A review by Dale Wharton

Dale Wharton is a retired computer programmer who writes two-page (900 word) book reviews as a hobby. He was a seaman in the US Navy at the end of WWII. He received his B.A. in Journalism from the University of Missouri in 1949.

The Plot to Sieze the White House by Jules Archer

Hawthorn Books: New York
244 pp.

Smedley Darlington Butler (1881-1940) blew the whistle on the little- known plot of the title. He was on public television the fall of 1993 in "The Road to Rock Bottom"--Part 2 of The Great Depression series (Blackside production). Near the end it shows Butler in shirtsleeves, urging on 10,000 of the war veterans who had marched to Washington and camped in Anacostia DC. It was July 1932. The Bonus Army asked for early payment of moneys promised for 1945. "Some were the same men who had fought under Smedley Butler in the Spanish-American War, the Philippines campaign, the Boxer Rebellion, ...Caribbean interventions, the Chinese intervention of 1927-8, and World War I" (p 3).

Butler, a major general at 48, retired from the Marine Corps in 1931. He had faced gunfire 120 times. Columnist Will Rogers wrote of Butler, "He is what I would call a natural born warrior. He will fight anybody, any time....He carries every medal we ever gave out. He has two Congressional Medals of Honor....You give him another war and he will get him another one....I do admire him" (p 116).

Except the two years in China, Butler spent the last third of his service in police work and administration. During this time a disillusion with war spread through Europe and America. The mood fed on books like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and MERCHANTS OF DEATH.

August 21, 1931, Butler spoke to an American Legion convention in New Britain CT. Looking back, he reflected on his career. His remarks stunned the audience. Few papers dared report even part of the speech:

"I spent 33 years...being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism....

"I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street....

"In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested....I had...a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotions....I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate a racket in three cities. The Marines operated on three continents..." (p 118).

Why would a cabal of capitalists--conspirators of enormous wealth-- approach such a man? Because they knew veterans revered him; he never ordered anything done he would not do himself. Grunts, noncoms, and combat officers believed Butler was their friend. Forty times, envoys of Wall Street tried to persuade him to lead a coup d'etat.

The instigators wanted a putsch commander who could mobilize 500,000 soldiers overnight. These would make up a paramilitary force, to take form as the American Liberty League. Its pattern was a French veterans' group, the Croix de Feu. (The backers studied then rejected two other models of veterans' organization that fascists had used in taking power: Mussolini's blackshirts and Hitler's brownshirts.)

The reason for the plot was the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), a member of the same ruling circles as the cabal itself. March 5, 1933--the day after his inauguration--FDR embargoed the export of gold and declared a national bank holiday. He told the "Hundred Days Congress" to enact a New Deal into law. In striving against the Depression, FDR awakened hope in the American people, but he appalled bankers and industrialists. Who would pay for this New Deal? The rich feared changes to the US system of finance, a rise in taxes, possibly even (Heaven forbid!) socialism.

Rumours of the plot reached Washington, where the Committee on Un- American Activities (CUAA)--was already exposing fascist intrigues. Its cochairmen were John McCormack (D MA) and Samuel Dickstein (D NY). CUAA got in touch with Smedley Butler: did the general have anything to tell them? After prying out all the plans he could, Butler asked a friend, an experienced newsman, to confirm the whole incredible scheme. The reporter visited twice with an agent of the conspirators (a wounded Marine vet) and set down his findings.

Secret executive hearings of CUAA opened November 20, 1934. Sworn testimony showed that the plotters represented notable families --Rockefeller, Mellon, Pew, Pitcairn, Hutton; and great enterprises-- Morgan, Dupont, Remington, Anaconda, Bethlehem, Goodyear, GMC, Swift, Sun.... Some people named as plotters laughed, all denied everything.

"The reader who wishes to examine the official testimony is referred to the government report, `Investigation of Nazi Propaganda Activities and Investigation of Certain Other Propaganda Activities: Public Hearings Before the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Seventy-third Congress, Second Session, at Washington, DC, December 29, 1934. Hearings No. 73-D.C.-6, Part 1.' Extracts of the censored testimony are revealed in the books A MAN IN HIS TIME, by John L. Spivak [NY: Horizon Press, 1967], and ONE THOUSAND AMERICANS, by George Seldes [NY: Boni & Gaer, 1947]" (p 140).

Jules Archer has written 29 books on politics and personalities such as Eisenhower, MacArthur, Kenyatta, and Castro. Here he succeeds in "break[ing] some of the seals of silence that have kept Americans from knowing about [a] conspiracy" of US fascists in 1933-4 (p x). "The conspiracy unquestionably inspired the novel SEVEN DAYS IN MAY..." (p 243). Sixteen pages of Marine Corps and news photos, editorial cartoons, and family portraits add to the impact of Archer's account.


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