germans… “The Hun.” The propaganda was so effective that Americans with German family backgrounds…or even just “German sounding” names…all came under suspicion. Even from friends and neighbors they had known for years.

The Hun had a pet, too… the dachshund, often used as another “symbol” for Germany in propaganda posters.  The Kaiser himself had often been photographed with his own three dachshunds.

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And thus the breed literally fell out of favor in the US for years!

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But as quickly as The Hun became the Ogre du Jour in US propaganda, the war was over, and Germans became our friends once again (until the next round of German aggression.) No, in 1919 there was no way to blame the Germans, who were busy trying to rebuild their own country from the devastation of the Great War, for current events in the US.

Including the Seattle General Strike, which came in February that year.

The Seattle General Strike of 1919 was a five-day general work stoppage by more than 65,000 workers in the city of Seattle, Washington, which lasted from February 6 to February 11 of that year. Dissatisfied workers in several unions began the strike to gain higher wages after two years of World War I wage controls. Most other local unions, including members of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), joined the walkout. Although the strike was non-violent and lasted less than a week, government officials, the press, and much of the public viewed the strike as a radical attempt to subvert US institutions.

Could it possibly be that the strike reflected honest concerns of American citizens? Nah. No way. Some “outside force” had to be involved. Or at least it was necessary, for the sake of the Public Good, that one be identified and made the focus of attention. A new Ogre needed to be manufactured.

Bingo.

Some commentators raised alarm by calling it [the Seattle strike]  the work of Bolsheviks and other radicals inspired by “un-American” ideologies, making it the first concentrated eruption of the anti-Red hysteria that characterized the Red Scare of 1919 and 1920.  [Source]

Although there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that “radical agitators” somehow brought about the strike, nor that highly organized radical organizations were guiding its path, there is no question that some “took advantage” of it, once it was underway, to promote their own agendas. Pamphlets promoting “revolutionary ideas” were widely distributed on the streets of the city during the strike. Some media reports tended to imply that the strike must have been master-minded by a well-organized and wide-spread underground national movement bent on overthrowing the US government and Communizing the nation.

However—if that was true, the “movement” was lousy at its work! The strike only lasted five days. And in the end, pressure from national union leaders, threats from the Mayor—who brought in federal troops, beefed up the police force, and promised to violently crush any attempt at “revolution”—and the growing inconveniences of life in the city under siege prompted almost all the workers to just give up and go back to work.

None of that mattered, though. The intense national media attention focused on the strike, and speculation on its connection to radical elements, gave one man all the raw materials he needed to manufacture a custom-made Ogre to present to the nation as the source of all unrest.

That one man was A. Mitchell Palmer.

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Palmer was US Attorney General, appointed by Woodrow Wilson to fill a vacancy in his cabinet in March, 1919.

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Almost immediately after his appointment Palmer became one of the targets of a cluster of bombings traced to a group of Italian anarchists who were dubbed “Galleanists” as followers of a man named Luigi Galleani.

Galleani was the founder and editor of the anarchist newsletter Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle), which he published and mailed from offices in Barre [Vermont, an Italian enclave of immigrant stone masons]…. Cronaca Sovversiva included a small advertisement for a booklet entitled La Salute è in voi! (Health is in You!), sold for 25 cents and described as a must-have for any proletarian family.

The foreword to the booklet, first published in 1905, said it was to remedy the “error” of advocating violence without giving subversives the physical means of destruction. Health Is In You! was an explicit bomb-making manual, in which Galleani supplied to his readers the chemical formula for making nitroglycerine, compiled by a friend and explosives expert, Professor Ettore Molinari.

Galleani’s handbook was characterized as accurate and practical by the New York City Bomb Squad, though an error Galleani made in transcribing Molinari’s explosive formula for nitroglycerine resulted in one or more premature explosions when the bomb-makers failed to notice the mistake. [OOPS!] Galleani provided a warning and corrected text to his readers in a 1908 issue of Cronaca Sovversiva.  [Source]

“Letter bombs” had been mailed in late April to about 30 targeted individuals, including prominent government officials and businessmen as well as law enforcement officials. No one was killed, but a senator’s housekeeper’s hands were blown off when she unwittingly handled one of the bombs.

1919junnyeveworld

On June 2, 1919, a second wave of bombings occurred, when several much larger package bombs were detonated by Galleanists in eight American cities, including one that damaged the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in Washington, D.C. At least one person was killed in this second attack, night watchman William Boehner, and fears were raised because it occurred in the capital. Flyers declaring war on capitalists in the name of anarchist principles accompanied each bomb.  [Source]

…the bomb intended for Attorney General Palmer’s home prematurely exploded [perhaps the bombmaker missed the issue of the mag with the “correction” to the formula…] and killed Carlo Valdinoci, who was a former editor of the Galleanist publication Cronaca Sovversiva and close associate of Galleani.

Though not seriously injured, Palmer and his family were shaken by the blast, and the house itself was largely demolished.

palmerhouse

 

Two near-casualties of the same bomb were Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, then living across the street from Palmer.

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Roosevelt family, 1919

They had walked past the house just minutes before the explosion, and their residence was close enough that one of the bomber’s body parts landed on their doorstep.

It’s not quite clear why Palmer and many others lumped anarchists in with Communists and Socialists—and even just Russian worker’s union members—at  this point and treated them as if they were all in cahoots with one another. But they indeed did, envisioning that all the groups were part of a concerted, organized effort of “radicals” of all stripes to “take over America.”

The very Ogre the nation needed at this time, against which to vent its frustrations.

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palmerlatimes1923

In June 1919, Attorney General Palmer told the House Appropriations Committee that all evidence promised that radicals would “on a certain day…rise up and destroy the government at one fell swoop.” He requested an increase in his budget to $2,000,000 from $1,500,000 to support his investigations of radicals, but Congress limited the increase to $100,000.

An initial raid in July 1919 against an anarchist group in Buffalo, New York, achieved little when a federal judge tossed out Palmer’s case. He found in the case that the three arrested radicals, charged under a law dating from the Civil War, had proposed transforming the government by using their free speech rights and not by violence.

…On August 1, 1919, Palmer named 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover to head a new division of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division (GID), with responsibility for investigating the programs of radical groups and identifying their members.

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The Palmer Raids begin

 

 

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At 9 pm on November 7, 1919, a date chosen because it was the second anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, agents of the Bureau of Investigation, together with local police, executed a series of well-publicized and violent raids against the Union of Russian Workers in 12 cities. Newspaper accounts reported some were “badly beaten” during the arrests. Many later swore they were threatened and beaten during questioning.

Again, it is not clear why the raids were not targeted against “Galleanists,” since they were the ones who had committed the notorious bombings earlier that year. But I suppose it was because the Russians were a much larger target, and thus easier with which to make headlines.

1919novogdenhead

Government agents cast a wide net, bringing in some American citizens, passers-by who admitted being Russian, some not members of the Russian Workers. Others were teachers conducting night school classes in space shared with the targeted radical group.

Arrests far exceeded the number of warrants. Of 650 arrested in New York City, the government managed to deport just 43.

That was just the beginning.

… As Attorney General Palmer struggled with exhaustion and devoted all his energies to the United Mine Workers coal strike in November and December 1919, Hoover organized the next raids.

He successfully persuaded the Department of Labor to ease its insistence on promptly alerting those arrested of their right to an attorney. Instead Labor issued instructions that its representatives could wait until after the case against the defendant was established, “in order to protect government interests.”

Less openly, Hoover decided to interpret [the Department of] Labor’s agreement to act against the Communist Party to include a different organization, the Communist Labor Party.

