Book Review: Getting to the meat of Skull & Bones By William Bowles

23 November 2003

“Fleshing Out Skull & Bones: Investigations into America’s Most Powerful Secret Society” – Antony Sutton, Howard Altman, Kris Milligan, Dr Ralph Bunch, Anton Chaitkin & Webster Griffin Tarpley. Trineday 2003

What constitutes a conspiracy? Well first off by definition it should be a secret. According to the chapter by Ralph Bunch, ‘Secrecy and our constitution: Whom do they serve?’ conspiracies are factions, minority factions that see all non-members of the conspiracy as opponents and their secrecy is to prevent all opponents from even knowing of their existence. Hence by this definition, political lobbying groups, corporations that seek to defraud the public, politicians planning a coup d’etat, criminals planning a robbery, all are conspiracies.

Extending this definition, the power elite that runs America is also a conspiracy and according to ‘Skull & Bones’ it’s a conspiracy that has its roots in the fraternity formed at Yale University, the Order of Skull & Bones (S&B).

Formed in 1832 by William H Russell and Alphonso Taft, according to this book S&B was and still is, a secret society. Admission was restricted to only 15 ‘juniors’ each year. The roll call of past members is a cross section of the political and business elite of American capitalism for the past 175 years.

Around 2500 Yale graduates have been members of S&B, mostly wealthy white males. The names are a who’s who of northeastern money, Bush, Bundy, Cheney, Dodge, Ford, Goodyear, Harriman, Heinz, Kellogg, Phelps, Pillsbury, Rockefeller, Taft, Vanderbilt, Weyerhauser and Whitney to name but a few.

The knee bone’s connected to the ? bone
The meat of Skull & Bones if that’s not a contradiction, is the ethos of S&B, one that is decidedly Hegelian, that is, it’s founded on the notion of antithesis and thesis, leading to synthesis, something that Marx picked up on (this is important in the book’s scheme of things). S&B’s operating procedure is of an elite controlling events through manufacturing and controlling the outcome of conflict, often by generating the conflict in the first place. In the words of ‘Skull & Bones’:

“”To Hegel, our world is a world of reason. The state is Absolute Reason and the citizen can only become free by worship and obedience to the state. Hegel called the state the “march of God in the world” and the “final end”. This final end, Hegel said, “has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.””

The state in this context is controlled by members of S&B, for example, three generations of Bushes and their connections to previous power elites such as the Roosevelts and the leading robber barons of turn of the century US capitalism, most notably the Rockefellers (Standard Oil, later to become Exxon), Ford Motor Co and extending up to the present with Halliburton, Bechtel and so forth.

William Russell was the cousin of Samuel Russell, who in 1823 established Russell and Company for the purpose of purchasing opium in Turkey and smuggling it into China and as the book points out, many of the “great American and European fortunes were built on the “China” (opium) trade.” Chief of operations of Russell & Company in Canton, China was Warren Delano Jnr, grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. So the ‘war on drugs’ as well as dealing them has a grand pedigree but more on this later.

The book makes a lot of the connections whether hidden or open for all to see and of course that’s another aspect of the conspiratorial view of history, namely that making connections, whether real or imagined is the stuffing of the meat of a conspiracy (if that’s not yet another contradiction). And herein lies the weak joint in the bones of this book. After all, taking a bunch of dots and connecting them depends largely on the imagination, pictures of all kinds can be assembled depending on how the dots are connected and what picture you want to reveal.

And it’s also the frustrating aspect of a book like this that sees everything as a part of some grand pattern because sometimes the dots connect in the right order and one is agreeing and then another ‘connection’ comes flying out of left field and leaves wondering about the one you just agreed with.

For example, take the basic premise of the S&B namely one of generating conflict so that events can be controlled. There is a basic truth in the statement eg, agents provocateurs or the role of drugs in destabilising communities and political movements or corrupting states, governments and businesses. The CIA is one of the world’s leading purveyors of drugs and has been probably for the past 30 years. It can even be argued that without the CIA and its companion structure, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), there probably wouldn’t be such a massive international drug trafficking business in the first place. But neither would there be one if ‘the war on drugs’ hadn’t been initiated by the US government and turned into a multi-billion dollar business. Or its connection to the ‘war on Communism’ in Asia.

