English Reading Group


Köybox, Konacık

A Peace to End all Peace by David Fromkin

The author is professor of International Relations at Boston University. The Amazon blurb describes this 600+ page book thus: The Middle East, as we know it today, emerged from decisions made by the Allies during and after the First World War. This extraordinarily ambitious, vividly written account tells how and why those decisions were made and the devastating effect they had.

It goes on to say:

Peopled with larger-than-life figures such as Winston Churchill (around whom the story is structured), General Kitchener and T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, Atatürk, Emir Feisal and Lloyd George, the book describes the showdown with the Ottoman Empire which erupted into the devastating Eastern Campaign of World War I and led to the formation – by bureaucracy and subterfuge by Americans and Europeans – of the states known collectively as the Middle East.

The years 1914-1922 were the creative, formative years when everything seemed possible, but the events of 1922, the pivotal year, set the course for a future of endless wars and acts of terrorism that became the legacy of this period. Issues such as The Allenby Declaration establishing nominal independence for Egypt, the Palestine Mandate and the Churchill White Paper (from which Israel and Jordan sprang), the installing of Hashemite leaders of predominantly Shi’ite territories, new leaders for Egypt and Iraq, the Russian declaration of a Soviet Union intent on re-establishing her rule over Moslem Central Asia – David Fromkin shows how all these changed the Middle East (and Europe) forever.

So, what did we think of it?

The group found the amount of information in the book highly interesting but quite challenging due to the length of the work and an absence of maps and a timeline.

Besides the horrendous arrogance of the Allies one reader remarked that everyone in the Middle East seems to have been better off under the Ottoman Turks as they were more or less allowed to do what they liked, particularly in view of the Allied politicians and military figures who never demonstrated an understanding of local conditions, only of their personal and national ambitions. The group agreed nothing appears to have changed in the West with regard to either arrogance or ignorance, not to mention the incredible duplicity and racism the Allies demonstrated at the time.

After this the discussion briefly turned to WWI in general, at the end of which a member noted that tangentially the book once again underlined the enormous changes WWI brought about not only in the Middle East, due to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, but also across the northern hemisphere. The collapse of the Austria-Hungarian Empire changed the map of central Europe. Russia’s collapse brought about the Bolshevik revolution. Great Britain never recovered politically, socially or financially, allowing the United States to become the dominant Western power without really having fired a single shot.

The group then discussed the question posed by the facilitator, namely what would have happened in the Middle East if the Ottoman Empire had not entered WWI. One argument put forward was that Britain, namely Churchill in particular, was sufficiently concerned about the existence of oil to have explored its availability in Iraq through an expeditionary force, the implication being that a way would have been found. However, the facilitator suggested that even if so it was unlikely that Britain could have gone to war after the end of WWI, as its subsequent involvement with Greece suggests, not to mention it had always backed the Ottomans to protect the land route to India against Russia.

The discussion moved on to the availability of telecommunications and the disregard all members of the military showed for orders communicated by telegraph, when it did not suit them. This brought to the fore the role Gallipoli played with regard to the emergence of Australia and New Zealand, as well as of course Turkey. In turn this led to the group discussing the incredible loss of life all the nations involved in WWI suffered not only on the various battle fronts but also through the famines and epidemics that raged during and after. It was pointed out it was curious that nobody appears to have made a study of the effect of WWI as they have done with that of the Black Death on the social structures of those countries involved, particularly as countries remained by and large agrarian until after WWII.

The moderator then asked what the group thought of the influence of religion in all that appears to have happened in the Middle East after WWI, pointing out that due to their ignorance of Islam, which Christians at the time tended to regard as Mohammedanism, to this day the Allies do not seem to have grasped that Moslems do not want to be ruled by Christians or Jews. Another member took up the argument, pointing out that the assumption always seems to have been that the Middle East (as well as other non-western peoples, such as in China, India and Africa) would be more than happy to adopt the concept of the democratic nation state, as evidenced by Atatürk’s Turkey. Consequently one conclusion was that religion was a tool/justifier – whatever one wants to call it – for politics.

All in all, the group thought the book both interesting and rewarding and decided to read Stephen Kinzer’s THE BROTHERS as a follow up.

Aziz Başan

THE BROTHERS: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer

A review of the non-fiction reading group discussion



A review of the non-fiction reading group discussion with additional notes by group member, Terry Glaysher

Discussion started with reference to recent press articles on the US and Iran. In general the group agreed that they had not known how personally involved Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Chief Allen Dulles had been in world politics. What one member found staggering was that the brothers were convinced they were right to interfere directly in Guatemala, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cuba and Angola, among other countries in the world, even though they only succeeded in Guatemala and Iran. All their subsequent attempts were disasters, the best known being the Bay of Pigs.

A member pointed to the brothers’ religious upbringing as the main reason for their unwavering conviction that they were not only right but were doing good, albeit all of it in the best interests of the US.

The group agreed that the book clearly shows how the US has all along conspired to subvert anybody who it perceives to be a danger to its interests. As a result the members felt that they could no longer disregard the endless ‘conspiracy theories’ that surround all US and Allied actions on the world stage.

Discussion moved on to more recent events and possible US involvement in them.

A member then returned to the brothers’ success rate, proposing that the collapse of communism can be attributed directly to their unforgiving enmity. If they had been willing to accept the various attempts Soviet leaders made for a rapprochement, perhaps communism would have evolved and not become stuck in a rut, finally collapsing. The group then explored the brothers’ tactic of scaremongering, which enabled Eisenhower and subsequent US presidents to find electoral support for their open enmity toward the Soviet Union, Islam (in the form of al Qaida) having now replaced communism (in the form of the former Soviet Union). It raised the question of whether the threat, real as it seems, is of the magnitude we’re told it is.

