SOMOZAS, SANDINISTAS, CONTRAS, AND US
(the whole story, consisting of grand themes
and unremarkable illustrations)
Copyright © 1990, by Bill Becker
West Hills, CA
This essay arose from a talk given at Fullerton Unitarian Church, Fullerton, California, November 11, 1990.
It has been slightly reformatted and revised for this website publication, February 2004.
Citations are embedded in the text, close to the material stated or quoted. They are designated thus:
"[*citation here *]".
I provide an ENDNOTE section for a more in-depth discussion of certain topics
presented in the essay. They are referenced by a superscripted
"n" where "n" is the number
of the endonote. E.g.: Endnote number one.1
I have not provided back-and-forth links between superscripts and endnotes.
Let me begin with a very short discussion of Nicaraguan history prior to July 19, 1979.
I will omit the details of earlier U.S. interference in Nicaraguan life, except to say that
it began about 1850, and extended, with a few brief interruptions, until 1933. Then, after
proving unable to defeat a guerrilla movement led by the Nicaraguan nationalist Augusto
Sandino—from whom the Sandinistas have taken their name—the U.S. Marines withdrew from
Nicaragua, leaving it in the able hands of General Anastasio Somoza Garcia and his National Guard.
The General, with the Guard's help, assassinated Sandino under color of peace negotiations,
muscled out the civilian government, and founded the impeccably anti-communist Somoza family
dynasty, which enjoyed unstinting U.S. support from all U.S. presidents until Jimmy Carter.
By the late-70s the dynasty, then headed by West Point graduate Anastasio Somoza Debayle, had
become so corrupt and brutal that everyone, it is said, except his family, his mistress, and the
Guard agreed that he had to go. And he finally went, somewhat reluctantly, in the face of a
popular insurrection. He left behind a Nicaragua in which, according to the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights:
"half the population lived in a state of absolute poverty. Absolute poverty, the product of poor distribution of
wealth, has been defined as 'a condition of life so limited by malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, low life
expectancy, and high infant mortality as to be below any rational definition of human decency.'"
[*IACHR "Report on the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua," No.7, p. 151, June 30, 1981. Cited in "Report of
the Amnesty International Missions to the Republic of Nicaragua," August 1979, January 1980 and August
1980, p. 43. *]
The Sandinistas had opposed Somoza since 1961, with daring military actions and educational programs in the campo.
When Somoza fell, they were ideally situated to assume control of the effort to rebuild Nicaragua. Those who
followed the situation know that after they took power, the Sandinistas made impressive progress toward
reversing the conditions Somoza left behind.
They launched a massive literacy campaign, brought health care to thousands who had never seen the inside of a
clinic (eliminating polio in the process), and distributed land to peasants whose only prior privilege had been
to work the patron's finca at starvation wages, if they were lucky.
The Sandinistas held fast to a "preferential option for the poor," and to the "logic of the majority." The
British-based aid agency OXFAM, which helps third world nations with their development projects, said that the
Sandinistas had fulfilled their promises better than any revolutionary government in its experience. According to
a confidential memo from the office of the U.S. executive director to the World Bank, "project implementation has
been extraordinarily successful in Nicaragua in some sectors, better than anywhere else in the world."
[* Peter Kornbluh, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, Sept. 4-10, 1989, p. 23. *]
It is also undisputed that the Sandinistas released hundreds of captured National Guardsmen for lack of evidence
that they had committed crimes against the Nicaraguan people, and that many of those same men later joined
President Reagan's "freedom fighters" (commonly called "contras," and led by Guard officers who had escaped to
Honduras). After returning to Nicaragua their revenge took the form of just such crimes, or worse, as they had
earlier been acquitted of.1
The record also shows that in the Nicaraguan election of 1984, 91% of those eligible to vote cast a truly secret
ballot. And, of those, 67% voted for Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas to continue building a new Nicaragua.
[*THE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN NICARAGUA: DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCES, The Report of the Latin American
Studies Association Delegation to Observe the Nicaraguan General Election of November 4, 1984, p.17. Two
conservative opposition parties, each very critical of the Sandinistas, together won 23 of the National Assembly's 96
seats, the second largest bloc after the Sandinistas' 61 seats. Virgilio Godoy, elected this year as Nicaragua's
Vice-president, was himself seated in the National Assembly by virtue of being the presidential candidate of a losing
party in the 1984 election (PLI). The two communist parties, also very critical of the Sandinistas, together won 4
The 1984 election was closely monitored by international experts in electoral process, and was deemed by them to
be fair and open. Consequently, their views were almost completely ignored in subsequent mainstream reporting
on Nicaraguan democracy. Washington pretended the election never took place rather than risk ridicule by
attempting to discredit it.
Two days after 61% of Nicaragua's eligible voters returned the Sandinistas to power, 31% of America's eligible
voters re-elected Ronald Reagan president. [* "An American Habit: Shunning the Ballot Box,"
by Michael Oreskes. New York Times, January 31, 1988. *] Reagan, of course, saw this 31% as a mandate to
continue pursuing his most cherished dream—to eliminate the Sandinistas. The contra war he unleashed in 1981
continued, if anything more intensely so as to punish the Nicaraguan people for not kowtowing to Washington.
By now, only the most self-centered yuppies, survival-oriented ghetto-dwellers, and, it appears, more than a
few editorial writers are unaware of the agony and deprivation suffered by the campesinos and peasants of
Nicaragua through Reagan's "Low Intensity Conflict." "Low Intensity Conflict" consists precisely of such tactics
as the atrocious murder of civilians, and the destruction of agricultural cooperatives, health clinics, and
Reporter Christopher Dickey relates the unexpected experience of Sister Lisa Fitzgerald of Troy, New York, who was
in Nicaragua helping residents of the Jalapa region with their spiritual and practical needs—and responding to
victims of contra attacks. "I'd never taken shrapnel out of a woman's back. I'd never seen kids full of
shrapnel," she said. [*"With the Contras," p. 139. Christopher Dickey, Touchstone/Simon &
Schuster, 1987 *]
Reed Brody, former Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York, after a fact-finding mission to
Nicaragua, reports the story of the mother who searched for her husband and five children the day after contras
led them from their home. She found the children, all dead, about 50 yards from the house. "They were left all
cut up," she testified. "Their ears were pulled off, their noses and other parts were cut off." [*"CONTRA
TERROR IN NICARAGUA, Report of a Fact Finding Mission: September 1984-January 1985" p. 63. Reed Brody, South
End Press, 1985. *]
The children's father, who they also killed, was a Delegate of the Word. As such, he was committed to
liberation theology, one of the few exercises of religion so far which has promoted effective
empowerment of the poor through education and cooperative effort.
