Saturday, September 06, 2003

Bush, the Nazis and America

[Introducing a short series ...]

1: Falsifying History

I'd like to return, if I may, to the Rich Lowry column, "Among the Bush Haters," which I examined earlier as a prime example of the way conservatives are increasingly not only trying to revise history, but falsify it, by presenting a version of reality that stands fact on its head.

There was a snippet of this column that particularly caught my attention as an example of the way conservatives' propaganda elides factual history about prominent Republicans so as to tar their critics as extremist:
The anti-war Web site features a Flash movie complaining that "the media will not tell you of the Bush family Nazi association" and theorizing that in order "to offset their reputation as World War II traitors, former President Bush joined the U.S. Navy as a pilot." (Clever, those Bushes.)

Thus with a simple, sneering aside Lowry casually dismisses what should in fact be a serious question worth addressing. Other conservatives, notably Jonah Goldberg, have given this question more or less the same contemptuous treatment -- as if the accusation were too over-the-top, too ludicrous to even dignify with a serious response.

The problem is, it isn't. In fact, there is a great deal of factual truth to it.

The questions raised by the known facts about the Bush family's connections to the Nazi war machine should really be a matter of some national moment, because they raise serious issues about the relationship between America and Nazism and its atrocities, and the ramifications of those ties in today's world.

These are not only serious but deeply disturbing issues, which may be why there has been relatively little mainstream effort to address them. Unfortunately, the highly partisan way that they have been framed to date has done little to make the debate a serious or thoughtful one. And conservatives' attempts to pretend that the questions should not even be taken seriously are a sort of historical revisionism -- falsifying history by pretending it didn't even happen.

TakeBackTheMedia has already fired back at Lowry and other critics, including Fox News, by observing:
The point was that George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, had the assets of the family business seized by the U.S. Government under the Trading With The Enemy Act of 1941. Much of the Bush family fortune was made by dealing with Nazi Germany -- both before and during World War II.

This in fact is entirely accurate -- more so, I might add, than the TakeBack's original description of the connection. More on that later.

The claim that some of Prescott Bush's assets were seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act for his dealings with Nazi Germany has been thoroughly documented. Here, for instance, is a copy of the 1942 Vesting Order naming Bush, among others.

Michael Kranish at the Boston Globe discussed this in an April 23, 2001 piece titled "Triumphs, Troubles Shape Generations," that explored some of the Bush family's past troubling connections. It began like this:
Prescott Bush was surely aghast at a sensational article the New York Herald Tribune splashed on its front page in July 1942.

"Hitler's Angel Has 3 Million in US Bank," read the headline above a story reporting that Adolf Hitler's financier had stowed the fortune in Union Banking Corp., possibly to be held for "Nazi bigwigs." Bush knew all about the New York bank: He was one of its seven directors. If the Nazi tie became known, it would be a potential "embarrassment," Bush and his partners at Brown Brothers Harriman worried, explaining to government regulators that their position was merely an unpaid courtesy for a client. The situation grew more serious when the government seized Union's assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the sort of action that could have ruined Bush's political dreams.

As it turned out, his involvement wasn't pursued by the press or political opponents during his Senate campaigns a decade later. But the episode may well have been one of the catalysts for a dramatic change in his life. Just as the Union Banking story broke, Bush volunteered to be chairman of United Service Organizations, putting himself on the national stage for the first time. He traveled the country raising millions of dollars to help boost the morale of US troops during World War II, enhancing his stature in a way that helped him get elected US senator. A son and grandson would become presidents.

The Globe story, however, manages to overlook some of the grave issues that are raised by Bush's connections to the Nazi regime. Foremost among these: To what extent is the Bush family fortune -- which is unquestionably one of the foundations of the current American presidency -- based upon the wealth engendered by its role in building the Nazi war machine?

However, a close examination reveals this is not so easy to answer as either side would suggest. What is clear is that the evidence that doing business with the Nazi regime substantially enhanced the Bush family fortune is nearly overwhelming.

The main remaining questions are: What proportion of the Bush fortune is based on this trade? And what were the family's ideological connections to the Nazis? These are much murkier issues that remain unresolved.

Next: The Bush Fortune

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