Today is the anniversary of 1920’s Wall Street bombing. On September 16th a horse-drawn wagon stopped in front of the J.P. Morgan building. At noon, the driver disappeared into the street and a powerful explosive killed thirty-nine people and injuring hundreds more, in what Dorian Cope describes as “the first symbolic terrorist attack on American capitalism and power” in today’s entry at On This Deity:
The Washington Post at once declared the incident an “act of war.” Impervious to the lack of any suspects, or even any credible claim for responsibility, the newspaper nevertheless did not hesitate to name the enemy: “The bomb outrage in New York emphasizes the extent to which the alien scum from the cesspools and sewers of the Old World has polluted the clear spring of American democracy.” Without any supportive evidence, this was a dicey statement which only served to further fuel the zeitgeist of post-World War One America in the grip of its Red Scare and ongoing labour disputes. Thus it was, with an amnesiatic shamelessness, that A Nation of Immigrants proceeded to blame the attack firmly and indiscriminately on its most recent arrivals. Fear of further violence intensified the so-called Palmer Raids – the gigantic Government-backed human dragnet, targeting Italians, Russians, Germans and Jews suspected of harbouring radical ideas. In the ensuing hysteria, thousands of ethnic-minority citizens were detained – 10,000 would ultimately be deported – in the name of “national security”, even though there was no evidence to link most of them to the terror plot.
Meanwhile, Wall Street – which, before the attack, had been suspiciously viewed by many for its unchecked growth of power – emerged as a new symbol of patriotism. Stock trading resumed the next day, and the continuing financial boom came to represent an act of defiance against terrorism. Anyone who dared to voice concerns about capitalism or the investigation into the bombing was denounced as unpatriotic, effectively smothering any public debate on the matter (is this beginning to sound familiar?). The attack also served to consolidate the position of the Bureau of Investigation (which, in 1933, was re-named the Federal Bureau of Investigation). Previous public concerns and criticism for a federal secret police evaporated as the fear of radicalism spread.
As one of Dorian’s readers points out:
“Given the current state of the Western economies, I’m surprised Wall Street is still in one piece.”
I’ll “me, too” that sentiment…