Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wikipedia & the American Legion

Peter DiGaudio, the Texas Hold ‘Em Blogger, is a member of the American Legion and didn’t take kindly to finding the claim that the organization is fascist on Wikipedia, the online “encyclopedia” written by whomever happens to find it on the Internet and chooses to write an article.

DiGaudio ran down all the supposed sources, and found:
The ONLY sources that claim that the American Legion has longstanding ties to fascism, plotted a fascist coup against FDR and openly invited Mussolini to speak at its conventions are sheer moonbat sites.
DiGaudio then did some research on the author of the article on the American Legion.
Here is a little bit of info I managed to uncover about the original author of the Wikipedia article. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether or not he has an agenda. His user name is Fluxaviator, but his actual name is Jonathan McIntosh. McIntosh describes himself as “a photographer, filmmaker and media activist from Boston.” Media activist. Read his full biography here. Let’s just say it involves all kinds of leftist protests, including at the 2004 Republican National Convention and at President Bush’s inauguration.

Despite his claim to be a “historical researcher,” one of the links on his website leads to http://capedmaskedandarmed.com, which is dubbed “Superheroes for social justice.” Social justice, another leftist buzzword for socialism. All indications are that Mr. McIntosh, rather than a “historical researcher,” is simply a leftwing activist who likes to play loose with facts and the truth to support his agenda.

In addition, Mr. McIntosh dubbed this link to a press release on the American Legion’s national website as “A Return to Fascism?” What the release contains is a resolution from the American Legion condemning the antiwar protests and offering its unconditional support to President Bush and the troops in the war on terror.
Some of the material DiGaudio refers to is not on the current version of the page, which was updated 19 December 2005.

Wikipedia, however, stores previous versions of the article, which can be gotten by clicking on the “history” tab at the top of the page. This version, from 31 August 2005, has a heading titled “Recent support for fascism - 2005.” It claims:
On August 30, 2005, Thomas P. Cadmus, National Commander, stated in an address to the Legion's National Convention that protests against the occupation of Iraq should be suppressed “by any means necessary.”
In fact, as DiGaudio correctly notes, the statement in question merely says the Legion “vowed to use whatever means necessary to ensure the united support of the American people for our troops and the global war on terrorism.” It continues:
“No one respects the right to protest more than one who has fought for it, but we hope that Americans will present their views in correspondence to their elected officials rather than by public media events guaranteed to be picked up and used as tools of encouragement by our enemies,” Cadmus said. “It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction.”
This, apparently, is considered “fascism” by McIntosh.

Here is a “backroom” discussion in which the author of the piece attacking the Legion defends himself against critics.

The current version continues to show plenty of sloppiness and tendentiousness. Consider for example, the following:
1940s
The American Legion was active in campaigning for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in relocation camps. [1] [2]
What happens when we look up the two citations?

One of the links is to a leftist website titled “Race, Racism and the Law: Speaking Truth to Power!!” [sic]. It claims:
February 6, 1942
A Portland American Legion post urged the removal of “enemy aliens, especially from critical Coast areas,” including Japanese American citizens.
Assuming this is correct, one American Legion post supported the internment — a policy that was implemented by Franklin Roosevelt and Earl Warren, then Governor of California.

The other citation lists the American Legion among groups “involved” in agitating for the removal of the Japanese from the West Coast. No specifics about the “involvement” are given. The article is from the Trotskyite paper The Militant, and it points out (quite accurately) that “Liberals backed Roosevelt policy.”

Another assertion is that:
1930s
According to congressional testimony in the 1930s several of the American Legion’s leaders, including its original bankroller Irénée du Pont, plotted a fascist coup against the Government of Franklin D. Roosevelt called the Business Plot. According to testimony the plot was averted because Major General Smedley Butler warned Roosevelt of the plan.
In reality, the “plan” was a hoax directed at Butler, and no evidence of any capitalist cabal plotting a coup has ever been discovered. That, in fact, is what the congressional committee which investigated the issue concluded.

One final claim in the Wikipedia article is that “At its January 1923 Convention, Commander-in-Chief of the American Legion, Alvin Owsley endorsed Benito Mussolini and Fascism.” We have been unable to confirm this from any reputable source, although it’s very difficult to prove a negative.

It should be pointed out, however, that in the 20s, long before Mussolini was allied with Hitler, sympathy for the Italian dictator was much more widespread than one might suppose. Lipset and Dobson point out that:
Some who wrote [of Italian fascism] in extremely positive terms were avowedly on the left, and sometimes also pro-Soviet. The New Republic, for example, during the last years of the twenties urged a “sympathetic hearing" for the Italian system which promoted “national cohesion and national welfare.” The “liberal” weekly even justified fascist violence as necessary to end internal strife and disunity . . . . Among the prominent Americans who wrote favorably of fascism were writers wuch as Wallace Stevens and Henry Miller, a variety of humanistic scholars, including Irving Babbitt, Charles Beard, Shephard Clough, Carlton J.H. Hayes, Horace Kallen, Wiliam Lyon Phelps, George Santayana, and Herbert Schneider, and former "muckrakers” S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and Lincoln Steffens. (Seymour Martin Lipset & Richard Dobson, “The Intellectual as Critic and Rebel,” Dædalus, Summer 1972, p. 170)
What we have, in the Wikipedia treatment of the American Legion, is an example of the fact that the material that appears in that online “encyclopedia” is no more reliable than that found elsewhere on the Internet, since the same sort of people who write garbage elsewhere on the ‘net can write the same garbage on Wikipedia.

Which is entirely typical of the Internet. The “problem” is that anybody can say anything. There are no “authorities” to vouch for accuracy. The upside is that no gatekeepers can prevent information from getting out.

This puts a large burden on the reader to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most readers are up to the challenge, so long as they don’t let the authoritative sounding word “encyclopedia” bamboozle them.

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