Will we ever learn?

A little quiz, dear reader: what EVENT precipitated the following quoted assessment? (I have used ellipses for proper names to avoid giving clues.)

“The national security complex became … a fast-growing apparatus to allow us to do in secret what we could not do in the open. This is not just an isolated phenomenon, but part of something larger going on in Washington, a transition … to America the international superpower, from Jefferson democracy to imperial colossus.

“A true democracy had no need for a vast, secret security apparatus, but an imperial country did. As America’s international reach and sense of obligation increased, so decreased the instinct to adhere to traditional democratic procedures among the inner circle of Washington policy makers.

“Our new role in the world had put us in conflict … with our own traditions. What was evolving was a closed state within an open state.”


“American foreign policy was changing. It was doing so very quietly with very little debate taking place - in fact, almost no public debate, for that was seen as something that aided the enemy.

“The president himself and many of the men around him … believed they were operating in a period that was, in any true sense, a continuation of the wartime period when America had struggled against totalitarian governments … now they believed the same struggle continued. …

“Because the enemy was cruel and totalitarian, we were justified in responding in kind. Our survival demanded it. There were no restraints on the other side; therefore, there should be no restraints on us.

“The men who were the driving forces of this new philosophy … as well as the president himself were from a generation profoundly affected by … attack. … They worried endlessly that the very nature of a democracy – the need for the consent of the governed – made this nation vulnerable. … Therefore, in order to combat the enemy, the leaders of democracies would have to sacrifice some of their nations’ freedoms and emulate their adversary.

“The national security apparatus in Washington was, in effect, created so America could compete … and do so without the unwanted clumsy scrutiny of the Congress and the press.

“Given the nature of the … war and domestic political anxieties, the national security apparatus gradually grew richer and more powerful, operating under a separate set of laws – on occasion, it would become clear, under no laws at all. In any crisis, if there was an element of doubt about legality, it was best to press ahead, because that was what the other side would do.”


The men: President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his inner circle.

The enemy: The Soviet Union

The goal: oil.

The date: August 1953.

The EVENT: the successful U.S.-led coup to overthrow the prime minister of Iran, gaining control by the British and Americans of Iranian oil and strengthening the weak Shah. Following the coup, British Petroleum took 40 percent of the oil; U.S. companies, 40 percent, and Iranians, 20 percent.

Subsequent event: U.S.-led coup in Guatemala in behalf of United Fruit Company. But, that’s another post.

Source of quotes: David Halberstam, “The Fifties,” 1997.

No comments: