Bush Family Chronicles: The Patriarchs
Editor’s Note: When Americans wonder how the arrogant and corrupt Bush family managed to seize so much power for so long, part of the answer is that the electorate lost control of its history during the long Cold War and into a new era of secrecy called "the war on terror."
Cold War secrecy gave the rich and powerful extraordinary abilities to hide information from the American people, including the unsavory history of the Bush family, as journalist/historian Morgan Strong observes in this guest essay:
To fully understand the present manifestation of the Bush family and its excesses, one must consider its history over several generations, a difficult and painful undertaking since it reveals so much about the self-destructive apathy of the American people.
James Madison wrote passionately in the Federalist Papers that in order for a democracy to function and not descend into a tyranny of the wealthy and the well-connected, the citizenry must stay well informed. In Madison’s view, a democratic society was wholly dependent on an informed citizenry.
Much of the responsibility to inform was placed on the press and the educational system. Indeed, the Founders gave the press the unchallenged right to seek out and publish information under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In recent years, however, the U.S. press has failed in that responsibility dreadfully. Education in this country also has been a dismal failure. But in the end, it is the citizens who bear the principal duty to make themselves informed.
Below, in a bleak and foreboding history, is what occurs when the citizenry is deprived of meaningful information and then fails in its obligation to find out the facts and exercise the critical judgment required for self governance.
In the late 19th Century, Samuel Bush moved to Ohio from Orange, New Jersey, where he had attended the nearby Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. He made the first big move in his manufacturing career as an engineer with Buckeye Steel Castings Company, which produced gun barrels and railroad parts.
Samuel Bush became a confidante of the company’s president, Frank Rockefeller, a brother of the enormously wealthy and powerful John D. Rockefeller, who owned Standard Oil. Another participant in Buckeye Steel was railroad baron E.H. Harriman.
The Rockefeller-Harriman connection was to remain important through the lives and careers of several generations of the Bush family.
Samuel Bush took over from Frank Rockefeller as president of the company in 1908, and held that job for the next 20 years. Through his Rockefeller-Harriman connections, he was made chief of the Ordnance, Small Arms and Ammunition Section of the War Industries Board in the Wilson administration during World War I.
Percy Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller’s first cousin who had acquired Remington Arms in 1914, built a new plant just in time to enjoy enormous profit from the sale of weapons in World War I. Percy benefited from no-bid contracts to manufacture arms and supply ammunition to the U.S. military, arranged by Samuel Bush.
Samuel Bush’s Buckeye Steel made the gun barrels for Remington, which also outfitted the Czar’s forces in Russia after contracting to supply a million rifles to Russia in 1916. During World War I, Remington supplied 67 percent of all the weapons and ammunition used by the Allied forces.
Samuel’s son, Prescott Bush, served as an artillery liaison officer with the French forces during the war and wrote back home about his heroic exploits in letters that were published. But the exploits proved to be fabricated, forcing Prescott to apologize. But that didn’t deter him – or dim his career prospects.
Prescott was a Yale College graduate and a member of the influential Skull and Bones Society along with Averell Harriman, the son of his father’s associate, railroad magnate E.H. Harriman. Prescott also married well, wooing the favorite daughter of financier George Herbert Walker, who brought Prescott into the Wall Street firm of Harriman & Co., which later became Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
During the 1930s, Prescott Bush was a fanatical opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There were even rumors that Bush tried to encourage a military coup against Roosevelt after his election as President in 1933. But the evidence – while intriguing – has never been conclusive.
Similar secrecy and uncertainty surrounded the intricate web of ownership and control of Harriman’s Union Banking Corp., which Prescott Bush administered in collaboration with backers of Germany’s Nazi Party.
As a rising star at the Harriman firm, Prescott Bush became a director (effectively in charge) of Harriman’s UBC, which had a financial relationship with German industrialist Fritz Thyssen, an early supporter of Adolf Hitler.
Brown Brothers Harriman supplied Thyssen with financing and other banking services that allowed the Nazis to build up their war machine. After Thyssen broke with Hitler in 1939, Thyssen’s banking empire came under control of the Nazi government, with Prescott Bush continuing as a behind-the-scenes force in the relationship.
One of these Bush-connected companies, Consolidated Silesian Steel, made use of Nazi slave labor from concentration camps, including Auschwitz. After Germany declared war on the United States, the U.S. government investigated these relationships and seized Harriman’s UBC in 1943 under the Trading with the Enemy Act.
However, following the war, rather than face the ignominy of profiting off his dealings with the Nazis, Bush was compensated for the seizure of the bank, receiving a $1.5 million settlement from the U.S. government, an astonishing amount of money in 1945.
It was remarkable that despite Prescott Bush’s lying about his heroics in World War I and his assistance to the Nazis in World War II, he was nonetheless elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Connecticut in 1952 and served there until 1963.
While in the Senate, Prescott Bush continued to serve the interests of his financial benefactors, the Harrimans and Rockefellers, especially by aiding the oil industry. Short of those services, his legislative accomplishments amounted to little.
But Prescott Bush’s business and personal connections were to have a profound impact on the course of American history. Many of his wealthy friends bankrolled his son, George Herbert Walker Bush, in launching his first oil business in Texas – and then a political career that would take the Bush family to the White House.
Morgan Strong was an adviser on the Middle East to CBS News “60 Minutes.” He is a former Professor of Middle Eastern History at MercyCollege and S.U.N.Y. [For more about the Bush family’s rise to power, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
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