This led to a discussion of religion as a means of discourse and consequently its role in the ideologies of parties warring over the size of their share of the cake, as for instance recently witnessed in Northern Ireland and possibly presently in the Yemen, and not because of theology. In the case of the US the group’s facilitator argued that their elite’s hatred of communism could be said to stem from the 1930s and 1940s, when the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and other movements leaned on Marxist theory to justify trade unionism. So much so that to this day the Republicans regard the New Deal and hence anything the Democratic Party stands for as watered-down communism.

The facilitator went on to point out that Stephen Kinzer’s concentration at the start of the book on the Dulles brothers’ evangelical upbringings, so strongly reinforced by Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, appear to underline this aspect of ideology. The Dulles brothers’ attitude never seems to have been questioned by the elite but rather reinforced by the likes of Time Magazine. In other words, whether the language of discourse is religious or political dogma, it is really about shares of the cake. After a lengthy discussion of Yemeni, Iranian, Middle Eastern, as well as current US politics and its origins, the group came to the conclusion that possibly religion is used so frequently to justify political actions because it cannot be challenged – it refers to a higher authority, namely God. Another member then pointed to the American expression of it: In God We Trust.

A member then raised the issue of Moslems in Europe and asked what the group thought will happen in that regardless of their socio-political share of wealth almost none of the Moslems have integrated. This was contested by another member who pointed out that many upper middle class Germans have married Turkish men and women. The same member then pointed out that this brought the discussion back to her original point, namely that regardless of how religion is used in political discourse Islam needs to become more liberal for all Moslem immigrants to become willing and able to integrate. Those who did not feel welcome would of necessity cling more firmly to what they thought was their culture, which in many cases was their religion.

This was discussed at great length in the context of Turks in Germany, where the Germans have come to the conclusion that the state can only help integration through education, which only takes up half the time a child spends in their country – the rest of the time they will be with their parents. The point was contested by one member in so far that blaming the victim is not really an answer when there is an underlying resistance on religious, lingual and other bases.

The facilitator then drew attention to a work that, although not academically recognized because it is not global enough, points out that there were fewer race riots in Holland than there were in France. This was because in Holland immigrants can establish their own economic means such as sweatshops, ateliers and garages which in time become factories. Whereas in France this is not possible in the high rise flats built for French workers. Another example compared Turkey and Iran; in the former, as in Holland, immigrants from Anatolia to the big cities were encouraged to establish themselves economically whereas in Iran the Shah tried to stem the tide with internal passports. As a result in Turkey an ‘immigrant’ is now president after having been prime minister and in Iran religion was used with violence to overthrow the existing elite.

Discussion then turned to Iran and as a result the group decided to read a book on this country next. A member suggested that he could ask Stephen Kinzer, which the group thought a good idea.



Terry Glaysher’s notes

Overall Impression

One of the most startling books I have ever read. If the shenanigans of the Europeans in the Middle East defined history in the first half of the 20th century, then the extraordinary goings on with these two brothers defined the second half of the century.   What is even more revealing than their blind faith in their own righteousness is the way this book sheds light on American contemporary attitudes to the rest of the world.   I think the quote that “America does not have friends, it has interests” is as true now as ever.

The frightening conclusion

As I read this book I start to realise that ever since the days of these two brothers America response to threat is the same.   First there is an hysterical reaction, in a frantic demonstration of “action”. This is followed by whipping up fear to get voter support and money.   Overt and covert operations to protect American interests follow, whatever they deem those interests to be and wherever they happen to be.

Look at Afghanistan and their backing of the mujahedeen against the Soviets in the early 90s.   Look at their war on terror that Bush declared; look at the axis of evil declaration;   look at Bush and Blair’s blind belief in poor intelligence, desperately trying to make the facts support the desired action. Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that didn’t exist but Bush had the American nation rooting for his response.

As Stephen Kinzer wrote in a recent article:

When President George W. Bush placed three countries he disliked into an “axis of evil,” he was echoing one of the Dulles brothers’ most pernicious principles: that any nation failing to embrace American policies is automatically some kind of enemy. The idea that we should allow countries to find their own way, which was anathema to the Dulles brothers, remains difficult for some of our leaders to accept. We have adopted our own standards for what kinds of behaviour we will and will not accept from other countries, and have harshly punished leaders who defy us. Our resurgent interventionism is at least partly to blame for the effective collapse of at least four countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. None was led by gentle or virtuous men, but millions of their citizens now suffer more painfully than they did before. They are modern counterparts of the Guatemalans and Vietnamese who were killed or found their lives devastated after interventions directed by the Dulles brothers.

There is an interesting article in the March edition of Prospect Magazine where Mark Mazower reviews a book written by an inmate of Guantanamo Bay. In it he notes that:

After the attacks of 11th September 2001, the United States extended greatly its archipelago of jails and camps. Some of these were secret black sites run by the CIA, which also outsourced prisoners to foreign intelligence agencies, especially in Africa and the Middle East. There was a network of military prisons, including Bagram in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. And then there was Guantanamo, a camp on a US naval base on Cuba’s south eastern flank, which had been mostly lying idle since housing refugees from Haiti a decade earlier. Earmarked as a place to hold “high-value detainees” (the highest were kept mostly hidden by the CIA), a place that was conveniently close to the US yet beyond its jurisdiction,    

When the author of the Guantanamo Diaries Mohamedou Slahi arrived in Guantanamo in the summer of 2002, he was regarded as a prime suspect in the planning of the 9/11 attacks; but after a gruelling period of interrogation, his captors concluded that he had nothing more to tell them and allowed him to write about his experiences. They did not, to be sure, encourage him to publish his thoughts but thanks to his lawyers, the manuscript has been retrieved from the bowels of the Pentagon. The result, complete with redactions, is Guantanamo Diary, a riveting account of what Amnesty International has called “the gulag of our times.” It provides a devastating insight into an unusual and intense form of incarceration in which America grapples with its view of the enemy, and its constitutional values. Slahi, despite his release having been ordered by a US federal judge, remains in prison, pending a government appeal. He has now been incarcerated for more than 12 years.

