The Agitator by Peter Duffy

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Agitator:

Commies vs. Nazis. Who ya got?

Quick synopsis:

The story of William Bailey who boarded a German luxury liner and threw the swastika flag into the Hudson River.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Everyone knows that the Nazis hated the Jews. What most people don’t realize is that they really hated Catholics too. While they were not nearly in as much danger, obviously, the Third Reich took great pains to keep Catholics in their place.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Duffy gives an excellent street-level view of the societal structure right before World War II. He gives a great rundown of who the commies hated, who the police hated, and who just wanted to be left alone.

My Take on The Agitator:

I have never even heard a hint of this story and it sounds like it was a pretty big deal at the time.

Long story short, William Bailey and his fellow communists boarded a popular German luxury liner in New York City. They caused a commotion and tore down the swastika flag and threw it into the (very dirty) Hudson River. It caused an international incident before World War II. It is an interesting time in history because this was when most people put their heads in the sand and pretended, “oh, the Nazis don’t seem all that bad.” This is what we would call a rather large miscalculation.

There was a trial with a twist and the rest of Bill Bailey’s life took some interesting turns. The problem is that much of Bailey’s life seemed more exciting than the event the book is tackling. I would much rather have had a full accounting of Bailey’s life then this specific event taking up so much real estate.

That said, it is well written and will hold your attention.


The story is interesting. Worth a read if you find the time period interesting. Buy it here!

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