Perhaps the contras felt the children deserved this special fate just because of their father's role. After
all, liberation theology had filled the heads of poor campesinos with inflated ideas about their true worth,
leading them to make unreasonable demands on those to whom they should be grateful instead—namely the wealthy
landowners who provided them with work. What if these children came to see their father as a hero, someone to
emulate? Why not kill them now, so they can't cause trouble later? And, doesn't leaving the mother alive to
remember the agony of that day add to the satisfaction of a successful skirmish against the communists? The
naive norteamericanos, for all their talk about human rights, don't understand these things. Besides, few of
those norteamericanos are all that concerned about human rights anyway.
Finally, with a trade embargo added to the "freedom fighters'" tactics, the Nicaraguan economy was reduced to
a basket case. Malnutrition and diseases the Sandinistas had wiped out in the early days of the revolution
made a comeback, and there was no letup to the misery in sight. [*Reagan's vendetta against the
Nicaraguans even extended to attempts to stop, or at least delay, humanitarian assistance from U.S. private
aid groups to Nicaraguan victims of Hurricane Joan. "Thanks for Nothing," editorial, Los Angeles Times,
November 1, 1988 *]
This was Nicaragua as it prepared for the February (1990) election, and this was the background for President
Bush's unequivocal message to the Nicaraguan people: VOTE FOR DOÑA VIOLETTA AND THE WAR WILL STOP.
Senator Joseph Biden once asked Elliot Abrams (Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs) how long
it would take the contras to win in Nicaragua. "We think it will take two to four years," replied Abrams.
Almost exactly 3 years later, February 25, 1990, election day in Nicaragua, Abrams' prophesy was fulfilled.
[*"U.S. Official Says Contras Can Win in 2 to 4 Years," by Doyle McManus, dateline Washington, Los Angeles
Times, February 6, 1987.*]
Two days later, the Los Angeles Times editorialist rhapsodized in response to Doña Violetta's victory at the
"And so in one sunny and bold stroke, the people of Nicaragua have seemingly managed to achieve the goal that
has so long eluded Washington and the Contras: the removal of the Sandinistas from power. ... Let us simply
congratulate the Nicaraguan people on their good judgment and decisiveness."
[*"The Triumph of Democracy," Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1990. *]
What must this writer have thought of the barely fewer than 40% who voted for the Sandinistas in spite of the
certainty that continued suffering would follow? Did they show that poor judgment so often attributed to those
who stand up for their beliefs against long and dangerous odds? Actually, "good judgment and decisiveness," here
intended as a compliment, instead masks a subtle variety of racism—disguised as paternal concern for the
victim—that usually sides with the bully.
40% voter support for the Sandinistas, under the circumstances in which the election took place, indicates a very
strong likelihood, if not a virtual certainty, that Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas would have been returned to
power by a large margin had there been no war and no trade embargo. 2
WOULD ANYTHING HAVE SUFFICED?
Monday-morning quarterbacking of the election by the Sandinistas and everyone else aside, they could have done
nothing whatever to change the outcome. The Reagan/Bush obsession with removing them admitted of no possible
their part short of political suicide (physical suicide being too unrealistic a demand even for Reagan's
ideologues). As one Sandinista official told our Witness for Peace election delegation, "the game was one in
which the White House continually moved the goalpost whenever we were on the verge of scoring." A review of the
history of U.S.-Sandinista relations will confirm his point.
THE FOURTH ESTATE
During this 10-year history the mainstream press and its contributors never committed the heresy of giving the
Sandinistas their due—the first rule of fair play. Leaving aside the many instances of mainstream reporting
on the Sandinistas that would do the CIA propagandist proud, to my knowledge there has never been a single
mainstream analysis about what the revolution's course might have been if Washington had decided to accept the
Sandinistas, even if reluctantly.
Where has there been an extrapolation of the early achievements of the revolution, based on an assumption that
Washington had not blocked development loans from the international lending institutions?
What if U.S. multinationals had been allowed to buy Nicaraguan cotton, tobacco, beef, bananas, coffee, beer, and
rum? Everyone in Nicaragua would benefit from the sale of export products, whether they came from a Sandinista
cooperative or from one of the far more numerous private producers that the Sandinistas had gone many extra miles
We have never heard the pundits ask what Nicaragua would be like today had Washington accepted the Sandinistas'
preferential option for the poor, and offered medical equipment and personnel so as to expand such successful
programs as the mass inoculations that wiped out polio and whooping cough.
What if President Reagan had sent down Peace Corps volunteers to help with the literacy campaign? What might
Nicaragua's youth be accomplishing today if they had been able to complete their educations instead of having to
defend the nation against the contras?
There would still have been mistakes, of course, and doubtless Nicaragua would still be struggling. But, I have
no trouble imagining, under those conditions, a Nicaragua with a fairly healthy and literate population, and a
brighter future than any other Central American country—with the possible, but by no means certain exception of
the "Switzerland of Central America," Costa Rica. Moreover, Nicaragua would have quickly become a solid friend of
the United States.
(The Sandinista experiment, with its emphasis on public services and government control of important functions such
as banking, has a close Central American parallel in Costa Rica's political economy. President Reagan's readiness to
destroy the Costa Rican democracy, by turning Costa Rica into a southern clone of Honduras, indicates the loathing he
and his patrons, the American business class, felt for any successful "welfare state" in this hemisphere. Alignment
with Moscow had nothing to do with it.)
But, given their habit of following Washington's lead in foreign affairs, such an independent line of inquiry is
literally unthinkable by mainstream reporters, columnists and editorialists. In a nation where no journalists
are jailed, tortured, or killed for reporting contrary to the government agenda, this failure is a scandal in
Now, it may seem here that I must have just fallen off the turnip truck. Am I so naive as to be unaware of the
reasons why President Reagan felt he could not allow the Sandinistas to survive? Don't I realize that the
Sandinistas were "exporting revolution" to their Central American neighbor states, and that they were stalking
horses for a Soviet takeover of this hemisphere?