Finally, despite the fact that Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson insisted that more than membership in an organization was required for a warrant, Hoover worked with more compliant Labor officials and overwhelmed Labor staff to get the warrants he wanted. Justice Department officials, including Palmer and Hoover, later claimed ignorance of such details.

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The Justice Department launched a series of raids on January 2, 1920, with follow up operations over the next few days. Smaller raids extended over the next 6 weeks. At least 3000 were arrested, and many others were held for various lengths of time.

 

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The entire enterprise replicated the November action on a larger scale, including arrests and seizures without search warrants, as well as detention in overcrowded and unsanitary holding facilities. Hoover later admitted “clear cases of brutality.”

The raids covered more than 30 cities and towns in 23 states, but those west of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio were “publicity gestures” designed to make the effort appear nationwide in scope.

Because the raids targeted entire organizations, agents arrested everyone found in organization meeting halls, not only arresting non-radical organization members but also visitors who did not belong to a target organization, and sometimes American citizens not eligible for arrest and deportation.

The Department of Justice at one point claimed to have taken possession of several bombs, but after a few iron balls were displayed to the press they were never mentioned again. All the raids netted a total of just four ordinary pistols.

 

Not everyone viewed all this frantic hoopla as positive news.

While most press coverage continued to be positive, with criticism only from leftist publications like The Nation and The New Republic, one attorney raised the first noteworthy protest. Francis Fisher Kane, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, resigned in protest. In his letter of resignation to the President and the Attorney General he wrote: “It seems to me that the policy of raids against large numbers of individuals is generally unwise and very apt to result in injustice. People not really guilty are likely to be arrested and railroaded through their hearings….We appear to be attempting to repress a political party….By such methods we drive underground and make dangerous what was not dangerous before.”

And as the legal questions mounted, other, cooler heads prevailed.

…In a few weeks, after changes in personnel at the Department of Labor, Palmer faced a new and very independent-minded Acting Secretary of Labor in Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis Freeland Post, who canceled more than 2,000 warrants as being illegal.

Of the 10,000 arrested, 3,500 were held by authorities in detention; 556 resident aliens were eventually deported under the Immigration Act of 1918.

…Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels commented later that Palmer “was seeing red behind every bush and every demand for an increase in wages.

 

And then came May Day 1920.

1920aprtulsa

Palmer declared adamantly throughout April 1920 that the insidious, huge cabal of radicals in the nation had nefarious plans to attempt to overthrow the government of the United States on May 1, 1920. And the nation held its breath…for A. Mitchell Palmer had succeeded in manufacturing a Great Ogre upon which the citizens of the US could project their frustrations and fears. Just like the Angry Pitchfork People of the Frankenstein movie, coming against Dr. Frankenstein’s ogre-like monster.

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So April 30 came, and the nation held its breath.

…And then let that breath back out on May 2.

There was no revolution in the US on May 1.

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It was as if a huge monster…

ballbarn

 

…ended up being just a leaking bag of hot air.

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Oh, this is NOT to say that there weren’t anarchists and Communists and Socialists in America at the time. There were. Sometimes some of them popped up here and there agitating and exacerbating social problems. But to think there was a huge, hidden, underground, highly-regimented, ready-to-spring-into-action revolutionary social movement in the US… just two years after the Russian Revolution had basically stumbled its way into reality over in feudal Europe…was a ridiculous notion to begin with.

A perspective that many shared after the May Day failure.

1921janwashtimes

Chicago University Professor says danger from anarchistic doctrine is remote

The danger from anarchistic doctrines seems remote and almost visionary, the danger from undue growth of administrative power is much more real, “Professor Ernest Freund of the Chicago University Law School, declared in a statement presented to the Senate Judiciary committee today.

And as a result, A. Mitchell Palmer’s personal dreams also became totally…deflated. He had once been seen as a likely Democratic presidential candidate for 1920. But after all the bad press in the aftermath of the failure of May Day, he lost his bid for political greatness.

But of course, there is no connection between the manufacture of an Ogre in the long-ago second decade of the 1900s (and the accompanying political aspirations, and the madness of mobs)…and anything going on in the second decade of the 2000s.

October 15, 2016

It’s “pitchforks and torches time”, a prominent conservative sheriff tweeted on Saturday, with a condemnation of the government and media that echoes the increasingly heated rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

David A Clarke, the elected sheriff of Milwaukee County, is a leading Trump supporter who has previously called Black Lives Matter activists the “enemy”.

Clarke paired what appeared to be an accusation of the corruption in most of the United States government with a photoshopped image of a crowd of people carrying burning sticks and pitchforks. [Source]

2017pitchforks

Clarke’s comments come at a time of growing anxiety over Trump’s repeated claims, without evidence, that the presidential election is rigged against him. At least one Trump supporter at a rally in Cincinnati on Friday was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying that if Clinton is elected, “I hope we can start a coup.”

“We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office, if that’s what it takes,” the supporter said.

At a rally for Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence on Thursday, a woman from the audience told the candidate she, too, would rather take action than allow a Democrat to win. “I don’t want this to happen – but I will tell you for me, personally, if Hillary Clinton gets in,” she warned, “I’m ready for a revolution because we can’t have her in.” [ibid]

Yes, the Ogre Manufacturing Business is still alive and well in 2017.

And actually, although A. Mitchell Palmer’s efforts were cut short, the Spirit of A. Mitchell lived on. Just as Doc Frankenstein “brought back to life” a dead body, upcoming entries in this series will be tracing a thread of “resurrections” through later decades that will ultimately lead to Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.

itsalive2

 

itsalive

 

We’ll explore more about the career of the Ogre in the next installment of this series:

Ignoring the Ogre

 

 

 

 

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Promoting Paranoia

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 21

Promoting Paranoia

This is Part 21 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the 
first entry in the series, Part 1

 

1913barneyoldfield

All of us sophisticated movie-goers of the early 21st century have a hard time keeping a straight face when looking at movie dramas of the early Silent Film Era. No matter how serious the topic, it’s hard to get past what we perceive as highly exaggerated, and ultimately corny, “melodrama.”

1921fourhorsemen

If you know enough about movie history, you understand why they were “that way,” of course. Silent films grew directly from stage acting, and before microphones and booming speakers, those acting on a stage before a large audience had to belt out their lines with gusto, and greatly exaggerate their gestures just in order to be seen and heard at the back of the theater. Most of the earliest film actors had originally performed in that setting, and were used to projecting that way.

The camera, of course, was much more “intimate,” and could show close-ups of facial expressions, and focus in on hand gestures. But it was hard to break old habits… and besides, with no sound to express emotion, it was still necessary to overdo almost everything so that silent film audiences would get the point of just how sad, how happy, how frightened, or how passionate someone was feeling. It’s hard for us to mentally and emotionally put ourselves back in that era when watching such films, and “suspend disbelief” in the way viewers would have at the time. So we may well have a hard time being persuaded by the acting to accept the premises of the films.

But in 1915, the audiences were not jaded by a lifetime of watching “sophisticated” film making. Most quickly bought into what they saw on the screen, looking past the exaggerated gestures and facial mugging and just “getting into” the plot.

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And thus the white audiences who were exposed to the three-hour-plus experience of watching DW Griffith’s thundering 1915 screen masterpiece, Birth of a Nation, were indeed swept up into the “message” of the film. As explained in the previous entry in this series, that was a message that so glorified the Ku Klux Klan of the 1860s and 70s, and so vilified the “Negroes” of that time, that it spawned the resurrection of the Klan later that year, and spawned and/or justified racial prejudice all across America…not just in the South. It was so effective at this that the young NAACP (founded in 1909) and other black groups vehemently protested the showing of the film.