Later on Mazower writes:

One of Guantanamo’s most striking features has been its cost: between 2002 and 2014, the US spent $5bn on the camp. Yet there has been little to show for the money. Defining the inmates as enemy combatants rather than prisoners of war allowed the Bush administration to ignore the Geneva Convention as it drove its interrogators to increasingly extreme levels of brutality, but the result was neither reliable intelligence nor prosecutable cases. In early 2005, a senior prosecutor concluded that of the 500 prisoners held at that time in Guantanamo, no more than 30 had “real prosecutorial value”; all the rest relied on evidence that virtually any court would regard as tainted by coercion.

Yet the US does not lack experienced interrogators. There were dozens if not hundreds in the police and the FBI, who had been used in earlier terrorist cases. But inter-agency rivalry was as intense as ever after 9/11, and poisoned the outcome as much as it did the original failure to stop the attack. Anxious not to play second fiddle to the CIA, Rumsfeld took procedures devised to help servicemen withstand torture if captured and reverse-engineered them so that techniques of ill-treatment ascribed during the Cold War to the North Koreans and others now formed the basis for Gitmo interrogations. Other techniques used were forcing prisoners to stand in shackles for hours, exposed to extreme cold, prevented from sleeping for days, stripped naked, humiliated and threatened, or assailed by heavy metal music played repeatedly at top volume.

As a result, the US has suffered immense damage to its reputation as a state bound by the laws and principles of its constitution

During the Dreyfus affair, the incarceration of one innocent man become a cause célèbre. There has been no comparable response within the US. On the contrary, a majority of the American public opposes the idea of closing Guantanamo and since 2007 this opposition has grown from about half to two thirds. Obama won the 2008 election pledging to close the prison but wouldn’t spend the political capital required so early in his presidency. Now it may be too late.

The truth is that America is unusually comfortable with incarceration as a means of tackling its ills. Not only does it lock up more people per capita than almost any other country in the world, but it keeps them inside for longer and is more likely to use solitary confinement. The punitive impulse runs deep: according to US Bureau of Justice statistics America locks up between three and four times more people proportionately than Adolf Hitler’s Germany did on the eve of the war. From this perspective what Guantanamo encapsulates is not so much America’s problem with torture as its attitude to prisons. Can one expect voters to object to indefinite detention without trial when they acquiesce so easily in sentences that condemn people—particularly those from a certain ethnicity—to decades in solitary confinement or sentences that run into hundreds of years?

Senator Tom Cotton appears to be closer to the nation’s pulse than the President. Slahi’s account, with its Kafkaesque dialogue and its extraordinary ability to humanise this deliberately dehumanised environment is a devastating indictment of this complacency. If Cotton thinks hell is somewhere else, Mohamedou Slahi’s achievement is to have shown us the one America has already made here.

From the above it is clear that even today they are happy to suspend basic tenets of their constitution if they think it’s in their interests to do so and especially if they can do it covertly.

I used to think that some of the claims of CI A backed coups were exaggerated but now I have no doubt that they are still up to the same tricks and I am horrified to the extent to which my own government is complicit in all of this.

Intelligence gathering – then and now

The World War I attitude towards intelligence gathering:

“Few in Washington had ever paid much attention to collecting intelligence about other countries, either because they believed the United States did not need it or because of the notion that, as a previous secretary of war, Henry Stimson, memorably put it, “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail”

Doesn’t this sound quaint in the light of America’s hoovering up every scrap of private information up to an including the private conversations of heads of foreign governments.

State oversight of the CIA

On September 20, 1945, the new American president, Harry Truman, signed an order abolishing the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He feared that the secret powers it had accumulated during the war might, in peacetime, expand to threaten American democracy. To avoid this, he transferred the OSS research unit to the State Department and its espionage and counterespionage units to the War Department. Ten days after he issued his order, the OSS was no more.

Pity it didn’t stay abolished. It was remarkably prescient of Truman to see the threat.

The US Attitude to Communism

“In 1947, responding to Soviet pressure on Greece and Turkey, Truman decided that the United States should make a new commitment to intervene anywhere in the world to stop what it deemed to be the spread of communism. When he told Vandenberg he planned to make this sweeping commitment, Vandenberg replied, “Mr. President, the only way you are ever going to get this is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.” Truman took his advice. In a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, he unveiled the far-reaching global project that became known as the Truman Doctrine. “Totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States,” the president asserted. “At the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions… The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms. I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

While Allen cultivated an enigmatic, diaphanous image, Foster’s fire-and-brimstone Cold War sermons made him a major national figure. In his first speech as secretary of state, delivered on January 27, 1953, on national television, he dramatically unveiled a map of the world that showed a vast region, “from Kamchatka, near Alaska … right on to Germany in the centre of Europe… which the Russian Communists completely dominate.” He warned that the population of this region, totalling eight hundred million people, was “being forged into a vast weapon of fighting power backed by industrial production and modern weapons that include atomic bombs.”

“We have enemies who are plotting our destruction,” he concluded. “Any American who isn’t awake to that fact is like a soldier who’s asleep at his post.” Whether this was a sober estimate of Soviet power or a wild exaggeration, it both reflected and intensified the sense of fear that many Americans felt. Foster sought to make nuclear combat seem a real, imminent possibility. He conveyed a terrifying worldview. Most Americans came to share it.

