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America is a nation of joiners. Nowhere else seems to have a population that are so actively members of things. Americans join the Scouts, the Church, Historical Societies, Facebook groups, almost anything it seems. In America you can join groups that follow supermarket products online, on Facebook, and even on Twitter. Nappies (Diapers), pots of jam, that sort of thing. And as a phenomenon, it is at its most active at University.
At universities there are all sorts of clubs to join, fraternities to flirt with, brotherhoods and sisterhoods to be part of, and to support one beyond university throughout the trials of life.
Skull and Bones is one such. This fraternity exists, amongst a host of others, at Yale where each year fifteen new members, no more no less, are “tapped” to join what is fancifully thought of as an exclusively elite club that has dark and sinister reputation. At least if you read the more lurid descriptions, like the ones that have snappy headlines such as “Satanic bloodlines of the Illuminati”.
It’s all rubbish.
Well not completely. Members of Skull and Bones are supposed, like members of a lot of societies, to give a helping hand to brothers, and aid those members fallen on hard times. Like the Masons they are a help yourselves society, except, unlike the Masons there is little mention of charitable works.
It didn’t used to be much of a secret either. The illustration here from Wikipedia is of a list which shows the tapping for 1948 and you can clearly see George H W Bush mentioned. They only stopped publishing these when they were being held up to ridicule.
So, it’s more a self serving cabal of already over privileged boys (and latterly girls) that enjoy dressing up and wearing secret rings emblazoned as above just so you know who is in this club.
But what does one get out of it? Opinion differs but the feeling is that it grants entry to the highest echelons of political and economic life in the United States. It is also supposed to offer financial and social rewards.
How does it work? Well, if you take a critical look at the lists of members which are available in numbers on the web (from places like Yale Daily News items), you can see they show a distinct pattern. We see a few families rule the roost. The Bushes and the Walkers, the Bundys, Tafts and Pilsburys et al. They all have a number of members listed over the years. There then follows on a long tail of names of people whose families feature with one or two members only.
We might suggest that Skull and Bones works as a comfortable dinner club for a selected number of families, with an outer, much larger group, of hugely talented men and women and women whose expertise may be drawn on at little cost and who function as porch brethren – never let indoors to the high table.
We can examine this using some of the material already familiar from earlier postings. Let’s start with family interconnections. The tree below is the Bunday family who featured in my last post. This time I have circled those members who are Skull & Bones members or “Bonesmen” as they like to be known.
Any others? Well the Bush and Walker family are strongly linked. Here is my tree from previous postings again with” Bonesmen” circled.
Economically and commercially we can see evident links too. Certainly this was true in the past. Here is the table from my post “The Directory of Oligarchs in the City of New York” showing the family connections of various heads of large companies in the thirties and forties, this time with Bonesmen highlighted. Fairly convincing then.
But you may have noticed something curious. These trees show connections a generation or two ago, indicating that Skull & Bones was at its best back in the 1940’s and 50’s. Yes, baby Bush was indeed a member, as was his challenger John Kerry in the 2000 election, but that in itself is odd and out of place. It’s as if being a Bonesman was actually going out of fashion, as if it has had its day. As evidence we might think of Barbara Bush, GW’s daughter, who chose NOT to be a member when tapped in 2004 thereby making a break with four generations of Bonesmen. Why? Well we can offer a number of suggestions, that it was crass, dated and embarrassingly old boy nonsense, not cool, so veeery last century, and just plain did not and does not deliver what it said on the box. Instead Barbara chose to be a member of another “secret” society “Sage and Chalice”. And yes it is on Facebook!
You see, Skull and Bones just has not kept up with the times. The economic and political focus of the US moved west after the war. The old Universities in the east with their Germanic nineteenth century fraternities, lost place to snazzy hip universities in the sun drenched west. It all became, rather too Country Club, blazer wearing, East Coast preppy – in short, well, slightly embarrassing.
The financial rewards mentioned earlier did not live up to changing times. Each Bonesman is supposed, on graduation, to receive a cash benefit of $15,000. Oh dear. Fifteen grand nowadays is equivalent to the yearly tuition fees for a northern British red brick university where local lads go to study bucket chemistry, or the like. It’s a risible sum to offer a Yale graduate who is hardly likely to be short of a bob or two. The additional inducements of a wrist-watch (itself a downgrading from the older grandfather clock) is also a bit, well old fashioned. I mean a Breitling indeed! It’s all, so – so provincial high street department store. It is hardly helped by talk of these bequests not being wholly honoured.
There are also frequent mentions of the secret island retreat for our tired Bonesmen to go for some well deserved R & R. The implication being of a Capri of Tiberian debauchery. Well, this too does not live up to the image. Deer Island is a soggy damp rock stuck out in the St Lawrence river, with a load of run-down decrepit buildings and its overgrown tennis court somewhat far from my dreams of a Caribbean idyll. This picture from Wikipedia shows a pleasant enough, rustic, but hardly opulent country retreat.
So, the society of Skull and Bones is just one of many that can be used by Oligarch watchers like myself to help track members. It is though an expression of the oligarchy rather than being it in itself.
Whilst attention is allowed to fall on Skull & Bones, quietly dying off with each passing year, we might be led to ignore that lots of other American elite Universities have their own “secret” societies.
They exist at The College of William & Mary, Cornell, Dartmouth, Emory, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard, Pennsylvania State, Princeton, Rutgers, University of Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Virginia. And these are just the tip of an iceberg.
With these alliances, can we wonder that the government of America is the way it is and that the oligarchy still holds sway?
And finally, just as a coda, we might wonder where the oligarchy are now going if they are not joining Skull and Bones? Skull and Bones families had three Presidents, one Taft and two Bushes.
Which society do you think has five?
Copyright David Macadam 2011