I will not dwell on the issue of a Sandinista arms pipeline to the Salvadoran guerrillas, except to say that David
MacMichael, the veteran analyst chosen by the CIA to prove the existence of the arms flow, was fired when he
reported that the small flow that had existed was cut off in 1981. (MacMichael, along with other former CIA
officers and covert action specialists, formed the Association of National Security Alumni a few years ago, and
are very active in opposition to the foreign policy they once helped to manage.) Nor will I comment on whether
oppressed and brutalized peoples need anyone else to inform them of their options. Nor will I dwell on the fact
that the Sandinistas had offered several times to meet all legitimate security concerns of the U.S. and their
neighbors, and that these offers were completely ignored by the Reagan/Bush administration. Let us look instead
at the so-called "Soviet threat."
THE SOVIET TRHEAT
The "Soviet threat" has been an article of faith for Washington and millions of well-meaning Americans since
1917. And, while only such patriots as Senator Jesse Helms have embraced the likes of Salvadoran anti-communist
Roberto ("Blowtorch Bob") d'Auboisson, or the Salvadoran military as model democrats and all-around nice guys,
most of us have been loath to undercut by word or deed whomever pledges to prevent the tiniest germ of socialist
or communist thought from taking root in our "back yard." Were we to do so, we were told, the combines that
harvest Iowa's wheat would soon be Russian.
But, not everyone believed. In 1979, at a conference held at the U.S. Army War College, some 20 non-believers,
leading specialists on the Soviet Union, concluded that "The influence of the Soviet Union remains limited. ...
U.S. policymakers should not overestimate the Soviet Union's appeal." [*'"The Soviet Union in the Third World:
Success and Failures," Robert H. Donaldson, ed. (Boulder CO, Westview Press, 1981), frontispiece. The conference
was held under the auspices of the Strategic Studies Institute.' Cited in "Betraying the National Interest,"
Lappé, Schurman & Danaher, Grove Press, 1987, p. 147. *]
According to one 1986 study, Soviet influence was then substantial in only 11% of the world's nations, down from
a high of 15% in 1950. [*'"Soviet Geopolitical Momentum: Myth or Menace? Trends of Soviet Influence Around
the World From 1945 to 1986," The Defense Monitor, vol. 15, no. 5, 1986, p.1.' Ibid. *]
Richard J. Barnet writes: "Soviet influence in the Third World is near an all-time low. The Soviet economic
model is neither widely admired nor widely imitated." [*"Why Trust the Soviets?" in WORLD POLICY JOURNAL,
p. 476," Lappé, et. al., p. 147 *]
Sovietologist Jerry F. Hough, of Duke University and the Brookings Institution—hardly bastions of left-wing
political persuasion—challenges the received truth that third world revolutionary movements that accept help from
the Soviet Union automatically become steadfast Soviet allies, and mimic Soviet communism:
"Paradoxically, [this] old Stalinist orthodoxy that has been almost universally abandoned in the Soviet Union
still retains a strong hold in the United States. ... Few [Soviet] scholars assume that a third world leader's
profession of allegiance to Marxism-Leninism or "scientific socialism" should necessarily be taken at face
value. ... No one believes that radical revolutions inevitably proceed toward Soviet socialism. Indeed, most
Soviet scholars are so eager for major reform of the Soviet economic system that they do not even advise third
world countries to adopt it." [*'"The Struggle for the Third World," Jerry F. Hough, Brookings Institution,
1986, p. 281.' Lappé, et. al. pp. 147-148. *]8
In a lecture given at Harvard in 1987, Dublin journalist Conor Cruise O'Brien comments:
"In fact, Soviet policy with regard to third world nationalism has been marked not by Machiavellian planning but
by half-hearted opportunism." [*This, and following quotes from O'Brien are from The Specter of Nationalsim,
HARPER'S MAGAZINE, April, 1988, pp. 17, 18. *]
O'Brien then goes on to describe how, by supporting professed Marxist Major General Siad Barré in Somalia, "the
crafty Russians had secured possession of the geopolitical key to the most critical region in the world." "Then,"
says O'Brien, "the same Russians, for some even craftier reason, threw that key away." The Soviets then threw
their support behind a new Marxist regime in Ethiopia. Speaking as if from the inscrutable Soviet point-of-view,
"The Americans could have—and they now do have—Berbera and the Straits of Bab el-Mandeb, and Major General
Barré and his Marxism. That had become the wrong kind of Marxism."
Unlike Elliot Abrams, who was addicted to covert action, his counterpart for African Affairs, Nathaniel Davis,
resigned in 1975 after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger rejected his recommendation that the United States
forgo a covert military action in Angola in favor of a diplomatic solution to the multi-player revolution against
the Portuguese then in progress. Davis recommended against the two revolutionary groups Washington planned to
back against the Marxist MPLA, saying "It's the wrong game, and the players we've got are losers." [*"In
Search of Enemies," by John Stockwell, first [CIA] Chief of the Angola Task Force. Norton, 1978, p. 53.*]
State Department Consul General in Angola, Tom Killoran, "believed the MPLA was best qualified to run Angola and
that its leaders sincerely wanted a peaceful relationship with the United States." [*Ibid. pp. 63-64. *]
Killoran's views were also ignored, and Washington, with South Africa's help, escalated the conflict against the
MPLA, resulting in the resumption of Soviet support, and, for the first time, the introduction of Cuban troops to
balance the scales. The irony of the Marxist MPLA using Cuban soldiers to protect American oil installations
from attacks by U.S.-supported guerrillas was little noted in the mainstream press. [*John Stockwell, talk
at a private home in Studio City, CA, October, 1984. *] On the other hand, the administration view that the
Cuban presence justified the covert action was always "objectively" reported.
The rationale for the Angola operation would have made Machiavelli blush. By design, it was not to win, but only
to prevent a "cheap" MPLA victory. [*Stockwell, p. 53. *] As of late December, 1987, the strategy was working
well, with over 60,000 people dead, and an estimated 30,000 amputees, half of them women and children. [*"Angola
Villagers Are Victims in Brutal War," by Michael Parks, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer. Los Angeles Times,
December 28, 1987. p.1,8. The article quotes from a report by the United Nations Children's Fund, which puts
most of the blame on the [U.S.-backed] guerrillas: "More and more attacks are made especially on women and
children in order to terrorize the population and to create instability." *]
As for the Soviet "threat" to Western Europe, then Deputy Director of the International Institute of Strategic
Studies Col. Jonathan Alford wrote in the June 1980 issue of NATO Review:
Frightening though the twenty ready divisions of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany may appear to us, I find it
hard to believe that such a force would appear to them to be anything like sufficient to secure Western Europe or
even West Germany.