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The previous entry in this series covered the 1914 story of William Monroe Trotter, a prominent black leader of that time who led a delegation that visited President Woodrow Wilson in the Oval Office, urging him to roll back the segregation that Wilson had introduced into federal agencies after his election in 1912.

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Wilson rebuffed Trotter’s efforts. Although disheartened by Wilson’s rebuff, Trotter did not abandon his efforts for the cause of Civil Rights and justice for African Americans. In 1915 he led a protest in Boston against the showing of Birth of a Nation. A PBS documentary about Trotter gave some details:

Thousands risked their jobs and lives to march on downtown Boston and to get arrested and to challenge the release of that film…

[Trotter’s] parents were both the offspring of southern slave masters and black women slaves. They moved to abolitionist Boston, and the young Trotter grew up privileged in Hyde Park. He went on to become the first man of color to earn Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, where he was a classmate of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Trotter went on to found and edit the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper.

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And he helped create the Niagara Movement, which was the precursor to the NAACP. In 1914, Trotter challenged President Woodrow Wilson at the White House for supporting segregation. A year later, Trotter would be waging a hometown battle against “Birth of a Nation.”

But his 1915 protest was not Trotter’s first attempt to keep the story in Griffith’s film out of Boston. The source material for “Birth of a Nation” was a novel by Thomas Dixon, titled “The Clansman.” The author adapted it into a play, and documentary co-director Susan Gray says Trotter was successful in convincing then Mayor Michael Curley to force the offensive work from the stage in Boston.

“Mayor Curley banned [the play], and then 10 years later the film comes out there was this huge industry behind it, a lot of money, the president,” she recalled. “And even though it’s the same person being asked to ban it for all the same reasons, he didn’t the second time because now he was dealing with something that was economically too large and too important.”

In the end Trotter lost that fight against “Birth of a Nation.” It opened at the Tremont Theatre, which stood where the AMC Boston Common is now. In response, Trotter and a crowd of African-Americans amassed outside the cinema.

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They tried to get tickets, but black patrons were not allowed.

“Trotter demands a ticket,” Lehr narrates in the documentary. “One of the officers in plain clothes sucker punches Trotter. Trotter is placed under arrest and dragged out of the lobby.”

Protests continued for months, but ultimately the country embraced “Birth of a Nation.”

Documentary co-director Bestor Cram says Trotter was right in predicting that film’s potential to influence popular opinion. “Birth of a Nation” fueled a resurgence of the white supremacy movement in the years after it premiered.

“You had basically a non-existent KKK organization that grew enormously,” Cram said.

…Trotter did not give up his fight. In 1921 he and the NAACP won their lobby to get a revival screening of “Birth of a Nation” banned in Boston.

Yes, black Americans understood the power of film to sway audiences. Here’s how the New York Evening Journal put it in a review in 1915:

“ ‘The Birth of a Nation’ will thrill you, startle you, make you hold onto your seats. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you angry. It will make you glad. It will make you hate. It will make you love…” [Source]

Dorothy Dix, famous syndicated columnist of the time, wrote this:

 “I never had the slightest conception of what could be done with the moving picture as an art until I saw ‘The Birth of a Nation.’ ”

But not everyone agreed. An author for the New York Globe wrote under the headline, “Capitalizing Race Hatred”:

 “To make a few dirty dollars men are willing to pander to depraved tastes and to foment a race antipathy that is the most sinister and dangerous feature of American life.”

But the Globe writer was in the minority.

In most cases, the efforts of blacks, and sympathetic whites, were spurned, and the movie broke box office records for years. In fact, as late as 1931, long after “talkies” had replaced silent films, revivals of Birth of a Nation still sprang up in some parts of the nation, often used as a “recruiting film” for the resurrected Klan!  Here’s a poster for the film from 1931, when a musical and sound effects sound track was added to it.

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And here’s a revival showing in 1947 in Los Angeles.

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Blacks were still opposing its screening, as being likely to stir up racist persecution. (Which it always did among some of the US population…)

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With such great success in moving crowds to accept the premise of Thomas Dixon’s book The Clansman, as brought to the screen in 1915 as Birth of a Nation, another movie director and studio decided to appropriate the premise of another of Dixon’s books for a 1919 film to get across a totally different message, about the hottest topic of that year.

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Bolshevism on Trial is a 1919 American silent drama film made by the Mayflower Photoplay Company and distributed through Lewis J. Selznick’s Select Pictures Corporation.

… it is based on the 1909 novel Comrades: A Story of Social Adventure in California by Thomas Dixon, author of another novel that served as the basis for The Birth of a Nation. It premiered in April 1919.

Barbara, a wealthy female socialite intent on reforming capitalism is lured into the Socialist cause by Herman, a Socialist agitator. Her concerned boyfriend Norman hears her lecture on the virtues of international socialism…

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… and is converted to her views.

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Prompted by Herman, she raises money among her wealthy friends to buy Paradise Island off the Florida coast to establish a collective colony, a society of “happiness and plenty.” Norman tries to raise money from his father and is rebuffed. His father expects Norman will benefit from the experience: “He’ll get his island and a lesson along with it.”

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The experimental Socialists arrive on “Paradise Island”…
which  “in real life” was the palatial grounds of the mammoth
Royal Poinciana Hotel near Palm Beach in Florida. 

When the wealthy colonists settled on their island, they elect Norman their “Chief Comrade.” They quickly discover that none of them has any worthwhile skills. Most identify themselves as “assistant managers.” Faced with disorganization, the colonists replace Norman with Herman, as the activist had long intended. He establishes a police force, abolishes marriage, and has the state assume ownership of the women and children.

He imprisons Norman, which prompts Barbara’s epiphany: “The poor deluded people will starve and die as they are in Russia.” She rejects Herman’s advances…

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 …and Norman’s father arrives at the head of a Navy fleet to save the day.

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Norman lowers the Red flag and raises the American flag to general cheers.  [Source]

You can see the last 3.5 minutes of this thriller below, if you enjoy sappy melodramas!

 

The film was promoted as being just what the nation ordered to resist the rampant Bolshevism allegedly abroad in the land. And reviews agreed.

The film’s advertising called it “the timeliest picture ever filmed” and reviews were good. “Powerful, well-knit with indubitably true and biting satire,” said Photoplay.

As a promotion device, the April 15, 1919, issue of Moving Picture World suggested [to local theater owners] staging a radical demonstration by hanging red flags around town and then have actors in military uniforms storm in to tear them down. Then distribute handbills to the confused and curious crowds assuring them that Bolshevism on Trial takes a stand against Bolshevism and “you [theater owners] will not only clean up but will profit by future business.”

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When this publicity technique came to the attention of U.S. Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson, he expressed his dismay to the press: “This publication proposes by deceptive methods of advertising to stir every community in the United States into riotous demonstrations for the purpose of making profits for the moving picture business… .” He hoped to ban movies treating Bolshevism and Socialism. [ibid]

I was unable to discover whether any theater owners tried that weird scheme. But I do know that Secretary Wilson did not succeed with his desires. Bolshevism on Trial was the first in a long, LONG line of anti-Bolshevism/anti-Communist movies, reaching clear into the 1950s and 60s.

The movie was, of course, specifically crafted to match…and make a profit from…the “paranoia of the year” in the US at the time—the rise of the First Red Scare.

But only after pondering those posters above for a few days did it dawn on me that the advertising agency illustrator who designed them was subliminally matching another type of paranoia too. Take a look one more time. When I first found this one on the Internet…

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…I had an uneasy feeling I’d seen the illustration before. Or something very close to it. I had. Numerous times. Such as this pair.

