During the early 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency instigated several
military incursions into Communist China. In 1960, CIA planes, without any
provocation, bombed the sovereign nation of Guatemala. In 1973, the Agency
encouraged a bloody revolt against the government of Iraq. In the American mass media
at the time, and therefore in the American mind, these events did not happen.
"We didn't know what was happening", became a clichÃ© used to ridicule those
Germans who claimed ignorance of the events which took place under the Nazis. Yet,
was their stock answer as far-fetched as we'd like to think? It is sobering to reflect that
in our era of instant world-wide communications, the United States has, on many
occasions, been able to mount a large- or small-scale military operation or undertake
another, equally blatant, form of intervention without the American public being aware
of it until years later, if ever. Often the only report of the event or of US involvement
was a passing reference to the fact that a communist government had made certain
chargesâ€”just the kind of "news" the American public has been well conditioned to
dismiss out of hand, and the press not to follow up; as the German people were taught
that reports from abroad of Nazi wrong-doings were no more than communist
With few exceptions, the interventions never made the headlines or the evening
TV news. With some, bits and pieces of the stories have popped up here and there, but
rarely brought together to form a cohesive and enlightening whole; the fragments
usually appear long after the fact, quietly buried within other stories, just as quietly
forgotten, bursting into the foreground only when extraordinary circumstances have
compelled it, such as the Iranians holding US embassy personnel and other Americans
hostage in Teheran in 1979, which produced a rash of articles on the role played by the
United States in the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953. It was as if editors
had been spurred into thinking: "Hey, just what did we do in Iran to make ail those
people hate us so?"
There have been a lot of Irans in America's recent past, but in the absence of the
New York Daily News or the Los Angeles Times conspicuously grabbing the leader by
the collar and pressing against his face the full implication of the deed ... in the absence
of NBC putting it all into teal pictures of real people on the receiving end ... in such
absence the incidents become non-events for the large majority of Americans, and they
can honestly say "We didn't know what was happening."
Former Chinese Premier Chou En-lai once observed: "One of the delightful things
about Americans is that they have absolutely no historical memory."
It's probably even worse than he realized. During the Three Mile Island nuclear
power plant accident in Pennsylvania in 1979, a Japanese journalist, Atsuo Kaneko of
the Japanese Kyoto News Service, spent several hours interviewing people temporarily
housed at a hockey rinkâ€”mostly children, pregnant women and young mothers. He
discovered that none of them had heard of Hiroshima. Mention of the name drew a
And in 1982, a judge in Oakland, California said he was appalled when some 50
prospective jurors for a death-penalty murder trial were questioned and "none of them
knew who Hitler was".21
To the foreign policy oligarchy in Washington, it is more than delightful. It is sine
So obscured is the comprehensive record of American interventions that when, in
1975, the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress was asked to
undertake a study of covert activities of the CIA to date, it was able to come up with but
a very minor portion of the overseas incidents presented in this book for the same
For all of this information that has made its way into popular consciousness, or
into school texts, encyclopedias, or other standard reference works, there might as well
exist strict censorship in the United States.
The reader is invited to look through the relevant sections of the three principal
American encyclopedias, Americana, Britannica, and Colliers. The image of
encyclopedias as the final repository of objective knowledge takes a beating. What is
tantamount to a non-recognition of American interventions may very well be due to
these esteemed works employing a criterion similar to that of Washington officials as
reflected in the Pentagon Papers. The New York Times summarized this highly
interesting phenomenon thusly:
Clandestine warfare against North Vietnam, for example, is not seen ... as
violating the Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the French Indochina War,
or as conflicting with the public policy pronouncements of the various
administrations. Clandestine warfare, because it is covert, does not exist as far as
treaties and public posture are concerned. Further, secret commitments to other
nations are not sensed as infringing on the treaty-making powers of the Senate,
because they are not publicly acknowledged.23
The de facto censorship which leaves so many Americans functionally illiterate
about the history of US foreign affairs may be all the more effective because it is not, so
much official, heavy-handed or conspiratorial, as it is woven artlessly into the fabric of
education and media. No conspiracy is needed. The editors of Reader's Digest and U.S.
News and World Report do not need to meet covertly with the representative from NBC
in an FBI safe-house to plan next month's stories and programs; for the simple truth is
that these individuals would not have reached the positions they occupy if they
themselves had not all been guided through the same tunnel of camouflaged history and
emerged with the same selective memory and conventional wisdom.
'The upheaval in China is a revolution which, if we analyze it, we will see is
prompted by the same things that prompted the British, French and American
revolutions."24 A cosmopolitan and generous sentiment of Dean Rusk, then Assistant
Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs, later Secretary of State. At precisely the same time as
Mr. Rusk's talk in 1950, others in his government were actively plotting the downfall of
the Chinese revolutionary government.
