Archive for the ‘Anti-Communism’ Category

Harry Truman’s Shirts

August 14, 2014

Truman

Lately, I have been reading David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman. I’m interested in the Truman administration, because it was a pivotal period in our nation’s history. One thing I like about McCullough’s book is that it does a lot to dispel the myth of “Give ‘Em Hell Harry”. McCullough shows that Truman was often indecisive, and that he was reluctant to make decisions that he knew would be unpopular. Among other things, McCullough makes it clear that Truman should have fired MacArthur months before he did. (Truman did have a temper though. He once threatened to throw Joseph Kennedy out of a hotel window. You can’t really blame him for wanting to do that.) Although McCullough is highly sympathetic to Truman, he is nevertheless critical of him at times. He argues, for example, that Truman’s Loyalty Program helped set the stage for McCarthyism.

McCullough is a skillful writer who is good at historical narrative, but his amassing of details began to annoy me after a while. He writes about such things as what clothes Truman wore and what he had for lunch on certain days. This is more than I really wanted to know about Truman. What makes this baffling is that he devotes one paragraph to the creation of NATO. And he says hardly anything about Truman’s policies towards post-war Germany. (Which was one of the issues I was interested in when I picked up this book.) Call me a philistine, but I think these topics would have been more interesting than Truman’s shirts.

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Rehabilitating the Kingfish

March 25, 2013

J+B-164_Huey-Long-the-Kingfisher
Huey P. Long, a.k.a. The Kingfish.

Mike Whitney has posted an article on CounterPunch titled Our Chavez: Huey Long. There seems to be an effort in recent years on the part of some people to to try to portray the sometime governor of Louisiana and U.S.Senator as a great champion of the people, no doubt because of his ant-capitalist rhetoric. Yet when one takes a closer look at his life, it becomes clear that things were not that simple.

During Long’s lifetime, most of the Left regarded him with deep wariness, if not outright hostility. There were good reasons for that. First of all, he governed Louisiana as a virtual dictator. He even organized a secret police force to keep watch on his opponents as well as on his followers.

Long was also a white supremacist. He maintained Louisisana’s Jim Crow laws. (Long would sometimes smear his opponents by spreading rumors that they had “coffee blood”. This gives a bitter irony to calling him “our Chavez”.) Long’s apologists point out that he didn’t talk about white supremacy in his speeches. This was perhaps because he didn’t need to. In 1935, Roy Wilkins interviewed Long for The Criis. They discussed an anti-lynching bill that Long opposed in the Senate:

    How about lynching. Senator? About the Costigan-Wagner bill in congress and that lynching down there yesterday in Franklinton…”

    He ducked the Costigan-Wagner bill, but of course, everyone knows he is aganst it. He cut me off on the Franklinton lynching and hastened in with his “pat” explanation:

    “You mean down in Washington parish (county)? Oh, that? That one slipped up on us. Too bad, but those slips will happen. You know while I was governor there were no lynchings and since this man (Governor Allen) has been in he hasn’t had any. (There have been 7 lynchings in Louisiana in the last two years.) This one slipped up. I can’t do nothing about it. No sir. Can’t do the dead nigra no good. Why, if I tried to go after those lynchers it might cause a hundred more niggers to be killed. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

    “But you control Louisiana,” I persisted, “you could…”

    “Yeah, but it’s not that simple. I told you there are some things even Huey Long can’t get away with. We’ll just have to watch out for the next one. Anyway that nigger was guilty of coldblooded murder.”

    “But your own supreme court had just granted him a new trial.”

    “Sure we got a law which allows a reversal on technical points. This nigger got hold of a smart lawyer somewhere and proved a technicality. He was guilty as hell. But we’ll catch the next lynching.”

    My guess is that Huey is a hard, ambitious, practical politician. He is far shrewder than he is given credit for being. My further guess is that he wouldn’t hesitate to throw Negroes to the wolves if it became necessary; neither would he hesitate to carry them along if the good they did him was greater than the harm. He will walk a tight rope and go along as far as he can. He told New York newspapermen he welcomed Negroes in the share-the-wealth clubs in the North where they could vote, but down South? Down South they can’t vote: they are no good to him. So he lets them strictly alone. After all, Huey comes first.

