The Night of the Long Knives

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s bloody suppression of Ernst Roehm and his stormtroopers. There are many accounts on the web written long after the demise of the Third Reich, but it’s a lot harder to find contemporary reports in newspapers and magazines. Today, almost four decades after a man with vision laid the foundations of Project Gutenberg, a massive and ever-growing library of books is at our fingertips online. Perhaps the day will come when the newstands of bygone eras will be as accessible as the libraries are now. I hope so. Contemporary news accounts are often far from accurate, but they have the great virtue of being free of the “filtering” so often found in the ideological narratives that pass for “history” these days. One gains a great sense of perspective by occasionally escaping the political correctnesses and narratives of ones own time and immersing ones self in the political correctnesses and narratives of days gone by.

The Great Library of Alexandria has Gone Missing!!

Pompey's Pillar and the ruins of the Serapeum
Pompey's Pillar and the ruins of the Serapeum
Just as I was about to indulge myself in a self-congratulatory smirk for pointing out certain anomalies in the gaudy tales of the Great Iranian Coup now current on the web, I find that, while I was landing a sunfish, other bloggers have been reeling in muskies. To wit, Dave Schuler over at The Glittering Eye has just pulled off a controlled demolition of no less an edifice than the Great Library of Alexandria itself! Quoting the Eye:

“My take: Alexandria was undoubtedly a center of learning and scholarship and, consequently, had a lot of books. Over time Alexandria’s influence, learning, and scholarship all declined. Was there a Great Library? I don’t believe that the evidence supports the idea.”

Now, it happens that the worthy proprietor of “The Glittering Eye” is rather a more credible source than, say, the current author of the Wikipedia article on Mossadegh. When such a one claims that the Great Library is a mere mirage, it is most unlikely that clicking up a few links on Google will prove the opposite. I realize this will come as no small disappointment to those for whom the destruction of the Library has long served as a spendid historical club, for there are accounts to suit every taste. Depending on the particular object of ones disapprobation, one can bludgeon the Christians, Moslems, pagans, or even great Caesar himself, for there are versions of the story to suit all these occasions, and more.

I can find nothing that directly contradicts the Eye’s conjecture. However, by way of throwing in my two cents worth, I will draw attention to a very interesting chapter on the subject in “The Arab Conquest of Egypt,” by Alfred Butler, which includes a great number of links to source material on the subject. From the account therein, it appears that the claim of Moslem culpability in the destruction of the Library can be dismissed with little ado. However, Butler does not let the Christians off so easily. He agrees that the existence of a Great Library cannot be proved, or at least not after the time of Julius Caesar. However, basing his conclusions on passages from Aphthonius, Eunapius and Rufinus, among others, he claims that the Serapeum, which was destroyed by the Christians in 391, apparently in accord with an edict of the emperor Theodosius, housed a very extensive library. If this was the Great Library (a very big “if”, and one that Butler by no means proves), he concludes,

“The argument now stands as follows: the Library is proved to have been stored in rooms which, like the shrines of the old Egyptian gods, formed part and parcel of the temple building. The temple building is proved to have been utterly demolished and destroyed (by the Christians in 391). Therefore the Libary suffered the same destruction.”

So much for the one pebble I could find to further muddy the historical waters. As Obama said to President Zelaya, “I hope that helps.”

Mossadegh, Iran, and the CIA’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup, Part III

The Operations Plan set forth in Wilber’s “History,” envisioned a “massive” propaganda campaign against Mossadegh.  Apparently, the expense of this “massive” campaign was to be some fraction of the overall budget.  As noted in the “History,” “The total estimated expenditure required to implement this plan will be the equivalent of $285,000 of which $147,500 will be provided by the US Service and $137,500 by the UK Service.”  Quoting again from the plan, “One or two weeks before the date set for Situation A, the intensive propaganda effort will begin. The details relative to the execution of this campaign will be the primary responsibility of the US field station.”  The spinners of the Great Coup myth would have us belief that this rather parsimoniously funded “massive propaganda campaign,” launched a mere week or two before the attempt, and consisting of a batch of political cartoons and essays, completely outfoxed the Communists, renowned masters of propaganda though they were, and the entire Mossadegh controlled media, in spite of Wilber’s admission that this magically effective propaganda never appeared in more than 20 of the 273 publications published in Tehran at the time.