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Those are Nazi propaganda posters from the 1930s/40s. And they aren’t aimed at Communists, even though Nazis were indeed opposed to Communism. Yes, they are portraying sinister, ominous caricatures of Jews.

The one thing that is different is that on the Bolshevism poster, the man has that strange stringy hair hanging down in front of his ears.

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You may have wondered how that fits in a Jewish caricature, as Nazi posters never portrayed such a look when caricaturing Jews. I think I have an answer… the Nazis were almost always depicting Jewish businessmen. In fact, Jewish businessmen who were likely intended to depict “secular” Jews rather than devoutly Orthodox ones.  How do I know that? Have a look at this sketch from 1913.

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That’s an Orthodox rabbi from that time period, and as you’ll note, he has long hair hanging down in front of each ear. This is referred to as payot in Yiddish, or sidelocks in English.

The Torah says, “You shall not round off the pe’at (פְּאַת) of your head” (Leviticus 19:27). The word pe’at was taken to mean the hair in front of the ears extending to beneath the cheekbone, on a level with the nose.  [Source]

Although not all Jews, then or now, observe the custom of letting the sidelocks grow long, it would have been typical among some groups…including in New York City…around the turn of the last century. The illustrator doing that poster must have been familiar with the practice, and included it in his caricature.

But there is NO question about the other stereotyping factors he built in to his drawing to indicate to “those in the know” that this was a picture of a Jew. Particularly the large, bending nose, the protruding lower lip, and the large, distinctive ears.

I don’t know how long those features had been typically used by bigoted non-Jews as signposts for depicting a Jewish man, but they were obviously well set in place by Nazi times. Take a look at this German “children’s propaganda” story book from the Nazi era titled, in English, The Poisonous Mushroom.

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It starts out with a picture of a mother and child looking for mushrooms in the forest.

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A mother and her young boy are gathering mushrooms in the German forest. The boy finds some poisonous ones. The mother explains that there are good mushrooms and poisonous ones, and, as they go home, says:

“Look, Franz, human beings in this world are like the mushrooms in the forest. There are good mushrooms and there are good people. There are poisonous, bad mushrooms and there are bad people. And we have to be on our guard against bad people just as we have to be on guard against poisonous mushrooms. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, mother,” Franz replies. “I understand that in dealing with bad people trouble may arise, just as when one eats a poisonous mushroom. One may even die!”

“And do you know, too, who these bad men are, these poisonous mushrooms of mankind?” the mother continued.

Franz slaps his chest in pride:

“Of course I know, mother! They are the Jews! Our teacher has often told us about them.”

The mother praises her boy for his intelligence, and goes on to explain the different kinds of “poisonous” Jews: the Jewish pedlar, the Jewish cattle-dealer, the Kosher butcher, the Jewish doctor, the baptised Jew, and so on.

“However they disguise themselves, or however friendly they try to be, affirming a thousand times their good intentions to us, one must not believe them. Jews they are and Jews they remain. For our Volk they are poison.”

“Like the poisonous mushroom!” says Franz.

“Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk [nation].”  [Source]

And it goes downhill from there. The book warns the kiddies about all sorts of “types” of sinister Jews.

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At one point in the book, a teacher in a classroom helps the little scholars figure out how to recognize a Jew. Check out his chalkboard illustrations.

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Putting the young ones through their paces, he brings one after another to the board, hands them a pointer, and has them repeat what they’ve learned about the visible characteristics that are a dead giveaway that someone is a Jew.

“It is noon,” he says. “We should summarize what we have learned in the past hour. What have we talked about?”

All the children raise their hands. The teacher calls on Karl Scholz, a small lad in the front row. “We have talked about how to recognize the Jews.”

“Good. Say more!”

Little Karl reaches for the pointer, steps up to the board and points at the drawings.

“One can most easily tell a Jew by his nose. The Jewish nose is bent at its point. It looks like the number six. We call it the ‘Jewish six.’ Many Gentiles also have bent noses. But their noses bend upwards, not downwards. Such a nose is a hook nose or an eagle nose. It is not at all like a Jewish nose.”

“Right!” says the teacher. “But the nose is not the only way to recognize a Jew…”

The boy goes on. “One can also recognize a Jew by his lips. His lips are usually puffy. The lower lip often protrudes. The eyes are different too. The eyelids are mostly thicker and more fleshy than ours. The Jewish look is wary and piercing. One can tell from his eyes that he is a deceitful person.”

And another lad comes forward and adds…

Their ears are very large, and they look like the handles of a coffee cup.

It is as if the illustrator of the Bolshevism movie poster had this little “manual” in front of him as he sketched his illustration! Large, bent nose…check. Puffy lips with lower lip protruding…check. Large ears like coffee cup handles…check. Menacing eyes…check.

He just added his own little flourish of very, very Jewish sidelocks. And of course, those claw-like fingernails. Those were likely added to make a connection with the typical conception of Satan the Devil.

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Well, how about that other Bolshevism on Trial poster? Turns out that doesn’t depict just a Jew…it portrays a specific Jew. Have a look:

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Note the standard anti-Jewish caricaturizing of the nose, lips, and ears in both posters. But beyond that, there are characteristics both are adding…including the granny glasses and the poofy hair. That’s because they are both depicting the same man.

I would suggest that the illustration on the movie poster on the left may well have been “inspired by” the poster on the right. That poster on the right was also from 1919, but from Russia itself, created during the “Civil War” that raged in Russia after the Bolsheviks took over control of the country in 1917, ousting the Tsarist regime and the old aristocracy. From 1917 to 1921 a group known as the “White Russians” violently resisted the Bolshevik rule and rejected Communism, wanting to return to a more traditional, autocratic ruling system.

The poster on the right above was a piece of White Russian anti-Bolshevik propaganda, portraying Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, who was a secular Jew, as a Devil-like character. And the illustrator of the movie poster on the left could well have found that to be a really convenient “meme” to use to personify Communism.

Here’s what Trotsky really looked like in 1917.

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An interesting touch…that is NOT a six-pointed Star of David on a chain that Devil Trotsky is wearing on the White Russian poster. Nazi anti-Jew posters later on were known to depict Jews wearing such Star of David symbols on chains as part of the stereotyping used in such propaganda.

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Instead,  the White Russian Trotsky is wearing on his chain a pentagram, a five-pointed star that is used in some circles as a “Satanic symbol.”

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The huge piles of skulls below him on the poster symbolize the White Russian accusations that the Bolsheviks indulged in massive indiscriminate mass murders.

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Note the small characters in blue and gold uniforms working among the bones…look close and you will see that they are obviously intended to portray Chinese men, with slanted eyes and pigtails! What on earth was that all about??

The Chinese with the Red Army were recruited from factory workers who had been attracted into Russia before the war and sided with the urban proletariat with whom they worked. Separate Chinese units fought for the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine, Trancaucasia and Siberia.

One estimate suggests that there were hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops in the Red Army.

…Chinese units were involved in virtually every front of the Russian Civil War. Some sincerely sympathized with the Bolsheviks who treated them as “proletarian brothers”. Others simply joined the Red Army in order to survive and others wanted to fight their way home to China.

The Chinese were one of several foreign contingents dubbed in Soviet historiography as “internationalist detachments” Chinese internationalist troops wore the same uniform as the rest of the Red Army.

The Bolsheviks found special value in the use of Chinese troops who were considered to be industrious and efficient. In addition, they were seldom able to understand Russian, which kept them insulated from outside influences.

