Tag Archives: Eisenhower

Vietnam VI: Learning Curve

Vietnam VI: Learning Curve
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 2:38:49

And here we are, finally, finally making it to the end of the French War.

We still have Dien Bien Phu and the denouement to wrap up, which we’ll do in the next episode, maybe in the fastest-ever-produced next episodes, so fingers crossed there.

Like last time, I’m covering pretty much all the material that I’m trying to cover in these shows, so I don’t have any big ancillary stories to tell here in the notes. What we do have are maps and then later, like last time, all the videos that would normally have gone after the bibliography in the audio credits.

First, maps:

And the one that’s on my wall:

Then, videos. Like last time, if there’s audio, it’s (almost certainly) in the show. If there isn’t, it’s not, but I mention a couple of these specifically during the episode:




Bayart, Jean-Francois. “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion.” African Affairs, 2000, 217-267.

Duncan, David Douglass. “The Year of the Snake: A time of fear and worry comes over warring Indochina.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Editorial. “Indochina, France and the U.S.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York; Viking Press, 2002.

Fall, Bernard. Hell in a Very Small Place. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966.

Fall, Bernard. Last Reflections on a War. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Fall, Bernard. Street without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946-54. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1961.

Fall, Bernard. The Two Viet Nams: A Political and Military Analysis. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963.

Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1972.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion, 2007.

Herr, Michael. Dispatches. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Hickey, Gerald Cannon. A Village in Vietnam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964.

Huntington, Samuel. “The Bases of Accommodation.” Foreign Affairs, 1968.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Lacouture, Jean. Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography. New York: Random House, 1968.

Lacouture, Jean. Vietnam: Between Two Truces. New York: Random House, 1966.

Logevall, Frederick. Embers of WarThe Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. New York: Random House, 2012.

Maclear, Michael. The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam, 1945-1975. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Mus, Paul and McAlister, John T. The Vietnamese and Their Revolution. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Moore, Harold G., and Galloway, Joseph L. We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. New York: Random House, 1992.

Niehbuhr, Rienhold. The Irony of American History. Chicago: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Vintage, 1988.




Kennan and Cold War Policy

Kennan and Cold War Policy
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 1:10:38

Like I said at the end of last episode, there were some broader Cold War issues that I wanted to talk about and some history that I wanted to churn through that didn’t quite fit into the framework of the longer shows. That’s because I want those longer ones to be narrowly focused on the French and the relevant US decision-making rather than a panoramic picture—otherwise they’d be six hours instead of three and we wouldn’t have gotten even as far as we are now.

Come next show, though, some of that decision-making on the US part is going to be inscrutable unless you’re already an expert on the period or unless you’re as anti-American as SFD appears to be and you don’t need to suss out the motives behind bad decisions coming from Washington. What this show is going to do is fill in those gaps in, hopefully, an hour, give or take.

So at the outset of the Cold War, which, if you’re being generous, began even before the end of the Second World War in Europe, there were two huge questions weighing on the minds of western policymakers, and on the minds of the men in London and Washington in particular. First: What is Communism? And second, what are we going to do about it?

With regard to Republican wrongdoing and the Trump Administration’s sustained attack on the civil service and the State Department in particular:

Trump Versus the Deep State

The Diplomat Who Quit the Trump Administration

How Rex Tillerson Wrecked the State Department

SFD Talk—Vietnam in the US Imagination

SFD Talk—Vietnam in the US Imagination
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 1:55:50

Hey folks, in lieu of notes this time, I’m going to give you the full outline that Rob and I were ostensibly working off in the show. Which should be enlightening, especially as we spend a lot of time talking about Syria instead of Vietnam.

Ernie, unfortunately, caught that bug that seems to be circling the globe (I’ve had it in Mexico, my sister’s had it in Rhode Island, Ernie’s got it in London) and couldn’t make it.



Self-explanatory, everybody plug their stuff.


Where We’re Coming From


For Rob and Ernie for the most part (given that I’m coming from a pretty outsider position, tackling a major project on the history of the war.