And again:

The reporters, presumably reflecting Allen’s views, wrote that Arbenz had been deposed because he was a “communist puppet” engaged in “unbridled subversion of the Guatemalan people,” and that had he remained in office, “we might have faced the necessity of sending Marines to reinforce the Panama Canal and save Latin America

Again, this is typical of the mass hysteria that the CI A go in for to get public support. Compare axis of evil and war on terror.

What they did not see and possibly still do not see is the unintended consequence of this approach: for example the further radicalisation of those it charges with those crimes. It drives moderates into the opposite camp, and it allows state power to be unfettered by the niceties of normal democratic behaviour

This is a good summary of the US’s attitude to communism.   As Kinzer points out at the end of the book, it was a case of making the facts fit what they believed.

Coupled with this is the unshakeable belief that:

We are right and everyone else is wrong

Time magazine called Foster “a practical missionary of Christian politics” who had given Americans “a feeling of firm confidence in the U.S. economy and in dynamic capitalism as an economic way of life.”

Re-writing Animal Farm, Making pornographic films – was there no end?

Perhaps his most imaginative media operation was taking control of the animated film version of George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian classic Animal Farm. The book’s ending, in which animals realize that both ruling groups in the barnyard are equally corrupt, is a trenchant rejection of the binary worldview. Allen realised that this message implicitly contradicted much of what the United States was saying about the Cold War. By investing in the film and influencing its content through a team of operatives that included E. Howard Hunt, a veteran of PBSUCCESS, he arranged for the film version to end quite differently . Only the pigs are corrupt, and ultimately patriotic rebels overthrow them. Orwell’s widow was disgusted, but the film reached a wide audience. The United States Information Agency distributed it around the world.

He first approved the dissemination of news stories about a Russian airline stewardess who had apparently developed a relationship with Sukarno. Then he conceived one of his most bizarre projects, a pornographic film featuring an actor made up to look like Sukarno. Allen reasoned that the film would seem real given what everyone knew about Sukarno’s habits, and thought it could be used to undermine Sukarno’s authority. The film, called Happy Days, featured an actor wearing a latex mask made by the CIA’s Technical Services Division, with a bald head because Sukarno was supposedly sensitive about his baldness. Prints were discreetly sprinkled around East Asia, but they had no evident effect.


Was there a threat?

Foster and Allen took a ruthlessly confrontational view of the world. They saw it as a theatre of conflict between two mighty empires, one of which must ultimately vanquish the other. This paradigm began gaining currency in the years after World War II. By the time Foster and Allen rose to power, it was close to a national consensus. There had been no similar rush toward global engagement after World War I. Many Americans were content to return to life at peace and allow other countries to shape their own destinies.

The narrative of permanent threat that Foster relentlessly promoted was not fabricated, since Soviet ambition was quite real. He and others in Washington, however, exaggerated the danger and allowed private prejudices to distort their view of Soviet intentions. The period when Soviet power descended over Eastern Europe, and when Communist forces invaded South Korea, was also the period when the United States turned back Soviet challenges in Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Berlin. Each side feared the other. It is a classic security dilemma: states feel threatened; they act to defend themselves; rivals see their actions as aggressive and respond in kind. The Cold War was a product of this spiral. During the 1950s, Foster fell into it.

What was really going on with Russia and China?

The end of the Cold War allowed scholars to study long-secret archives in formerly Communist countries. In 1996 the historian Melvyn Leffler summarized their first wave of research. His review depicts a world quite different from the one Foster and Allen saw.

Soviet leaders were not focused on promoting worldwide revolution. They were concerned mostly with configurations of power, with protecting their country’s immediate periphery, ensuring its security, and preserving their rule. Governing a land devastated by two world wars, they feared a resurgence of German and Japanese strength. They felt threatened by the United States, that alone among the combatants emerged from the war wealthier and armed with the atomic bomb. Soviet officials did not have pre-conceived plans to make Eastern Europe communist, to support the Chinese communists, or to wage war in Korea…

Which leads to the question – what is going on now?   Are the motivations similar for Putin?

As for China:

Nearly everyone in Washington still believed that China and the Soviet Union were marching in lockstep, rather than careening toward a bitter split. The dismissal of the State Department’s senior East Asia experts, and their replacement by “China Lobby” partisans, left no one to explain subtleties or argue for a diplomatic overture.

This is the odd thing about American foreign policy. They get an idea in their heads and nothing, no reality on the ground will shift it, no matter how much their position denies common sense and reason.
For example they got it wrong with Russia’s intentions and very wrong on the relationship between Russia and China. Much later consider how blinkered they were on Saddam Hussein and WMDs.



But sometimes Foster could see another side to Communist leaders.

Yet a few years after taking power, Tito broke with Moscow. “No matter how much each of us loves the land of socialism, the USSR, he can in no case love his own country less,” he wrote in a letter to Stalin. For the first time, Foster considered the possibility that a Communist leader might also be a genuine nationalist, and not necessarily Moscow’s lackey. At the end of 1955 he travelled to Yugoslavia to meet Tito. They sat on a terrace at Tito’s villa on the Adriatic island of Brioni. During their talk, according to one account, Foster “became convinced once and for all of the Yugoslav commitment to independence”.

That view pertained all along and in the 60s I was to be directly affected by it. In mid 60s working in Ankara a friend and I wanted to drive his new car back to Turkey from UK. There was a problem though. Positively vetted military personnel visiting communist countries was deemed to be very risky. A ruling was sought from the boss of our organisation, an American 2-star general.   Yugoslavia he said was the exception because it was deemed to be “communist light”

Their mistakes

Soon after they became secretary of state and director of central intelligence, Foster and Allen failed their first conceptual test. Stalin died in Moscow on March 5, 1953, and in the months and years that followed, his successors made periodic overtures to the West. Foster and Allen categorically rejected them. They considered each Soviet call for “peaceful coexistence” a ruse designed to lull Americans into a false sense of security. By failing to explore possibilities for a new superpower relationship in the period after Stalin’s death, the Dulles brothers may have sharpened and lengthened the Cold War.