The use of Chinese troops by the Bolsheviks was commented on by both White Russian and non-Russian observers. In fact, the Bolsheviks were often derided for their reliance on Chinese and Lettish [Latvian] volunteers. Anti-Bolshevik propaganda suggested that the Bolsheviks did not have the support of the Russian people and thus had to resort to foreign mercenaries who ran roughshod over the Russian populace.  [Source]

The White Russians who employed propaganda posters such as the one above were notoriously anti-semitic. In fact, they are identified by most historians as the source of the spread of the most notorious anti-semitic propaganda literature of all time, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is an antisemitic fabricated text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. The forgery was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century. According to the claims made by some of its publishers, the Protocols are the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting where Jewish leaders discussed their goal of global Jewish hegemony [domination] by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies.  [Source]

Although it is generally agreed that the final form of the Protocols was settled on some time after 1901, it is difficult to pin down the exact original authorship. But it is clear that the White Russians are the ones who made sure that it was spread far and wide.

As the Russian Revolution unfolded, causing White movement-affiliated Russians to flee to the West, this text was carried along and assumed a new purpose. Until then, The Protocols had remained obscure; it now became an instrument for blaming Jews for the Russian Revolution. It became a tool, a political weapon, used against the Bolsheviks who were depicted as overwhelmingly Jewish, allegedly executing the “plan” embodied in The Protocols. The purpose was to discredit the October Revolution, prevent the West from recognizing the Soviet Union, and bring about the downfall of Vladimir Lenin’s regime. [Source]

The Protocols document was first published in English in the US in 1920, and picked up immediately by automobile magnate Henry Ford…who was devoutly anti-Jewish.

Henry Ford funded printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the U.S. in the 1920s. The Nazis sometimes used the Protocols as propaganda against Jews; it was assigned by some German teachers, as if factual, to be read by German schoolchildren after the Nazis came to power in 1933, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921. It is still widely available today in numerous languages, in print and on the Internet, and continues to be presented by some proponents as a genuine document.

So there you have it…the posters for the Bolshevism on Trial movie were in essence subliminally suggesting that the Communist movement was really part of a greater Jewish movement to conquer the world.

Perpetuating the Paranoia

As covered in the most recent entries in this series, the Communist Revolution in Russia began in March, 1917, one month before the US entered the European War. The new Communist leaders of Russia withdrew their country from the conflict in March 1918. The US remained involved until the end of the war, in November 1918.

Before the war was even over, US authorities were concerned that Communist ideas and ideology would infect America, in part through soldiers coming back from the European front. There was a particular fear that Negro soldiers would return to the US after serving in Europe with ideas of racial equality, an idea that much of the white population of the US was definitely not ready to accept! It was feared that Communist agitators would take advantage of the new Negro attitudes to inflame racial unrest in the nation, leaving many open to Communist propaganda.

There was certainly good reason for authorities to worry about this. When the US entered the War, many blacks were actually excited about the opportunity that American military service would provide them…they believed that by being “good soldiers” they would prove their patriotism, and “earn” a more respected place in American society.  And perhaps even the walls of segregation would come down. These notions were dispelled all too quickly.

When the first draft cards were issued, they came with an unusual feature…

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Down in the left hand corner was a little notice printed on the diagonal…

If person is of African descent, tear off this corner.

370,000 black men were inducted as a result of the draft. But the purpose of that little triangle on their card was soon obvious. It was for sorting purposes, so that all men of African descent could be segregated into their own “proper place.” Which was NOT as regular soldiers who would be actually fighting the war. Negroes were instead assigned to “support” roles, even near the front lines in the European theater…such as cooking and serving meals and cleaning latrines.

During boot camp, and once deployed to their ultimate destinations, they were at all times strictly segregated in housing, eating facilities, and more.

Later in the war, when shortages of troops became a big issue, a couple of all-black regiments were organized, with the men actually trained for battle, including the famous 369th Infantry, dubbed “Hellfighters” by the German enemy for their toughness and tenacity…they were thereafter known as the Harlem Hellfighters.

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They were also known for their amazing marching band, which was a hit wherever they performed in Europe… for introducing jazz and ragtime to the continent.

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But the Hellfighters and other Negro units were not trained so that they could fight alongside white American soldiers. Many deeply racist white American soldiers would have vehemently resisted attempts to force them to accept Negroes as equals and comrades. So they were instead “loaned” to the French army for the duration of the war, serving under French military commanders. The Hellfighters regiment was so fabulously successful in battle that they received the highest military honor decoration offered to soldiers by the French, the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War).

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But their highly distinguished medal and a quarter wouldn’t even get them a cup of coffee in most restaurants in America after they returned from the war. A black soldier returning from the Great War was just as subject to Jim Crow laws and customs in his WW1 uniform, wearing his medal, as he was in his civvies before the war. Some returning black soldiers were even lynched in violent racial riots after the war while still wearing their uniforms. So much for earning respect for their bravery, sacrifice, and patriotism.

In fact, even before they got back on US soil, they suffered indignities once “returned” back to US authority over in Europe by the French at the end of hostilities.

Black soldiers experienced many indignities after World War I, including not being allowed to celebrate the Allied victory. In Paris, the United States refused to allow any black American soldiers to march with other Allied soldiers, including [black] colonial African troops, in the victory parade up the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day in 1919.  [Source]

So is it any wonder that President Wilson and many other American leaders might think that such discharged men might be subject to persuasion by Communist recruiters to reject The American Way? Those in authority could have allowed this reality to be a prod to make some desperately-needed changes to that American Way so that it lined up better with the highest aspirations proclaimed in  the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Instead they turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the plight of the Negro. They proceeded to stir up paranoia among the general populace about the “imminent threat” of a Communist Revolution in America. And offer the solution…getting rid of all outside agitators. They evidently believed that success with these tactics would somehow result in returning all those Negro soldiers to their subservient pre-war response to abuse, neglect, and injustice.

Liberty and justice for all? Don’t need no stinkin’ liberty and justice. Just a big stick.

That big stick would be named A. Mitchell Palmer. We’ll meet him in the next entry in this series:

Manufacturing an Ogre

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Red Scare–Red Summer

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 20

Red Scare—Red Summer

This is Part 20 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the 
first entry in the series, Part 1

 

The daily news in 2017 has been giving many Americans the weird feeling that they have tumbled down a rabbit hole…

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… and entered an alternate universe where nothing makes any sense…

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…and everyone is mad.

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It might appear that current events are totally disjointed, and current circumstances are just springing up “out of nowhere,” with no roots in the past. So many things going on seem to have no logical explanation…especially—HOW did Donald Trump, a man so far from the mainstream of historical national party politics, get elected?! And in particular—how did a man with a lifestyle so foreign to the morals and ethics and values promoted in the Bible manage to surround himself with so many Strange Bedfellows from the religious world? Christian leader bedfellows—pastors, preachers, televangelists, popular Christian authors and lecturers, leaders of Christian educational institutions—who were so influential in the circles of Evangelical Christianity that they were able to deliver to him the votes of 80% of their followers and supporters.  Disgruntled working class folks wanting to recapture the prosperity of the Good Old Days when America was Great…and Majority W.A.S.P. …were no doubt a key part of Trump’s victory. But he could not have gotten over the finish line without the massive turnout of Evangelical voters on his side.

None of that seems to make any sense. But that is only the case if one ignores history. There really is a “thread” of people and circumstances and events that has wound through the past American century that has ultimately led us to this point. A point where zealous, pious Christians in great numbers were willing to vote for a casino-owning acknowledged adulterer (with three marriages) with an avowed penchant for grabbing the private parts of young women; a crude, loud-mouthed promoter of fake “professional wrestling,”; a glad-handing buddy and business associate of Mafioso-types; and a boorish man given to public bullying, ridiculing, and bad-mouthing others on a massive scale.

