2.0 out of 5 stars
Propaganda at Its Finest
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 6 September 2015
I couldn’t agree more with the reviewer who writes: “The authors practically genuflect upon every page in paying homage to those overlords who once reigned supreme in the American presidium of power and privilege.” (See the three-star review by anarchteacher.)
In “The Wise Men,” authors Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas weave together six biographies of the government officials who shaped US foreign policy from the time of the Great Depression to the tail end of the Cold War. Together, they created the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that prevailed after WWII, leading directly to the Vietnam War and all the other tragic East-West confrontations along the way. The authors call these policy makers the “wise men.” C. Wright Mills had another name for them: the "power elite."
Portrayed as highly educated, refined gentlemen, the wise men were as much pragmatic as visionary. They made things happen. Although they may have often disagreed about tactics, the wise men were united in their vision of the US government's place in the world. This vision involved the rejection of “isolationism” and the establishment of a new, messianic role for the United States. Under their guidance, the United States would become the de facto world police man, waging war in the name of peace and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. It is no accident that these men, particularly George Kennan, were also involved in the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The wise men were also instrumental in establishing the permanent war economy, which was a great boon for the military-industrial complex. The origin of this new militarized economy can be traced to National Security Council paper 68 (NSC-68). Approved of by Dean Acheson, this report exaggerated the threat posed by the Soviet Union in order to justify massive increases in government military spending.
According to the wise men, know-nothing Americans who believed that they should mind their own business and stay out of foreign conflicts simply did not understand the complexities of a geo-political strategy that required them to fight and die in foreign lands. So the wise men informed their fellow Americans through friendly politicians and media outlets that they must fight to keep their families safe, to preserve peace, and, above all, to protect Freedom itself.
Having been “educated by events,” as another court historian put it (see my two-star review of “Those Angry Days” by Lynn Olson), many Americans came to accept this new role for their country as "redeemer nation." The wise men cleverly framed the issues of war and peace in such a way that not one in a thousand, perhaps, ever suspected that the US government fought its enemies in order to become more like them, or that the military interventions advocated by the wise men and like-minded politicians served to advance a hidden globalist agenda. (For the ugly details of this hidden agenda, see “Tragedy and Hope 101” by Joseph Plummer).
The narrative in “The Wise Men” deceives as much as it enlightens. The authors insist that the wise men were responsible for making the big decisions. Short of that, they were the ones who built consensus on what to do -- on where to aim the guns. They were the intellectuals in charge of foreign policy, the six friends who made the world as we know it (if we go by the book's subtitle). The authors want us to believe that the wise men exercised tremendous power and influence, except, of course, when the wise men's decisions had disastrous consequences. At these moments, when foreseeable and disastrous effects naturally follow their causes, the authors abruptly change their tune.
The authors want us to believe that, at certain times, the wise men -- these men of great power and influence who shaped our world -- suddenly lost power, overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control. Inexplicably, the tables turn. The wise men are now being shaped by the very world they intended to shape. For instance, by the authors' own account, John J. McCloy, “Mr. Establishment” himself, clearly had a hand—perhaps the strongest hand—in the decision to forcibly remove thousands of Japanese-Americans from their homes and herd them into internment camps during WWII. According to the authors, just as McCloy was building a consensus on what to do, the decision-making process suddenly took on a life of its own. And the rest was history. Japanese-Americans were essentially kidnapped by the US government as a result of a decision-making process that existed independently of the decision-makers.
The authors make the same assertion in the case of the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. Here again, at the crucial moment, the decision-making process magically takes on a life of its own, devoid of human agency.
Attentive readers will not fail to notice how conveniently the authors slip back and forth between methodological individualism and holism whenever it seems that their “wise men” might come in for harsh criticism. Clearly, the authors are trying to distance the decision-makers from their own decisions. But any thinking person who is honest knows that people ALWAYS make decisions; they even make non-decisions or decisions not to act. Decisions never make themselves or go on auto-pilot. It is intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise.
Another inconsistency in the narrative can be found in the authors’ treatment of Dean Acheson. The authors remind us repeatedly of Acheson’s aversion to the United Nations (UN) and his dismissal of all such attempts at world government as “glabaloney.” But how do the authors reconcile Acheson’s purported aversion to globalism with his rushing off to the UN to secure an official condemnation of North Korea when it invaded South Korea? They don’t, and they make no effort to do so.
I take it that most people will agree that actions speak louder than words. Acheson, despite his lip service to nationalism, paved the way for U.S. military intervention in Korea to proceed under the auspices of the UN, without a declaration of war by Congress. In doing so Acheson helped undermine constitutional limits on executive war-making power, as well as national sovereignty (to the extent that the US is supposed to be governed by its own Constitution, its own laws).
But the authors do not seem to notice this glitch in the Matrix. And like good court historians, they ignore the inconsistency and sweep Acheson’s duplicity under the rug in their rush to flatter the naked emperor.
The authors also defend Acheson in his willingness to share "the bomb" with the Soviet Union. This boggles the mind, since by that time Stalin had revealed himself to be a homicidal psychopath who had no qualms about starving to death 7 million people in Ukraine as a matter of public policy, not to mention the mountain of corpses he climbed over to achieve and maintain power within the Communist Party. Go ask Trotsky.
Was Acheson insane? Of course not. He, too, was a career-driven psychopath who understood that the Cold War and the attendant military expansion could not proceed with only one side in possession of the bomb. It would be a total mismatch. A "bomb challenged" Soviet Union would not sufficiently frighten Americans into supporting massive increases in military spending. However, it wasn't long before Acheson's dream came true and he got the existential threat to his own country he was craving. Sharing the bomb with the Soviets was all part of the plan to advance Acheson's globalist agenda. After all, Oceania needs its Eurasia. And the military-industrial complex needs to justify its existence and further expansion at the expense of US taxpayers.
Replacing George Kennan as head of the State Department's policy planning staff was honorary wise man Paul Nitze. Nitze, in a fit of honesty, revealed the true meaning of the Soviet bomb. According to the authors, "...[Nitze] told Acheson that the real lesson of the Soviet bomb was not merely that the U.S. should proceed with the Super [bomb], but that it should build up conventional forces. The bomb was no longer enough to keep the Soviets in check. ...To Nitze, the real mission became clear; to wake up the Administration and the Congress and make them spend more money, much more money, on defense" (p. 489). And there you have it, folks. Mission accomplished.
"The Wise Men" is thus propaganda at its finest: partly illuminating, partly misleading, and wholly biased in its celebration of that cabal of power elites who pursued their globalist visions at the cost of American blood and treasure, precipitating the decline of America's economy and the country’s descent into a regimented Orwellian police state.
Today, the US continues to wage war in the name of peace to the detriment of working Americans who bear the costs of Empire and the "globaloney" fantasies of elite policy makers, not to mention the countless victims of imperial aggression overseas, e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, etc. And this is perhaps where the legacy of the wise men is most painfully felt.
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