Eisenhower’s attack on Guatemala was brilliantly executed. A faux invasion force consisting of a handful of right-wing Guatemalans used fake radio broadcasts and a few bombing runs flown by American pilots to terrorize the fledgling democracy into surrender. Arbenz stepped down from the presidency and left the country. Soon afterward, a Guatemalan colonel named Carlos Castillo Armas took power and handed back United Fruit’s lands. For three decades, military strongmen ruled Guatemala.
The covert American assault destroyed any possibility that Guatemala’s fragile political and civic institutions might grow. It permanently stunted political life. And the destruction of Guatemala’s democracy also set back the cause of free elections in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras.
From “Ghosts of Guatemala’s Past,” by Stephen Schlesinger, in the New York Times, June 3, 2011
This is kindly, honest, grandfatherly “Ike.”
This is the president who for decades has been praised for telling us as he left office that we should beware of giving “the military-industrial complex” too much power or letting it direct our national policies.
To destroy democracy in Guatemala he used American military or paramilitary force in the interests of an enormous American corporation, United Fruit. After employing militarism to serve industrial capitalism for eight years, his pious warning against both seems incredibly hypocritical.
Yet on it has been built a whole tower of adulation of Eisenhower as a far-seeing statesman, above party politics.
He was nothing of the kind. He was an Army general, accustomed to using violence to gain his goals, accustomed to the undemocratic, unquestioning obedience of the military, and fiercely opposed to any control over industrial capitalism, let alone any social alternative to it. He was the Cold Warrior par excellence. He saw “creeping socialism” everywhere. He was the grandfather of present-day reactionary Republicanism.
He might not like some of its present forms, the open religious and racial bigotry, the fiscal irresponsibility; but these demagogues are his political descendants, and though he might wince at their hate talk and shameless lying, his own policy was built on xenophobic fear (called “anti-Communism”) and protected by deception and hypocrisy.
I have felt for a long time that Eisenhower’s election (in 1952, defeating Adlai Stevenson in a landslide) was a cross-roads. We took the road that led us away from a rational future towards a mythical past; that led us away from hope, which is such hard work, towards fear, which is so easy; that led us to give up social justice as a guiding principle in favor of short-term-profit capitalism. Nixon, Reagan, Bush all came to power along that road, and each took us farther along it.
Another notable thing Eisenhower said as he left office was to the effect that “the future lies in packaging.” Not what is produced, not why or how it is produced, not who it is produced for, but how it is packaged — disguised — presented, represented, misrepresented, in order to be sold.
So here we are, suffocating under mountains of discarded plastic packaging — our armed forces engaged in three wars which bring profit to international corporations while bankrupting America — and our citizens still hearing that they can’t be safe unless they live in terror. Welcome to Eisenhower’s future.
Ursula K. Le Guin is a founding member of Book View Café