The Great Coup didn’t succeed because this “massive propaganda campaign” suddenly convinced the Iranian people they should turn against Mossadegh.  In fact, it was obvious from the start that the only hope of success lay in uniting the existing opposition to him in the country, and galvanizing it into action.  In the end, as we shall see, Mossadegh needed no CIA help to do that.  He pulled it off very nicely all by himself.

It was the CIA’s opinion that “General Zahedi is the only figure in Iran currently capable of heading a new government who could be relied upon to repress Soviet-Communist penetration and carry out basic reforms.”  The other “key elements” in the plan reflected this conclusion.  They were 1) Get the Shah to go along, 2) Insure Zahedi has command authority, 3) An appeal to obey Zahedi.  Getting the Shah to go along was never an issue.  He fled the country on August 15, and would surely have come back to accept power from whoever offered it to him.  In the end, the rest of the plan was moot.  Zahedi was in hiding in a CIA safe house when the decisive events of the coup took place, and his “command authority” was, therefore, irrelevant, as was the appeal to obey him.  He only emerged from hiding when the coast was clear, and Mossadegh’s supporters had already been defeated.

The CIA’s actual attempt to execute the plan outlined above is euphemistically referred to as “The First Try” in Section 6 of Wilber’s “History.”  In fact, it was the only try, as far as the CIA was concerned, and it was a failure.  Of course, as the old saying goes, “Success has a thousand fathers. Failure is a motherless child.”  When the Shah’s supporters won after all, even as the CIA staff were commiserating with each other on their failure, Wilber was quick to put a bold face on things.  He couldn’t tell bald-faced lies, though.  As a result, his “History” appears to be a fairly accurate account of what happened.  It is an account of a botched operation, as anyone who actually takes the trouble to read it can see.  In fact, it makes it quite clear that the CIA did not control or direct the events on August 19 that actually brought Mossadegh down.  The “First Try” occurred on the night of August 15.  It was a debacle.  Wilber’s version was as follows:

 “The precise order of events of the night of 15 August 1953 has not yet been established in all detail. The early accounts of various participants differed widely enough to make it impossible to follow the slender thread of truth through the dark night. However, the main outline of this first try is clear, as are two basic facts connected with it. These facts are: that the plan was betrayed by the indiscretion of one of the Iranian Army officer participants-primarily because of the protracted delay-and that it still might have succeeded in spite of this advance warning had not most of the participants proved to be inept or lacking in decision at the critical juncture.

“At 0545 hours on the morning of 16 August 1953, Radio Tehran came on the air with a special government communique covering the so-called abortive coup of the night just ending, and by 0600 hours Mossadeq was meeting with his cabinet to receive reports on the situation and to take steps to strengthen the security forces at government buildings and other vital points. Again at 0730 hours the communique was broadcast.

“Station personnel had passed an anxious, sleepless night in their office. From the fact that certain actions provided for in the military plan failed to materialize- no jeep with radio arrived at the compound, and the telephone system continued to function-it was obvious that something-or everything-had gone wrong. At 0500 hours, as soon as the curfew was lifted, Carroll toured the town and reported there was a concentration of tanks and troops around Mossadeq’s house, and other security forces on the move. Then Colonel [Farzanegan] called the office to say that things had gone badly, and he, himself, was on the run toward the Embassy in search of refuge. At 0600 hours he appeared, gave a summary of the situation, which was like that of the government communique, and was rushed into hiding. The station was now suddenly faced task of rescuing the operation from total failure…”

Doesn’t sound much like the usual yarns you may have heard about the marvelously, magically successful CIA coup, does it?  In the upshot, the CIA collected up General Zahedi, his son, and some of the other key people they’d been relying on, hid them away, and probably started thinking up ways to explain their abject failure to Washington.  In fact, it isn’t hard to discern the truly dilettantish nature of the affair between the lines.  For example, as noted in the description of the aftermath of the failure in the “History,” “It was now well into the morning, after the papers had been out for some time. Shojat, the substitute for the principal Tudeh paper, Besuye Ayandeh, had been predicting a coup since 13 August. It now stated that the plans for the alleged coup had been made after a meeting between the Shah and General Shwarkkopf on 9 August, but that Mossadeq had been tipped off on the 14th. It should be noted that the Tudeh appeared to be at least as well posted on the coup plans as the government-how is not known.”