In 1934, Long created the Share Our Wealth Society, which had clubs all over the country. He chose as its national organizer Gerald L.K. Smith, an outspoken anti-Semite and a former member of a fascist group called the Silver Shirts. Long also formed a political alliance with the ant-Semitic radio broadcaster, Father Coughlin, who expressed sympathy for Hitler and Mussolini and who claimed that the Russian Revolution was the work of Jewish bankers. Lance Hill has argued that the Share Our Wealth movement was an incipient form of fascism.

According to Wikipedia:

    Long .. planned to challenge Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination in 1936, knowing he would lose the nomination but gain valuable publicity in the process. Then he would break from the Democrats and form a third party using the Share Our Wealth plan as its basis … The new party would run someone else as its 1936 candidate, but Long would be the primary campaigner. This candidate would split the progressive vote with Roosevelt, causing the election of a Republican but proving the electoral appeal of Share Our Wealth. Long would then run for president as a Democrat in 1940. In the spring of 1935, Long undertook a national speaking tour and regular radio appearances, attracting large crowds and increasing his stature.

This scheme came to naught, as Long was assassinated in 1935. The Share Our Wealth movement quickly dwindled after that. The reasons for this may be that the economic recovery of 1934-36 strengthened support for Roosevelt, and that the revitalized labor movement probably drew in people who might otherwise have been attracted to Share Our Wealth.

It is often tempting to idealize figures from the past, yet if we hope to actually learn from them, we have to look at these people for what they actually were.

J. Edgar

November 14, 2011

Clint Eastwood has certainly come a long way from Dirty Harry. His new film about J. Edgar Hoover, from a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, will upset many right-wingers. I wish I could give this movie an unqualified endorsement, but I have some reservations about it.

The film portrays Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a repressed homosexual, and it suggests that this repression was the source of his obsessive behavior. He and his number two man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), have a relationship similar to that between Burns and Smithers on The Simpsons. When Hoover tells Tolson that he intends to propose to Dorothy Lamour, the two of them have what amounts to a lovers’ quarrel. Their relationship, however, is never consummated. Hoover is portrayed as being obsessed with his domineering mother (Judi Dench), while being emotionally estranged from his father. Some will no doubt make the valid complaint that this reproduces an all too common “explanation” of homosexuality. You must admit, however, that this fits with what we know about Hoover.

Hoover is portrayed as petty and jealous. He deliberately wreaks the career of an F.B.I. agent named Melivin Purvis, because the latter has received more publicity than he has. He is also extremely prone to self-delusion. He says things like “love is the most powerful force in the world” without the least trace of irony. He tells people that he saved the U.S. from a “Bolshevik” revolution in 1919. In one scene, Hoover complains that newly elected president Richard Nixon wants him to do things that are illegal, oblivious to the fact that he has been doing illegal things all his life.

The film reminds us that Hoover began his career as a librarian. (Yes, it’s true.) He helped the Library of Congress develop a new system of organizing books. In one particularly eerie scene, the young Hoover tells his future secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) that he wishes he could organize and identify people the same way he does books. “Information is power”, he tells her.

I found this movie fascinating to watch and even darkly funny at some moments. The acting is very good (DiCaprio is brilliant). However, it seemed a bit over-long. One weakness of the film is that it devotes far too much time to the Lindbergh kidnapping. Eastwood and Black apparently wanted to make the point that Hoover claimed to have solved the case when he actually hadn’t. (All the F.B.I. proved, really, was that Bruno Hauptmann was somehow connected to the crime.) This is a valid argument, but it skews the film towards a relatively minor episode of his career. For that matter, the film devotes too much time to the “Hoover was a closet queen” theory. This would have been a better film if it had spent more time on COINTELPRO and the way it destroyed people’s lives.

The posters for this movie call Hoover “the most powerful man in the world”. This is an enormous exaggeration. Hoover was actually an extremely ruthless and shrewd courtier, one who built his own fiefdom inside the U.S. government. This film attributes Hoover’s power to his knack for blackmailing people. There is a good deal of truth to this, but there was more to it than that. Many powerful people defended Hoover (or at least looked the other way), because they knew he was defending the interests of the ruling class. This could have been a more powerful film if it had made this point in some way.