SFD Short—Historical Optimism

SFD Short—Historical Optimism
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 12:06

Hey folks, does what it says on the box.

It looks like I might end up in law school this fall, so there’s a fair chance the show is winding down. But I’m going to fill up the interim with episodes, and to that end, I’ll be taking some of the stuff I’ve written (that fits) over the last four years and making short little shows with it. We’ll see how it goes, and if it’s not your bag, just stick to the main eps.

Cheers, guys.

Iran III: Guns of August

Iran III: Guns of August

00:00 / 1:20:00

Well, we finally made it. I thought I’d blow from the ancient Persian Empire straight through to the plot of Persepolis in one episode, but just like with Guatemala, things got away from me. This time, though, we’re getting to the coup in August 1953 and looking forward to its consequences as they echo down through Iranian history to the present.

Alright, let’s take a look at some faces. Here we’ve got the Eisenhower crew dead-set on destroying Iranian democracy:

John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower.

Allen Dulles, JF’s younger brother and head of the CIA.

And Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, who’d been head of the CIA under Truman and became Undersecretary of State under Eisenhower. He used his later role in the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala to get a well-paid spot on the board of directors of the United Fruit Company.

And here’s Kermit Roosevelt, the American spy in Tehran who put the whole thing together, and without whom the whole thing would have fallen apart after the first failed attempt.

“Beetle” Smith was a slimeball and the Dulles brothers, however much they might have been ostensibly protecting “democracy” against “communism,” seem to have slipped pretty quickly into the ‘power corrupts’ camp.

Roosevelt, though, I don’t know. He was definitely the lynchpin of the coup, but he wasn’t an ideologue, and the excitement he recorded as he passed into Iran was understandable. He wasn’t the cynical CIA man here to put down a fledgling democracy, but the newest patriot of the Roosevelt family, convinced that he was fighting the good fight. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but whereas in the aftermath of AJAX the Dulles brothers were already looking hungrily towards Guatemala, Kermit turned down the opportunity to run that operation and later went on record condemning pretty much every attempt the CIA made to replicate its ‘success’ in Iran.

And here’s some impartial British coverage of events:

Continue reading Iran III: Guns of August

Iran II: Nationalization

Iran II: Nationalization

00:00 / 1:07:02


Here we are at Episode 7. Like I say in the cast, I thought we’d get farther down the road with this one, but podcasts are long and history’s longer, and we’ll have to wait until Episode 8 to get all the way to the coup. In the meanwhile, though, we’ve got the rise of Mohammad Mossadegh, struggles over nationalization, the battle between the Anglo Iranian and the National Iranian, and a trip to the World Court in the Hague.

Next time around, we’ll hit Operation AJAX and Kermit Roosevelt and all the rest, but for now sit tight and enjoy.

Some principal players now. Mossadegh himself’s up there at the top. His Time cover for Man of the Year is even less complimentary (and has a terrible pun to boot).

I couldn’t for the life of me find a bigger version, but it reads, “He oiled the wheels of chaos.” Har.

Continue reading Iran II: Nationalization

Iran I: Take Up the Burden

Iran I: Take Up the Burden

00:00 / 1:14:14

Hey everybody, we’re back from hiatus.

I spent the fall studying for the LSAT and applying to law schools and scrounging enough cash to stay alive, so the show kind of fell by the wayside. That’s over with now, though, and this next series is set to come out pretty regular.

We’re turning to Iran to look at the coup against Mohammad Mossadegh and all the ways that Operation AJAX have affected Iran and our relationship with it right through to the present day.

This first episode gets all of our key characters onto the main stage and the next one will bring us up through that night in July 1953. We heard about this coup and how it shaped Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers’ perspective on clandestine interventions way back in the first show and now we get to see it play out.

We’re diving way back in history to get the context for what happens in the fifties, so here are some maps for context.

This is pretty much every political entity that you would call or which included Persia for all of recorded history. Neat.

Here we’ve got something much more specific to our episode. These are losses of both territory and sovereignty Iran goes through during the 19th century, from the Treaty of Gulestan up through the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention.

And this is the Caucasus region we’ll be referring to a lot. You might not typically think of Russia as being part of the Middle East, but you’d be wrong. The reason Russia’s constantly meddling in Afghanistan and Syria in the present day is that a finger of Russian territory pushes down between the Black and Caspian seas to touch the little republics between it and Turkey and Iran. And at varying points in Russian Imperial history, to touch them directly. The borders on the map are again related to the treaties of Gulestan and Turkmenchay.

Now how about some characters.

The man in the center of that photograph is the Lord Curzon of Kedleston, later the Earl Curzon of Kedelston, Viceroy of India and later Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Cuzon was the face of British imperialism in its last great grasping gasp and he had his eyes on Iran before, during, and after the First World War.

Curzon, in some senses metaphorically and in other ones totally literally turned over the torch of British imperial ambitions over to Winston Churchill.

