Pricked Balloon

Once you touch the biographies of human beings, the notion that political beliefs are logically determined collapses like a pricked balloon. – Walter Lippman as read in the book The Brothers

Arrogance in a Former Secretary of State

I have mentioned several times that I am reading the book The Brothers, a book about former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA.  These brothers not only ratcheted up the Cold War, but created problems for America that we are still dealing with.  I know I have talked a lot about this book, but it is something every American should read.  Foster Dulles helped the military gain power in Pakistan.  The following passage, where Foster is interviewed by Walter Lippman, would be comical, if the ending wasn’t so tragic.  You cant make this stuff up!  Remember this is an interview with a sitting Secretary of State during the Eisenhower Administration:

“Look Walter,” Dulles told him, “I’ve got to get some real fighting men into the south of Asia.  The only Asians who can really fight are the Pakistanis.  That’s why we need them in the alliance.  We could never get along without the Gurkhas.”

“But Foster,” Lippman replied, “the Gurkhas aren’t Pakistanis.”

“Well, they may not be Pakistanis, but they’re Moslems.”

“No, I’m afraid they’re not Moslems, either.  They’re Hindus.”

“No matter!” Foster replied, and launched into a half-hour lecture about the dangers of Communism in Asia.

George W. Bush and John Bolten’s spiritual father has been found. 

Deadwood and United Fruit

Everything leads back to DeadwoodDeadwood is my favorite TV show of all time.  I believe it is the closest we will get to Shakespeare in our time in terms of dramatic depth and the shows rich verbal complexity.  The show takes place in the illegal town of the same name in the late 19th century.  The show is about how societies organize themselves and also about the bloodier side of free market capitalism.

Today I was reading about how the connections between leaders in our country and the United Fruit company that lead to coup in Guatemala in 1954.  This coup happened because of the revolving door between big business and government.  John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles both represented United Fruit when they worked at the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell.  When the Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz came to power he wanted to nationalize lands owned by United Fruit.  Arbenz was no communist, he only wanted an economic arrangement that was actually beneficial to his country.  However, the Dulles brothers, because of their long standing relationship to United Fruit, and their views that any kind of nationalistic indigenous behavior was the work of communists, decided to try to overthrow Arbenz government once the Dulles brothers became the Secretary of State and the director of the CIA.

The show Deadwood shows how economic forces shape political reality.  It is dramatic truth that helps one to understand the world at large.  During the second season the titan of industry William Hearst comes to the town.  His role in the town is the primary overreaching conflict of season three.   When he can’t get what he wants by using covert methods of misinformation, coercion, and bribery, he turns to violence.  He employs the Pinkerton detective agency, which in the show could easily stand in for the CIA.  They use violence to crush organizing activity, and eventually kill the person who most stands in the way of his ability to acquire a claim that he desires.

Our country has a history of allowing corporate interests to drive foreign policy decisions.  The incident with United Fruit and Guatemala is just one such incident.  One can look to recent events in Iraq, especially in the aftermath of the initial invasion, to see how companies help shape our policy for their own interests.  Sometimes these policies can even manifest themselves in overt violence.

What really great story telling can do is to relate truths in ways that are easy to comprehend.  Great art can help us to reach universal truths by allowing us to step outside of our current political moment. It can help us interpret the world around us in ways that journalism, which can often be biased and is also often the mere recording of data, cannot do.  If you are looking to understand the world that we inhabit it helps to pay attention to the news, it helps to read history books, but one should never forget the value of art.  Fiction can sometimes be more enlightening than mere fact.

Manipulation of the Press by the CIA

I mentioned yesterday that I am reading The Bothers by Stephen Kinzer. This is a book about Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles.  If anyone wondered what role the government has played in shaping public opinion, look no further than how the Dulles brothers influenced the press during their lifetime.  I understand that this took place in the mid 20th century, but one only needs to remember Judith Miller and others during the Iraq War, or look at the CIA’s manipulation of events surrounding torture today. The following is a passage from The Brothers (Henry Luce was the owner of Time and Life magazines):  

Their old friend Henry Luce put each of the brothers on the cover of Time during their first year in office.  Allen was pictured with his ubiquitous pipe, smoke curling up toward a black-cloaked figure carrying a dagger, above the title “In an Ancient Game, New Techniques and a New Team.”  Foster followed a couple of months later.  Wrinkled and sullen, staring out from beneath a black homburg in front of a globe encircled with red, white, and blue banners, he looked worthy of what Time described as his mission: “To Unite Principle and the Facts of Life.”  

Luce’s friendship was only one of the many assets that helped Foster and Allen project their views into the American press.  Foster built a dense network of media contacts, and once Allen became director of central intelligence he went even further.  Allen established discreet contact with owners, publishers, and editors of influential daily newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks.  Among his regular collaborators were William Paley of CBS, Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Alfred Friendly of the Washington Post, and James Copley of Copley News Service.  Through them, and through the journalists who were veterans of the Office of War Information, the U.S. government’s official propaganda arm during World War II, he regularly planted stories about foreign countries and their leaders.  By one account he could “pick up the phone and edit a breaking story, make sure an irritating foreign corespondent was yanked from the field, or hire the services of men such as Time’s Berlin bureau chief and Newsweek’s man in Tokyo.”  The columnist Allen Drury called him “a man of notoriously thin skin who is not above trying to get the jobs of newspapermen who criticize his agency.”

Years later it became clear that Allen’s efforts to influence the American press were not casual or episodic, but part of a multifaceted project called Operation Mockingbird.  Through it he funneled information, some of it classified, to journalists disposed to promote the CIA worldview, among them James Reston of the New York Times, Benjamin Bradlee of Newsweek, and the influential columnists Joseph and Stewart Aslop.  Operatives also planted stories in smaller news outlets and arranged for them to be amplified through networks controlled by friendly media barons.  Frank Wisner, who helped oversee Mockingbird, called it the CIA’s “mighty Wurlitzer.”  

The Brothers that Created Modern America

For any of you interested in American history, and understanding how we got to where we are now, I cannot recommend the book The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War enough.  It was written by Stephen Kinzer, who is the national cultural national cultural correspondent for the New York Times.  This book is incredibly fascinating and very well written. 

John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State under President Eisenhower and Allen Dulles was the head of the CIA.  Both worked for the corporate law firm Sullivan & Crowell.  Their father was a minister.  They brought together the interests of big business, interventionist foreign policy, and especially in the case of John Foster Dulles, missionary religious beliefs, in a way that had never been done before. 

Their grandfather, who was also Secretary of State, was the first Secretary of State to help overthrow a foreign country.  He helped bring about an end to the reign of the monarchy in Hawaii.  They grew up in the realm of the exclusively white patriarchal ruling elite.  Both brothers went back in forth in their careers between representing large corporations and representing our government. Both believed that the US had a role in shaping the world.  Often their policy beliefs were in line with what the interests were for large corporations. 

I am only partially through the book at this point, and I want to read more before I say too much.  However, if you want to understand how the modern world was created in the world after World War II, I already know that this book is essential reading. 

I was a History Major for most of my college career before finally graduating in American Studies.  The wider you cast your net when learning history, the more time and people you cover, the harder it can be to understand the specifics of what was happening and why.  That is why a class concerning the history of the Civil War is so much more interesting than a broad American History class.  You are able to get down into the nitty gritty of things.  By focusing on the Dulles brothers, who were fundamental in shaping US policy, this book makes understanding this period of history easy to those that might not be well versed in it.  However, this book is full of revelations even for those of you that might have read different texts concerning this time period.  If you are interested in our history, or troubled by the current US, I can already say that this is essential reading.