... On the other hand it is clearly enough to strike out at the West if the West appeared to be preparing for war
... When one adds the continuing Soviet need to subjugate the countries of Eastern Europe by force in order to
to stifle dissent, the rationale for Soviet Forces is sufficiently defined and its size and shape adequately
explained. [*"The Russian Threat, Its Myths and Realities," Jim Garrison and Pyare Shivpuri, Gateway Books,
London, 1983, p. 34. *]
WHY THE FUSS OVER THE SOVIETS?
On the basis of these unbelievers' views it is quite reasonable to conclude that the Soviet Union has never been
quite the threat that Washington would have us believe. [*Stockwell says "in the fall of 1977, the Soviets were
expelled from Somalia and began to arm Ethiopia." Op. cit. p. 250n. O'Brien says the Soviets suddenly threw away
the key to the most critical region in the world. In either case, Soviet behavior in that region suggests neither
sinister world-encompassing goals, nor the competence to achieve them. *] And, there is more to the enormous U.S.
arms buildup and seemingly endless third world interventions than enormous profits to the owners of U.S. weapons
One of my favorite cartoonists, Wasserman, gives us a clue. In 4 panels, he shows then Secretary of State
Alexander Haig speaking to an unseen Senate committee:
"Senator, of course we realize that the war in El Salvador has social causes.
"That many of the people are poor, hungry, and illiterate.
"But the point is that without Cuban assistance,
"They wouldn't be able to do anything about it."
[*Los Angeles Times, 1982. *]
Just this August, my favorite apostate cartoonist, Toles, brought the same theme closer to home. A pollster asks an
American if he supports President Bush's sending troops to Saudi Arabia in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of
"Sure," says the man.
"But if I asked if you'd be willing to die for the auto industry's lousy fuel efficiency standards, you'd
say ... ?"
"Well ..." is the uncertain answer.
"Or [if I] asked how many American lives it's worth to be able to drive to work alone in your car ... ?"
"Or," says the pollster, "how many Arabs you'd be willing to see killed so you could wear a t-shirt in your house
in the winter... ?"
"All of them," answers the American, without an instant's hesitation.
[*Washington Post National Weekly Edition, August 27-September 2, 1990 *]
This cartoon suggests, in no uncertain terms, that in spite all of our talk about protecting freedom and democracy
around the world, the basic wellspring of our behavior toward other nations is control of their resources and
This is not a new idea, of course, but it still evokes anger or defensiveness from most Americans—even from those
who should, and probably do, know better. 4b
The evidence for this theory is overwhelming, however, and its adherents even include a two-time
Medal of Honor winner.
After retiring in the early 30s, Marine Corps Major General Smedly D. Butler embarked on a passionate campaign
against American involvement in overseas military adventures. He had come to understand, late in a distinguished
career, that he had been leading young Americans to their deaths in foreign lands not to protect our security, but
to ensure that corporate America could conduct business unfettered anywhere in the world.
Butler did not equivocate:
"I spent 33 years and 4 months in active service as a member of our country's most agile military force—the Marine
Corps. ... And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for
Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. ...
"Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti
and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a
dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. ... I helped purify Nicaragua for the
international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American
sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I
helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. ...
"Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his
racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents."
[*COMMON SENSE, November, 1935, p.8.
I went to the UCLA library stacks to get this article.*]
Twelve years later, Butler would be confirmed with chilling clarity by another major player in the geopolitical
game. George Kennan was one of President Roosevelt's closest advisors during WWII. As President Truman's
Director of Policy Planning Staff for the State Department, he penned the famous "X" article, published
anonymously in FOREIGN AFFAIRS magazine in 1947. Therein was born the "containment" doctrine, which drove
U.S. foreign policy until the recent reforms in the Soviet Union.
Not nearly as well known is another of Kennan's articles, published in February, 1948. Writing this time in a top
secret foreign policy journal, Kennan advised against expecting to have too much "moral" influence in Asia, because
of the vast differences in our cultures and histories.
"Furthermore," says Kennan:
"we have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great
as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and
resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to
maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. ...
"We should cease to talk about vague and—for the Far East—unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of
living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power
concepts, and the less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.
"We should make a careful study to see what parts of the Pacific and Far Eastern world are absolutely vital to our
security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing that those areas remain in hands we can control or rely
[*CONTAINMENT: DOCUMENTS ON AMERICAN POLICY AND STRATEGY, 1945-1950
Thomas H. Etzold and John Lewis Gaddis - editors. Columbia University Press, New York 1978 *]
TINY, INVISIBLE MORAL FORCES AT WORK
I promised in the title comment that beside grand themes, such as we have seen in the Sandinista experiment and
its polar opposite, the Kennan Statement, this story also contains unremarkable illustrations.
I had something quite specific in mind.
The great American psychologist William James once remarked that he was for those "tiny invisible moral forces
that worked from individual to individual." Give them enough time, he said, and they would "rend the hardest
monuments of man's pride." 6a
In fact, most forces that shape human interaction are moral, as opposed, let's say, to biological, or mechanical.
Let me also suggest that, while they can "rend the hardest monuments of man's pride," they are also indispensable
to erecting those monuments in the first place. This is to say that the distinction between a
"moral" force and an "immoral" force is an illusion.
In the context of the present discussion, for the U.S. to have successfully "maintained the disparity" for so
long, literally billions of James's "tiny invisible moral forces" had to work from individual to individual within
the American body politic. These forces find their expression in many ways:
in the "patriotism" that simply asks "who?" whenever the President says "shoot;"
in comments such as I have often heard from urbane sophisticates about third world peoples:
"They" wouldn't know what to do with democracy if they had it; or, "they" have been killing each other off
for generations; what can you do with people like "them?"
in the "helpless confusion," either real or feigned, that despairs of ever making sense of grand, complicated
in the cynicism of the realpolitiker;5
in allowing the realpolitiker to go unchallenged.6b
in the fear of being thought naive, or, worse yet, "antique."7a
Whatever these moral forces may be—and there are many more than I have noted here—those in power whose highest
aspirations must be spoken secretly depend on them absolutely.
