Tis the season, if you can’t be jolly, try a little truth-telling.And that’s exactly what Stephen Kinzer has done in his elegantly written popular history Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change. The veteran New York Times reporter, a former Bureau chief in Turkey Guatemala and Berlin prepares us for what lies ahead:
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political, and economic reasons.
Though the book has been out since April, I just got around to it now and avidly promote it as a nice gift for American friends and relatives for whom much of this will, lamentabile dictu, be surprising news. This is not recently declassified material but it is simply written and timely, coming as it does after the catastrophic debacle of GW Bush’s folly in Iraq. Kinzer deals with this in his last chapters. It is however his work in the four classic coups-Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and Chile which makes this book a first rate primer on the follies and arrogance of empire. Kinzer has produced two fuller length books on Iran and Guatemala, so what you have here is the best Vietnam and Chile for Dummies that you are likely to find.
This is not to say that his earliest chapters when the empire was just warming up in Hawaii, Porto Rico and Cuba are not interesting. They are, as are the minor take downs of Grenada and Panama. A pathetic case of Ronald Reagan making America feel good about itself after the slaughter of 252 marines in Lebanon. A hammer swatting mosquitoes but it sure makes us feel good.Undoubtedly, the heart of this book is the beautifully concise evisceration of American stupidity and stunning exceptionalism which the latest debacle is finally forcing the empire to come to terms with.
The recent death of the arch thug and sycophant, Pinochet directs us to Kinzer’s excellent summary of the U S. involvement in the destruction of Chilean democracy. Again it is the brain child of another war wimp, Richard Nixon who attended the Quaker college Whittier. As some wag said years ago about one of the most reviled (pre Bush) presidents in U.S. history,”If only he had made the football team.”
Salvador Allende, A socialist had won the presidency of Chile on September 4,1970. Agustin Edwards one of Chile’s richest men and owner of the largest paper El Mercurio, could not stomach the possibility and went directly to Edward Korry the US ambassador to ask for his help. Korry told him the US would do nothing. Edwards would not take no for an answer and flew to New York to go over Korry’s head. Edwards went to Donald Kendall the head of Pepsi Cola and told Kendal Chile was about to fall under communist rule.Richard Nixon had prior to the Oval Office, been a lawyer for Kendal.On September 14, Kendal met Nixon and Chile’s fate was sealed.Richard Helms the head of the CIA at that time took notes of that meeting and one command of Nixon’s stood out: “Make Chile’s economy scream.”
Prior to this destabilization campaign, from 1950-1969 4,000 Chilean officers had already been schooled at the notorious School of the Americas, then located in the Panama Canal zone. This is the same school which largely catholic activists have been trying to close for years because of its nefarious role in teaching counterinsurgency t and torture techniques to its many graduates, one of whom was Augusto Pinochet. This rabid anticommunist and anti-Marxist indoctrination was aimed at domestic control of local populations who might be so stupid as to vote for the eradication of poverty and more social justice in their countries.
Nixon had made a stark choice.Instead of building up Latin America’s democratic left as both Johnson and Kennedy had opted for, he cast his lot with the business elite and the military because of his close corporate connections. After all as one former president so honestly said, “the business of America is business.”
It was here that the oleagenous Henry Kissinger, a man bereft of any scruples, truly made his Machiavellian mark. As one of his longtime associates Lawrence Eagleburger said about him,”Americans tend to want to pursue a set of moral principles. Henry does not have an intrinsic feel for the American political system and he does not start with the same values.”
Nixon’s orders were to the point.To the US ambassador Korry Nixon raged, “That son of a bitch,Allende.We’re going to smash him.” Economic levers were primed-the cutting of loans and credit; opposition parties funded;ITT,Kennecott and Anaconda (Copper was Chile’s number one export),Firestone,Pfizer and a host of others radically slowed the economy down.On July 11,1971 the Chilean Congress authorized the nationalization of Kennecott and Anaconda, both of whom were accused by Allende of making immorally high profits.He paid them 12% per year and to Allende’s reckoning they had made $774 million in excess profits.On the other side, radical supporters of Allende pressured the president to move even faster. And then there was Kissinger’s famous quip” “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
Nixon and Kissinger found their traitor Augusto Pinochet and Chile descended into a country ruled by fear; over 3,000 were killed, thousands tortured and economic ruin, the failed nostrums of the Chicago Boys, Milton Friedman’s disciples descended on what had been a model democracy. When Pinochet seized the government, Chile’s unemployment rate was 4.3%. after ten years of free-market castor oil, unemployment reached 22%. In 1970, 20% of Chile’s population lived in poverty. By 1990 when Pinochet left office, the number of poor had doubled to 40%.
Now the survivors of the nightmare have been denied their day of court. An old Latin expression says, De mortuis, nisi bonum.(About the dead, say nothing but good.”) A more fitting aphorism might be that of the Bard’s: “ The evil which men do lives after them ; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
Kinzer’s book is an excellent primer about the ongoing hubris of empire, an evil ripping apart the lives of Iraqis and the American cannon fodder so cruelly plucked from poverty and ignorance to further the delusional dream of the underdeveloped frat boy and his cynical advisors.