Is it part of an international conspiracy? Rather, the question to ask is whether it needs to be one in order to exist?

Is global capitalism an international conspiracy? Again, does it need to be in order to do the things it does? Everything that S&B advances can be explained by other means. This doesn’t mean that within these processes, conspiracies don’t exist, for example, Iran-contra or the workings of the money laundering operations that implicated the CIA, the DEA and other state and business institutions including the Vatican and the Italian Secret Service (or P-77 as it was called). For example laundering money requires a conspiracy as the laws of many nations have to be broken in order to pull it off.

The book is in a sense it’s own worst enemy and moreover, it gives its opponents more than enough ammunition for the contributors to commit suicide with, if a skeleton can do that. Some of the contributors most notably the late Antony Sutton are out there all on their own, as Sutton seems to have been conducting his own private war against virtually everyone, starting with the Soviet Union and moving through to the oil oligarchs who are suppressing ‘future science’ in order to corner the market in ‘free energy’.

Sutton starts out by advancing the theory that the entire Soviet industrial machine was entirely dependent on US technology that was either sold to them by ‘short-sighted’ American business or slavishly copied by the Soviets and by implication, the reason was some kind of conspiracy between American capitalists and the Communists though to what end, is not entirely clear, unless of course, you subscribe to the conspiratorial view of history. But even here, Sutton wobbles wildly between S&B and the simple desire to make money by selling to whomever will buy.

Of course any reading of public documents reveals that in the early days of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviets looked to American technology as the one to emulate, so it’s not exactly a secret. American technology was after all, the most advanced so it’s not surprising that the Soviets, desperate to industrialise as quickly as possible wanted the best. And this is something that they did quite openly, when they were permitted to due to embargoes and they paid with gold and wheat to get it.

It’s only later, during the Cold War period that we see blanket embargoes being placed on the export of hi-tech and here, Sutton cites only one example, the export of a machine for making precision ball bearings without which Sutton claims, the Soviets could not have built thei
r ‘Mirved’ nuclear missiles and that either Kissinger and co were Soviet spies or ‘dupes’ of the Soviets.

That business and politics often collide is not exactly a novel idea, we need only look at the current Cuban example to see that the ideological objectives of the US government are often at odds with those of sections of the business community that trade or traded with pre-Castro Cuba.

Do I digress? You bet I do and that’s exactly what the book does and on a consistent basis, flying from one hypothesis to another without any apparent connection except the one served by membership of Skull & Bones. And to take the Hegelian dialectic that the book makes a big deal of, (it’s actually hypothesis to thesis, thesis to antithesis, antithesis to synthesis) and this book has a lot more hypothesis than thesis in it.

But once more I digress, and that’s the effect of S&B, I try to keep my eye on the ball but it keeps disappearing into hyperspace. Bear with me though, as at some point I’ll get back to S&B and what the book contends is its point, namely that a small group of people numbering only a few thousand, all rich and mainly American are part of a ‘Hegelian-inspired’ conspiracy to create conflict and hence confusion, out of which they control the actions of us mere ‘peons’. Thus the conflict between the capitalists and the communists is merely subterfuge, window dressing for the masses.

Global and local conflicts are created and manipulated by the S&B frats in order to maintain their power, although to my knowledge no Bolsheviks attended Yale or were even covert members of S&B but not to worry as Marxism is an offshoot of Hegel, so the dialectic comes built-in so-to-speak (batteries not included, they have to be imported). As a slight aside, the book doesn’t explain how the collapse of the Soviet Union fits into this view of history but perhaps the S&B posse figured it was time for a new conflict, one even more obtuse like the ‘war on terror’.