Let me sum up what I have presented so far, with a few extra observations thrown in for good measure.
First: since WWII, the behavior of the Soviet Union strongly suggests that it neither intended, nor was competent,
to achieve world domination.
Second: evidence and credible testimony strongly suggest that the real wellspring of U.S. policy toward third
world nations has never been to protect them from Soviet domination, but instead, and without qualm, to maintain
control of their labor and resources.
Third: in spite of the publicly expressed disapproval of the Soviet Union's so-called malevolent intentions, the
U.S. has nonetheless done business with it and other communist and socialist regimes around the world when there
was a profit to be made by so doing (grain sales to the Soviet Union and China being prime examples). Thus,
precedent would have justified accepting the Sandinistas as trading partners instead of attacking the Nicaraguan
Fourth: the so-called "American way" has been consistently heralded by American patriots of all persuasions as
being so superior to all other political economies that it will naturally triumph in peaceful competition with
them. Therefore, the choice of competition on the battlefield in Nicaragua, instead of competition in the
marketplace reveals a profound lack of faith in the "American Way."
Fifth: evidence and credible testimony strongly suggest that the Sandinista government of Nicaragua made bona fide
and reasonably effective efforts to benefit the poor, indicating a revolutionary model that should be encouraged
rather than vilified and attacked.
Sixth: the Sandinistas have continually offered to meet all legitimate concerns of the U.S. and their neighbors
regarding hemispheric security, which offers had been cynically ignored by Washington.
Seventh: it is purely fatuous, or stunningly dishonest, to
suggest that if the people of Nicaragua had really supported the Sandinistas,
they would never have capitulated to the contras. Indeed, if the people of Nicaragua had been as repressed by the
Sandinistas as President Reagan and his advisors alleged, why did the contras, every one of them a so-called "freedom
fighter," fail to win the hearts and minds of the large majority of the repressed Nicaraguan people? Why did it take
10 years of atrocious warfare, directed primarily at Nicaragua's poorest civilian population, for the U.S. to
finally make them cry "uncle?"
Eighth: "human nature" includes the qualities of kindness, compassion, patience, and tolerance as well as such
negative qualities as greed and the impulse to violence. Thus, "human nature" is a totally unacceptable excuse for
the attack on the government and people of Nicaragua.
Even though these considerations do not exhaust the subject, I believe they warrant the
The attack on the government and people of Nicaragua by the United States government, effected through its
surrogates, the contras, cannot be justified by any legitimate foreign policy goal which the United
States government might attempt to define. Therefore, the attack in and of itself constitutes a crime of
Given further that the attack was carried out with a degree of brutality and viciousness unjustifiable under
any circumstances, and that the unconscionable activities of the contras were known to, and tacitly approved by,
their U.S. overseers, either directly or through the psychological mechanism of denial, the attack on the
government and people of Nicaragua assumes the character of a clinical pathology.
(As I write this in February, 2004, several of the psychopaths who ran the "covert" Nicaragua operation are now
major policymakers in the Bush administration. Elliot Abrams, mentioned above, was once referred to by comedian
Dave Barry as "Deputy Secretary of State for Reminding Everyone of a Small Nocturnal Rodent." He is now in charge
of human rights in Iraq, or some such position.)
Imprisoned Contra field officer Emerson Uriel Navarrete Medrano responded to his interviewers' comment that "many of
those [National Guardsmen] who were pardoned [by the Sandinistas in 1979] have again joined the armed struggle:
"They have simply not understood what happened. They did not understand that the Revolution had pardoned them,
pardoned the mistakes they had made. Sure, there are some who will not understand why they were pardoned, and
will go to fight again. Yes, the world is full of idiots, and if you are narrow-minded, you will stay that way
your entire life."
[*"THE CONTRAS, Interviews with Anti-Sandinistas," p. 106. Dieter Eich and Carlos Rincon,
Synthesis Publications, 1985. *]
Having been told that he would be tortured and skinned alive if he were captured, Medrano tried to commit suicide
when his unit was surrounded by Sandinista soldiers. Instead of killing him, the bullet tore up his jaw and
nose. The interviewer remarked that he looked as if he had been to a plastic surgeon. "I cannot really
complain," said Medrano. "They did a good job." He also said that so far he had not been tortured.
Medrano was also quite candid about his attitude toward the peasants and farmers he recruited and trained.
"You know as well as I do that a peasant has nothing in his head but straw. He doesn't think about things the
way somebody who went to school does. Two or three stories well-told, and he will join you." In this case, the
well-told story was that rice was so expensive because the Sandinistas send all of it to Cuba and the Soviet
Union. [*Ibid. p. 101. *] The contrast between the contempt this erstwhile Somocista felt toward those he
sought to "liberate," and the respect and trust shown them by the Sandinistas is obvious.
My conclusion here is by no means shared by many of the analysts who have dissected the February election, including
those who are not afraid to give the Sandinistas their due. Even the Sandinistas are engaged in a soul-wrenching
analysis of their "errors."
Carlos M. Villas, Argentine social scientist and former advisor to both the Sandinistas and non-government
Nicaraguans reckons that "the knee-jerk reaction of the Left that points exclusively to external forces (the U.S.
war and financing of the UNO campaign) is as incomplete an explanation [of the election results] as its
counterpart on the Right (the people's repudiation of corrupt Sandinista leadership). There were elements of
both and more." [*NACLA Report on the Americas, June, 1990, p.9 *]
Brooklyn College professor of sociology George R. Vickers, a frequent visitor to Nicaragua, says that the success
of the U.S. strategy "can only be fully explained by taking into account the internal dynamics of the revolution
which the United States turned to its favor." [*ibid. p.9 *]
Contrary to Vickers' assertion, a detailed analysis of the "internal dynamics of the revolution" is not necessary
to explain the Sandinistas' loss. And, the Left's "knee-jerk reaction" pointing to "external forces" is, contrary
to Villas effort to equate it with the rationale of the Right, an adequate explanation. Consider the following
a. The Sandinistas are young, without previous experience in government.
b. They tried to create a political economy that is unique in history, even by revolutionary standards. This
political economy, if even moderately successful, would be an example to which other repressed peoples in the
hemisphere might aspire.