I don’t know that most of us have ever heard of a time when Churchill was young, but he comes onto the scene in Iran almost immediately after his military service in the Raj and South Africa.

By the time he’s First Lord of the Admiralty at the outset of WWI, he’ll be taking an interest in Iranian affairs.

And once he’s almost literally become too old to be alive, he’ll be Prime Minister for the second time and destroying Iranian democracy with American help in an effort to hold onto the last imperial jewel still in Her Majesty’s crown.

On the Iranian side, this early on, we’ve got the Qajar Shahs, exemplified in pretty much every way by this guy:

Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar

And their throne was usurped (more or less rightfully), by this guy, the first Pahlavi Shah:

Reza Shah Pahlavi, formerly Reza Khan

Who will brutally modernize and organize Iran, in time to turn it over to his dilettante son:

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi

Who the UK and the US will vocally, economically, and finally clandestinely and militarily support, and who will work out for the Iranians about as well as Bashar al-Assad did for his people.

And as always:


The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly and Charles Melville. Vol. VII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations New Press, 2013.

Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran: Between Two Revolutions.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Byrne, Malcolm. “The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup.” The National Security Archive, last modified 29 November 2000, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/.

Fatemi, N. S. 1985. “The Anglo Persian Agreement of 1919.” Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol II: 59.

Katouzian, Homa. The Political Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1981.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Wiley, 2003.

Roosevelt, Kermit. Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Audio Acknowledgements

Doctor Turtle. “Thought Soup”

Metastaz. “The Prince of Persia”

More News Pictures from Iran. 1941. British Pathé. (YouTube).

Persian Folk Music. Traditional Music Channel. (YouTube).



Aftermath Part IV

Aftermath Part IV

00:00 / 2:09:19


Hey guys.

Welcome to the fifth episode of Safe for Democracy, the podcast about the foreign policy disasters of the United States in the 20th century.

This is the fourth part of a series exploring the violent aftermath of the US-backed coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, which was itself the subject of the first show.


Maybe some photos this time for context?


Up at the top there is General Efraín Ríos Montt, found guilty of genocide, hanging out with Ronald Reagan, who once said that the Guatemalan government had gotten a “bad rap” from the liberal press.

Reagan went on to give the man tens of million dollars in arms.


Here we’ve got what’s basically the letterhead of the EGP, the Ejercito Guerrillero de los Pobres, or the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. Their actual emblem is up at the top left, Che Guevara’s Korda Photograph in high relief with EGP down at the bottom.

It’s not easy to see from college campuses in the US, but actual revolutionaries also revered Ernesto. Especially appropriate since Che participated in the Agrarian Reform in the 1950s, and it was the US coup in 1954 that convinced him that the only way forward against imperial powers like the US was armed revolutionary action.


This is the emblem of the Organización del Pueblo en Armas, or the Organization of the People in Arms. I’m no expert in Guatemalan culture, but if its mythology is anything like Mexico’s, the volcano is a deeply national and deeply indigenous symbol of power and strength.


Continue reading Aftermath Part IV

Aftermath Part III

Aftermath Part III

00:00 / 1:07:45

Page Break

Hey everybody, and welcome to the fourth episode of Safe for Democracy, the podcast about the foreign policy disasters of the United States in the 20th century.

This is the third part of a series exploring the violent aftermath of the US-backed coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954.

If you’re just now coming to the podcast, it’d probably be best to start with episode one, which tackles the coup, and then come through the Aftermath in order. But if that’s not your game, fair enough, start right here.

Page Break

Last time we had a brief respite, tackling Liberation Theology, social Catholicism, jungle collectives, and the spirit of indigenous pride that had Mayas all over Guatemala taking to the streets and demanding their fundamental right to life and to culture.

We left off with General Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García in the Presidential Palace, and his relative leniency, after the murderous regime of the Butcher of Zacapa, Colonel Arana Osorio, was allowing Guatemalan civil society to flourish for the first time in decades.

That interstitial period is about to end, though, with the fraudulent election of General Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, who will take a less generous view of what he sees as traitorous elements in the country.

La violencia and tierra arrasada are still one episode away, so we’ve got three more weeks to worry yet, but we won’t get all the way through this one unscathed either.

This time around, it’s earthquakes, committees of campesino unity, massacre in Panzos, and the helping hand of Ronald Reagan, as always, making war to make the world safe for democracy.

Maps and ephemera follow for anyone who’s game.

Continue reading Aftermath Part III

Aftermath Part II

Aftermath Part II

00:00 / 1:02:33

Page Break

Hi, and welcome to the third episode of Safe for Democracy.

Which is the second part of the Aftermath, which, in four shows, is the second part of our overarching series on Guatemala.



Last time we worked our way from the coup against Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 through the repressive regimes of Carlos Castillo Armas and Jose Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes and how they provoked the creation of a guerrilla movement and the way the State and the guerrilla came together in a conflagration of violence—in which the rebels got much the worst of things—towards the end of the 1960s.

