100 Years of Using Fear of Russians to Keep American Citizens in Line
My opinion—and I think I can sustain it with evidence–is that fear is the principal factor that has given rise to the United States’s world view since the early 20th century, and that fear still underlies much of what official America thinks and does both at home and—especially–abroad.
First a word about linguistcs. It’s neither fair nor correct to use the term “Americans” carelessly and all inclusively, as if the United States were made up of a homogenized, monolithic population. No, there are many flavors of Americans, each with its own political philosophy, from semi-literate, gun-toting white supremacists and Nazis to dedicated radical leftists and, in the middle, a great grey mass of well-meaning, faith-driven folks who just believe what they’re told to believe. And that’s the problem—what they’re told to believe.
It’s a Pyramid
At the top of this tutti-frutti pyramid are the Americans in Charge (AiC): big businessmen (including a surprising number of psychotic billionaires with extravagant political agendas), a truculent, predatory military-industrial complex bent on world domination (euphemistically, in their own words, “full spectrum dominance”) and a political class the likes of which we have never seen before in terms of cynicism, opportunism and utter lack of human values. At the top of the pyramid reigns a louche, narcissistic and infantiloid maniac, the paradigm of ignorance and arrogance in a world endowed today with a surfeit of maniacs.
So, what exactly do the Americans fear? The answer to this question comes in pyramid form, too. Let’s start from the top down. The Americans in Charge (AiC, see above) since the early 20th century all fear the power of a better idea. (Americans used to be fond of saying, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” That was when they built better mousetraps. Now that Slovakia builds better mousetraps that old saying has fallen somewhat into disuse.)
The Better Idea Looked Dangerous
That better idea reared its head in 1917, after centuries of tyrannical Tsarist rule in Russia, with the socialist October Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin. There followed a civil war between Lenin’s Bolsheviks and a coalition of monarchists, capitalists and Menchevik socialists. Eight foreign countries, including Britain, France and half a dozen other countries belonging to the World War I Allied armies, also intervened against Lenin’s forces, but to no avail. The war was resolved in 1923 in favor of the Bolsheviks after six years and a toll of between seven and twelve million casualties, mostly civilians.
At that crucial point in the early 20th century the world was weary of rule by European royal autocrats and American robber barons. It was ripe for more egalitarian governments. In those days, before Soviet communism had revealed its dark side, many world citizens aspired to imitate the solutions of the recently-created Soviet Union for a fairer distribution of the wealth of nations.
Institutional Fear Triggers Overwhelming Responses
In America there was a short history of labor activism before the 1920s. The ultimate response to these inconveniences to business as usual was the Haymarket Square Massacre at a rally of leftist demonstrators in Chicago who were demanding an eight-hour day. Someone threw a bomb that killed seven police officers and at least four civilians and, though it was never made clear who was responsible for the bomb, of the eight defendants one committed suicide and four were hanged. Six years later in 1893 Illinois’s new governor, John Peter Altgeld, pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial.
It was events like this and the deadly stalking of the International Workers of the World (IWW, the Wobblies) that set the scene for the enhanced persecution of the left, then in the context of the post-World-War-I nationalist hysteria and the Russian Revolution. These events were referred to subsequently as “the first Red Scare” (1917-1920). The IWW, founded as an industrial union in 1905 in Chicago, grew to 150,000 members by 1917. Its founders included some of the great names in the history of progressive America: William D. (“Big Bill”) Haywood, James Connolly, Daniel De Leon, Eugene V. Debs, Thomas Hagerty, Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Frank Bohn, William Trautmann, Vincent Saint John, Ralph Chaplin, and many others. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
More Gratuitous Repression: The Palmer Raids
American big business, which had enjoyed a free hand (and wielded it) against workers and unions before 1917, was quick to perceive the threat of losing control and responded in panic mode. The Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer (with the inestimable help of his promising protégé, 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover), carried out in November of 1919 and January of 1920 the so-called Palmer Raids to capture, arrest and deport suspected radical leftists and anarchists. Palmer’s attempt to suppress left-wing organizations was characterized by inflammatory rhetoric, illegal searches and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions, and the deportation of some 500 “alleged” radicals and anarchists. There would have been many more deportations if the U.S. Secretary of Labor, William B. Wilson, had not intervened on behalf of workers, who had neither been tried nor convicted of anything.
Coming soon Chapter 2/2