c. No leftist government in this hemisphere that seriously challenges Washington's economic agenda has survived
U.S. hostility, even where the majority of the people support it. (Cuba being the only exception.)
d. The United States, by virtue of its economic power, has almost unlimited influence and resources by which to
undercut, or reverse, every achievement made by any group of young revolutionaries, regardless of how talented
they are. Such tactics as outright lying, stonewalling on the facts, and obdurate pursuit of the goal—usually
through the "fait accompli"—can, and does, effectively neutralize opposition within the United States.
e. Washington's clear commitment to destroy the very fabric of Nicraguan society if the people did not repudiate
the Sandinistas. Given Congress's on-again, off-again support for the contras over the years, and its inability
to end the trade embargo, the people of Nicaragua had no reason at all to believe that their suffering would not
Intellectual integrity requires the examination of all facets of the Nicaraguan situation. Intellectual integrity
also precludes loading the inquiry beforehand, as Villas does with his snide reference to the Left's view of the
election. Both he and Vickers set the stage (with perfect "objectivity," of course) for "blaming the victim"
even before any Sandinista venalities or mistakes are revealed. This increases the chance that if and when they
are reported—which is rarely—the horror of contra atrocities and the hardships of the trade embargo, to say
nothing of Sandinista accomplishments, will be ignored.
3. Another version of Butler's statement in COMMON SENSE:
"I have served for thirty years and four months in the most combative unit of the United States Armed forces:
the marine infantry. During all of that time, I have had the feeling of acting as a highly qualified bandit in
the service of Wall Street, big business and its bankers. In a word, I have been a racketeer in the service of
"... In this manner, in 1914, I assured the security of petroleum interests in Mexico, Tampico in particular.
I contributed to transforming Cuba into a country where the people of the National City Bank can steal their
profits in peace. ... I participated in the cleaning up of Nicaragua, from 1909 to 1912, on behalf of the Brown
Brothers international banking firm.
"... In 1916, acting for the great United states sugar industries, I brought "civilization" to the Dominican
Republic. I was the one who, in 1923, helped arrange the affairs of Honduras in the interest of the United
States fruit companies. In 1927, in China, I guaranteed the security of the interests of Standard Oil.
"... When I cast a glance backwards in this manner, I realize that I could have just as well represented Al Capone;
he only managed to carry out his gangster activities in three neighborhoods of one city, while I, as a Marine,
have carried out mine on three continents." [*Photocopy of unknown origin, citing "General of the United Marine
Corps Infantry Smedly Butler, before the U.S. Congress, 1935." *]
Governments gain an advantage over their citizens so far as they can portray the world as mysterious and
Former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater understands this, as he demonstrated in a speech to the Arizona Chamber
of Commerce Business Roundtable. He was discussing the possible role of U.S. combat troops in Central America,
at the height of the protest movement against U.S. intervention there. After saying that he would not send
troops to any other region of the world except Central America "which is just 800 miles south of us," Goldwater
"It's a very mixed up, muddled picture there, and we don't know who wears the white hats or the black hats."
[*"Goldwater Talks of U.S. Troop Role in Latin Region," Los Angeles Times, (AP wire service article). This
article appeared in 1984, probably September or October, while the newly-discovered CIA "assassination" manual
that had been distributed to the Nicaraguan contras was still being hotly debated in Congress. *]
Goldwater was then Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and one of the nation's pre-eminent hawks.
In that capacity, and as one who historically approved all U.S. efforts to destroy leftist regimes in this
hemisphere, his implication that he has no opinion as to "who wears the white hats or the black hats" is a
transparent attempt to con his audience.
There is no mention of whether any Roundtable member questioned Goldwater's competence as chair of the
intelligence committee, but it is a safe bet that no one did. I can easily imagine these willing naïfs
looking at each other
helplessly, as if to say, "If good ol' Barry can't figure out what's happening down there, how can we?" Thus
might they prepare themselves for their own future attempts to mystify the issue for others.
Not only Republicans contribute to the common misunderstanding of U.S. history and goals in the Third World.
Even my own liberal congressman, Anthony Beilenson, did his part earlier this year.
Knowing that Beilenson would be interviewed by John Swaney, our local radio talk show host, I sent Swaney a copy
of Kennan's statement, along with some other materials about U.S. foreign policy. I was first on the phone to
speak with Beilenson. After commenting on U.S. policy in Central America and Iran, I gave a concise account of
Kennan's views. Swaney then asked Beilenson if he knew about the Kennan statement.
"Of course I do," said Beilenson, "they throw it at us all the time. I think it's ridiculous. Most members of
Congress have never seen that document."
"I agree," Swaney said. "Kennan was clearly talking about Asia."
However, one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the importance of Kennan's proposal lies in
its brutal honesty, and its origin at the very heart of our democracy. His analysis need not have been seen
except by a very few of the most trusted members of the foreign policy establishment. Swaney would have flunked
out of covert action strategy school for lacking the imagination to extend Kennan's comments to the entire Third
World. We can be sure that Iran/Contra figure Oliver North would immediately have recognized a "neat idea" in
Thus, where Goldwater tries to mystify the world for his constituents, Beilenson labels "ridiculous" the efforts
of peace and justice advocates to expand the American consciousness. Neither approach serves the American
people very well. [*To his credit, Beilenson has voted against aid to the contras most of the time. Thus his
comment is the more puzzling, since he should know better. *]
A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reveals the realpolitiker stripped of all pretense. Ironically, it is
about U.S. involvement in Angola.
On October 16th, the House of Representatives voted down an amendment to the House Intelligence Authorization
Act. Proposed by Ron Dellums (D-Berkeley), the amendment would have brought covert U.S. support for the UNITA
rebels fighting against the MPLA government of Angola "out of the closet," where it could be debated by a wider
spectrum of the American people. According to the Times:
About 341,000 people have died or been wounded, Dellums said, including 55,000 children.
"Funding for the rebels is a Cold War anachronism," declared Dellums, who grew angry when he said he saw
Republicans smiling at his pleas to "save the children."
"This is no laughing matter," he chided. "Putting on my other hat as head of the [Congressional] Black Caucus,
let me say that we would not tolerate this" if white children were dying. [*"Plan to Lift Angola Secrecy Veil
Rejected," by Robert C. Toth, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1990, p. A8. *]
Were those smiles intended for Dellums to see? Most likely. As the minority party in Congress, Republicans are
always on the defensive, and their mood has not been improved by President Bush's recent acceptance of budget
realities, which they see instead as capitulation to the Democrats.
