Well, my face isn’t totally unstuffed-up yet, but I think the nasal quality has dropped out enough to record, and I want my shows to hit the top of the week again.
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:
“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
I want to talk about alternate realities. Not the multiverse kind or the virtual kind, but the kind that exist all around us. I watched Spotlight recently and none of us have been able to look away from that train-wreck of an election or this early administration, so hopefully enough of us have seen enough of all three of them to tie this post together.
We’re All in this Alone
Everybody, and I mean everybody, lives in their own reality. From the time you pop out of the womb, you begin aggregating a set of facts, or what seem to you to be facts, about the world around you. And that set of facts makes up your reality. The differences in our realities range from the sacred to the very mundane. Maybe I believe in God and you don’t, maybe you thought that dress was yellow and I thought it was blue. There may be some ultimate arbiter of what’s real—Plato’s realm of the forms or an Abrahamic God or a grand unifying theory of physics—but until one of those things speaks up, we’re each left with our own discrete perceptions of the world. When our differences are small, like that dress, they don’t impede our getting along. When they get bigger, they trip us up in proportion to the magnitude of the difference.
Almost nobody in the 15th century really thought the world was flat (and it may be a very long time since anybody’s actually thought that), but if we imagine, for the sake of argument, that Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain in 1492, did think the Earth was flat, we can see how they and Christopher Columbus would have a difficult time plotting a new route to India.
Well, Thanksgiving with the volunteers is over now, and it’s a cold week dawning here in Mexico.
This is, a year later than I deserved or had any right to expect, the end of my experience with the Peace Corps. We all came down for different reasons. Some of us for adventure, some of us for altruism, some because whatever the statistics say about recovery, after excelling at good schools, this was the best, or in my case, the only job on offer.
And we worked. We discovered, as I’ve gone over in detail on my other blog, that the Mexico program was special, beholden to and constrained by local interests and bureaucracy, and that we would not be free to pursue the work that was most wanted, most needed. But we did the job that was given to us and labored, on the side, often out of sight and out of sanction of the Peace Corps office in Querétaro, to change our situation and move things toward the good.
We organized through our Volunteer Advisory Council and had candid conversations with staff. We played politics outside of our purview in our parks and tried to shape the program. We went through all the bickering and infighting that is inherent to insular, expatriate communities. But despite our disagreements and through whatever progress we achieved, we managed to make a point of preserving decency, compassion, and solicitousness amongst the body of volunteers, and we used that foundation as a base from which to extend the same generosity of heart to every host country national, every Mexican we met.