Another few pages…
In a building of gold, with riches untold,
lived the families on which the country was founded.
And the merchants of style, with their red velvet smiles,
were there, for they also were hounded.
And the soft middle class crowded in to the last,
for the building was fully surrounded.
And the noise outside was the ringing of revolution.
– Phil Ochs
Years later, Lydia and I were in Washington for a very different but also massive anti war event, and on the way to it we visited our then South End Press co-worker Cynthia Peters at her home. Cynthia came aboard SEP at a very young age but right from the start was not only a full contributor, but a leading light and tireless and innovative builder of alternative institutions as well as an innovative community organizer ever since. Cynthia’s father – Cynthia fell far from the family tree – worked for the CIA his whole adult life. He climbed the infrastructure and for many administrations briefed Presidents on CIA news and projects. The Presidents came and went. Cynthia’s dad remained. He was part of the permanent government. Cynthia’s dad was serious business, as we used to say.
During my brief time at Cynthia’s house, her dad, Mr. CIA, and I got into an interesting discussion. It was not long after the U.S. had invaded the tiny Island of Grenada to further U.S. aims there, eliminating any chance for there to be a government that might nationalistically pursue the well being of the tiny island’s citizens even against U.S. desires. Possible extrication from what was called the “Free World” to pursue domestic development in their own style was, of course, also the sin of the Vietnamese, the Nicaraguans, the Salvadorans, and so on.
Grenada’s entire military establishment would have been quickly defeated, I would wager, by the police force of Phoenix, Arizona, or certainly by the campus police of the University of Chicago, which interestingly was the fourth largest military force in Illinois after the Illinois national guard, the Illinois state police, and the city of Chicago’s police force. This latter fact I learned when speaking at that campus. I heard about how Freshman would have an opening indoctrination session in which they were told that if they strayed off campus they were on their own…and that the campus police were there to prevent that disastrous possibility and to protect them while they were on campus. The University of Chicago, you see, was on the edge of Chicago’s black side of town, and the fault line between town and campus was a serious matter. Cross at your own risk.
Think about a country with such an internal divide needing such a force to patrol its centers of higher learning. Well that was the country that wrecked havoc upon the tiny little island of Grenada. The CIA website tells us, in 2005, that Grenada’s population is just under 90,000 people. It is “about twice the size of Washington DC,” the CIA site reports. Under background, the site has this to say, and only this, “One of the smallest independent countries in the western hemisphere, Grenada was seized by a Marxist military council on 19 October 1983. Six days later the island was invaded by US forces and those of six other Caribbean nations, which quickly captured the ringleaders and their hundreds of Cuban advisers. Free elections were reinstituted the following year.” Without belaboring, what really happened was the U.S. trounced the widely backed domestic preferences of the people of Grenada into oblivion.
So at Cynthia’s house her dad and I got into a discussion of the events. I was condemning, of course, what my country had done, and while Cynthia’s dad was generally completely close mouthed about politics – not just with guests but also with Cynthia and her whole family and all friends as a good career CIA officer should be – with me for some completely unfathomable reason, he momentarily loosened up just a tiny bit.
He asked me why I thought the U.S. did it. I said I believed it was to punish even the prospect of another country, no matter how tiny, escaping the logic of subordination to U.S. dictates and in particular to prevent the spread of such behavior. In other words, in Chomsky’s words, it was to curb the threat of a good example. Mr. CIA said, but how could such a small place matter? I said if this minute speck in the ocean could extricate itself from subservience to our international economic priorities, then other countries would think they could do so too…such as Brazil, I mentioned, not having sufficient foresight to also suggest Venezuela.
I added that this was also my view about the motives driving the Indochina War. Contrary to what some other opponents of that war claimed, I thought it was ridiculous to think it was a war for Tungsten or for some other resource found in Indochina. There was nothing Vietnamese so needed by the U.S. that even mega-maniacs would risk the U.S. economy and its social stability to fight for it. Rather, the Domino Theory, just as Kissinger claimed, was the real explanation. But it was not Kissinger’s stated Domino Dynamic at work. Kissinger didn’t really think that if we didn’t intervene and kill back the communist parasite, marauding commies from outside would infect, subvert, and topple country after country. That was nonsense promulgated only to rationalize our actions. Kissinger worried instead about a “good example” domino dynamic, the idea that if Vietnam could extricate itself and use its national resources and assets for the well being of its own people, so too might Thailand, Malaysia, or even India. We had to nip nationalism which was contrary to Americanism in the bud. Nationalism that supported Americanism was fine, of course, as in our later supporting the likes of Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, and so on, until they violated our instructions. The domino toppling that we feared after Vietnam and that we worked to prevent by unleashing virtually unlimited combustion on Vietnam’s flora, fauna, and populace was based on internal nationalist and progressive trends, not on external coercion. As far as externalities, we were the mother of all external pressures and have been ever since, all over.
Well, Mr. CIA just laughed at all this and said he didn’t know anyone in government who could come up with and very few who would even understand a rationale so subtle and clever. So I said, okay then, what’s your explanation for the U.S. role in subverting nationalist and socialist trends in the tiny economically imperceptible island of Grenada? And he said his explanation was easy. If Grenada became an ally of the Soviet Union instead of the U.S. it might house some Soviet missiles. If that happened, we would have to re-target some of our missiles to take out Grenada in the event of war. I looked at him and wondered to myself is Mr. CIA trying to make me believe this, or is he tacitly admitting that I am right in what I have been saying.
I said, you seriously want me to believe that we trounced these people and denied them their dignity and their preferred future not to prevent a trend that really could seriously undermine U.S. economic and social control internationally due to countries extricating themselves from our policies and going their own way but, instead, because we didn’t want to have to change the programming of two or three missiles to point at Grenada rather than their current destinations?
The discussion ended there. Could it be that Mr. CIA’s explanation was really the thinking behind U.S. policy and that it was only by chance that the choices also fit my explanation? Did he believe what he offered? I didn’t think either could be the case. There are people, even highly placed, who believe the lunatic rationales that media and scholars offer to explain U.S. policy making, but not Mr. CIA.
On the other hand, Mr. CIA fathered Cynthia Peters who spent a decade at SEP, making it better than it would otherwise have been, and who has been an activist organizer with extraordinary commitment and talent ever since. Strange tree, strange apple.