News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Hi Rich: Thanks for the heads-up.

Re: Dedicated to Democracy by Corey Robin

More sneaky maneuvers. I’d be suspicious of the following comment: It was a useful meeting for Reagan. 'Well, I learned a lot,' he told reporters on Air Force One. 'You'd be surprised. They're all individual countries.' Dan Quayle took a terrific beating for this sort of thing and then I saw an interview with him on C-Span done two years after he was vice-president and I was shocked at how articulate and knowledgeable he was. I realized I’d been hustled by the media.

Here’s another quote I’d be leery of: While it's tempting to ascribe the omission to American amnesia, a more likely cause is the deep misconception about the Cold War under which most Americans labour. To the casual observer, the Cold War was a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, fought and won through stylish jousting at Berlin, antiseptic arguments over nuclear stockpiles, and the savvy brinkmanship of American leaders. Latin America seldom figures in popular or even academic discussion of the Cold War, and to the extent that it does, it is Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua rather than Guatemala that earn most of the attention.

Latin America seldom figures in popular or academic discussion? What? Oliver Stone and James Woods first big movie was Salvador, set in 1980’s Guatemala. The US left does nothing but bring up Central America when flinging mud at the right wing. The massacres by right wing death-squads are their mainstay about how the Cold War was fought wrong. The first tell-all about the CIA, and a major best-seller, was written by an agent stationed in Latin America, Philip Agee, who exposed real agents by using their real names which led to a couple of CIA people being assassinated in short order. His US citizenship was revoked as a result.

Cuba is constantly in the news. Constantly. Always has been. John F. Kennedy’s worst moment was the Cuba Bay of Pigs invasion which failed and his best moment was the Cuba face-off with Russia, with the left wing always reminding everyone that he lied to the American public and sold out European security interests in Turkey to keep missiles out of Cuba.

Cuba is still in the news regularly. Boat people are constantly fleeing from it and their bodies floating up on the coast of Florida. Cuba hosts a number of American criminals who went there for safe haven. The Clinton decision to return the young boy Elian Gonzalez to Cuba was one of the most talked about issues of the 1990’s. Though it probably didn’t get much international attention, it was huge domestically because it divided the left and right wing right down the middle over family values, political correctness, multiculturalism, etc. and it lasted for months while the relatives got their mugs in the press, screeching and talking out of both sides of their mouths. A real soap opera. The press loved it. The right wing was for keeping him in democratic America with his relatives whereas the left wing was for returning him to his father in Cuba. The Clinton administration marched something like a 40 member SWAT team into his relatives’ home under the press’s cameras to forcibly repatriate the boy.

Ronald Reagan’s biggest scandal was Iran-Contra which was HUGE. It was like Watergate all over again. The first thing I associate with Reagan isn’t the ending of the Cold War but Iran-Contra. The Contras were the right wing Nicaraguan rebels supported illegally by a deal which illegally sold weapons to Iran and used the profits to fund the Contras.

And everyone on the left knows about Guatemala and the United Fruit Company. This is infamous stuff. It’s part of their mantra against the right. As is the infamous School of the Americas in Georgia which continues to train Latin American police in interrogation methods.

That the average Joe is as ignorant of this stuff as he is of how free speech came about in the US, or why the Civil War was fought, or that the first man to die in the War of Independence was a free black man (Crispus Atticus), would not surprise me. But academics are familiar enough with all this stuff and also quite aware that Latin America was heavily involved in the Cold War.

Here’s another good one: Reading like an excerpt from Gogol's Dead Souls, one advertisement from 1922 announced the sale of '5000 acres and many mozos colonos who will travel to work on other plantations'. (Mozos colonos were indebted labourers.) While unionised workers elsewhere were itemising what their employers could and could not ask of them, Guatemala's peasants were forced to provide a variety of compulsory services, including sex. Two planters in the Alta Verapaz region, cousins from Boston, used their Indian cooks and corn grinders to sire more than a dozen children. 'They fucked anything that moved,' a neighbouring planter observed. Though plantations were mini-states - with private jails, stockades and whipping posts - planters also depended on the army, judges, mayors and local constables to force workers to submit to their will. Public officials routinely rounded up independent or runaway peasants, shipping them off to plantations or forcing them to build roads. One mayor had local vagrants paint his house.