Their next great failure of imagination was their inability to understand Third World nationalism. They were too quick to see Moscow’s hand behind cries for independence and social reform in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. These continents were to them little more than a vast Cold War battleground. They never sought to engage creatively with the aspirations of hundreds of millions of people who were emerging from colonialism and looking for their place in a tumultuous world. Instead they waged destructive campaigns against foreign “monsters” who never truly threatened the United States.

Historians have recognized these two far-reaching lapses in judgment. A third has become clear with the passage of time. Foster and Allen never imagined that their intervention in foreign countries would have such devastating long-term effects— that Vietnam would be plunged into a war costing more than one million lives, for example, or that Iran would fall to violently anti-American zealots, or that the Congo would descend into decades of horrific conflict. They had no notion of “blowback.” Their lack of foresight led them to pursue reckless adventures that, over the course of decades, palpably weakened American security.

Looking back, the assertion is that there was no grand plan for world domination by communism, nor was there the ability, especially from a country like Russia brought to its knees by the costs of two world wars and a revolution.   But rhetoric like this had influence well beyond the shores of America.

As children growing up in the Cold War we came to believe we were only a whisker away from being annihilated by nuclear attack.   And when the Cuba crisis arose, nerves were never so on edge.   In my early days here in Turkey, we had it constantly drummed into us by our military masters that the threat was only a few hundred kilometres to the north and we should be ever-vigilant.   As young positively vetted unmarried airmen we were considered especially vulnerable and a close eye was kept on us at all times.

The consequences of this wild hyperbole

The American people were easily led into believing this wild hyperbole – for reasons that Kinzer summaries neatly at the end of the book – and it spread throughout the world.   The upshot that nothing – nothing at all – was off limits when it came to combating this supposed threat.   Overthrowing regimes that might be leaning towards communism or might not be able to resist a communist bid – well that was fine. Consider this justification for overthrowing Mossadegh:

Even before Eisenhower took office, however, members of his incoming administration had begun discussions with agents of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service about a plot against Mossadegh. Their interlocutor was Christopher Montague Woodhouse, a former chief of the British intelligence station in Tehran, who made a secret trip to Washington soon after the election. At the State Department and again at the CIA, he argued that Mossadegh should be overthrown not as punishment for seizing Britain’s oil company, but because he had become too weak to resist a possible Soviet-backed coup.

Later on it was the so called domino effect: if one Far East country falls they will all fall so let’s nip it in the bud whatever the cost.

The answer was what he called the “domino theory.” If the communist forces won uncontested control over Indochina or any substantial part thereof, they would surely resume the same pattern of aggression against the other free people in the area… The entire western Pacific area, including the so- called “offshore island chain,” would be strategically endangered… The imposition on southeast Asia of the political system of communist Russia and its Chinese ally, by whatever means, would be a grave threat to the free community. The United States feels that possibility should not be passively accepted, but should be met by united action. This might involve serious risks. But the risks are far less than those that will face us a few years from now if we dare not be resolute today.

And if you are not with us then you are against us:

“In Czechoslovakia, the government appointed a communist interior minister, and then one day there was a reshuffle and suddenly the communists were in power,” one CIA veteran recalled years later. “The lesson we drew was that you can’t let any communist into power in any position, because somehow that would be used to take over the government. And if a country didn’t follow that rule, it became our enemy.”

It even applied to allies and friends

Street fighting was still raging in Budapest when, on October 29, the British, French, and Israelis launched their invasion of Egypt. Anti-colonial outrage erupted across the Middle East and beyond. Eisenhower was furious, partly because he wished to see an end to European power in the Middle East in order to open the region to American influence. He began what turned out to be a successful effort to force the British, French, and Israelis to withdraw from Egypt.

The behaviour of Eisenhower

Careful, so careful, not to implicate himself but everything done on a nod and a faint wink.

Eisenhower’s “New Look” policy had three components: a smaller army, nuclear deterrence, and covert action. The first two were public. Few knew about the third.

I did wonder why Eisenhower was so loyal to these two.   Did Allen have something on Eisenhower?

The open cheques they were given

Not only was it on the basis of a nod and a wink, but the cheque was blank in every sense, financial as well as tactically.

Eisenhower agreed. He was determined to confront Ho. So were his secretary of state and director of central intelligence. The question was not whether they would fight, but how. Foster and Allen decided to try the same brotherly combination that had succeeded in Iran and Guatemala. One would orchestrate political and diplomatic pressure on Ho Chi Minh while the other launched a covert war. They gave themselves authority in a directive they wrote and the National Security Council approved: “The Director of Central Intelligence, in collaboration with other appropriate departments and agencies, should develop plans, as suggested by the Secretary of State, for certain contingencies in Indochina”.


Their six campaigns

The Dulles brothers struck against Mossadegh and Arbenz for reasons that stretched back to their Sullivan & Cromwell days. Their third target, Ho Chi Minh, was a lifelong communist. Sukarno was different. Panic, ignorance, and stubbornness led Foster and Allen to attack a leader who posed no real threat to American security. Sukarno warned them not to try placing Indonesians into “neat, orderly Western pigeon holes,” but their every impulse pushed them to do so. They never sought to understand Sukarno or Indonesian nationalism.

Cuba and Castro.