This has been a common phenomenon. For many of the cases described in the
following pages, one can find statements of high or middle-level Washington officials
which put into question the policy of intervention; which expressed misgivings based
either on principle (sometimes the better side of American liberalism) or concern that
the intervention would not serve any worthwhile end, might even result in disaster. I
have attached little weight to such dissenting statements as, indeed, in the final analysis,
did Washington decision-makers who, in controversial world situations, could be relied
upon to play the anti-communist card. In presenting the interventions in this manner, I
am declaring that American foreign policy is what American foreign policy does.
Excerpts from the Introduction, 1995 edition
In 1993, I came across a review of a book about people who deny that the Nazi
Holocaust actually occurred. I wrote to the author, a university professor, telling her that
her book made me wonder whether she knew that an American holocaust had taken
place, and that the denial of it put the denial of the Nazi one to shame. So broad and
deep is the denial of the American holocaust, 1 said, that the denyers are not even aware
that the claimers or their claim exist. Yet, a few million people have died in the
American holocaust and many more millions have been condemned to lives of misery
and torture as a result of US interventions extending from China and Greece in the
1940s to Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s. I enclosed a listing of these interventions,
which is of course the subject of the present book.
In my letter I also offered to exchange a copy of the earlier edition of my book for
a copy of hers, but she wrote back informing me that she was not in a position to do so.
And that was all she said. She made no comment whatsoever about the remainder of my
letterâ€” the part dealing with denying the American holocaustâ€”not even to
acknowledge that I had raised the matter. The irony of a scholar on the subject of
denying the Nazi Holocaust engaging in such denial about the American holocaust was
classic indeed. I was puzzled why the good professor had bothered to respond at all.
Clearly, if my thesis could receive such a non-response from such a person, I and
my thesis faced an extremely steep uphill struggle. In the 1930s, and again after the war
in the 1940s and '50s, anti-communists of various stripes in the United States tried their
best to expose the crimes of the Soviet Union, such as the purge trials and the mass
murders. But a strange thing happened. The truth did not seem to matter. American
Communists and fellow travelers continued to support the Kremlin. Even allowing for
the exaggeration and disinformation regularly disbursed by the anti-communists which
damaged their credibility, the continued ignorance and/or denial by the American
leftists is remarkable.
At the close of the Second World War, when the victorious Allies discovered the
German concentration camps, in some cases German citizens from nearby towns were
brought to the camp to come face-to-face with the institution, the piles of corpses, and
the still-living skeletal people; some of the respectable burghers were even forced to
bury the dead. What might be the effect upon the American psyche if the true-believers
and denyers were compelled to witness the consequences of the past half- century of US
foreign policy close up? What if all the nice, clean-cut, wholesome American boys who
dropped an infinite tonnage of bombs, on a dozen different countries, on people they
knew nothing aboutâ€” characters in a video gameâ€”had to come down to earth and look
upon and smell the burning flesh?
It has become conventional wisdom that it was the relentlessly tough anti-
communist policies of the Reagan Administration, with its heated-up arms race, that led
to the collapse and reformation of the Soviet Union and its satellites. American history
books may have already begun to chisel this thesis into marble. The Tories in Great
Britain say that Margaret Thatcher and her unflinching policies contributed to the
miracle as well. The East Germans were believers too. When Ronald Reagan visited
East Berlin, the people there cheered him and thanked him "for his role in liberating the
East". Even many leftist analysts, particularly those of a conspiracy bent, are believers.
But this view is not universally held; nor should it be.
Long the leading Soviet expert on the United States, Georgi Arbatov, head of the
Moscow-based Institute for the Study of the U.S.A. and Canada, wrote his memoirs in
1992. A Los Angeles Times book review by Robert Scheer summed up a portion of it:
Arbatov understood all coo well the failings of Soviet totalitarianism in
comparison to the economy and politics of the West. It is clear from this candid
and nuanced memoir that the movement for change had been developing
steadily inside the highest corridors of power ever since the death of Stalin.
Arbatov not only provides considerable evidence for the controversial notion
that this change would have come about without foreign pressure, he insists that
the U.S. military buildup during the Reagan years actually impeded this
George F. Kennan agrees. The former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, and
father of the theory of "containment" of the same country, asserts that "the suggestion
that any United States administration had the power to influence decisively the course
of a tremendous domestic political upheaval in another great country on another side of
the globe is simply childish." He contends that the extreme militarization of American
policy strengthened hard-liners in the Soviet Union. "Thus the general effect of Cold
War extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet
Though the arms-race spending undoubtedly damaged the fabric of the Soviet
civilian economy and society even more than it did in the United States, this had been
going on for 40 years by the time Mikhail Gorbachev came to power without the
slightest hint of impending doom. Gorbachev's close adviser, Aleksandr Yakovlev,
when asked whether the Reagan administration's higher military spending, combined
with its "Evil Empire" rhetoric, forced the Soviet Union into a more conciliatory
It played no role. None. I can tell you that with the fullest responsibility.