As strange as it may seem, there really is a path through American history that can “make sense” of this outlandish anomaly.

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It is not a straight path, easily understood. Which is why the speculation of so many pundits has failed to nail down just “how we got from there to here.” This blog series is carefully and methodically sorting through the factors that have made up that path, with the ultimate goal of making sense out of the madness.

As was noted in earlier entries in the series, this particular historical thread has its beginning at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, in the midst of World War 1. That revolution was the triggering event that started the US down the path to the recent strange choice made by American Evangelicals in the 21st century.  We’ll pick up the thread in this entry immediately after the Great War.

The previous entry in this series explored the labor agitation all across America that immediately followed the end of World War 1. The war years had deeply affected the US economy. For instance, compared to 1915, food prices had doubled by 1920, clothing costs more than tripled.  The necessity to gear up for war production had quickly led to a boom in factory jobs and wages—and demobilization at the end of the war had just as quickly deflated the boom, leaving many without work. The employment situation was desperately exacerbated by the return of over 4 million soldiers from Europe who would immediately need employment—many of them so mangled by their war experiences that it was even more difficult for them to find work.

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Add to this the “Great Migration” of Southern African Americans to the North—where wages were typically three times what they could get doing farm work in the rural south—that had begun before the outbreak of WW1, but intensified in 1914. By 1919 over one million had swarmed into industrial centers like Detroit (black population up over 600% from 1910 to 1920) and Philadelphia (up 500%.) Jobs were easy for them to find in the war years—but so easy to lose once the war was over. When they were desperately needed, during war time, employers overlooked their own racial prejudices—and that of their white employees. But once the war was over, many blacks found themselves the first to be laid off…or unceremoniously replaced by new white applicants.

Competition for jobs and impatience with miserable working conditions, long hours, and unfair labor practices led to an astonishing outbreak of strikes in 1919.

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As mentioned in the previous entry in this series, the government and much of the non-striking population of the US chose to basically ignore the real roots of the strikes…the grueling lives of the workers, the rock-bottom wages and unfair labor practices of many owners of industries, the insecurity and danger of many of the jobs performed by those choosing to go on strike. No, instead of looking at real problems and considering real solutions that would alleviate those problems, the solution of choice was to assume it was just “outside agitators”…Communists and Socialists in particular…who had put foolish notions in the heads of the workers. The solution on behalf of some governmental authorities, along with the popular press, was to stir up a nationwide “Red Scare” to give the populace a tangible enemy to focus on.

1919redscarecartoon

A steel strike that began in Chicago in 1919 became much more than a simple dispute between labor and management. The Steel Strike of 1919 became the focal point for profound social anxieties, especially fears of Bolshevism.

Organized labor had grown in strength during the course of the war. Many unions won recognition, and the 12-hour workday was abolished. An 8-hour day was instituted on war contract work, and by 1919, half the country’s workers had a 48-hour work week.

The war’s end, however, was accompanied by labor turmoil, as labor demanded union recognition, shorter hours, and raises exceeding the inflation rate. Over 4 million workers—one fifth of the nation’s workforce–participated in strikes in 1919, including 365,000 steelworkers and 400,000 miners. The number of striking workers would not be matched until the Depression year of 1937.

The year began with a general strike [by multiple unions, literally shutting down the city] in Seattle. Police officers in Boston went on strike, touching off several days of rioting and crime. But the most tumultuous strike took place in the steel industry. About 350,000 steelworkers in 24 separate craft unions went on strike as part of a drive by the American Federation of Labor to unionize the industry. From management’s perspective, the steel strike represented the handiwork of radicals and professional labor agitators. The steel industry’s leaders regarded the strike as a radical conspiracy to get the company to pay a 12-hour wage for 8 hours’ work. At a time when communists were seizing power in Hungary and were staging a revolt in Germany, and workers in Italy were seizing factories, some industrialists feared that the steel strike was the first step toward overturning the industrial system.

The strike ended with the complete defeat of the unions. From labor’s perspective, the corporations had triumphed through espionage, blacklists, and the denial of freedom of speech and assembly, and through the complete unwillingness to recognize the right of collective bargaining with the workers’ representatives.

During the 1920s, many of labor’s gains during World War I and the Progressive era were rolled back. Membership in labor unions fell from 5 million to 3 million. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed picketing, overturned national child labor laws, and abolished minimum wage laws for women.  [Source]

All, in part, as a fruit of the zeal of the anti-Communism hysteria of the first “Red Scare.”

Given all this emphasis on the “Red” Scare (red being the color of the Soviet Union flag, and thus the nickname for “Communists”) you’d think that the period of 1919 described in many US history timelines as the Red Summer would be a reference to that kind of “Red.”

It’s not.

Red Summer

The Red Summer refers to the summer and early autumn of 1919, which was marked by hundreds of deaths and higher casualties across the United States, as a result of race riots that occurred in more than three dozen cities and one rural county. In most instances, whites attacked African Americans.

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Actually, it wasn’t just in the summer in 1919 that blood was shed.

…between January 1 and September 14, 1919, white mobs lynched at least forty-three African Americans [other estimates are much higher], with sixteen hanged and others shot; while another eight men were burned at the stake.

Most of these lynchings were very public spectacles…viewed by from 100s to many 1000s of men, women, and sometimes children…and often included hideous torture committed in full view of the spectators prior to death, including castration, dismemberment…or worse. Professional and amateur photographers often took photos of the ghoulish goings-on, and before the day was out would print up “souvenir postcards” for folks to buy to send to friends and family or keep in their own photo albums.

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“Burned at the stake”… Some of the men’s dead bodies were burned in front of the teeming crowd after they had been killed by hanging or gunshot…others’ live bodies were burned in full sight of everyone until they were dead…

Such as in this incident in Omaha, Nebraska.

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From statements in the media, the public was encouraged to believe that the states were powerless to interfere. (Although the reality seems to be that they were often unwilling to do so.) As seen in this quote from Governor Bilbo of Mississippi regarding the lynching in his state of John Hartfield.

1919hartfieldmiss

Poignantly, none of this, including the burnings and postcards and failure of governmental authorities to intervene, was “new.” Such atrocities had continued unabated since Reconstruction times. It’s just that there was an extremely unusual cluster of such events in 1919, at the same time as the numerous “race riots” described below.

Starting in the late 1960s, when reading about “race riots” in American newspapers, one usually expected the stories to be about militant African Americans in metropolitan areas engaging in massive public disturbances including violence against people and property, in protest of perceived civil rights injustices. Many of them had become frustrated after it became obvious that the Martin Luther King-style non-violent, passive resistance type of civil disobedience of the 1950s and early 1960s…sit-ins, marches, boycotts and the like…had failed to complete the process of fully establishing civil rights in the land. This was so even after formal Civil Rights legislation had been passed in Washington.

What a significant portion of Americans in the 21st century don’t realize is that, historically, the term “race riot” was used in reports in the US media to describe something much different.

A race riot in the early 1900s was almost exclusively a situation in which large groups of angry “whites” indiscriminately attacked those of the “Negro Race,” killing or injuring many, destroying their property, and in some cases completely driving all blacks out of a given neighborhood, county, town, or city.

Incidents of such riots had been increasing all across the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and came to a head in the Red Summerof 1919.

Here is just one example of the more than three dozen that occurred that year.

Chicago Race Riot of 1919

Starting July 27, the summer’s greatest violence occurred during rioting in Chicago. The city’s beaches along Lake Michigan were segregated by custom. Eugene Williams, a black youth, swam into an area on the South Side customarily used by whites, was stoned, and drowned.

