A new book by Andrew Kreig, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, explores the complex and interrelated backgrounds of our recent presidents and presidential candidates. While I have not yet read the entire volume, I am pleased to offer a sample chapter excerpt here.
Prescott Bush: Roots of the Bushes
The Bush and Walker families, forebears of President George Herbert Walker Bush, have been prominent in American life for many generations. The analysis over the next three chapters covers multiple generations of the Bush Family. That way, the disreputable methods and dire consequences for the public are understandable as part of a pattern, not mere aberrations. As one example, both George H. W. Bush and his father, Prescott Bush, presented themselves as war heroes to help launch their careers, despite serious questions about the facts. This raises doubt about their ultimate loyalties, given the central role that war-making, armaments, and energy have played in advancing the fortunes of their families and their armies of business cronies.
The history of the Yale College secret society Skull and Bones is a good place to start. William H. Russell founded the society in the 1830s after observing a model for it during his studies in Germany. Russell, who became a prominent educator and pro-union abolitionist, was a cousin of the wealthy Samuel W. Russell, a silk, tea, and opium merchant based in China for many years. Skull and Bones, also known as “The Order,” is incorporated as the Russell Trust Association and is exempt from Connecticut’s normal requirements for annual reports. Several researchers suggest the secret status proved useful in 1961 for laundering payments to CIA-orchestrated Bay of Pigs invaders of Cuba.
The Order traditionally invites fifteen of the school’s wealthiest and otherwise most outstanding juniors to forge a lifelong mutual assistance bond. This includes a rite in the longtime headquarters, a windowless stone building called “The Tomb” in New Haven. Each initiate lies in a coffin to confide intimate sexual experiences. George H. W. Bush and his father were members, as was son George W. Bush. Author Alexandra Robbins summarized the society’s importance as follows:
The men called their organization the “Brotherhood of Death,” or, more informally, “The Order of Skull and Bones.” They adopted the numerological symbol 322 because their group was the second chapter of the German organization, founded in 1832. They worshipped the goddess Eulogia, celebrated pirates, and covertly plotted an underground conspiracy to dominate the world. Fast forward 170 years. Skull and Bones has curled its tentacles into every reach of American society. This tiny club has set up networks that have thrust three members to the most powerful political position in the world… Skull and Bones has been dominated by approximately two dozen of the country’s most prominent families — Bush, Bundy, Harriman, Lord, Phelps, Rockefeller, Taft, and Whitney, among them — who were and are encouraged by the society to intermarry so that the society’s power is consolidated. In fact, the society forces members to confess their entire sexual histories so that Skull and Bones, as a eugenics overlord, can determine whether a new Bonesman will be fit to carry on the bloodlines of the powerful Skull and Bones dynasties.
Understandably brimming with self-confidence, Prescott found himself humiliated in 1918, a little more than a year after his Yale graduation. While Prescott was on his way to Allied front lines in the final months of World War I, his hometown newspaper in Columbus, Ohio printed a front-page story describing him as a hero acclaimed by three nations. The reason? Prescott, according the report, courageously used a “bolo knife” as a baseball bat to swat away an incoming shell, thereby protecting his unit. In fact, he had not yet reached the front lines. The paper published this preposterous tale as a news story, and included such flattering biographical detail as his college leadership of the Yale Glee Club and his election to Skull and Bones. But the bolo knife as baseball bat yarn prompted ridicule. And so, four weeks later, the paper published on its front page a brief letter from Prescott’s mother saying that the original story was in error.
Bush himself is reputed to have said the story arose because he wrote a humorous cable to a friend, who thought it was real and placed it in the paper. The incident was all the more embarrassing because Prescott’s father, Samuel P. Bush, was the United States official in charge of World War I purchases of small arms (including machine guns) and ammunition. Details remain shrouded because of destroyed records. Samuel Bush’s wartime post helped illustrate the kind of ongoing relationships between the nation’s Wall Street, munitions, energy, and media tycoons that would endure through the generations. Bush’s work buying ammunition and arms put him in a position to provide troops with goods from the Rockefeller-controlled Remington Arms, the nation’s largest grossing arms dealer during the war. Bush worked directly under Wall Street’s trusted Bernard Baruch, head of the War Industries Board. Baruch, a native of South Carolina, was nicknamed “The Long Wolf” because of his investment acumen but was reputed more quietly to be also to be an important liaison between Europe’s Rothschild banking family and their United States partners. The nation’s finances, including for war industries, were highly dependent also on the work of War Finance Chairman Eugene Meyer, the future Post owner who would cement friendships with the Bush and other major dynasties during this period of explosive federal growth.
After the war, Prescott Bush found marriage, and professional success through The Order and similar elite connections. He married Dorothy Walker, daughter of W.A. Harriman Brothers CEO and Co-founder Herbert “Bert” Walker, a private banker and sports fan whose successes included building Madison Square Garden, serving as New York State Racing commissioner and running the Belmont Race Track as president. But Bert Walker’s main business was to help create support for U.S. entry into World War I, and postwar to build up Harriman Brothers. Other co-founders included W. Averell Harriman, a member of The Order from Yale’s class of 1913. He chaired the firm and co-owned it with his younger brother, Roland “Bunny” Harriman. The latter was a Bonesman in the same Yale Class of 1917 as Prescott Bush. Bunny took the lead in arranging for Prescott to become the firm’s vice president. Another co-founder was Percy Rockefeller, a Bonesman in the Yale class of 1900 and the family’s controller of Remington Arms Prescott’s brother attended Yale, and both of their sisters married Yale men.
If this all seems cozy, that’s because it was. And to a significant extent, it still is. Rather remarkably, for example, 2004 Presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry were Yale Bonesmen in the mid-1960s, as were at least two of the leading news commentators on their campaigns.
