Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Role of the Government in War and Literature

Recently, we have had a series of revelations about CIA activity domestically and abroad. These new facts that have come to light are not as a result of leaks, but simply because it is such old news that now it is seen as history. We are allowed to know about it, whereas we are not supposed to know about the Snowden leaks. There is nothing anyone can do to change the past, so there is no "national security" rationale for keeping these things a secret any longer. Also, most of the participants are dead. Nobody can be taken to task.

A Battle Scene from the Shanameh by Ferdowsi

One of the revelations was that the CIA was responsible for the coup in Iran that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh and replaced him with the Shah. The motivation for this intervention was to prevent the nationalization of primarily British owned oil companies. Here is a news source:

As anyone who has followed international events knows, this American intervention precipitated a series of events in Iran that eventually led it from being a relatively enlightened, secular western-leaning power to becoming a dark theocracy with very few civil rights. These developments worked not only to the detriment of the average Iranian citizen. They also created a fierce enemy of the United States in Iran. Most of the consequences were negative in every possible way.

If you know nothing whatever about it, a brief look at this clip from Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi will get you up to speed.

The other revelation is about the CIA's interference domestically within the United States in shaping and changing the direction of American literature. The CIA used government money to foster a literary movement through the Iowa Writers' Workshop that flattened writing and prevented anyone who wrote about greatness from ever being published and read as "serious literature." You can read all about it here:

Now, there are people who believe that the government should be involved in literature and espionage, but that perhaps these particular choices by the CIA are unfortunate. I am not one of them. There are people who think that we should beat all our swords into plowshares, and I am not one of those, either. I think that we need people who make war in the same way that we need people who make love and write great, epic works of literature. But the government must stay out of it. The government should step aside and let the warriors make war, the lovers make love, and the writers make heroic poetry. Theodosia and the Pirates is a novel -- a big, unflattened novel of ideas -- that makes this point.

Jean Laffite and not Commodore Patterson was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. The United States Navy was more in league with the British than with the privateers who saved it from destruction. The taxes that smugglers refused to pay saved the American consumer money and also financed the gunpowder that was needed to beat the British. The real pirates were in the government that confiscated goods and sold them for a profit.

Who should pay for waging war? I wrote about that here:

Read Theodosia and the Pirates. No spy agency paid me to write it. You might learn a thing or two about why taxing citizens to pay for war is not a good idea. But we don't need to give up on the desire for someone to stand up to international bullies wherever they are found. Real heroes don't require government support. They just need to be left alone to do what comes naturally.


  1. I think my original comment had vanished, but its all good. I basically stated that I like your courageousness you've exhibited to stand up for what you believe in, and to not back down for nobody. The government's either here in the US or wherever around the globe should fight for the people, and to help us maintain good order in the land, and so I agree with you on what you've stated here as to them allowing people to speak their minds and in the rights to maintain social justice for all.

    1. Thanks, Mike Pugh. And thanks for hanging in there when your comment disappeared. I hate when that happens!

      My point is that we should not fund government agencies to do what people can naturally do who have a real stake in the matter. Real writers write because they cannot help writing. Real heroes, like Jean Laffite, fight because they cannot help fighting for what is right. But when government uses taxes to skew outcomes, things usually come out worse than they could have been for all concerned. Except possibly those who got paid with government money. ;)

  2. You bring up some very astute points. Also, it is interesting to note that many Iranians actually like Americans and vice versa, but it is their government and our governments that are at odds. I have heard that Americans who traveled to Iran were treated quite warmly, and it does have a historic and beautiful culture that present regime and anti-Iran propaganda does not want us to remember. Rumi and so many beautiful things came out of Iran.

    1. Yes, I agree. I think I've even seen a post where Marjane Satrapi makes that point: that ordinary Americans and ordinary Iranians have more in common than our governments do with either group. I have always been interested in Persian culture, because my grandfather translated parts of the Shahnameh into Hebrew. They do have a long-lived and beautiful literature that by far predates Islam or Christianity.