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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Without Shedding a Drop of Blood (p. 408)

From chapter "Distance"

It is possible to kill a million people without personally shedding a drop of blood. It is possible to destroy a culture without being aware of its existence. It is possible to commit genocide or ecocide from the comfort of one’s living room. Presumably, the people who profit from the manufacture of ozone-depleting substances are fine and upstanding men and women. Presumably, the people who profit from the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction are well-respected within their communities. Most of the horrors we are forced to live with have been caused by respectable—even great—men who themselves most often have clean hands. Warren Anderson, responsible for so many deaths in Bhopal, killed not a single Indian. The owners of Carbide who ordered the expansion of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel killed not a single black man. Thomas Jefferson killed no Indians (the same cannot be said for Andrew Jackson). If you are a god you can kill from afar, and if you kill from afar you can maintain in your own mind the objectivity necessary to believe that those you are killing are objects, or, better, you can think of them not at all.

In 1839, Francis J. Grund wrote, “When, in one of our Atlantic cities, it is once known that a man is rich, that ‘he is very rich,’ that he is ‘amazingly rich,’ that he is ‘one of the richest men in the country,’ that he is ‘worth a million of dollars’…the whole vocabulary of praise is exhausted; and the individual in question is as effectually canonized as the best Catholic saint.”

Probably one of the most important saints in the American canon, and certainly one of the most destructive, is J. P. Morgan, first as a human being, and then immortalized as a corporation.

J. P. Morgan, also called Pierpont, was by most accounts a well-respected man. Called by some “Morgan the Magnificent,” others counted him among the “lords of creation.” His external devotion to his family (which did not include fidelity to his wife) was second only to his devotion to acquiring money and, especially, power. He was deeply religious. A patron of the arts, he secured the world’s greatest private collection of the time.

Morgan was also responsible for the deaths of millions of human beings on several continents. He killed not a single one of them. He probably hated none of them. He made financial decisions that guaranteed those deaths as surely as if he had put a bullet into each of their brains.

J. Pierpont Morgan acquired his wealth the way nearly all of the wealthy do—he inherited it. His family fortune began six generations earlier, as Pierpont’s ancestor, Miles Morgan, first purchased and then “justly won by the sword in defensive warfare,” as van Riebeeck would have put it, land from local Indians. Morgan farmed the land, and, by the 1680s, became one of Springfield, Massachusetts’ richest settlers, which is to say one of its most respected. His descendants, more than one hundred within three generations, multiplied the fortune apace with their reproductive proclivities, until, by 1847, Joseph Morgan III, Pierpont’s grandfather, left behind an estate of more than a million dollars (only $102,000 of which was reported to government officials). Joseph also left a legacy of business and political acumen, having begun a bank, the Aetna Insurance Company, and relationships with Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and John Calhoun. Junius Morgan, Pierpont’s father, soon took $600,000 of his inheritance to Boston and became a member of that city’s largest mercantile house, which operated, as Pierpont’s biographer Ron Chernow delicately puts it, “on a global scale, exporting and financing cotton and other goods carried by clipper ship from Boston harbor.” Although Junius’s hands were clean, involvement in the cotton trade inescapably involved him in the trade of slaves.

The oftentimes physical and psychic distance between financier and the activities which are financed in no way lessens their mutually reinforcing relationship. This must be understood if one is to fully apprehend the inhumanity of our culture. Most people do not cut down forests, pollute rivers, force indigenous peoples off their land, and commit genocide, or exploit workers out of a conscious sense of hatefulness (conscious being the operant word); they do it for money. Money fuels economic activities, and, at the same time, is the reward for participation in a culturally valued enterprise, causally linking financier to activity; without venture capital there can be no capitalist venture, and without monetary reward no venture capital will be provided. Another way to say this is that slavery would not have been viable without loans from bankers like Junius Morgan, and, while Junius never once wielded the whip, he undeniably, and from a distance, benefited from the lashings. It’s very simple: Our culture allows, even encourages (demands would probably be the best word) someone to profit—to gain power, material possessions, or prestige—at the expense of another’s misery.

The incentive for bankers to profit from human misery is well established—holding, in Chernow’s words, “an honored place in their mythology,”—and is perhaps best manifested by the boast of a member of the Rothschild house, “When the streets of Paris are running with blood, I buy.”

Morgan’s ability to make money came to the attention of George Peabody, founder of one of London’s largest merchant banks, who, in 1854, made him a partner. This could not have happened at a better time for Morgan, who quickly learned, as another Morgan biographer puts it, once again oh so delicately, “to appreciate the close link that existed between merchant banks and world politics.” Another way to say this is that Morgan’s entry into the partnership came at a propitious time for him because England, France, Turkey, and Sardinia were at war with Russia, which increased the demand for American cotton and grains, which increased the demand for financial services, which increased the profits for Morgan, Peabody, and others like them.

The Crimean War ended in 1856—after some five hundred thousand people had died—leading to hard times for George Peabody and Company. The company had invested heavily in American firms during the wartime boom, and as business dried up, so did the company’s funds. The bank was in danger of going out of business until Peabody called on his old friend, Governor Thomson Hankey, Jr., of the Bank of England, who agreed to use public funds to bail out the bank.

The American Civil War, beginning in 1861, created the opportunities for gross profits described just a few pages ago.

Had the activities of Morgan been confined to merely swindling money and blowing the thumbs off people he never met, most of us probably wouldn’t have heard of him. But Morgan was aiming much higher: His goal was to control most of this country’s economy, and much of the world’s. He succeeded.