Monday, July 16, 2007

The plot against FDR

I understand why writing alternate history is so attractive: The plots can't help but suggest themselves. History is literally full of roads not taken, and the siren song of researching these various quirky incidents of "what if?" are hard for any honest scribe of speculative fiction to resist. Case in point, the abortive 1933 coup against FDR:
In Congressional testimony, Butler said MacGuire and Clark eventually promised him an army of 500,000 men, $30 million in financial backing and generous media support to lead the nation's first coup. Under the plan, Butler would have become the "secretary of general affairs" -- a new Cabinet ubersecretary, as it were -- while FDR would have been forced into becoming a powerless figurehead.

"(McGuire) said, 'You know, the American people will swallow that,'" Butler testified. " 'We have got the newspapers. We will start a campaign that the President's health is failing. Everybody can tell that by looking at him, and the dumb American people will fall for it in a second.'"

At that point, Butler said, he could sit back no longer. He revealed the plot to New York Evening Post reporter Paul Comly French, who then interviewed MacGuire himself in September 1934. According to French, MacGuire said the United States needed a strong, fascist government and that he would have no problem raising money for a coup on Wall Street, which feared Roosevelt's leftist leanings.

That's some crazy shit there. I mean, really, who would ever imagine corporate America scheming to undermine Democrats? But what's really amazing about this whole affair (other than the fact that it's not well-known--it seems people are better-informed about the various Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories than this) is that the House of Representatives investigated the allegations via the McCormack-Dickstein Committee, which concluded that the coup plot was indeed legitimate. And then did absolutely nothing to the conspirators. Kind of boggles the mind, doesn't it?
"Like most committees, it has slaughtered the little and allowed the big to escape. The big shots weren't even called to testify. Why wasn't Colonel Grayson M.-P. Murphy, New York broker ... called? Why wasn't Louis Howe, Secretary to the President of the United States, called? . . . Why wasn't Al Smith called? And why wasn't Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, called? And why wasn't Hanford MacNider, former American Legion commander, called? They were all mentioned in the testimony. And why was all mention of these names suppressed from the committee report?"

Since admiration for Mussolini (and later Hitler) was fairly high in the U.S. during the early 30s, it doesn't take a great leap of faith to see how such a plot (provided it had more competent leadership) could've succeeded in turning the U.S. to fascism. Certainly, control of media factored heavily into the plans, and as events post-1933 have borne out, controlling the media controls the message, and that is more than half the battle. Kinda makes you look at all those massive media mergers approved by the FCC in a whole new light, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Stephen Dedman said...

There's a movie, Seven Days in May , directed by John Frankenheimer and scripted by Rod Serling, about an attempted military coup to take over the White House. According to Frankenheimer, though the military refused to co-operate with making the film, Kennedy asked him to make it and even went out of town so he could film in the White House.

One interesting thing about it is how many candidates have been suggested as to who the rogue general is supposed to be. Curtis LeMay is a favourite candidate. The coup against Roosevelt is also thought to have inspired the original novel. Frankenheimer mentions Edwin Walker, forced to resign after trying to recruit for the John Birch Society (and bizarrely, later found to have been shot by Lee Harvey Oswald). A scene where the general's mistress hands over incriminating material is said to be based on a similar incident involving Douglas MacArthur, who was expected by many to run for President.

I'm not sure that even in the Great Depression, a fascist coup could have succeeded in the US - but I am often glad that the two-term limit came in after FDR's presidency, and not before.