How much different was the situation in the US? Mencken describes judges and prison wardens rounding up vagrants and putting them to work illegally. Mencken describes this in something approaching an approving tone! Black workers in rural US had it very rough at this time. Many were in a position similar to that above if I’m not mistaken. Rape and lynchings. Slavery was traded for share-cropping. They were all thrown off the land in the late 1940’s when mechanical harvesters became efficient. Very few civil rights at any time. My point is that rather than there being a double standard, advances in human rights and dignity took place in advance in the home country first as usual, with the ‘colonies’ following one stage behind. This is the same pattern as in Asia. I suspect this guy doesn’t know his history.

More fun: Galvanised by the New Deal… The author being left-wing, and thus reliably naïve about economics, praises the New Deal. However, the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt was a complete disaster launched by political quacks who passed themselves off as economic Einstein’s (the press called them the Brain Trust) and who went a long way to kick-starting the Second World War by virtue of severely botching the US economy and preventing any chance of global economic recovery. (The New Deal was so silly it has to be studied in its own right to be appreciated and it’s an encouraging lesson in how much more intelligent and competent politicians and the public are today. Another New Deal is impossible to imagine given the lessons learned and today’s access to information.) A never terribly strong continental Europe and Japan suffered terribly and resorted to increasingly desperate measures. One of which, unfortunately, was war.
Great rhetoric here. Moving, serious stuff. 'If I hadn't studied Marx I would be chicha ni limonada,' Reyes told Grandin. 'I'd be nothing. But reading nourished me and here I am. I could die today and nobody could take that from me.'

Again: I could die today and nobody could take that from me. Pardon? And this nonsense is followed up a few lines later with this: As Guatemala's archbishop complained, the Arbencistas sent peasants 'gifted with facility with words' to the nation's capital, where they were 'taught . . . to speak in public'. More comedy.

The coup de grace: During the 1954 coup, the CIA turned to Madison Avenue, pop sociologies and the literature of mass psychology to create the illusion of large-scale opposition to Arbenz. Radio shows spread rumours of an underground resistance, inciting wobbly army officers to abandon their oath to the democratically elected president. This is true as far as memory serves and should be emphasized. Arbenz’s people abandoned him because they believed bogus radio reports about an army approaching. They panicked and ran. The CIA could only rustle up two pre-WWII planes to assist in the coup and the pilots had to drop hand-grenades by hand from the cockpit. That was the sum and total of the armed forces that overthrew a sovereign nation. A savvy radio announcer and two pilots dropping hand-grenades from planes was enough to rout the country’s armed forces. Injects even more comedy into the term “banana republic”. If the nation’s people were so galvanized by Marxism and the New Deal then why did the whole thing fall apart so fast? What happened to the peasant's newfound appetite for thinking and talking?

Something’s funny with this story…

What does this mean? But the collapse of Communism and disappearance of Marxism have eased the burdens of intelligence. What burdens of intelligence? What does this fluffy phrase mean?

Facing a new enemy, which does not make the same demands that Communism once did, today's intellectuals wave away all talk of 'root causes': history, it seems, will no longer be summoned to the bar of political analysis - or not for the time being. Really? But non-fiction and biography in particular is selling in the US like never before. Fiction previously was the big seller. Serious history sells these days.

This guy’s positively moony, braying rhetoric and in love with lavender words at war with sense. And I can’t help but pronounce as frauds people who talk with confidence about Marxian economics and yet clearly haven’t given economics in general any serious self-study. These milquetoast goofballs give me a pain.

By the way, this poetaster (yup, that’s a real word) is on C-span.
Biff Cappuccino

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