Here, a member of the enemy camp makes an appeal across all dividing lines for a demonstration of compassion for
innocents; a demonstration which no longer can be said to weaken our national security.
But, for those who are always "one down," and who feel betrayed by their own President, how better to show
disdain for the enemy's whole being than with those familiar, slightly upturned corners of the mouth, perhaps
accompanied by a barely perceptible nod toward others in one's own camp. Few moments are more savored than when
such knowing smiles are exchanged.
The smiles tell Dellums that he simply does not live in the real world. Where preventing a "cheap" MPLA victory
may once have been the goal, it now appears possible that Washington's tin-horn strongman Jonas Savimbi—a
former Marxist who agreed to play on our side—might win after all. This would not have happened except for
those 341,000 dead and maimed, including 55,000 children, referred to by Dellums. How can such a possibility be
thrown away because of concern for a few more poor black children?
And, these realpolitikers know that even though their smiles were intended only for Dellums and for each other, no
real harm will come from their revelation in the press. Are not most Americans realists, too? They know that
there is no possibility of American children suffering the same fate at the hands of another nation's surrogate
army, and Dellums further proves his innocence by even mentioning it. Moreover, won't the American people
understand that Dellums, as an Afro-American himself, is clearly "biased" in favor of African children, and
therefore not to be taken seriously.
The full quote from William James. (I do not know where among his writings or letters it can be found):
I am done with great things and big things, with great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny,
invisible moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like
so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet if you give them time, will rend the hardest
monuments of man's pride.
Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia's preeminent dissident (and now its president), described what must be one of the
"tiny, invisible moral forces" James had in mind. Havel says [of dissidents in general] that they hope their
actions, "by whatever hidden, complex ways," will have some effect, "that even something as ephemeral-seeming as
a truth spoken out loud, an openly expressed concern for the humanity of human beings, bears with it a certain
power." [*"Missing Havel's Message," by Jay Rosen, Christian Science World Monitor, November 1990, p. 27. *]
Congressman Dellums's challenge to the Republican realpolitikers was certainly motivated by this hope.
(See Endnote 5.)
7. THE MYSTERY OF MORAL DECISION-MAKING
Important issues are, almost by definition, morally significant, and Washington's program against the
Sandinistas certainly qualifies as an "important" issue. I confess that I have no idea how people arrive at
their moral conclusions, and here I include myself. It is clear that information alone is not enough to inspire
us to change our attitudes or behavior. While education about an issue is usually necessary before any
perceptible change occurs, the belief that others will respond to information as we do is usually mistaken.
For example, about three years ago, a large group of us were demonstrating against the contras somewhere, and
were ourselves the objects of a counter-demonstration by a familiar group of contra supporters. One of them
brought me up short by saying that he based his support for the contras on the same Amnesty International and
Americas Watch reports that I had just referred to in an attempt to confound his vehemently anti-Sandinista
attitude. When I mentioned the atrocities that the contras committed, and that the leadership was made up of
former Guardsmen like Enrique Bermudez, he snapped that Bermudez was being replaced. (Bermudez would remain in
charge for another year-and-a-half, and after he was replaced, there was no discernable difference in the
attacks on Nicaraguan civilians.)
So there we were on opposite sides of the issue, each apparently using the same data to justify our positions.
We did not disagree on the credibility of our common resources. Clearly, then, knowledge of a situation will
not necessarily induce us to change our behavior.
A recent book review reinforces this point. Los Angeles Attorney Jonathan Kirsch reviewed "Declarations of
Independence," a new book by Howard Zinn. Zinn is a political scientist at Boston University, and author of "A
People's History of the United States," among other books on politics and history.
[*"A Lion of the Left Roars
Again," Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times, 10/17/90. *] Kirsch notes that Zinn is no "ivory tower
intellectual," referring to his experience as a WWII bombardier and as a labor and civil rights activist.
He quotes Zinn:
"I decided early that I would be biased in the sense of holding fast to certain fundamental values: the equal
right of all human beings ... to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Jefferson's ideals.
"... To depend on the simple existence of the First Amendment to guarantee our freedom of expression is a
serious mistake, one that can cost us not only our liberties, but, under certain circumstances, our lives."
Kirsch grants that Zinn has written a "spirited, provocative, and intentionally unsettling" book. "Zinn is a
clear thinker, a careful writer, and a profoundly compassionate man," who "... draws convincingly from the well
springs of our civilization."
Nevertheless, "there is an irony at work here," says Kirsch. "I detect something old-fashioned and even antique
about Zinn's 'Declarations,' and I came away from his book with a sense of nostalgia rather than an impulse to
join the barricades."
In my reading of Kirsch's review, I evidently missed the man stuck in an "old-fashioned and even antique"
time-warp, out of touch with modern political reality. Instead, I found Zinn's statements to be up-to-date,
even containing, perhaps, an oblique reference to the potentially disastrous threat to our civil liberties that
the Iran/Contra planners devised, and which was completely glossed over in the Congressional hearings. Zinn's
comments are certainly relevant to that threat, in any case.
[*Lt. Col. North had devised a plan, to be implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) whereby, if
the President sent troops into combat in Nicaragua or El Salvador, some 400,000 Hispanic aliens would be rounded up
and put in camps such as were used to house the Japanese internees during WWII. During this period, the
Constitution would be suspended, and it is easy to imagine that many U.S. citizens with a record of protest against
Washington's interventionism in Central America would be interned with them. *]
Kirsch admits "nostalgia" for the days when idealists were fighting the good fight, so he must share Zinn's
values even now. Where then, does he detect the "irony at work here ... something old and even antique." I
suggest that he found it within himself, and, in classic form, projected it onto Zinn.
Perhaps Kirsch feels burned out from his salad days in the protest movements; perhaps he despairs of "making a
difference" as the Reagan legacy begins to realize itself; perhaps he has simply become a yuppy elder. In any
case, he knows exactly what Zinn is talking about, and he knows that Zinn wants to move him with "Declarations."
Kirsch knows then, that whether he—Jonathan Kirsch—"joins the barricades" or walks away from them depends not
at all on Howard Zinn's prose or style, but only his own willingness to act on his principles.
