Now that I’ve gone through The Plot To Seize The White House, I realize I’ve read about the greatest American named, Smedley. Before, if I had heard that name, I would have thought he was a cartoon character of days yore, or one dreamed up right now.
Of course, it does not surprise me that Smedley’s place in history is buried. He was an isolationist and a pacifist throughout the 1930s. Lindbergh took most of that oxygen; Smedley did not make it into World War Two. Finally, as Lindbergh realized it was unpopular to be against the Fascists as policies and attitudes changed within the United States.
For me the value of the book described American foreign policy for the forty years from 1890. Oddly enough, Theodore Roosevelt was all-in during the Spanish-American War, but within a decade he was ruing his decision to takeover the Philippines. One reason the Americans went in was to stop the competition taking over – the Japanese and the Germans, not allies at the time. Taft became governor of the colony, and took a horse-tour which drew the remark of Taft’s final report: “What happened to the horse?” Having been governor, Taft figured he knew how to fix things, just like Doug MacArthur believed his military prowess could defend those islands in 1941. They were both morons.
Descriptions of small military actions and involvements for 40 years from 1890 confirmed the poor diplomacy of the American State Department. We adopted French and British ways although those nations frequently took entire lands, to scattered benefits: Hong Kong did not exist before the British arrived in 1839, and Shanghai was a mid-sized sea-side outpost. Each is near the mouth of a large river. American involvement was late and tiny, but we played by the rules: I believe the American government paid the French for their concession to build the Panama Canal at the time Panama separated from Columbia.
What The Plot does not explain, sometimes countries did not have any government in place to deal with internal problems or make foreign investment possible. The face of American diplomacy became the Marines, the Navy or Army. Note before World War One Pershing was trying to track down Pancho Villa in Northern Mexico. The Mexican government did not have control over that area until 1919 or later. Villa was killed in 1923 which settled things. Yet, today the Mexican cartels have established themselves there. The cartels are the only government.
Times were different. The book spends no time giving those settings. Herbert Hoover mining engineer provided employment to many foreigners. Along with mines he built roads and railroads, and made sure products could be exported to the world. He made tens of millions of dollars. ($75,000,000?)
It was a type of foreign aid program inexpensively backstopped by the military. Investments were made and natives rose: Chile, mining; Venezuela, oil; Egypt, cotton. For Europeans they spared the expense of the Marines and business diplomacy, by colonization. There were horrors like the Belgiums in the Congo. Yet the world situation caused Mark Twain to observe: “The British are mentioned in the Bible. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” All that colonization was well and cheap until the Europeans began fighting other Europeans for concessions and land: An issue over British Guiana in the 1890s brought the British much closer to the Americans, being the bedrock of the special relationship. The Boar War on its heels was destructive and expensive. Further into the Twentieth Century concessions and colonies became untenable changing policies for the British, Dutch, French, Italians, Turks, Spaniards, Portuguese and Americans (copper in Chile in 1970).
The whole set of business arrangements was imperfect and unfair to natives by today’s standards. Yet today’s circumstances are dissimilar. There were about a billion humans on earth in 1900, and many foreign military units were untrained. That’s how smaller forces of Marines could make a difference. How would any of those people, natives and Marines, do on earth with eight and a half billion humans?
I don’t fault Smedley for knowing he was defending American financial and investment interests – persons and activities he found distasteful and disagreed with. There were a lot of frauds which completely exploited natives and investors. Laws were not yet written. The British used their excellent espionage services. Americans were lucky if they knew where the country was. (The same ignorance prevailed into the early 1960s with Vietnam.) Americans did sent a lot of do-gooders – Christian ministers and some journalists: “Doctor Livingston, I presume,” said Harold Stanley of The New York World.
That was Smedley’s world – innocent, individual and somewhat messy. His Marines were needed, but the whole historical context is not found in this book. Smedley’s protestations in the Thirties seemed to come from no where. It is inadequate history to cite a poll saying most Americans were against foreign intervention, when the country had been using its military in like situations for 120 years.
Finally, about Smedley, as an individual, what did he do to establish the Marines was an entity, as he rose through the ranks? Certainly he was beloved and could lead fellow Marines, but once he was gone what was left? I don’t know. I raise this point because during the Civil War, U.S. Grant identified and promoted men who led the U.S. Army into the 1890s. Smedley was not political enough to make such changes.
I’ve read books about investigations, and I’m not surprised that this investigation failed: There was no legislation to remedy anything, which can be a point: Investigations lead to nothing. In the last 30 years someone ought to have proposed a constitutional amendment defining and limiting Executive Privilege. Nope. So in our life time we’ve seen a lot of investigations, however worthy, begun and gone no where.
Specifically, about The Plot there is no explanation about The American Legion and its power. It was a rival organization to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. There needs to be at least 10,000 words to explain its organization and power which the book does not give.
I got nothing about The American Legion from The Plot. It seems an essential part of the story – activities before and after the 1930s, during World War Two, and words explaining after the War. By the Fifties the Right splintered e.g. John Birch was a missionary in China, one of the persons Americans innocently sent overseas to preach religion. Once dead by the dreaded Chinese communists (the Nationalists were good murderers), John Birch became a martyr.