Eisenhower launched the anti-Castro operation with determination and focused enthusiasm. He gave his orders directly to Allen and Bissell. “There was an informal but understood short cut in the chain of command,” an internal CIA history later concluded. “Basic decisions were made at the DDP, DCI, or Presidential level.” Allen presented “A Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime,” written by Bissell, to a combined meeting of the Special Group and the National Security Council on March 17, 1960. It proposed a multi-stage operation “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the US, in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of US intervention.”

With that, Eisenhower made the overthrow of Castro an official though secret U.S. policy goal.

This was the summer when Eisenhower did twice what no previous American president is known* ever to have done: approve plans to assassinate a foreign leader. In accordance with ancient principles of statecraft, Eisenhower never explicitly decreed anyone’s death. Understandings of his intent emerged from private conversations he had with Allen, and from his veiled comments at small meetings. Castro was the first he seemed to sentence. On May 13, 1960, after a briefing from Allen, Eisenhower told the Special Group he wanted the Cuban leader “sawed off.” His second target, Lumumba, had not yet risen to power.

* note the known – maybe others did but not known.

Kennedy had doubts about the invasion plan, and Bissell accommodated each of them. The plan called for exiles to land near a town below the rugged Escambray Mountains, but Kennedy feared this would be too “noisy.” Bissell satisfied him by choosing a remote beach one hundred miles eastward, at the Bay of Pigs. When Kennedy worried that using sixteen disguised planes for the first wave of air strikes would increase the odds that the CIA’s role would become clear, Bissell agreed to cut the fleet to eight. Kennedy insisted that the United States military must not be involved; Bissell assured him this would not be necessary.

Historians have long wondered why Bissell allowed the operation to proceed despite these major changes, rather than telling Kennedy that they greatly reduced the chances for success. “[He] still thought it would succeed, even as modified,” one historian has written. “Personal pride and ambition, too, may have encouraged Bissell to accept mounting changes and risks. His reputation in the CIA and the Kennedy administration was riding on this operation, as was his position as Allen Dulles’s heir-apparent. To cancel would have been equivalent to a forfeit. Nothing in Bissell’s character suggests this would have been an acceptable outcome to him. Another possible reason … was that Bissell assumed President Kennedy would not let it fail— would do, that is, whatever was necessary to make it succeed, even if that meant sending US military forces to the rescue. Yet another possibility: Bissell assumed the Mafia would finally get its act together and take out Castro before, or coincident with, the invasion.”

(Kinzer, Stephen (2013-10-01). The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (pp. 298-299). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)


One of the farthest reaching projects Allen directed during this period was the creation of underground armies in Europe that would be ready to rebel and spread terror in case of Soviet invasion or the election of leftist governments. The CIA created these clandestine networks— collectively known as “Gladio,” after the name the force was given in Italy— in fifteen countries, sometimes with help from the British secret service MI-6. William Colby, a CIA officer who helped run the project, later wrote that to be sure fighters were properly armed, “specialized equipment had to be secured from CIA and secretly cached.” In 2000, a report to the Italian parliament concluded that some of the killings and bombings that threw Italy into turmoil during previous decades had been perpetrated by “men linked to the structures of United States intelligence.” Not until 2005 did the first serious studies of Gladio appear. In one of them, the Swiss scholar Daniele Ganser reported that in eight of the fifteen countries where the CIA shaped “stay-behind” armies— Italy, Turkey, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Sweden—“ links to terrorism have been either confirmed or claimed.”

This came up in recent memory here – weren’t the Ergenokon accusations centres on the Turkish deep state version of Gladio?

The Reasons the Brothers Behaved as they Did

In the twenty-first century, discoveries about how the brain works set off a mini-boom of books seeking to convey these discoveries to lay readers. They comprise a leap in understanding —not simply of psychology and human behaviour, but of a force that, at times, influences world history. The Cold War was one of those times. All of these observations, made by scientists and researchers, are strongly applicable to the Dulles brothers.

  • People are motivated to accept accounts that fit with their pre-existing convictions; acceptance of those accounts makes them feel better, and acceptance of competing claims makes them feel worse.
  • Dissonance is eliminated when we blind ourselves to contradictory propositions. And we are prepared to pay a very high price to preserve our most cherished ideas.
  • Moral hypocrisy is a deep part of our nature: the tendency to judge others more harshly for some moral infraction than we judge ourselves.
  • Groupthink leads to many problems of defective decision making, including incomplete survey of alternatives and objectives, failure to examine the risks of the preferred choice, poor information search, selective bias in processing information, and failure to assess alternatives.
  • We are often confident even when we are wrong… Declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.
  • Certain beliefs are so important for a society or group that they become part of how you prove your identity… The truth is that our minds just aren’t set up to be changed by mere evidence.

Some of this sounds familiar to someone who wrote reports designed to persuade politically biased committees to go in one direction or the other. One always had the trappings of balance “on the other hand it may be thought that…” but ultimately the trick was to sing the song the committee wanted to hear.

A fictional product of the Dulles era, Rabbit Angstrom, is the central character in a series of novels by John Updike. In Rabbit Redux, Angstrom marvels at America’s role in the world. “America is beyond power, it acts as in a dream, as a face of God,” he reflects. “Wherever America is, there is freedom, and wherever America is not, madness rules with chains and darkness strangles millions.” Foster and Allen saw the world this way. Their radiant self-image was ultimate justification for everything they did. Why did they do it? Part of the answer lies in their personal backgrounds, part in the realm of psychology. The most important explanation, however, may be: they did it because they are us. If they were short-sighted, open to violence, and blind to the subtle realities of the world, it was because those qualities help define American foreign policy and the United States itself. The Dulles brothers personified ideals and traits that many Americans shared during the 1950s, and still share.

They did not colonize America’s mind or hijack United States foreign policy. On the contrary, they embodied the national ethos. What they wanted, Americans wanted.