  • What’s our level of competence vis a vis Vietnam?
    • Very much related: What education have we received from ‘the system’ on the topic?
    • After any public/private educational opportunities, what are we looking at? Movies? Books? Ken Burns documentaries?
  • I give my little spiel here about why Vietnam’s the premature finale of SFD


Topics that I Want to Hit


Lying in Politics


I talked to Ernie a little bit about this the other day, but:

  • Vietnam was the epitome of the first cycle of public lying in foreign policy.
    • It starts with the Republicans using our ‘loss’ of China to get the Democrats out of power after Truman and rolls into the bad McCarthy years
    • It continues with JFK needing to be harder on the Reds than Nixon and thereby greatly inflating the importance of Vietnam (ie that nobody in government espoused the Domino Theory in private, only in public speeches)
    • And it culminates with JFK coming around to that we need to get out, US prestige be damned, right before he’s assassinated, with LBJ going whole hog afterwards, determined not to be the first US President to lose a war
      • And there go the secret bombings, the Tonkin Gulf incident, escalating the war on the DL, the total refusal to believe that the public might be smart enough to understand what’s going on and deciding to fucking prosecute an unjust, unpopular, unwise war because we thought that would somehow be easier than just owning up to that, Hey, Vietnam’s not that important after all
    • And then Nixon promising to end the war a full six years before he gets out
  • All of which is repeated to some extent in the run-up to Iraq/Afghanistan, with similarly disastrous results
    • The continuing consequences of which are playing out right now, literally right now, in Syria

The Idea of a “Lost War” and a Need to Reclaim Prestige


This one’s near self-explanatory too. Put your thoughts here:




Deification of the Soldiery


I mentioned this in the chat, in those little audio messages:

  • The anti-war reaction against returning soldiers seriously turns off the Nixononian Silent Majority types
    • And, really, it’s dumb on its face. Sure, Vietnam was the first war where American atrocities got play back in the US (the Korean War kicked off with us literally detonating a bridge under hundreds if not thousands of civilians trying to escape the North Korean onslaught, and the occupying American forces in Europe during WWII got up to their fair share of ugly business), but none of these guys, usually especially the ones who got up to really bad shit, wanted to be in Vietnam in the first place. They didn’t sign up for the war, and the USG did little if anything to prepare them or their commanders for the conditions they’d face over there.
  • The result being that after the war, we really start, as a country, to hammer home the ‘Support the Troops’ message.
    • It gets big play in the First Gulf War, but it would have to wait until the second to really kick into high gear.
    • By the time we invade Afghanistan/Iraq, the post-Vietnam attitude has totally permeated the populace and 9/11 leads us to double down on it.
  • So that by 2003 or so, anybody who gets into uniform is automatically a hero, regardless of what role they play or what it is they eventually do overseas.
    • And it’s the most insane time for this attitude to have ever prevailed in our history, because this is the least citizen-soldier military we’ve ever had.
    • Our modern army is the first fully volunteer, fully professional force in our history. These guys are much more like the guys defending the Khyber Pass for the British than the GIs who hit the beaches in Normandy.
    • You ask anybody why they support the troops, and they’ll tell you it’s that the troops are defending our freedoms, but more than at any previous point in our history, the troops are pretty much defending the far-flung outposts of an American Empire. These are the near-mercenary Tommies of the British 1880s, and while they might often show great heroism, signing up to kill poorer, browner people overseas is categorically not an act of automatic heroism.
  • Which all sounds whiny and esoteric, but is integral to the Neocon strategy of violent democratic activism overseas. The President can, under the current authorization of the War Powers Act and AUMFs, send anybody he wants anywhere he wants for basically any reason, as long as it’s got some tenuous connection to ‘terrorism’
    • And once the boys are over there, since they’re all heroes, and we all support them, the war they’re a part of is here to stay. Case in points: Iraq, Afghanistan.

SFD Short—Abolish the Army

SFD Short—Abolish the Army
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 35:14

This is another one of those topics I’ve been thinking about for a long while, at least since I wrote this cute little essay sophomore year:

Offshore Balancing

And I think it ties in with what we were talking about a couple of weeks ago in the short on T. R. Fehrenbach. I mean what I say on this one, and it’s all there in the show.

Short notes this time, except to say that since I’m traveling these couple of weeks and won’t have even phone service, these shows are going out automatically and you could really, really help me out by sharing them since I literally won’t be able to do it myself. Also Patreon.

SFD Short—Grand Theories

SFD Short—Grand Theories
Safe For Democracy

00:00 / 24:02

Well, like I can’t remember if but might have said last week, we’re back from hiatus and onto regular production again, which means a show for you this Monday.

It’s kind of an experimental one today, with a whole lot of half baked but interesting thoughts and an intermediate but definitely no final or satisfying conclusion.

So let me know what you think. If it’s a total zero, in the future I’ll make sure to keep everything under my hat until it’s done through. In either case, maybe more than on anything I’ve done so far, this is an episode that calls for feedback. So give it to me.

I’m on Twitter.

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 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).



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.