“You’ll remember these as the happiest days of your life, Christopher,” my drama teacher, told me the day I graduated from high school in 1953. If she were correct, I thought, I’d kill myself. I think most seventeen year olds would have agree no matter where they graduated, unless they were the jocks and mindless pretty girls who dominated high school.
My pictures reveal a serious young man, neatly groomed, short hair, clean white shirt and sweater, no external signs of rebellion or cynicism, a model for the Fifties. I was in hiding.
Eisenhower had been in office for only a few months, but you could feel the country moving to the right as big business took over the White House and the New Deal ground to a halt. “… a whole era is ended, is totally repudiated, a whole era of brains and literacy and exciting thinking,” is the way one Utah professor put it.
Eisenhower and his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles unleashed a series of military adventures that Truman had rejected … adventures for which we are still paying a heavy price. In 1951, Iran’s democratically elected government had voted to nationalize its oil industry. Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh wanted a fair share of the country’s resources. He was typical of the era’s nationalist leaders, a European-educated lawyer whose father had been a bureaucrat.
In November of 1952, British intelligence officials approached the CIA with a plan to overthrow Mossadegh. The plan was simple. Destabilize the country, control the media, get the backing of a key general, and convince the Shah to fire Prime Minister Mossadegh. The Shah refused but his son agreed. The coup was successful. For the next twenty years the United States supported a weak and vacillating absolute dictator who committed terrible abuses against his people but who allowed Britain and the United States to control his oil until he was overthrown in 1979. The Iran we face today is entirely of our own making.
Capitalizing on its success in Iran, in 1954 the CIA overthrew democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenze in Guatemala after he threatened to nationalize United Fruit Company holdings. Anti-communism was used to justify these illegal foreign adventures when they no longer could be denied.
The Communist Soviet Union with nuclear weapons was an adversary we needed to face, but assuming every communist was a tool of Moscow was the result of ideology not research. Most newly independent nations were secular and idealistic, led in some cases by Western educated communists dedicated to freeing their countries from colonial and semi-colonial control. Their ideals called for the equality of women, a fair chance for the poor and control of their own natural resources. But almost without exception, from the advent of the Eisenhower presidency, the United States opposed these movements with every means at our disposal.
No coherent opposition to our aggressive foreign policy existed in the United States in the wake of the Anti-Communist Crusade. Not only had progressives been expelled or frightened into silence in every opinion making institution, Eisenhower launched a counter attack against New Deal progressives. As we suspected at the time (and recent Freedom of Information Act records show), the CIA funded many formerly progressive opinion makers who became militant anti-communists as well as their think tanks, research centers and magazines. The foreign division of the National Student Association was essentially a CIA intelligence gathering operation as Karen Paget proves in her thoroughly researched book, Patriotic Betrayal.
Overthrowing foreign countries was illegal. Planting government agents in our cultural institutions was morally repugnant. Both could be maintained only by constant deception. A pattern emerged in which government could act in any illegal way it wished if the justification was opposition to communism. This policy began in 1952 under a benign, fondly remembered president who warned us about the growing power of the “military/industrial complex.” The policy has continued in the war against terrorism and may now go on forever, because terrorism can never be defeated. The dispossessed will always resist. We are now at perpetual war and there’s a lot of money to be made in the use of force to solve problems that can never be solved by force.
Shortly before graduation, I received a flier from the Northern California ACLU asking for a contribution to fight attacks on freedom of speech. My liberal father advised me against sending any money. “It might get your name on a list that could follow you your whole life, “ he warned.