For the members of S&B left and right are mere conveniences for underlying it is the conspiracy. What the book doesn’t address of course, is that by some coincidence, the members of S&B are all capitalists and big ones at that and that the state operates in order to further their power and interests. And here of course, the book does hit the nail on the head, but one doesn’t need a massive conspiracy to unpack the connections, it’s called history and an entrenched elite composed of business oligarchies and their state representatives who are more often than not, one and the same thing.

And there’s no secret about it, you just need to want to know how things work and do the necessary leg work and that of course is the kicker. The media are also part of the business elite, so they’re not likely to tell us. And for most, even the ‘news’ and ‘information’ are acts of passive consumption rather than active participation.

Moreover, in order to maintain the capitalist order, they do lie and obscure the reasons underlying events and maintain the lies even down the generations, yeah unto the second, third, fourth and fifth generations because that’s how long US capitalism has been around. To explain events doesn’t require S&B, an analysis of power, money and the state will do it for you.

That many US capitalists and government leaders went to Yale is not surprising just as many British capitalists and civil servants went to Eton and Oxford. That a select few joined S&B is also not surprising just as Brit capitalists and civil servants join the same elite clubs or dine at Claridge’s and marry into each other’s families. After all, they’re not likely to meet the loves of their lives at the local bowling alley or at the disco. Where I come from it’s called the class system and in and of itself, it explains why I didn’t marry into money or get a knighthood along with the majority of my fellow citizens, even though by rights, I deserve both of course.

Where I think the book is important, even though it might not be its major objective, is to uncover many of the relationships that do exist between the power elite and how they maintain their power, for whether inadvertant or not, it does reveal that ‘our leaders’ are a bunch of lying, dissembling bastards, who will do anything to keep their power, including starting wars and sacrificing their own citizens on the alter of the mighty dollar.

But, and this is an important but, sorting the wheat from the chaff requires patience and wading through a lot of nonsense about radionics and future science (science that hasn’t as yet been invented but that’s ‘out there’, conveniently hidden from view because the US Navy has bought it and hidden it away for future use, say around 2005 or 6). So for example, ‘cold fusion’ was deliberately crippled in order that it can be appropriated by the oil/gas oligarchs, which may well be true for all I know but the book doesn’t show it to be so.

An element of the book that is extremely useful and illuminating is the role of the state’s agencies, especially intelligence in maintaining its own, and not surprisingly, the book is in its element when dealing with the Machiavellian world of the CIA, the NSA and so on. The book and these agencies are in a way, two sides of the same coin.

Replete with a massive index of the Who’s Who of the S&B posse and a large (and I think largely irrelevant) section on secret societies through the ages, the book is valuable as a source of information for people like myself and indeed anyone, who wants to know who runs things and as a source of information, though again, I wish that it was indexed properly. In fact none of the chapters are annotated or supplied with attributions, so checking up on the ‘facts’ is virtually impossible, especially some of the more extreme claims. Anyone who reads my essays knows that where relevant I always supply attributions. The last thing I want is to be accused of making things up or of not getting my facts straight even if my opinions are a load of rubbish.

It also contains a deal of information on the Bush-Nazi connections but less on the more general connections between US ‘we’re not going to let war get in the way of doing business’ capitalism and German/Japanese Fascism/Capitalism. And more’s the pity given its relevance to USUK/Iraq weapons connections, or many of the other dirty deals between the imperialists and their various and sundry puppets and dictators. Giving the lie to the hypocrisy of the ‘democratic ideals’ of the USUK imperium should be high on the list of our counter-propaganda offensive, in order to expose Bush/Blair for the liars and hypocrites that they most surely are.

From my perspective S&B is, in many ways a lost opportunity given how massive it is (700 pages) and the obviously enormous amount of work that went into putting it together. The publishers, Trine Day, looks to be a self-publishing operation, no doubt by the authors or some of them and it’s pretty impressive just as a chunk of dead trees.

Fleshing Out Skull & Bones, Edited by Kris Milligan. Published 2003.
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