Nor was the Dulles brothers’ exaggeration of threats something new in American history. Conspiracy theories are as old as the Republic. Most of them posit a secret cabal – Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Masons, anarchists, bankers – that plots world revolution. Foster and Allen saw such a cabal during the 1950s. “International communism is a conspiracy composed of a certain number of people, all of whose names I do not know, and many of whom I suppose are secret,” Foster once told a congressional committee. “They have gotten control of one government after another.” No secret group hovered above and manipulated nations during the 1950s. Believing it, however, comforted Americans.

Theorists in various eras have suggested that nations need enemies in order to maintain cohesiveness and inner strength. Foster deeply believed this. He encouraged “preparedness” projects like building bomb shelters and holding air raid drills, and conveyed the scope of the threat by authorizing live television broadcast of nuclear weapons tests in the Nevada desert. America’s state of fear during the 1950s was to him not a regrettable by-product of the Cold War but a prerequisite for victory.

There was one other component to freedom as Foster and Allen saw it: religion. Countries that encouraged religious devotion, and that were led by men on good terms with Christian clerics, were to them free countries. Using these two criteria – attitude toward business and attitude toward religion – they conjured an explanation of why they condemned some dictatorships but not others.

Americans are not patient by nature. When faced with a challenge or problem, our impulse is to act. We like to do things, not understand things. Reality does not limit our ambition. In fact, we are sometimes tempted to believe we can reshape reality to fit our needs. This is another national trait that Foster and Allen perfectly embodied.

Their approach to Vietnam was one example. In the mid-1950s Winston Churchill advised his American friends to recognize that Ho Chi Minh was unbeatable, accept his victory, and try to make the best of it. This the Dulles brothers could not do – because they were Americans. Churchill had on his side only negative, depressive, defeatist Old World reality. Foster and Allen counted on something they considered more powerful: the genius of America. They believed that their country’s vast resources, focused energy, endless ingenuity, and sheer material power would allow it to achieve what others could not. This optimism, somewhere between creative and delusional, was not simply a peculiar product of summers with “Grandfather Foster” and decades at Sullivan & Cromwell. It was and is central to the idea of America.

Foster and Allen could not allow history to prove them wrong, so they set out to change it. Lashing out against real or imagined enemies, as they did, is typically American. Quietly watching history unfold is not.

Americans often find it difficult to imagine how other people see the United States, the world, or life itself. Foster and Allen exemplified this national egoism. Empathy was beyond their emotional range.

The half century of history that has unfolded since Foster and Allen passed from the scene suggests that they share responsibility for much that has gone wrong in the world. The blame, however, does not end with them. To gaze at their portraits and think, “They did it,” would be reassuring. It would also be unfair. Americans who seek to understand the roots of their country’s trouble in the world should look not at Foster and Allen’s portraits but in a mirror.

The story of the Dulles brothers is the story of America. Their determination to project power was the same impulse that pushed settlers across prairies and over mountains, wrested rich territories from Mexico, crushed Native American resistance, and drew the United States into wars from Central America to Siberia. It remains potent. As long as Americans believe their country has vital interests everywhere on earth, they will be led by people who believe the same.

One way to bring Americans to reflect on their past – and future – would be to revive memory of the Dulles brothers. Their actions frame the grand debate over America’s role in the world that has never been truly joined in the United States. Fundamental assumptions that guide American foreign policy have not changed substantially since the era when they were in power. Many Americans still celebrate their country’s providential “exceptionalism.”

The Dulles brothers’ approach to the world did not work out well for the United States. As a result, they have faded from national memory. Rather than forget or vilify them, however, Americans should embrace them. Their stories are full of deep meaning for the United States. They are us. We are them.


What of Today

Can it be possible that we are living through another one of these self-induced nightmares: only this time the threat is not communism but radical Islam.   Is this any more real and genuine than the threat of communism or nuclear annihilation The Brothers thought they saw in the 50s. Should we all be trotting along behind America trying to police the world? Is Russia any more of a threat now than it was then? What of China? Are they a threat in any other way apart from economic and is that a threat anyway?

As Kinzer concludes in his recent article for The History Reader http://www.thehistoryreader.com/contemporary-history/dulles-brothers-airport-bust/ :

The Dulles brothers have profound lessons to teach us, and I wrote of their historical impact to suggest what those are. While it is modestly gratifying to see that my work potentially served to relocate the bust, its larger message – that charging recklessly into faraway lands is dangerous -remains largely unheard. Only when the United States replaces utopian interventionism with a prudently modest approach to the world will the Dulles era be truly over.



Glorious Victory by Diego Rivera

The Dulles Brothers and the Airport Bust

Posted on January 5, 2015

by Stephen Kinzer

Who cares what is written in a book about dead people? Biographers may be pardoned for asking us that question; however, I came to find that my own research into the lives of the Dulles brothers has had a concrete, tangible effect that I never anticipated.
My investigations laid the groundwork for a delightful opening to my book The Brothers, where I explain that as Dulles International Airport opened in 1962, a bust of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was placed at the centre of the terminal, but that the bust was later moved to a closed conference room out of public view. During my promotional tour, I often began my presentations by telling that same story. I intended it to show how fully John Foster Dulles has faded from our national memory.  During the 1950s, Dulles and his brother Allen, director of the CIA, used their vast power to throw countries from Iran to Indonesia into chaos. Most literate human beings on the face of the earth knew the name “Dulles”, and many feared the violent threat it represented. Today, the Dulles brothers are largely forgotten. That reflects our eagerness to airbrush from our history figures whose policies worked out badly for the United States and the world.


Photograph of the author with a painting of John F. Dulles. Image credit: James Linkin/Caucus.

