Fascism and the American Legion

Ah, the irony...

Now that the various lies justifying the Iraq invasion and occupation have been exposed, the Bush Junta and Blair have come up with yet another rationale for their wars, the struggle against fascism.

As Donald Rumsfeld put it recently, "some seem not to have learned history's lessons...once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism." A few days later Bush repeated the argument, asserting that the "war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century...As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They're successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be."

There are a few historical ironies in those statements. The most obvious is, of course, that Bush's grandfather, US senator Prescott Bush, made money being a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany. It was Republicans, many of them right-wing admirers of Hitler and Mussolini, who used America's war weariness and desire to avoid international disputes to remain idle as Hitler took over Western Europe. In fact, it was only until Japan attacked Pearl Habour that America became active in "fighting fascism" (and who knows what would have happened if Germany had not declared war on America). Rumsfeld, of course, does not mention his own appeasement of Saddam back in the 80's or the continual Bush Junta support for friendly dictatorships across the globe (repeating the standard historical US policy).

Less obvious is the link between fascism and the organisation whose national convention both these speeches were given, namely the American Legion. During the 1920s and 1930s the American Legion wholeheartedly supported fascism and saw itself as the US equivalent. In an interview in January, 1923, its Commander-in-Chief Alvin Owsley not only endorsed Mussolini and Fascism, but announced his readiness to do the same.

As he put it, "If ever needed, the American Legion stands ready to protect our country's institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy." In reply to whether this meant taking over the government, he said "Exactly that. The American Legion is fighting every element that threatens our democratic government-soviets, anarchists, I.W.W., revolutionary socialists and every other Red ..Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legionis to the United States." Which is the role they did play, as during the 1920s and 1930s American Legion members were used by big business asstrike breakers.

In 1934, there was plot by a group of American businessmen and industrialists to overthrow the government of Franklin Roosevelt and install a fascist regime. Support for fascism in such quarters should come as no surprise given the way that the great American industrialists had employed secret spies and private police (a pre-Fascist militia) in American labour disputes for decades. The attraction of Italy where strikes are outlawedand workers knew their place was obvious.

Key players were Legionnaires, bankers and brokers, including businessman Gerald G. MacGuire one of the small group of rich officers who initiated and financed the American Legion in 1919. He argued that "Roosevelt hasn't got the real solution to the unemployment situation, but we'll put across a plan that will be really effective. All unemployed men would be put in military barracks, under forced labour, as Hitler does, and that would soon solve that problem. Another thing we would do immediately would be to register all persons in the United States, as they do in Europe. That would stop a lot of Communist agitators wandering around loose." These opinions and wearing the ribbon of the Crown of Italy, awarded to him by the Fascist regime, did not stop him participating in the 193 6election campaign MacGuire was treasurer of the Du Pont-financed Liberty League. Liberty for the bosses, you understand.

Given the history of the American Legion and its founders, speeches addressed to it about standing up to fascism are somewhat ironic. Particularly since the leadership retains its reactionary role, with its national commander declaring in August 2005 that it would "stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples . . . We had hoped that the lessons learned from the Vietnam War would be clear to our fellow citizens. Public protests against the war here at home while our young men and women are in harm's way on the other side of the globe only provide aid and comfort to our enemies." So freedom is best defended by destroying it at home?

But, then again, we are talking about those persistent hypocrites, liars and appeasers of dictators which make up the Bush Junta. The "fighting fascism" theme is just the latest of a long like to be used and abused regardless of fact, logic or relevance (how long before it joinsthe WMD theme in the Memory Hole?). After all, everyone one hates fascism and loves freedom. Never mind the differences between Islamic terrorismand far-right political movements for it is the utility of such attacks to bolstering state power is what counts. As Huey Long put it, "Fascism in America will arrive on an anti-Fascist platform." The Bush Juntais proving him right.

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