When the Chicago police refused to take action against the attackers, young black men responded violently.

Violence between mobs and gangs lasted thirteen days, with white rioting led by the well-established ethnic Irish, whose territory bordered the black neighborhood.

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The resulting 38 fatalities included 23 black people and 15 whites. The injured totaled 537, and 1,000 black families were left homeless.

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Other accounts reported 50 people were killed, with unofficial numbers and rumors reporting more. White mobs destroyed hundreds of mostly black homes and businesses on the South Side of Chicago; Illinois called in a militia force of seven regiments: several thousand men, to restore order.

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So what was the response of the US government to this and other such “race riots” and the many lynchings of blacks?

Authorities viewed with alarm African Americans’ advocacy of racial equality, labor rights, or the rights of victims of mobs to defend themselves.

… Unlike earlier race riots in U.S. history, the 1919 events were among the first in which black people in number resisted white attacks and fought back.

Why might the “authorities” view this with alarm? Perhaps they were responding to the attitude at the very top of the government.

In a private conversation in March 1919, President Woodrow Wilson said that “the American Negro returning from abroad [from serving in the US military during the Great War] would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America.”

Yes, the fact that Negroes might physically resist being burned at the stake, or resist with force having their neighborhoods burned to the ground, couldn’t possibly be because they had legitimate concerns about these things. It had to be that they were just “stirred up” by “outside agitators.” Communist agitators. For hadn’t they always, up until the time of the Russian Revolution, just meekly accepted abuse?

And why might Negroes who had been immersed in the European War, exposed, for instance, to the French society that had no Jim Crow laws and welcomed blacks, be expected to be open to arguments against the American Way of dealing with the resident Negroes in America?

Perhaps part of it was what happened when Woodrow Wilson took office as president in 1913.

As president, Wilson oversaw unprecedented segregation in federal offices. It’s a shameful side to his legacy that came to a head one fall afternoon in 1914 when he threw the civil-rights leader William Monroe Trotter out of the Oval Office.

Trotter led a delegation of blacks to meet with the president on November 12, 1914 to discuss the surge of segregation in the country. Trotter, today largely forgotten, was a nationally prominent civil-rights leader and newspaper editor. In the early 1900s, he was often mentioned in the same breath as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. But unlike Washington, Trotter, an 1895 graduate of Harvard, believed in direct protest actions. In fact, Trotter founded his Boston newspaper, The Guardian, as a vehicle to challenge Washington’s more conciliatory approach to civil rights.

Before Trotter’s confrontation with Wilson in the Oval Office, he was a political supporter of Wilson’s. He had pledged black support for Wilson’s presidential run when the two met face-to-face in July 1912 at the State House in Trenton, New Jersey. Even though then-Governor Wilson offered only vague promises about seeking fairness for all Americans, Trotter apparently came away smitten. “The governor had us draw our chairs right up around him, and shook hands with great cordiality,’’ he wrote a friend later. “When we left he gave me a long handclasp, and used such a pleased tone that I was walking on air.” Trotter viewed Wilson as the lesser of other political evils.

[But in the 1914 meeting]…Trotter came prepared with a statement and launched the meeting by reading it.

Trotter began with a reference to their 1913 meeting and to the petition he had presented, containing 20,000 signatures “from thirty-eight states protesting against the segregation of employees of the national government.” He listed the on-the-job race separation that had gone unchecked since—at eating tables, dressing rooms, restrooms, lockers, and “especially public toilets in government buildings.” He then charged that the color line was drawn in the Treasury Department, in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Navy Department, the Interior Department, the Marine Hospital, the War Department, and in the Sewing and Printing Divisions of the Government Printing Office. Trotter also noted the political support he and other civil-rights activists had provided to Wilson. “Only two years ago you were heralded as perhaps the second Lincoln, and now the Afro-American leaders who supported you are hounded as false leaders and traitors to their race,” he said. And then he reminded the president of his pledge to assist “colored fellow citizens” in “advancing the interest of their race in the United States,” and ended by posing a question that contained a jab at Wilson’s much-ballyhooed [New Freedom] economic reform program. “Have you a ‘New Freedom’ for white Americans and a new slavery for your Afro-American fellow citizens? God forbid!”

The meeting quickly turned sour. The president told Trotter what he previously admitted in private—that he viewed segregation in his federal agencies as a benefit to blacks. Wilson said that his cabinet officers “were seeking, not to put the Negro employees at a disadvantage but … to make arrangements which would prevent any kind of friction between the white employees and the Negro employees.” Trotter found the claim astonishing, and immediately disagreed, calling Jim Crow in federal offices humiliating and degrading to black workers. But Wilson dug in. “My question would be this: If you think that you gentlemen, as an organization, and all other Negro citizens of this country, that you are being humiliated, you will believe it. If you take it as a humiliation, which it is not intended as, and sow the seed of that impression all over the country, why the consequence will be very serious,” he said.

As you can imagine, Trotter and his delegation left extremely disheartened. And within a year after that disheartening meeting, came an even bigger blow to the prospects for progress for the African American population of the US. It came in the unexpected form of a wildly successful silent motion picture.

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Notice on the poster for this 1915 film that it is based on a novel titled The Clansman, by a Thomas Dixon, Jr.—a personal friend of Woodrow Wilson.

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Wilson had been studying for his PhD in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University in 1883 at the same time Thomas Dixon arrived there. Dixon was also there to do graduate work in PoliSci, and the two struck up a long-lasting friendship. But instead of a life in politics, Dixon eventually went on to become a well-known Baptist minister and lecturer. However, his greatest fame came not from preaching but from writing.

In 1905 he wrote The Clansman.

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Dixon has been born in North Carolina in 1864, just before the end of the Civil War. So his earliest memories were of life in the South during the Reconstruction period. Woodrow Wilson had been born in Virginia in 1856, and had grown up in Georgia and South Carolina. His father, a minister, slave owner, and defender of slavery, was at one point a chaplain to the Confederate Army.

Woodrow Wilson’s earliest memory, from the age of three, was of hearing that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming. Wilson would forever recall standing for a moment at General Robert E. Lee’s side and looking up into his face. [Source]

And thus Wilson’s early memories as a child and teen were of life in the South during both the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Although by 1905 Dixon had accepted that eliminating slavery in the US was a good thing, he still clung to his “roots” in his estimation of the potential of African Americans.

“…no amount of education of any kind, industrial, classical or religious, can make a Negro a white man or bridge the chasm of centuries which separate him from the white man in the evolution of human nature.”

-Thomas Dixon Jr., 1905 from “Booker T. Washington and the Negro”, p. 1, Saturday Evening Post, August 19, 1905.

And he made it clear, in describing his novel, what he thought the destiny of inter-racial relations in America were to be.

“My object is to teach the North, the young North, what it has never known—the awful suffering of the white man during the dreadful Reconstruction period. I believe that Almighty God anointed the white men of the South by their suffering during that time . . . to demonstrate to the world that the white man must and shall be supreme.”

How was this conveyed in the book?

As Nel Painter points out, there are no poor whites in The Clansman: “In Dixon’s work all whites display the attributes of power, not only wealth and education (formal or informal), but also height, slenderness, and refinement. These are the natural rulers of Dixon’s made-up society, in which whites unfitted for leadership do not exist” (“Tom Dixon and His Clansman,” 124). This emphasis on nobility ties the novel, first, to the romance genre, from medieval romance to Sir Walter Scott, whose work was a model for the Southern cavalier, and, second, to Dixon’s emphasis on “clan,” Old Scotland as a sign of Aryan purity.  [Source]

As you might guess by the title, the book was about the Ku Klux Klan. The first KKK.

