Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Hidden War

In Episode Five, Stone explores the Eisenhower administration, although he uses a number of flashbacks and flashforwards to explain where his decisions came from and what they resulted in, such as the "blowback" from the CIA sponsored coup of the Mosaddegh government in Iran in 1953.  This seemed more an extension of the Truman Doctrine as carried forward by George Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State, who Stone snidely notes was a protegee of James Forrestal.  It seems that Eisenhower not only gave his chief cabinet members wide latitude, but his top military leaders as well.  All this, Stone says, allowed Eisenhower to essentially conduct hidden wars.

On the surface, Eisenhower appeared as the great statesman, even forging ties with the new Indian government in the wake of their independence from Great Britain.  However Nehru, like many of the emerging world leaders, was suspect of Eisenhower's true intentions, and according to Stone had good reason to be.  Ike was a convert to the the strategy of limited nuclear war, and the concept of "Brinksmanship" arose during his administration, where Dulles and others repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons to beat back advances by the Soviet Union and China.

Stone is on much firmer ground in this episode, as much of what he presents has been the subject of numerous Cold War accounts.  There isn't much that is new here.  But, he does offer a compelling chain of events that resulted in the US squandering the good will of the world, as its covert activities were felt around the world.

Yet, Stone still portrays the Soviet Union and China as misunderstood nations.  After the death of Stalin, he points to Khrushchev's attempts to "reach out" to the US and later visit the country in 1959.  Stone mentions the de-Stalinization efforts that took place in the USSR, which he felt represented a potential turning point in American-Soviet relations.  But, Ike was apparently slow to react, and when Cuba fell in a bloody revolution, Eisehower thought the "domino principle" may very well take place in the Americas, and was having none of it.

Stone also scolds Eisenhower for not reining in bully boys like Joe McCarthy, who helped stir up the anti-communist hysteria in America, which of course Ollie feels was entirely unjustified.  What surprised me was that not once did Stone mention Adlai Stevenson, who ran against Eisenhower twice. Stone had spent so much time on Henry Wallace in the preceding episodes, that you would think Stevenson would be the ideal foil in this episode.  Instead, he chooses Marshall, also America's Cold War alter-ego, a man who had softens his position considerably against the Soviet Union, and now advocated tolerance and nuclear disarmament.

Stone points to the proxy wars taking place around the world and how the new leaders of the emerging "developing countries" got together in Java in the mid 50s for the Bandung Conference -- an attempt to figure out how best to combat American aggression.  Nehru was there, as was Ho Chi Minh, Nasser of Egypt, and China's new premier, Zhou Enlai.  Apparently, all they succeeded in doing was making themselves targets for the CIA, as an attempt was made to blow up Zhou's plane, apparently by Taiwanese subversives, on his way home from Jakarta.

Such was the political climate in the golden 50s, yet Eisenhower somehow managed to project a face of calm and certainty, belied only by his farewell address in 1961 where he questioned the growing military-industrial complex in America.  Stone viewed this televised speech as a form of absolution, as Eisenhower had presided over an unprecedented arms build-up, which saw a 22-fold increase in nuclear weapons, not to mention the massive infrastructure that was built to support these warheads that were positioned all over the world.

To make matters worse, Eisenhower had apparently divested himself of the sole authority to launch these weapons, signing a resolution that allowed leading military figures to make this decision if cut off from the President during a crisis situation.  This became the subject of Kubrick's black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, from which he shows a clip of Gen. Turgidson noting the resolution the President had signed.

Of course, this is a highly condensed and highly stylized episode that literally portrays Eisenhower as Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best, who successfully was able to keep Americans oblivious of the notorious events the US was involved in around the world while they enjoyed their post-war prosperity.  It probably would have been better to reference Arthur Miller's All My Sons, which more pointedly examined the lies a good father covers up, presumably to protect his family, and is forced to admit his shortcomings.

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