1934: The Plot Against America
I’m back from the land of heather and thistles, not to mention wee drams and lukewarm ale, but on my way out a friend at the BBC alerted me to this, a not-to-miss program on the BBC this morning, accessible over the next several days by internet. It’s the story of the Plot Against America. I don’t mean the Philip Roth novel, nor even the Sinclair Lewis book, It Can’t Happen Here, but rather the historical events upon which these two works of fiction were based.
In November 1934, federal investigators uncovered an amazing plot involving some two dozen senior businessmen, a good many of them Wall Street financiers, to topple the government of the United States and install a fascist dictatorship. Roth’s novel is developed from several strands of this factual account; he assumed the plot is actually carried out, whereas in fact an alert FDR shut it down but stopped short of retaliatory measures against the plotters. A key element of the plot involved a retired prominent general who was to have raised a private army of 500,000 men from unemployed veterans and who blew the whistle when he learned more of what the plot entailed. The plot was heavily funded and well developed and had strong links with fascist forces abroad. A story in the New York Times and several other newspapers reported on it, and a special Congressional committee was created to conduct an investigation. The records of this committee were scrubbed and sealed away in the National Archives, where they have only recently been made available.
The Congressional committee kept the names of many of the participants under wraps and no criminal action was ever brought against them. But a few names have leaked out. And one is Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the incumbent president. Prescott Bush was of course deep into the business of the Hamburg-America Lines, and had tight relations throughout this period with the new Government that had come to power in Germany a year earlier under Chancellor Aldoph Hitler. It appears that Bush was to have formed a key liaison for the group with the new German government.
Prescott Bush, of course, went on to service as a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, and his son, George H.W. Bush emerged from World War II as a hero.
The Plot Against America portrayed in this episode of the BBC series “Document” gives fascinating insight into a dark and little known piece of American history in which the nation stood on the brink of betrayal. The role of the most powerful political dynastic family in the nation’s history in this whole affair is shocking.