I imagine this future conversation between Kirsch and, let's say, a son who is old enough to understand that we
lost our freedoms to fascism only a few years before:
"Why didn't you demonstrate against the government when it began repressing our rights, daddy?" asks Kirsch's son.
"Because, son," Kirsch replies, "Howard Zinn didn't write an inspiring enough book."
Who knows what it would have taken.
(Note: I sent a copy of this essay to Mr. Kirsch through his Los Angeles law firm. Several months later I received
a reply from him, thanking me for it, and "pleading guilty" to having become a yuppy elder. That letter is one
of my most prized possessions.)
Probably more effective in changing our behavior is for us to actually see the results of the policy we support.
Here the words of Bernard Shaw's chaplain, in Saint Joan, are relevant. After witnessing the burning of the
maid for heresy, for which he had argued with fierce righteousness, the chaplain begs his superior to pray
for his wretched soul. "I am not a bad man, my lord," says the chaplain. "I meant no harm. I did not know
what it would be like."
If those who supported the contras and President Reagan's agenda had been able to watch the killing of the five
children, perhaps they might, as did the chaplain, re-think the necessity of the program. On the other hand,
they might instead choose to accept a "well-told story" from contra leaders that the killings were an isolated
incident, and that such would never happen again. Would this imply that their heads were filled with nothing but
straw? Who knows?
WHY DISCUSS "MORAL" ISSUES AT ALL?
I have concluded that the purpose of rational discussion of moral issues is not to so much convince us to adopt a
different point-of-view on the subject in question, but more to help us arrive at our own bottom line. A
well-conducted, rational give-and-take forces us to make choices that affect our ability to maintain our
original position as the give-and-take proceeds.
For example, one of the first choices we must make is whether to deny the credibility of those who present the
side we oppose. Here it is reasonable to ask why we should not, as regards the "Soviet threat," take the
apostates I referred to above (and there are many others) as seriously as we take our own government officials
who invoke the threat? These dissenters seem to be solid, patriotic American citizens. (Most of them probably
wear suits.) Moreover, many of them are well acquainted with the defense establishment, and have no obvious
reason to lie about such an important issue.
Another choice is whether always to attribute lofty motives to the despicable behavior of those we support, while
attributing only base motives to the similar behavior of those we oppose. Adhering to this contorted logic
too long opens us to the charge of hypocrisy.
Perhaps the most important option open to us, in such a case as Nicaragua, is whether to take responsibility for
our own government's actions. It is axiomatic that if enough of us take action against a policy we disapprove
of, we can make a difference, even though the final outcome may not be entirely satisfactory. There can be no
doubt that the domestic protest against the Reagan/Bush Nicaragua policy persuaded the Joint Chiefs of Staff
not to indulge Reagan's desire for a U.S. invasion of that country.
If we do decide to take responsibility, whether for, against, or neutral, we must justify ourselves, and here is
where we begin to face what I earlier called our "bottom line."
If we finally accept our governments actions without illusions, even though they are abhorrent, we may well
justify them by saying it's a "dog-eat-dog world out there." This is the least refutable of all moral stances.
On this level, all moral terminology is irrelevant, and discussion useless, since whatever serves the purpose
is acceptable. Accusations of hypocrisy and dishonesty are simply "shined on," as they say, because the accused
player has decided that nothing will hinder his or her goal to become "top dog." As one right-wing columnist
once said: "never retract, never apologize; just let 'em howl."
On the other hand, we may not approve of our government's abhorrent activities, but may accept our
president's assurances that our "enemy" is guilty of far worse crimes. We comfort ourselves with the
belief that if and when we "win," we will stop our unpalatable behavior and act benignly, in accordance with
our "true" nature. Thus, while we may cringe at the thought of the 5 children killed by the contras, we at
least take some comfort in the belief that the Sandinistas must be committing even worse atrocities, and
that when the contras are victorious, they will then behave according to our highest ideals.
Here, of course, the problem is that we have delivered our responsibility to set our own highest moral standards into
the hands of our averred enemies (usually without making much of an effort to determine whether our enemy is, in
fact, as evil as he or she has been made out to be). If we learn that the contras massacred 100 innocent
villagers, we can sleep soundly in the belief that the Sandinistas killed 101 innocents somewhere else.
Thus do our own highest moral attributes become only marginally better than those of our opponents, if at all.
According to Albert L. Weeks, emeritus professor of international relations at New York University and a published
Sovietologist for 40 years, Sovietologists of both the liberal "revisionist" and the conservative "traditionalist"
camps were caught completely unawares by Soviet President Gorbachev's emergence as a true reformer.
[*"The Perils of Russia-Watching," Christian Science Monitor, October 29, 1990, p. 18. *]
"Revisionist" Hough is considered one of the "harmful professors," by "traditionalist" Robert Conquest. Conquest
has joined with other traditionalists such as Zbigniew Brzezinski in a series of scathing attacks on Hough and
his fellow liberals, because, in the 60s and 70s, they "assaulted" the concept of totalitarianism, and professed
to see some hope in the reforms introduced by Soviet leader Brezhnev. Hough, according to Weeks, had "gone to
great pains ... to 'prove' that Brezhnev's Russia was not that different from Reagan's America."
Weeks gives Hough credit, though, for recognizing the possibility that "'fathers and sons' (as the Russians call
it) generational change was bound sooner or later to lead to Young Turk reformism in the USSR."
While Hough may have been mistaken about the possibility of change in the Soviet Union at any given time, his
overall conclusion has been proven valid. My interpretation of Weeks here is that the traditionalists are on the
attack just because Hough and his liberal cohorts were right where they, the cold-warriors, were wrong. The
argument that Hough is not a credible Soviet scholar because the Soviet system is now being repudiated with a
vengeance is specious. The hysteria of the attack on the "harmful professors" indicates traditionalist
defensiveness more than valid criticism.
As regards Hough's so-called analogy between Reagan's America and Brezhnev's Russia, there is more to the
comparison than Weeks seems to realize. The disdain for the Constitution showed by the Iran/Contra players, and
the docility of the mainstream press with its "kid gloves" treatment of President Reagan, are part of a darker
side to the American conscience that would, if allowed to attain real power, create a nation not unlike the
totalitarian regimes Washington supported for so many years.
Final comment: Today, over two years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the hyper-militant right wing of
the Republican Party is ascendant. Many officials in the Bush administration would have no trouble at all
administering a fascist government.