Prescott Makes His Mark
Prescott Bush, tall and self-righteous, worked hard to advance himself and Harriman Brothers. Among his major early successes was helping William Paley obtain financing to buy CBS. Paley later ran CBS for many years as chairman, with Bush as a director. Like CBS, NBC and later ABC were spinoffs from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and thus had many overlapping relationships with banks, and other financiers.
At Harriman Brothers, Bush also created a strong United States financial base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen. Thyssen used Harriman Brothers as an agent for his efforts in the United States. In 1926, Thyssen also became mesmerized by up-and-coming German politician Adolf Hitler and so became Hitler’s leading financier.
Harriman Brothers was well-positioned for this business after being involved in global activities that included projects in Russia after World War I. In 1931, Harriman had merged with Brown Brothers, which had been the nation’s major shipping line for the slave trade before the Civil War, thus enabling extensive overseas offices. The new company became Brown Brothers Harriman, the world’s largest private investment bank. Bush ran the New York office, and focused heavily on Thyssen and related business. That was among Harriman’s biggest income sources as Hitler ramped up his country’s development after seizing power in 1933. Meanwhile, a Depression stagnated much of the United States.
Given Hitler’s warmongering and racist policies, however, Thyssen-related income became increasingly awkward for the firm. Thyssen himself broke with Hitler before the war, and fled to France in 1941, doubtless hoping his United States assets would remain available under the safekeeping of Brown Brothers Harriman. In 1942, the United States government seized some assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act. But Averell Harriman was one of President Roosevelt‘s top foreign policy advisors, with many henchmen installed in high places. Not surprisingly, the Hitler-Thyssen-Harriman-Bush matter was resolved discreetly, for the most part, until investigative reporting arose a half-century later.
Prescott Bush survived the Nazi taint with relatively little damage to his reputation. He was elected as a U.S. senator representing Connecticut as a Republican from 1952 to 1963. Bush’s patron Averell Harriman, a U.S. ambassador to Russia during the war, continued to hold several of the highest federal foreign affairs positions under the postwar presidency of Harry Truman. Bush served on the Armed Services Committee, and fostered close friendships with President Eisenhower and other top officials.
During the 1940s, Bush and tobacco heir Gordon Gray, fostered a friendship and alliance between their families that would affect the nation’s history for decades. Gray’s son, Boyden Gray, would augment that tradition by helping lead a secret, decade long-effort by power brokers to create “the tea party,” which was sold to the public as a spontaneous grassroots organization of patriots arising in 2009 to fight the Obama administration. The sham’s historical roots are intertwined with the power of the nation’s great dynasties.
Gordon Gray, an heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, was a Yale Law School graduate and newspaper publisher among his accomplishments. In the 1940s, he and his wife became leaders in the eugenics movement along with Prescott Bush. The Harriman and Rockefeller families heavily funded eugenics and sterilization, which later evolved into more socially acceptable Planned Parenthood organization and decades of U.S. Agency for International Development birth control programs for Third World nations. Gray and his wife helped lead a pilot program to reduce birthrates by sterilizing hundreds of black boys and girls who performed poorly on school intelligence tests. The trial project was in segregated Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Gray published a newspaper.
Gray became secretary of the Army in the Truman administration. Gray’s interests would include the mind-control drug experiments by the fledgling CIA on unsuspecting test subjects whose reactions could be studied. Gray would go on to hold important national security positions under both Republican and Democratic presidents into the Ford administration during the mid-1970s.
In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed former Harriman lawyers John Foster and Allen Dulles to lead the State Department and CIA, respectively. Averell Harriman became governor of New York State for one term before losing reelection in 1958 to Nelson Rockefeller, a Dartmouth graduate. Rockefeller’s many influential posts before his four terms as governor included one with the quaint title of Special Assistant to President Eisenhower for psychological warfare. Gray became Eisenhower’s national security advisor. Gray and Prescott Bush were frequent golfing companions with President Eisenhower, with Vice President Nixon often rounding out their foursome.
Illustrating the capacity for political jousting even among the highest levels of the governing elite, Prescott Bush damaged the national aspirations of Nelson Rockefeller by savagely attacking the scion of his longtime financial allies for obtaining a divorce and remarrying. Prescott’s tirade was doubtless in part because of Nelson’s notorious reputation as a philanderer, with Rockefeller’s staff regarded as especially vulnerable to his charms. Another motive for the sabotage was the Bush Family’s increasing interest in working with oil-rich Texas conservatives who were reshaping the Republican Party toward perspectives shaped by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
Prescott retired from the Senate in 1963, just as his son George’s political career was beginning in Texas. Prescott resumed his post as Brown Brothers Harriman managing director until his death in 1972. In 2004, The Guardian in the United Kingdom published an extensive investigation seeking to answer questions about Prescott Bush’s role assisting Thyssen and Hitler. The series noted that Bush enjoyed success in public life after the war, and was never prosecuted. However, it quoted John Loftus, a former federal prosecutor in the nation’s Nazi hunt that began in the 1970s, as arguing that he would have sought Bush’s indictment as a war criminal if he were still alive. The Guardian noted that the Bush Family had always declined to respond to such comments.
The news story continued:
“There is no one left alive who could be prosecuted but they did get away with it,” said Loftus. “As a former federal prosecutor, I would make a case for Prescott Bush, his father-in-law (George Walker), and Averell Harriman [to be prosecuted] for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. They remained on the boards of these companies knowing that they were of financial benefit to the nation of Germany.”
Loftus said Prescott Bush must have been aware of what was happening in Germany at the time. “My take on him was that he was a not terribly successful in-law who did what Herbert Walker told him to. Walker and Harriman were the two evil geniuses; they didn’t care about the Nazis any more than they cared about their investments with the Bolsheviks.
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