Later in the document we read, “Throughout the long hours of 17 August, there seemed little that Headquarters could do to ease the pangs of despair. A wire sent to the station in the afternoon expressed the strong feeling that Roosevelt, in the interest of safety, should leave at the earliest moment, and it went on to express distress over the bad luck.”  Now, however, Mossadegh started making mistakes.  As noted in the “History,” “About 1000 hours a considerable body of the troops that had been dispersed throughout the city were called back to their barracks, as the government was certain the situation was well in hand.”  Mossadegh further alienated the military by broadcasting a list of names of real or supposed plotters who were to be arrested immediately.  Anyone who had previously expressed support for the Shah became suspect. 

On the 17th, a broadcast on radio Tehran called the Shah a traitor, and Mossadegh decreed the dissolution of the Majlis. The Teheran prosecutor arrested thirteen Opposition deputies who had taken asylum in the Parliament building.  Communist rioters destroyed statues of the Shah, and thoroughly frightened religious leaders.  The situation as it appeared at the time was reflected in a contemporary New York Times article:  “Thus, at day’s end, Dr. Mossadegh was alone with the Tudeh party in Iran’s political arena. At the moment, however, the two are uneasy allies.”  The next day, pro-Mossadegh papers further alienated traditionalists by announcing that the Pahlevi dynasty had come to an end.  Of course, the flight of the Shah brought home to many people just how far Mossadegh had gone. 

In a word, Mossadegh had succeeded in uniting and galvanizing opposition forces beyond the wildest dreams of anything the CIA could do with the paltry sums at its disposal.  However, the all-seeing, all-knowing Agency was completely unaware of just how volatile the situation had really become.  As noted in the “History:”

“”Headquarters spend a day featured by depression and despair. The immediate direction of the project moved from the Branch and Division to the highest level. At the end of the morning a handful of people worked on the draft of a message which was to call off the operation. As the message was finally sent, in the evening, it was based on the Department of State’s tentative stand: “that the operation has been tried and failed,” the position of the United Kingdom that: “we must regret that we cannot consider going on fighting” and Headquarters’ positon that, in the absence of strong recommendations to the contrary from Roosevelt and Henderson, operations against Mossadeq should be discontinued.” 

Then, as the CIA licked its wounds, there was a dramatic reversal of fortunes.  Again, quoting from the “History,”

“…before 0900 hours pro-Shah groups were assembling in the bazaar area. Members of these groups had not only made their personal choice between Mossadeq and the Shah, but they were stirred up by the Tudeh activity of the preceding day and were ready to move. They needed only leadership.”  (No there is no mention whatsoever of CIA involvement in getting these people on the street, or any claim that it quickly sprang into action and provided leadership).

“The news that something quite startling was happening spread at great speed throughout the city. Just when it reached Mossadeq, who was meeting with members of his cabinet, is not known. By 0900 hours the station did have this news, and by 1000 hours word had come in that both the Bakhtar-i-Emruz office and the headquarters of the Iran Party had been ransacked. Also about 1000 hours contact was established with the Rashidian brothers who seemed full of glee. Their instructions, as well as orders directed to [Keyvani and Djalili] were now to attempt to swing security forces to the side of the demonstrators and to encourage action for the capture of Radio Tehran. To what extent the resulting activity stemmed from specific efforts of all our agents will never be known, although many more details of the excitement of the day may slowly come to light.” (In other words, the actual assets of the CIA on the street as these events were going on consisted of a grand total of two agents.  The idea that the “specific efforts” of these two altered events one way or the other is ludicrous.  Their accounts of their activities, such as they were, were no doubt embellished, as they knew their compensation would depend on the CIA’s assessment of their actual contributions.)

Continuing with the CIA account:

“Fairly early in the morning Colonel [Demavand] one of those involved in the staff planning, appeared in the square before the Majlis with a tank which he had secured from the Second Battalion of the Second Armored Brigade, [a battalion originally committed to the operation] Lt. Col.[Khosro-Panah] and Captain [Ali Zand] were on hand and were joined by two trucks from the same battalion, while members of the disbanded Imperial Guard seized trucks and drove through the streets. By 1015 hours there were pro-Shah truckloads of military personnel at all the main squares. (Again, the CIA had nothing whatsoever to do with the actions of these military units, which were undertaken at their own initiative.)