This episode’s a little less dark.

Violence in Guatemala was cyclical: State repression provoked demonstrations and organizing on the part of the populace, which invited greater repression that tended to wipe opposition out. And in the lull after the greatest waves of violence gave Guatemalan society time to begin rebuilding itself, time and again.

Today’s show covers the last such lull that Guatemala would have for a very long time.

This time we’re looking at the growth of Liberation Theology and radical social Catholicism in Guatemala and the parallel and related growth of the pan-indigenous movement that gave Maya Guatemalans a commanding, national voice for the first time in centuries.

Continue reading Aftermath Part II

Aftermath Part I

Aftermath Part I

00:00 / 1:00:39

Page Break

Hey everybody, welcome to Safe for Democracy and our second episode.

If you’ve listened to the first podcast, you know that we’d originally planned to do a quick one-two, one episode for the coup in 1954 and one to cover what happened afterwards. But history can balloon on you, and the material I wanted to breeze through in an hour and a half expanded to more than five hours. The script’s not done yet, but it’s over a hundred typewritten pages, and will be a good sight longer before it’s done.

Longer than my undergraduate thesis
Longer than my undergraduate thesis

So what we’ve decided to do is to break the Aftermath up into four parts, the first three being about an hour and the last one somewhat less than two. The feedback we’ve gotten on the first episode is that although everybody loves Dan Carlin, hour long shows are about as long as people want.

All of the shows of the Aftermath will have a bit more noise on them than I would’ve liked, but I recorded them in the quietest place I could get to in this Sierra, the bungalow of a fellow and still-active Peace Corps Volunteer, James Dykstra.

God, just look at him
God, just look at him

I’ve tried to strip out or avoid as much of that noise as I can, but bear with it; we’re talking a lot about campesinos in these shows, and a little bit of campesino ruckus on them can’t hurt too much.

As I release these every few weeks, I’ll have more time to get a headstart on our next topic, Operation Ajax and the coup in Iran, and I’ll have some breathing room to take care of other stuff in my life. Hope that works for you.

Now, on to the show itself.

Continue reading Aftermath Part I

The Coup

The Coup

00:00 / 1:44:04



Hey, welcome to the first full episode of Safe for Democracy.  We’re going to be looking at Guatemala from 1930 or so until 1954, in the lead-up to the coup against President Jacobo Arbenz in the June of that year.

What comes after we’ll tackle in the next episode, which should come out sometime next week, if all goes well.

Here below are some sources and maps for anybody who wants help with the geography I’ll be talking about, but if you don’t need or don’t want that, go ahead and listen.

By the way, the cover image up there is La Gloriosa Victoria, a mural currently residing in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Diego Rivera painted it about the events of this very episode. That’s Allen Dulles on the left shaking hands with Carlos Castillo Armas on the right, and it’s Eisenhower’s face on the bomb. The children are, of course, nameless Guatemalans.

Enjoy the show.



Excerpted from Nick Cullather's The Secret History
Excerpted from Nick Cullather’s The Secret History

Here we’ve got the plans for Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas’s ground forces at the outset of the invasion. See how even though he only had a few groups of men, he could preoccupy a large proportion of Guatemala’s small army by spreading them out over the long, forested border.


Here's another much larger, much more detailed map for reference. Click to see it full size.
Here’s another much larger, much more detailed map for reference. Click to see it full size.


And for anybody who needs it

Here’s a bibliography

“Guatemala Chief Hits Critics in U.S.”  New York Times (1923-Current File), Feb 5, 1954.

“Guatemala’s ‘Plot’ Charges Denounced.”  The Washington Post (1923-1954), Jan 31, 1954.

“President Arbenz of Guatemala Quits.”  Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jun 28, 1954.

Arbenz, Jacobo. 1954. Resignation Speech. PaysDesVolcans. (Youtube).

Cullather, Nick and Piero Gleijeses. Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999

McCann, Thomas and Scammel, Henry. An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1976.

Rivera, Diego. “La Gloriosa Victoria”. https://www.flickr.com/photos/gobiernodeguatemala/5033870374.

Roettinger, Philip C. 1986. “The Company, then and Now.” The Progressive, July, 1986, 50.

Rothenberg, Daniel, ed, Memory of Silence: The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Schelsinger, Stephen and Stephen Kinzer.  Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1982.

Schneider, Ronald M. 1959. Communism in Guatemala, 1944-1954. (Pa. Univ. for Policy Research Inst. Ser. no. 7) (Praeger Publications in Russian History and World Communism no. 80).

Simons, Marlise. “Guatemala: The Coming Danger.” Foreign Policy 43 (1981) : 93-103.


Intro Episode

Intro Episode
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 6:38

Page Break

Welcome everybody to the introductory episode of Safe for Democracy. This is just a primer for anybody who’s interested in the shape of this project, the arc of its future, and who I am. For everybody else, there’s Episode One, which is about Guatemala.

Glad to see you here.