Minority Report

By Hitchens, Christopher | The Nation, July 6, 1985 | Go to article overview

Minority Report


Hitchens, Christopher, The Nation


The whole misery and disgrace of current U.S. involvement with the "wrong side" in Central American began with the invasion of Guatemala (sometimes described as the coup in Guatemala) in 1954. This invasion/coup was brought off by the usual suspects--Vice President Richard Nixon, the C.I.A., the United Fruit Company and other practitioners of destabilization. Even today, the more polished conservatives have to repress a shudder at the recollections of 1954 and its aftermath.

but in Bitter Fruit, their exemplary account of the Guatemalan intervention, Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer also describe how solicitous the destabilizers were to the small but significant forces of liberalism and social democracy in the United States. They relate that Edward Bernays, chief lobbyist of the forces seeking to overthrow the elected government of jacobo Arbenz, had an especially close relationship with The New Leader, a vigorously anti-Communist liberal weekly. . . . Bernays persuaded the Fruit Company to sponsor public service advertisements on behlaf of the Red Cross and U.S. Savings Bonds in the magazine at $1,000 a page, far above the going rate. The New Leader . . . carried numerous articles, both before and after the coup, justifying intervention against Arbenz's regime on the grounds that a Soviet takeover was imminent.

A managing editor of The New Leader in the 1950s, Daniel James, wrote a book titled Red Design for the Americas, which provided a rationale for the destruction of Guatemalan democracy. United Fruit and the C.I.A. cooperated to insure that this luminous work had a wide distribution.

I thought continually of this episode as I attended the national convention of Social Democrats, U.S.A., held in Washington from June 14 to 16. This organization, which might better be known as Social Democrats, U.S.A.! U.S.A.! and which has the crust to claim descent from the party of Debs and Thomas, is little understood or studied but highly influential. Combining the worst of old left sectarian venom with the cheapest line in neoconservative platitudes, S.D., U.S.A. has provided the intellectual context for Jeane Kirkpatrick and some useful cover for other Humphrey-Jackson Democrats in transition. In transition to what? Well, their guru, Carl Gershman, held Kirkpatrick's fragrant coat at the United Nations for many years, served the Kissinger commission on Central America and now heads Reagan's National Endowment for Democracy. In other words, don't be fooled by the fact that the mode of address at S.D., U.S.A. meetings is still "comrade."

There's a lot not to be fooled by at these affairs. Alfonso Robelo had been invited as the star guest, to do for the contras what his 1954 predecessors did for Castillo Armas. He gave a bland speech, sounding for all the world as if the campaign against Nicaragua was being waged by members of the Young Social Democrats and the more highly evolved forces of the Socialist International. He lauded the Lew Lehrman coalition of anti-Soviet guerrillas (incidentally, I do not see how any of that bunch could have got into Angola without being taken through occupied Nambia by the South Africans). …

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