“While small groups had penetrated to the north of the city by 0930 hours, the really large groups, armed with sticks and stones, came from south Tehran and merged as they reached Sepah Square in their progress north toward the center of the city. There the troops held in readiness fired hundred of shots over the heads of the crowd, but apparently were not willing to fire at these partisans of the Shah. As a result the crowds were able to fan out toward key points. Just up Lalezar, a main shopping street, the Saadi theater, long sponsored by the Tudeh Party, was burned. The surging crowds of men, women, and children were shouting, “Shah piruz ast,” (The Shah is victorious). Determined as they seemed, a gay holiday atmosphere prevailed, and it was if exterior pressures had been released so that the true sentiments of the people showed through. The crowds were not, as in earlier weeks, made up of hoodlums, but included people of all classes-many well dressed-led or encouraged by other civilians. Trucks and busloads of cheering civilians streamed by and when, about noon, five tanks and 20 truckloads of soldiers joined it, the movement took on a somewhat different aspect. As usual, word spread like lightning and in other parts of the city pictures of the Shah were eagerly display. Cars went by with headlights burning as a tangible indication of loyalty to the ruler.” (In other words, the demonstrations were spontaneous, and the military actions were not guided or directed by the CIA, which would certainly have claimed credit in this self-laudatory report if they had even the slightest basis for making such a claim).

“Those army officers previously alerted to take part in the military operations provided by TPAJAX were now taking separate but proper individual action.” (Another transparent attempt to take credit for something military forces were doing, as the CIA itself was forced to admit, on their own)

“Radio Tehran was a most important target, for its capture not only sealed the success at the capital, but was effective in bringing the provincial cities quickly into line with the new government. During the heat of activiy, it broadcast dull discussions of cotton prices, and finally music only. Already at 1030 hours there had been an inerruption of its schedule, but it was not until early afternoon that people began streaming up the borad avenue toward their goal, some three miles to the north. Buses and trucks bore full loads of civilians, army officers and policemen. Sheer weight of numbers seemed to have overwhelmed the defenders of the radio station, and after a brief struggle in which three deaths were reported, at 1412 hours the station was in royalist hands. At 1420 hours it broadcast the first word of the success of the royalist effort, including a reading of the firman. A stream of eager speakers came to the microphone. Some represented elements upon whom reliance had been placed in TPAJAX planning, while others were quite unknown to the station. Among the former elements were opposition papers [Bakhtiar and Zelzeleh,] one of [Ayatollah Kashani’s sons,] and [likeh Etozadi.] Among spontaneous supporters of the Shah to come to the microphone were Colonel Ali Pahlevan and Major Husand Mirzadian; their presence was the proof- no longer required-of the truth of the TPAJAX assumption that the army would rally to the Shah under just such circumstnces. For some period of time, Radio Tehran was alternately on and off the air. It may have been finally put into good operating condition by those engineers who, as one speaker said, had come along for just such a purpose. Here, as in so many other phases, chance served the cause very well, for, had the original defenders of the radio station managed to damage its facilities, the firm control of the capital might have been delayed.”  (In other words, the decisive takeover of radio Tehran was accomplished entirely by forces in no way directed or guided by the CIA.  Putting a bold face on events, the best it can do is claim, “We knew those guys.”).

This, then, was the reality of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup.  It bears little resemblance to the gaudy tales of hoards of “fake anti- and pro-monarchy protesters,” killing each other by the hundreds, supposedly all hired with the paltry sums left over from the CIA’s propaganda campaign, and stage directed by Wilber and Roosevelt.  Google the story, and you’ll find this kind of disinformation spread across the Internet far and wide.  Among the worst of the liars are those who have not only been given a haven in the country they malign and slander, but even hold prestigious and well-paid jobs here.  The words of Mark Twain come to mind; “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

Parts I and II of this post can be found here and here.

Mossadegh, Iran, and the CIA’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup, Part II

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup has everything; the CIA, an evil corporation, an heroic, democracy loving man of the people, all with an anti-American slant to top it off.  It’s an ideologue’s perfect fairy tale.  The fact that the narrative is palpably and obviously a pack of grotesque lies doesn’t matter to them.  Don’t believe me?  Just Google the story.  You’ll find link after link to historical fantasists, all flogging the same bogus line, all professional paragons of ostentatious, self-proclaimed virtue, all with big crocodile tears streaming down their faces.  For them, the pose is everything, and the reality nothing.