After several months of leading with the tale of the disappearing bust in dozens of speeches and interviews, a friend called me with an amazing piece of news—he had just passed through Dulles Airport and seen the bust of John Foster Dulles. I later confirmed that it has been removed from its hiding place and returned to public display. It’s not back at the centre of the airport, but in one of the halls through which arriving travellers pass after leaving their planes. Just as there was no explanation of how the bust disappeared in the 1990s, there was no public announcement of the decision to return it to view. I dare to suspect, however, that it had something to do with my resurrection of their memory. Perhaps someone who read my book, or heard one of my speeches or interviews, concluded that it was wrong for a bust of the airport’s namesake to be hidden away, and helped arrange for it to be moved to a place where people could see it.

My first reaction to this news was to congratulate myself. Moving the Dulles bust is hardly a major act of public policy, but it seemed to suggest that biographies can have some impact, however small or symbolic. After a while, however, my view began to change. I’m no longer sure that my role in this act – if I did have a role – contributed to a broader understanding of American history. I still believe that the Dulles brothers deserve a larger role in our modern narrative, but placing the bust of the elder brother back on public view strips their story of essential context. Passers-by may have no idea of the havoc they wreaked.  I wrote The Brothers in an effort to show how mistaken their approach to the world was, and how much harm it caused to both the nations they targeted and to the United States itself. None of that is clear when one walks past the bust. I fear that instead, travellers may assume John Foster Dulles was a far-seeing secretary of state who deserves an honoured place in the American pantheon.

I am left conflicted by this turn of events. It’s gratifying to know—or suspect—that we biographers could move someone to action. I’m not at all sure, though, that this action contributed to the cause of historical truth.

Especially disturbing is the fact that this bust was placed back on public view at a time when the United States seems to have reverted to some of the worst habits of the Dulles era. When President George W. Bush placed three countries he disliked into an “axis of evil,” he was echoing one of the Dulles brothers’ most pernicious principles: that any nation failing to embrace American policies is automatically some kind of enemy. The idea that we should allow countries to find their own way, which was anathema to the Dulles brothers, remains difficult for some of our leaders to accept. We have adopted our own standards for what kinds of behaviour we will and will not accept from other countries, and have harshly punished leaders who defy us. Our resurgent interventionism is at least partly to blame for the effective collapse of at least four countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. None was led by gentle or virtuous men, but millions of their citizens now suffer more painfully than they did before. They are modern counterparts of the Guatemalans and Vietnamese who were killed or found their lives devastated after interventions directed by the Dulles brothers.

It is bad enough that the world is still trying to repair the consequences of coups and wars the Dulles brothers orchestrated. Worse is that we are continuing to carry out interventions whose effects will plague future generations. The impulse is easy to understand. American leaders are persuaded, or persuade themselves, that our country faces an imminent threat to its survival. By whatever name – communism during the Dulles era, terrorism today – this threat is seen as so urgent that all means are justified in the fight to crush it. Even if we realize that our tactics may have bad long-term consequences, we press ahead because we are so terrified by what we see as the immediate threat. Our relative youth as a nation, and our inbred conviction that we can deal with whatever trouble the future holds, leads us to minimize long-term dangers.

Misjudgements by John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles during the 1950s led to gradual weakening of American strategic power. Since the beginning of the new century, we have made a series of remarkably similar misjudgements. We still imagine that people everywhere want, or should want, to be like us, support us, and cheer us. When they do not, we consider them potential enemies.

The Dulles brothers have profound lessons to teach us, and I wrote of their historical impact to suggest what those are. While it is modestly gratifying to see that my work potentially served to relocate the bust, its larger message – that charging recklessly into faraway lands is dangerous – remains largely unheard. Only when the United States replaces utopian interventionism with a prudently modest approach to the world will the Dulles era be truly over.

STEPHEN KINZER is the author of Reset, Overthrow, All the Shah’s Men, and numerous other books. An award-winning foreign correspondent, he served as the bureau chief for the New York Times in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua and as the Boston Globe’s Latin American correspondent. He is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, contributes to The New York Review of Books, and writes a column on world affairs for The Guardian. He lives in Boston. His latest book is The Brothers.

Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950

“Salonica, located in northern Greece, was long a fascinating crossroads metropolis of different religions and ethnicities, where Egyptian merchants, Spanish Jews, Orthodox Greeks, Sufi dervishes, and Albanian brigands all rubbed shoulders. Tensions sometimes flared, but tolerance largely prevailed until the twentieth century when the Greek army marched in, Muslims were forced out, and the Nazis deported and killed the Jews. As the acclaimed historian Mark Mazower follows the city’s inhabitants through plague, invasion, famine, and the disastrous twentieth century, he resurrects a fascinating and vanished world.”

 In general the book was thought highly interesting and, although very detailed, highly readable. Continue reading Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950

POISONED WELLS: the Dirty Politics of African Oil

by Nicholas Shaxson

In March 2014 H3A’s non-fiction reading group discussed Nicholas Shaxson’s narrative based on his personal experiences as a journalist in Africa.

According to one reader the book’s core message could be summarized as follows: discovering oil in your backyard can be more of a curse than a blessing. Having said that this reader thought that Nicholas Shaxson’s review of the problems that the discovery of oil brought to the nations of West Africa ran into each other given those at the bottom of the social order were impoverished by the relentless cynicism of local politicians and generals with whom oil companies and Western politicians alike colluded, each for their own benefit. The book is reminiscent of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 in which the Bush family’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is laid bare to devastating effect. It also raised the question of Niall Ferguson’s six Killer Apps, none of which appear to flourish in any shape or form in west Africa’s ‘oil rich soil’, bringing to mind Ferguson’s conclusion that all is not yet lost for the West particularly as his apps do not seem to be taking root in the so-called BRICS countries either.

Continue reading POISONED WELLS: the Dirty Politics of African Oil