Gorbachev and I were ready for changes in our policy regardless of whether the
American president was Reagan, or Kennedy, or someone even more liberal. It
was cleat that our military spending was enormous and we had to reduce it.
Understandably, some Russians might be reluctant to admit that they were forced
to make revolutionary changes by their archenemy, to admit that they lost the Cold War.
However, on this question we don't have to rely on the opinion of any individual,
Russian or American. We merely have to look at the historical facts.
From the late 1940s to around the mid-1960s, it was an American policy objective
to instigate the downfall of the Soviet government as well as several Eastern European
regimes. Many hundreds of Russian exiles were organized, trained and equipped by the
CIA, then sneaked back into their homeland to set up espionage rings, to stir up armed
political struggle, and to carry out acts of assassination and sabotage, such as derailing
trains, wrecking bridges, damaging arms factories and power plants, and so on. The
Soviet government, which captured many of these men, was of course fully aware of
who was behind all this.
Compared to this policy, that of the Reagan administration could be categorized
as one of virtual capitulation. Yet what were the fruits of this ultra-tough anti-
communist policy? Repeated serious confrontations between the United States and the
Soviet Union in Berlin, Cuba and elsewhere, the Soviet interventions into Hungary and
Czechoslovakia, creation of the Warsaw Pact (in direct reaction to NATO), no glasnost,
no perestroika, only pervasive suspicion, cynicism and hostility on both sides. It turned
out that the Russians were human after allâ€”they responded to toughness with
toughness. And the corollary: there was for many years a close correlation between the
amicability of US-Soviet relations and the number of Jews allowed to emigrate from the
Soviet Union.28 Softness produced softness.
If there's anyone to attribute the changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe
to, both the beneficial ones and those questionable, it is of course Mikhail Gorbachev
and the activists he inspired. It should be remembered that Reagan was in office for over
four years before Gorbachev came to power, and Thatcher for six years, but in that
period of time nothing of any significance in the way of Soviet reform took place
despite Reagan's and Thatcher's unremitting malice toward the communist state.
The argument is frequently advanced that it's easy in hindsight to disparage the
American cold-war mania for a national security stateâ€”with all its advanced paranoia
and absurdities, its NATO-supra-state-military juggernaut, its early-warning systems
and airraid drills, its nuclear silos and U-2sâ€”but that after the War in Europe the
Soviets did indeed appear to be a ten-foot- tall world-wide monster threat.
This argument breaks up on the rocks of a single question, which was all one had
to ask back then: Why would the Soviets want to invade Western Europe or bomb the
United States? They clearly had nothing to gain by such actions except the almost
certain destruction of their country, which they were painstakingly rebuilding once
again after the devastation of the war.
By the 1980s, the question that still dared not be asked had given birth to a $300
billion military budget and Star Wars.
There are available, in fact, numerous internal documents from the State
Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA from the postwar period, wherein
one political analyst after another makes clear his serious skepticism of "The Soviet
Threat "â€”revealing the Russians' critical military weaknesses and/or questioning their
alleged aggressive intentionsâ€”while high officials, including the president, were
publicly presenting a message explicitly the opposite.29
Historian Roger Morris, former member of the National Security Council under
Presidents Johnson and Nixon, described this phenomenon:
Architects of U.S. policy would have to make their case "clearer than the truth,"
and "bludgeon the mass mind of top government," as Secretary of State Dean
Acheson ... puts it. They do. The new Central Intelligence Agency begins a
systematic overstatement of Soviet military expenditures. Magically, the
sclerotic Soviet economy is made to hum and climb on U.S. government charts.
To Stalin's horse-drawn armyâ€”complete with shoddy equipment, war- torn
roads and spurious moraleâ€”the Pentagon adds phantom divisions, then
attributes invasion scenarios to the new forces for good measure.
U.S. officials "exaggerated Soviet capabilities and intentions to such an extent,"
says a subsequent study of the archives, "that it is surprising anyone took them
seriously." Fed by somber government claims and reverberating public fear, the
U.S. press and people have no trouble.30
Nonetheless, the argument insists, there were many officials in high positions
who simply and sincerely misunderstood the Soviet signals. The Soviet Union was,
after all, a highly oppressive and secretive society, particularly before Stalin died in
1953. Apropos of this, former conservative member of the British Parliament Enoch
Powell observed in 1983:
International misunderstanding is almost wholly voluntary: it is that
contradiction in terms, intentional misunderstandingâ€”a contradiction, because
in order to misunderstand deliberately, you must at least suspect if not actually