Let’s continue deconstructing the Great Coup myth.  Take a close look at what’s out there, and you can get a pretty good idea of what really happened.  In fact, the CIA did try to pull off a coup.  According to the narrative, it did so at the behest of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).  This flimsy fabrication falls apart as soon as you shine the light of day on it.  In fact, the CIA became involved because the US feared a Communist takeover in Iran.  The author of the Wikipedia article on Mossadegh is typical of the genre in implying that the Communist menace was just a fig leaf, citing Mossadegh’s “open disgust with socialism.”  In fact, it was obvious to US decision makers at the time that Mossadegh wasn’t a Communist, but they weren’t stupid enough to believe that this would somehow magically protect Iran from a Communist takeover.  In fact, they had taken over numerous other countries in the decade preceding the coup, including those with “nationalist” leaders, like Iran. 

Czechoslovakia is a case in point.  There they had gradually infiltrated the police, security and military forces until they felt strong enough to seize power for themselves.  In fact, the same thing had been going on in Iran.  It was discovered after the coup that the Iranian Communist (Tudeh) Party had “477 members in the armed forces, ’22 colonels, 69 majors, 100 captains, 193 lieutenants, 19 noncommissioned officers, and 63 military cadets,’ although none of these were in the ‘crucial tank divisions around Tehran’ that could have been used for a coup d’état and which the Shah had screened carefully.  Ironically, a Tudeh colonel had been in charge of the Shah’s personal security – as well as that of Vice President Richard Nixon when he visited Iran.” Is it any wonder that western leaders saw Mossadegh as a “sorcerer’s apprentice,” likely to unleash powers he couldn’t control?

Following World War II, the Soviet Union did not withdraw the troops it had stationed there for strategic reasons during the war, but used them to occupy parts of the north of the country, where it established puppet states.  These were not finally suppressed by Iranian troops until November 1946, after the Soviets had withdrawn in return for an agreement giving them access to Iranian oil.

The role of the Tudeh is typically glossed over by the Great Coup storytellers.  In fact, Mossadegh, who had no organized power base of his own, had been openly collaborating with them, relying on their support to garner over 99.9% of the vote in a rigged, non-secret plebiscite.  The Tudeh had staged a massive demonstration in his support on July 21, about a month before the coup, and had again rampaged in the streets on August 17, destroying statues of the Shah, who had fled the country by this time.  The yarn spinners claim Kermit Roosevelt’s book, Countercoup, proves he hired these very demonstrators.  It proves nothing of the sort.  In purported Great Coup leader Roosevelt’s own words, he was surprised by the demonstrations, and they “scared the hell” out of him.  The New York Times report on these events is typical of perceptions in the US:  “Thus, at day’s end, Dr. Mossadegh was alone with the Tudeh party in Iran’s political arena. At the moment, however, the two are uneasy allies.”

Following the events of August 17, Mossadegh used loyal military units to clear the Communists from the streets and “restore order.”  It proved to be a fatal mistake.  Other than the Tudeh, by this time he had little organized support left.  He had succeeded in alienating military leaders and civilians loyal to the Shah, Ayatollah Kashani and other powerful clerics, and anyone fearful of a Communist takeover.  With the Communists out of the picture, it proved an easy task for his opponents to unseat him.  In the end, they did so on their own, without significant CIA help or direction.

The point of all this is that the Communists were cited as the reason for CIA involvement, and that, in fact, that reason is credible, because the Communists were perceived as a threat, and actually were a threat to the security of Iran at the time.  The myth that the whole show was motivated by an oil company is just that, a myth.