For those unaware…there was a group called the Ku Klux Klan that arose in the South at the end of the Civil War. It is neither the Klan of the 1920s, which was a second incarnation of the name, nor the Klan of the 21stcentury, which is a third incarnation of the name.

The first Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, by six veterans of the Confederate Army. The name was probably derived from the Greek word kuklos (κύκλος) which means circle.

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It quickly became popular enough to have its own “theme music”!

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KKK sheet music 1868

Although there was little organizational structure above the local level, similar groups rose across the South and adopted the same name and methods. Klan groups spread throughout the South as an insurgent movement during the Reconstruction era in the United States. As a secret vigilante group, the Klan targeted freedmen and their allies; it sought to restore white supremacy by threats and violence, including murder, against black and white Republicans. In 1870 and 1871, the federal government passed the Force Acts, which were used to prosecute Klan crimes. Prosecution of Klan crimes and enforcement of the Force Acts suppressed Klan activity. [Source]

But before it was suppressed, it made its way out of the South, too…

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KKK group, Watertown, NY, 1870

And thus the Klan of that era sort of “disappeared from history” except as a dim memory for most people. For about 35 years.

Then in 1905 Dixon resurrected the glorious memory of the 19th century Klan in his novel The Clansman…which was subtitled: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Immediately after publication, Dixon turned it into a stage play, and both book and play, but particularly the play, took much of the nation by storm, including productions in Los Angeles:

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“Cave Scene” from a live production of The Clansman

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Playbill for Los Angeles production of The Clansman

The book is presented as fiction…but “historical” fiction, in that much of it was based on his own childhood memories of Reconstruction.

Dixon’s father, Thomas Dixon, Sr., and his uncle Leroy McAfee, both joined the Ku Klux Klan early in its history with the aim of “bringing order” to the tumultuous times, and Col. McAfee even attained the rank of Chief of the Klan of the Piedmont area of North Carolina. But, after witnessing the corruption and scandal involved in the Klan they would both dissolve their affiliation with the group and attempt to disband it within their region.  [Source]

But in spite of this “later outcome,” Dixon never seemed to let go of his admiration for the Klan, and built a grand and glorious mythology around it in his writing.

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There were no doubt terrible injustices committed by individuals and groups of both the North and the South during the period of Reconstruction, but you’d never know that from a reading of The Clansman. There is no hint in the book and play that the Klan was ever anything but an entirely noble Savior of the White man and woman of the South.

And in 1915, DW Griffith’s classic movie, the first real “Blockbuster” in movie history, brought Dixon’s written words to vivid and splendiferous life.

The Birth of a Nation began filming in 1914 and pioneered such camera techniques as the use of panoramic long shots, the iris effects, still-shots, night photography, panning camera shots, and a carefully staged battle sequence with hundreds of extras made to look like thousands.

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It also contains many new artistic techniques, such as color tinting for dramatic purposes, building up the plot to an exciting climax, dramatizing history alongside fiction, and featuring its own musical score written for an orchestra.

The movie, like the book, glorified the Ku Klux Klan…at the same time it depicted virtually all African-American men (most played by white actors in blackface) …

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…as ignorant, uncouth, uncivilized rabble at best…

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“Negro legislators” shown in session…eating fried chicken,
drinking booze, propping bare feet on desks.

…and beasts prone to rape at worst.

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Young white woman, pursued by a black soldier intent on rape,
jumps to her death from a cliff.

The first half of the film depicted the Civil War clear up to the assassination of Lincoln. It was portrayed so dramatically and heroically, and, to a certain extent, appeared so authentic and historically accurate…

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…that it set the audience up to accept the second half as also being “historical.” Rather than a melodramatic, highly fictionalized account of Reconstruction designed to glorify the Klan and vilify the freedmen.

To give the movie an even greater punch… There were quotations from President Woodrow Wilson displayed on some subtitles in the movie, such as this one—a quote from Wilson’s own 1902 book, History of the American People.

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When the film was released, it shattered both box office and film-length records, running three hours and ten minutes. [Source]

And it soon swept the nation, from  Baltimore, Maryland…

 

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…to New York City

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…to Appleton, Wisconsin

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to Wichita, Kansas

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…to Boise, Idaho

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…to Seattle, Washington

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…and all points in between.

It even reached as far North and West as Portland. Oregon, as you can see from these newspaper ads in the Portland Oregonian from the summer of 1915.

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Thomas Dixon, Jr., succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in “teaching” not only the North but the West and East to accept his idiosyncratic view of history.

The social impact of the book was certainly enormous. Though Anglo-centric groups had existed previously, they were mostly limited to Southern states and had small membership. The book and subsequent play and movie glorified Anglo-Saxon dominance through the power held by the Klan. This appealed to Anglo-Saxons everywhere, not merely in the South. [Source]

White audiences everywhere ate it up. Including a 35 year old man in Atlanta named William Joseph Simmons.

While convalescing in 1915 after being hit by a car, Simmons decided to rebuild the Klan which he had seen depicted in the newly released film The Birth of a Nation directed by D.W. Griffith. He obtained a copy of the Reconstruction Klan’s “Prescript,” and used it to write his own prospectus for a reincarnation of the organization.

As the nucleus of his revived Klan, Simmons organized a group of friends, in addition to two elderly men who had been members of the original Klan. On Thanksgiving night 1915, they climbed Stone Mountain to burn a cross and inaugurate the new Klan, with fifteen charter members.

 

From the Atlanta paper, 1915.

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Stone Mountain, right outside Atlanta, as it appeared in 1910

 

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Stone Mountain as it appears now, as part of a tourist destination park

 

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The gigantic (158 feet wide, 76 feet tall) Confederate Memorial Carving
on the side of Stone Mountain, depicting Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee,
and Stonewall Jackson. Begun 1923, dedicated 1920. 

 

The imagery of the burning cross, which had not been used by the original Klan, had been introduced by Griffith in The Birth of a Nation. The film, in turn, had derived the image from the works of Thomas Dixon, Jr., upon which the film was based.  [Source]

As a matter of fact, Stone Mountain has seen a lot Klan gatherings and cross burnings ever since 1915…

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1920 from the Chicago Tribune

 

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1934 from the Sandusky, Ohio paper

 

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1946 from TIME magazine

 

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1948: Dr. Samuel Green, a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon,
at Stone Mountain, flanked by two KKKids

 

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1971

Here is a one minute clip of a group gathering at Stone Mountain in 1949.

 

And lest you think that the Klan has abandoned its Birth of Its Nation roots at Stone Mountain in recent decades, have a look at a short video allegedly filmed on a night in 2009 at Stone Mountain. No, not at the Amusement Park. The area is big enough to allow… private parties in hidden hollows.

 

But let’s go back to 1915, when the Birth of a Nation movie was in its heyday, and the “second incarnation” of the KKK was just in its infancy.

Those African American men who had visited Woodrow Wilson in his office in 1914 certainly had every right to feel despondent about the future possibilities of an improvement in civil rights for African Americans, given the attitude at the top of the government of the US. And once Birth of a Nation became a smash hit, portraying blacks in an extremely negative light, they had every right to feel even deeper discouragement. With lynchings on the rise, and “race riots” destroying black neighborhoods, it would seem to me that black Americans would have every reason to be inclined to begin more active resistance to their circumstances—without ANY help from “outside agitators” of this or that “-ism”!

That was not the view of much of white America, though. In 1919, or in coming years, such as when this sign was posted all over Alabama in 1934.

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We’ll continue on down the winding historical road leading From 1919 to Now in the next entry in this series.

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Promoting Paranoia 

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