“Everything You Thought You Knew Is Wrong“

"Everything You Thought You Knew Is Wrong"

Family of Secrets

Russ Baker

Bloomsbury Press, 2009

There’s alternative history and there’s secret history. Generally, in the former,
the invisible hand of the market and other
presumed movers of events are revealed not to work exactly as advertised and
the “standard, orthodox, conventional and usually
hierarchical ways of telling the story are overturned”(1) as the perspectives
of those at the margins of social and political life
are given voice. In the latter, the invisible hands are revealed to have nothing
whatsoever to do with the supposedly democratic
forces of supply and demand, let alone other publicly acknowledged actors and
forces. The generally accepted historical narrative is
revealed to be not simply skewed, but flat-out wrong. Investigating and reporting
the existence of those other invisible hands may
be professionally – and even physically – dangerous, as even fair-minded people
of like political convictions resist alternative
accounts for what they know to be true and dismiss the messenger
as a “conspiracy theorist.”

Investigative reporter Russ Baker has braved that risk and spent over five
years of his life researching critical events of the last
sixty years in “Family of Secrets,” an inquiry into “the Bush
dynasty, the powerful forces that put it in the White House, and what
their influence means for America.” As reporter James C. Moore writes in
his preface to the just-issued paperback edition, “There is
no conspiracy theory here, simply information that has been corroborated and
never before reported and it cries for an explanation.”

Moore writes in awe that Russ Baker succeeded in uncovering facts that had
eluded generations of furiously digging Texas reporters,
such as new material related to George Bush’s bachelor days and military service,
as well as unreported connections in such
better-known stories as the younger Bush’s oil business failures and suspect
profit-taking on the Texas Rangers. Significant as
these events are, they seem so many telling details in the great arc of Baker’s
story, statistics in the “numberless needs to do
business unobserved”(2) that characterize the Bush family itself along
with its friends and associates. In a narrative that loops
back and through its main subjects, Baker traces the connections between the
Bush family and private financial circles starting with
Prescott Bush and Brown Brothers Harriman and Company, the various Yale and
OSS connections; the imbrication of finance, energy and
intelligence circles with Bush connections, the career of “Poppy”
– former President George H.W. – Bush, his presence in Dallas the
day of John F. Kennedy’s death, and the dense web of relationships between the
Bushes and various actors and sites involved in the
Kennedy assassination.

The entire book is solidly footnoted and precisely indexed: Baker’s meticulous
research methods and extremely measured conclusions
certainly promote the reader’s confidence in the accuracy of his reporting.

This method is crucial to his enterprise: however little it will surprise most
readers that the Warren Commission’s report on the
Kennedy assassination was deeply flawed and fatally compromised, most of us
who lived through the Watergate hearings will be highly
resistant to Baker’s evidence that Nixon was actually set up and dragged down
by some of the same interests that benefited from
Kennedy’s assassination.

Only the last 200 pages of the nearly 500 pages of text are devoted to the
career of the country’s last president: the unaccountable
young manhood that presaged his unaccountable presidency, the stagecraft – even
spycraft – implicated in his religious conversion,
the connections between his associates and his father’s, the vainglorious motive
underpinning his invasion of Iraq, the corruption
of FEMA that assured its failure to respond effectively to Hurricane Katrina.

Russ Baker has made the broad outline of this history and its implications
available in recent articles for Truthout
and AlterNet,
but for those who crave the details, the
nitty-gritty of the accumulated evidence, there can be no substitute for his
book in which, with his casual-seeming command of a
wide variety of actors, timelines and relationships, he contrives to maintain
a narrative drive that propels the reader through
these webs and effortlessly supports his premise.

Again and again, as he writes in conclusion of the chapter covering Bush’s
military service and the take-down of Dan Rather,

“In the end, it was not reporting or truth that triumphed, but the forces
of disinformation. Memogate appears to underline the
extent to which the cynical techniques of the spy world have leaped the wall
and taken root in the processes of American democracy
itself.

“This is what Karl Rove and his allies effectuate on a daily basis. While
the media thinks it is reporting an electoral contest with
a Madison Avenue gloss, something deeper and more insidious is going on, largely
unexamined. It is fitting that the Bushes, with
their long-standing ties to the covert side of things, have been a vehicle through
which the political process has been subverted
and the public sandbagged.”(3)

Since the Kennedy assassination, if not earlier, our electorate has been characterized
by a growing malaise – even paranoia –
evidenced, for example, by responses to a “CBS News/New York Times poll,
from 2004, in which 64 percent of the respondents answered
in the affirmative to the first of these choices: “Would you say the government
is pretty much run by a few big interests looking
out for themselves or that it is run for the benefit of all the people?”
twice the proportion who responded in the affirmative to
the same question in the 1960’s. Also “within the same 40 year period,
the number of Americans who agreed that ‘public officials
don’t care about what people think’ also nearly doubled, from 36 to 66 percent.”(4)
So there is a strong sense that we the people
are not in charge; malignant vectors have taken over the real power; what happens
in the halls of Congress or 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue is but a simulacrum of democracy.

Russ Baker makes clear, “We are not dealing here with what are commonly
dismissed as ‘conspiracy theories.’ We are dealing with a
reality that is much more subtle, layered and pervasive – a matrix of power
in which crude conspiracies are rarely necessary and in
which the execution or subsequent cover-up of anti-democratic acts become practically
a norm.”(5)

“Family of Secrets” makes clear that those subjects most taboo in
the public conversation: class warfare, undue corporate influence,
and the corruption of democratic processes such as the conduct of elections
and the conveyance of information are also those most
germane to an understanding of recent American history. “History is not
what we know; it is what has truly happened. Often the
reality of events is hard to process because it shakes our system of beliefs.”(6)

Cui bono? Those who benefit from both the specific events
and the broader shadowy maneuvers Russ Baker details are often
described as, think of themselves as, an “elite,” the original meaning
of which is “elect.” Yet, no one other than themselves has
consciously chosen this covert coterie that has seeded itself through the governing
mechanisms of US society, arrogating power and
wealth to itself, a fat and growing parasite on the body politic too greedy
and stupid to know to stop before it consumes its host.

These forces remain at work regardless of changes in the presidency or the
Congress and are already blocking at every pass the
overwhelming desire for change expressed by the country in the last presidential
election. They require secrecy to succeed because
their enterprise could never withstand full public disclosure. Russ Baker’s
book goes further than any other heretofore in laying
bare that tangled web.

(1) David Shulman, “A Passion for Hindu Myths,” NYRB,
November 19, 2009, p. 52.

(2) Thomas, Pyncheon, “Inherent Vice,” Penquin, 2009, p. 80.

(3) Russ Baker, “Family of Secrets,” Bloomsbury Press, 2009, (hardcover
edition) p. 464.

(4) http://blog.buzzflash.com/carpenter/516

(5) http://www.alternet.org/story/121243/

(6) James C. Moore in the Introduction to “Family of Secrets,” Bloomsbury
Press, paperback edition to be released November 10, 2009.

Leslie Thatcher
is Truthout’s French Language Editor and sometime book reviewer.
Bloomsbury Press provided a reviewer copy of “Family of Secrets.”