Now let us turn to the legend of Mossadegh himself.  He is described in the narratives as a popular, democratically inclined leader.  In fact, he was a Hugo Chavez prototype.  The legend that he was a virtuous, disinterested democrat falls apart if one looks at his track record.  In 1951 elections for the Iranian Majlis, or parliament, Mossadegh suspended the vote after he had achieved a quorum, denying rural voters, who likely would have opposed him, a voice.  He justified this high handed act by claiming “manipulation” by foreign intelligence services.  This lame, self-serving excuse, stock-in-trade for any would be dictator, has been swallowed whole by western journalists of the “good-guy, bad-guy” genre, like the New York Times’ Steven Kinzer.  He informs us breathlessly that this pathetic, self-seeking power grab was justified because British intelligence was pumping a whole 10,000 pounds a month into the country.  Once again, we are to believe the usual yarn about the infinite effectiveness of CIA and MI6 money, the infinitesimal effectiveness of funds similarly spent by the Soviets and their Tudeh pals, and the complete disinterestedness of the noble Mossadegh.  When cautioned by his advisors that western journalists would see through some similarly abject imposture, Stalin once replied, “Don’t worry, they’ll swallow it.”  He was right.  The “good guy, bad guy” school of journalists, capable of infinite self-deception and an infinite capacity to swallow their own narratives in the teeth of contradictory facts have been the bane of the truth for a long time.  In 1952, the “democrat” Mossadegh convinced the Majlis to grant him “emergency powers” for a period of six months.  When that period expired, he had these dictatorial powers extended, this time for a year.  We’ve already mentioned how he held a plebiscite on his policies, removing the secret ballot protection for the occasion.  The result, 99.94% in favor, was reminiscent of the Soviet Union in its heyday.  Of course, even this has not been enough to sway the Kinzer school of journalists, bitterly determined as they are to portray Mossadegh as the “good guy” no matter what, and the facts be damned, but his own countrymen were not similarly bamboozled.  Previous supporters such as the powerful cleric, Ayatollah Kashani, began to suspect that the “pure, noble democrat” Mossadegh was actually a nascent dictator.

In tomorrow’s installment, we’ll take a closer look at Wilber’s “History,” and some of the other source material commonly claimed as “proof” of their version by the peddlers of the Great Coup myth, and see what they really say. 

Parts I and III of this post can be found here and here.


Mossadegh, Iran, and the CIA’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup

Historical myths abound in our day.  Stretching historical truth, or chopping off its legs to make it fit this or that religious, political or ideological Procrustean bed has become a commonplace.  One stands little chance of approaching the truth unless one personally consults the source material.

An interesting example that has been popping up in the news lately is the wonderful yarn about how the CIA single-handedly took down Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, back in 1953.  New embellishments keep cropping up at an exponential rate, so that in its current incarnation the yarn has assumed truly psychedelic proportions.  Ken Kesey would surely have called it “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup,” and Saddam, of course, “The Mother of All Coups).  A common version is supplied by one Sasan Fayazmanesh, an assimilated Iranian (assimilated in the sense of being able to give a perfect impression of the holier-than-thou preening of an ostentatiously pious leftist ideologue).  In company with many others with similarly vivid imaginations, Ms. Fayazmanesh cites a declassified CIA history of the event as “proof” of what, on examination, turns out to be a host of more or less egregious fabrications.

According to Ms. Fayazmanesh, the document purportedly shows, “how, by spending a meager sum of $1 million, the CIA ‘stirred up considerable unrest in Iran, giving Iranians a clear choice between instability and supporting the shah’; how it brought ‘the largest mobs’ into the street; how it ‘began disseminating ‘gray propaganda’ passing out anti-Mossadegh cartoons in the streets and planting unflattering articles in local press’; how the CIA’s ‘Iranian operatives pretending to be Communists threatened Muslim leaders with ‘savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh”; how the ‘house of at least one prominent Muslim was bombed by CIA agents posing as Communists’; how the CIA tried to ‘orchestrate a call for a holy war against Communism’; how on August 19 ‘a journalist who was one of the agency’s most important Iranian agents led a crowd toward Parliament, inciting people to set fire to the offices of a newspaper owned by Dr. Mossadegh’s foreign minister’; how American agents swung ‘security forces to the side of the demonstrators’; how the shah’s disbanded ‘Imperial Guard seized trucks and drove through the street’; how by ’10:15 there were pro-shah truckloads of military personnel at all main squares’; how the “pro-shah speakers went on the air, broadcasting the coups’ success and reading royal decrees’; how at the US embassy, ‘CIA officers were elated, and Mr. Roosevelt got General Zahedi out of hiding’ and found him a tank that ‘drove him to the radio station, where he spoke to the nation’; and, finally, how ‘Dr. Mossadegh and other government officials were rounded up, while officers supporting General Zahedi placed ‘unknown supports of TP-Ajax’ in command of all units of Tehran garrison.’ ‘It was a day that should have never ended,’ Risen quotes Wilber as saying, for ‘it carried with it such a sense of excitement, of satisfaction and of jubilation that it is doubtful whether any other can come up to it.'”

