Dealing With The F-Word

A Book Review by Stephen Gowans

March 25, 2002


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David McGowan, Understanding the F-Word: American Fascism and the Politics of Illusion, (Writers Club Press, 2001) 264 pages, $19.95. Available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.co.uk and Booksamillion.com.

When the Spanish fascist General Franco, enlisting the aid of Hitler and Mussolini, initiated a civil war that would eventually see the Republican government of Spain fall, the United States not only stood by, it prohibited American citizens from helping the Republican cause. Why would an apparently democratic, presumably antifascist country, prevent its citizens from fighting fascism and restoring democracy?

Flush with success in Spain, European fascism struck again. Mussolini bombed desperately poor Ethiopia. And not to be outdone (by far), Nazi Germany invaded more than a dozen European countries, establishing a front with the Soviet Union, whose destruction the Nazis desperately sought. Washington still did nothing.

In June 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, launching a campaign that would eventually cost the Soviets eight to 12 million men and usher 16 million Soviet civilians into an early grave. And still, the United States did nothing.

Instead, as the Nazis pushed into the Soviet Union, Washington watched, and US businesses, among them, the Wall Street powerhouse Brown Brothers/Harriman, profited. The firm, two of whose principals were Prescott Bush and Herbert Walker, great-grandfather and grandfather of President George W. Bush, eventually had its assets seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act, when Washington finally got around to deciding Nazi Germany was an enemy (on paper, anyway.)

The Bush family, by the way, has curious connections. Apart from its wartime links to the German Nazi government, the Bushs are also linked to the family of John Hinckley, the man who tried to assassinate former President Ronald Reagan. Had Hinckley been successful, George H.W. Bush, the vice-president at the time, would have moved into the Oval Office. Hinckley's family had made large contributions to Bush's political campaigns. On the day John tried to transform himself into a latter day John Wilkes Booth, Neil Bush, brother of George W., and campaign manager for George W.'s failed congressional bid, was scheduled to dine with Scott Hinckley, John's brother. George W. told the press, "It's certainly conceivable that I met (John Hinckley) or might have been introduced to him." By itself, the connection means nothing, but it is fishy, to say the least. Fishier still is the Bush's connections with the bin Laden family. It's certainly conceivable that John Hinckley isn't the only Bush family friend George W. met, or might have been introduced to.

By December, 1941, six months after the Nazis had overrun much of Europe and launched their Soviet campaign, the Soviet's had rallied, and counterattacked. On Dec. 6th, the counterattack began. On Dec. 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, plunging the United States into war in the Pacific.

Formally, US involvement in the war in Europe came a few days later -- but only after the Nazis declared war first.

Still, despite the United States formal commitment to war in Europe, American forces were to undertake no significant action in Europe until D-Day, June 6, 1944, at which point the defeat of Germany by Soviet forces was all but inevitable. The US had tarried, watching as Nazi Germany plundered the Soviet Union and entered the war in a significant way only when it seemed clear resurgent Soviet forces would crush the Nazis and take most of Europe.

After Berlin fell, the US took over where the Nazis had left off, salvaging assets from the ruins of what the Nazis left behind, to continue the fight against Communism. Washington quickly allied itself with Germany, Italy and Spain, subordinating those parts of Europe the Soviets couldn't control, while scouring the ranks of the defeated Nazis for engineers, technicians, scientists and intelligence experts. They would be pressed into service on Washington's payroll to do what they had been doing for Hitler -- fighting Communism.

Other Nazis fled, some under the nose of Washington, to South America, a US sphere of influence, where in the years to follow, fascist military dictatorships would flourish, with the welcoming approval of Washington.

Willing to let fascism spread like wild fire through Europe, and through South and Central America, it would hardly seem strange to suggest that at the very least Washington has long harboured a tolerance of fascism, and if abroad, then at home, too. Did the United States smash fascism in Europe, as Hollywood has suggested, as if the US had almost single-handedly taken on the Nazis while the Soviets piddled away in the East as mere bit players, or did Washington allow fascism to flourish, stepping into the European theatre only when it became clear that most of Europe would be lost to the Soviets?

And what's more, is tolerance of fascism the worst the US can be accused of, or is America fascist itself?

David McGowan has few doubts. "The current political system in place in the United States at the dawn of the twenty-first century is fascism," he writes in Understanding the F-Word: American Fascism and the Politics of Illusion. "Of course, we don't call it that. We like to call it 'democracy.' Nonetheless," MacGowan adds, "it looks an awful lot like fascism."

