Friday, July 27, 2012

Those who don't learn from the past...

In a course on creativity I am taking for my doctoral program, one of my colleagues asked the following question: "are there more new-original stories to tell in your discipline? Or have all the stories been told and all there is left to do is add new twists and turns to reinvent/retell the same old story? Here is my reply.

New-original stories in my area of interest? Hardly. I am reminded of that Bill Murray movie Ground Hog’s Day. The following are two extremely summarized accounts contained in Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. I interviewed Bill Blum, the author back in 2003 for a paper in one of my classes in my Master’s program. Each of the 56 chapters highlighting individual US intervention in the affairs of foreign, mostly third-world states is all well documented.

Iran, 1953: Two years after Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister nationalized the oil industry, the CIA staged a campaign to vilify the Prime Minister as a mad man and a puppet for the Soviet Union. Their covert actions and active support of opposition forces within Iran lead to a coup and the installation of the Shah. This lead to years of brutality against the Iranian people, which lead to… well, you know the rest of the story (Blum, 64-72).

That same year in Washington, the legally elected government of Guatemala was branded “communist” by the Eisenhower administration and was targeted for overthrow. “In the midst of the American preparation to overthrow the government, the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Guillermo Toriello, lamented that the United States was categorizing ‘as communist’ every manifestation of nationalism or economic independence, and any desire for social progress, any intellectual curiosity, and any interest in progressive liberal reforms” (Blum 73). Post-colonial independence apparently has strings attached.

Once again, the CIA ramped up it’s propaganda machine and flooded the media with stories of a Soviet-sponsored, Communist dictatorship. But this time, as US Ambassador to Guatemala John Peurifoy noted, it was located “between Texas and the Panama Canal” (Blum 73). Unlike what triggered events in Iran, the motivation for this coup wasn’t oil. This time it was fruit. “The United Fruit Company, much of whose vast and uncultivated land in Guetamala had been expropriated by the Arbenz government as part of [a] land reform program” (Blum 75) put significant pressure on both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to defend their interests. The Eisenhower administration did and after a bloody coup, installed the much more agreeable Castillio Armas, who until his assassination in 1957 ruled through terror and torture. But the United Fruit Company got their land back.

The same basic story plays out again and again throughout the second half of the 20th century and beyond. Costa Rica, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Haiti, Guatemala (again), Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti (again) Venezuela… The names of the players, the locations and some of the situations change but the story is essentially the same.

It’s a tired old story, but you can bet somewhere in the world, the alarm clock flips over to 6:00 AM and Sonny and Cher begin singing I Got You, Babe and a leader of a post-colonial, third world country is about to walk into an all-too-familiar nightmare.


Blum, William.  Killing hope: U.S. military and CIA interventions since World War 2 . London: Zed, 2003. Print.

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