Except that it doesn’t.  Some of the above statements are accurate, and some are not.  Taken together, they paint a completely dishonest and bogus version of what really happened.  Ms. Fayazmanesh is able to get away with foisting her disinformation on a gullible public, accompanied by all the usual faux virtuous indignation, because she’s well aware virtually no one will bother to fact check her.  Americans seldom bother to look at historical source material.  It’s time they got in the habit.  It will save them a lot of embarrassment down the road.  In fact, if you take the time to actually read the CIA document Ms. Fayazmanesh cites as her “proof,” you will find that it completely demolishes the whole fairy tale.

Let’s take a look at how her version agrees with what’s she claims is in Wilber’s document, as cited above:

“how, by spending a meager sum of $1 million, the CIA ‘stirred up considerable unrest in Iran, giving Iranians a clear choice between instability and supporting the shah’; ”

This $1 million is a sum Roosevelt had stashed in a safe in the form of Iranian currency.  In fact, as you can see here, only $100,000 of the $1 million were ever spent on the coup.  In other words, we’re to believe that the incredibly, miraculously talented CIA agents were able suborn all those thousands and thousands of demonstrators, clerics, military officers, politicians, etc., etc., according to the mythologists’ own claims with a mere $100K.  Of course, the story is poppycock, but, tell me, how does it reflect on the Iranian people?  I mean, we’re talking a nation that stood toe to toe with the Roman Empire for centuries, trading blow for blow.   Is it really even credible that this great nation sank so low in our own time that it could be bought for $1 million?  It shows you just how desperate these people are to blacken the reputation of the United States, a nation that many of them are even now exploiting as a safe haven.  They’re quite willing to humiliate and slander their own country to do it. Proceeding with our fisking:

“how it brought ‘the largest mobs’ into the street;”

Except the document makes no such claim.  Read it, and you’ll see that Wilber and his pals, skulking away from the action, were surprised by the decisive demonstrations, deemed them spontaneous, and had a miniscule role, if any, in provoking them.

” how it ‘began disseminating ‘gray propaganda’ passing out anti-Mossadegh cartoons in the streets and planting unflattering articles in local press’;”

According to the document, “It was, however, agreed that the station should begin at once with its new policy of attacking the government of Mossadeq through grey propaganda. The station relayed this line to its own agents and passed it on to the Rashidian brothers of SIS. The CIA Art Group, a section of the PP Staff Advisory Panel, was asked to prepare a considerable number of anti-Mossadeq cartoons.”  It later mentions that these cartoons later appeared in 20 anti-Mossadegh papers, among the 273 published in Tehran at the time.  Are we to believe that a few cartoons published in already anti-Mossadegh papers bamboozled the entire population of Tehran into pouring out on the streets and staging a coup?  Just asking.

“how the CIA’s ‘Iranian operatives pretending to be Communists threatened Muslim leaders with ‘savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh’;”

Here’s the section referred to from the document:  “At this time the psychological campaign against Mossadeq was reaching its climax. The controllable press was going all out against Mossadeq, while [Blacked-Out] [Blacked-Out] under station direction was printing material which the station considered to be helpful. CIA agents gave serious attention to alarming the religious leaders at Tehran by issuing black propaganda in the name of the Tudeh Party, threatening these leaders with savage punishment if they opposed Mossadeq. Threatening phone calls were made to some of them, in the name of the Tudeh, and one of several planned sham bombings of the houses of these leaders was carried out.”

Not mentioned here is that the Tudeh didn’t need any help “scaring religious leaders.”  The party faithful staged massive demonstrations on August 17, following the initial botched CIA coup attempt, smashing statues of the Shah and the property of his supporters, as well as taking over government buildings in Enzeli and Rasht in the north of the country.

“how the ‘house of at least one prominent Muslim was bombed by CIA agents posing as Communists’; ”

As one can see by looking at the actual excerpt from the document above, Ms. Fayasmanesh seems to have left out a rather important word here; SHAM bombing.  Go figure…

“how the CIA tried to ‘orchestrate a call for a holy war against Communism’;”

I would be very interested in hearing Ms. Fayasmanesh elaborate on why it was a bad thing to “orchestrate a holy war against Communism.”