Try an experiment. Call America anti-Communist, jingoistic, expansionist, militarist, call it racist and governed by business parties which are indistinguishable on the fundamentals, point out that Americans are inclined to equate dissent with lack of patriotism and to discourage dissent accordingly, and most Americans will agree. Tell them America is fascist (for what is fascism, but all of these things together?) and they'll react as if you just said "fuck."

McGowan isn't the first to argue that America is fascist, but maybe he's the first to do so without pulling punches, kind of like a George Carlin willing to say shit, fuck, cunt, piss, mother-fucker, cock-sucker, and tits in public, where 'respectable' comedians shy away, afraid of offending -- and therefore, losing -- audiences.

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis, best known for his novels, Main Street and Babbitt, wrote It Can't Happen Here, a tale of an American president who becomes a dictator to save his country from welfare cheats, promiscuity, runaway crime, and a liberal press. Enraged by the fascism sweeping Europe, Lewis wrote his novel as a rejoinder to its title. Yes, fascism can happen here, he warned. Of course, Lewis didn't say fascism had happened in the US. He only said it could happen. And he supposed that dictatorship was equal to absolutist rule by a single person.

The historian Howard Zinn, in debunking the notion of WWII as "the good war," argued that the US exhibited many of the characteristics of a fascist state -- extreme anti-Communism, militarism, official racism, blind patriotism, expansionism -- and therefore it couldn't be said that America had been fighting fascism; fascism, or elements of it, were too dear to Americans. But Zinn stopped short of calling America fascist.

Where Zinn stops at showing the US to be belligerently nationalist, racist and militarist, McGowan pushes on. "Well, the US may be fascist in some respects," the boldest of analysts proclaim, "but it isn't a rigid one-party dictatorship, and opposition isn't forcibly suppressed. Calling the country fascist is going too far." Not so ripostes McGowan.

He points to the robust similarities between Democrat and Republican parties. They may appear to be different, and are nominally, but on issues of substance, they aren't. It looks like there's no one-party rule, but there is, just as much as if the old Soviet Union had been governed alternately by Communist Party 1 and Communist Party 2, both committed to state ownership of industry and a planned economy. That's the genius of American fascism. It looks like democracy, but isn't.

As for the forcible suppression of the opposition, McGowan argues that suppression of opposition is more structural than forcible. Opposition is marginalized. "The system is not built, quite frankly," McGowan writes, "to allow for opposition. Opposition, that is, that falls outside of the 'two' major parties, unless one insists on counting the Reform Party as legitimate opposition." And exactly what did the Reform Party propose to reform?

Of course, it could be added that America has always been ready to forcibly suppress dissent. Dissidents have been locked up for such crimes as speaking out against US involvement in WWI, belonging to the Socialist Workers Party or Communist Party. They've been spied on, harassed, and subjected to dirty tricks. Loyalty oaths, COINTELPRO, blacklists, the House Un-American Committee, all point to the suppression of opposition.

Fascism, like the other F word, has become largely connotative; it calls forth powerful emotions of revulsion, and it's often used in much the same way the other F-word is used -- to shock. It's an incendiary obloquy that few would want applied to themselves or the country in which they live, and it's a denunciatory label that is all too easily hurled at those on the right of the political spectrum, or so those who fancy themselves moderates suppose. But get beyond the word's emotional baggage and it's clear that it fits the American system to a tee, and long has, since well before George W. Bush started to invest the US with some of the more overt forms of fascism.

This is McGowan's second book, the first, Derailing Democracy, dealing with the America you don't see, was favorably reviewed by Michael Parenti (To Kill a Nation), Christian Parenti (Lockdown America), Norman Solomon (The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media) and William Blum (Rogue State and Killing Hope). I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to put McGowan in the same league as the two Parentis, Solomon and Blum.

Read with an open mind, the book is revealing, startling, shocking, and yes, unsettling. But it's honest and clear-eyed. And what's needed now more than ever is an honest and clear-eyed look at what America really is.

McGowan also maintains a Website -- the Centre for an Informed America -- at http://www.davesweb.cnchost.com


David McGowan, Understanding the F-Word: American Fascism and the Politics of Illusion, (Writers Club Press, 2001) 264 pages, $19.95. Available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.co.uk and Booksamillion.com.

[Ed. Stephen Gowans has also written on the issue of fascism in For Washington, A Lining Of Black Gold In This Dark Cloud? and in It can't happen here.]



       Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stephen Gowans 2002. All rights reserved.

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Published March 25, 2002
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