“how on August 19 ‘a journalist who was one of the agency’s most important Iranian agents led a crowd toward Parliament, inciting people to set fire to the offices of a newspaper owned by Dr. Mossadegh’s foreign minister’;”

The claim that any CIA agent among the demonstrators was acting directly on its orders, or had somehow provoked or was leading the demonstrations is a complete fabrication, utterly unsupported by Wilber’s history.  Again, Fayasmanesh is relying on the ignorance of her audience and the assumption they will be too lazy to read the actual document to put over her lies.

“how American agents swung ‘security forces to the side of the demonstrators’;”

Again, if you will take the time to read the document, you will see that Wilber makes no claim whatsoever that American agents played any decisive role in “swinging security forces to the side of the demonstrators,” on the day of the successful coup.  To the extent that it claims to be based on the document, this is another lie made up of whole cloth.

“how the shah’s disbanded ‘Imperial Guard seized trucks and drove through the street’; how by ’10:15 there were pro-shah truckloads of military personnel at all main squares’; how the “pro-shah speakers went on the air, broadcasting the coups’ success and reading royal decrees’;”

…and your point is, Ms. Fayasmanesh?  There is no basis in the document whatsoever for the claim that any of this was done at the behest of the CIA.

“how at the US embassy, ‘CIA officers were elated, and Mr. Roosevelt got General Zahedi out of hiding’ and found him a tank that ‘drove him to the radio station, where he spoke to the nation’;”

In other words, the CIA “leaders” of the coup were finally brought out after it was all over.  No surprise here.

and, finally, how ‘Dr. Mossadegh and other government officials were rounded up, while officers supporting General Zahedi placed ‘unknown supports of TP-Ajax’ in command of all units of Tehran garrison.’

Here’s the excerpt she’s referring to from the actual document:  “Colonel [Farzanegan] following Zahedi’s instruction, and Carroll now closed up the operation. While [Batmangelich] had [been named Chief of Staff, Farzanegan]-at that office- kept in touch by phone and placed known supporters of TPAJAX in command of all units of the Tehran garrison, seized key military targets, and executed the arrest lists.”

In other words, she has, apparently deliberately, replaced “known supports” with “unknown supports.”  Since she’s only directly quoting four words, it seems highly unlikely that the misquote by this university associate professor was a mere “mistake.”  The implication that the CIA was somehow directing appointments to the commands of the Tehran garrisons is, of course, also absurd.  “Supporters of TPAJAX” are merely those who supported the coup, and were, therefore, on the same side as the CIA.  They were by no means its agents.

‘It was a day that should have never ended,’ Risen quotes Wilber as saying, for ‘it carried with it such a sense of excitement, of satisfaction and of jubilation that it is doubtful whether any other can come up to it.'”

As can be clearly seen from actually reading the document, it was also a day on which the CIA itself, convinced that the coup had failed, sat meekly on the sidelines, taking no significant role in directing events whatsoever.

Don’t take my word for it. I’m not trying to sell you an alternate point of view. I’m trying to get you to read the Wilber document, and, if you can manage it, Roosevelt’s book and some of the other source material, and then think for yourself. I know at the outset that I’m wasting my breath with Ms. Fayasmanesh and her ilk. They live in little ideological boxes, caged in with intellectual bars. One of those bars is the Great Coup fairy tale. If they break that bar, they’ll have to leave the box, and that’s something only a rare ideologue can ever bear to do. I hope, dear reader, that you’re capable of thinking for yourself.

Let’s move on to another version. You’ll find it in the Wikipedia article about Mossadegh linked above, complete with embellishments never imagined by Ms. Fayazmanesh. For example, we are fed such fanciful fabrications as, “Soon Pro-Mosaddeq supporters, who were actually paid plants of the U.S. operation, threatened Muslim leaders with savage punishment if they opposed Mosaddeq’, giving the impression that Mosaddeq was cracking down on dissent, and stirring anti-Mosaddeq sentiments within the religious community.” “(The Shah) actually signed two decrees, one dismissing Mosaddeq and the other nominating the CIA’s choice, General Fazlollah Zahedi, as Prime Minister.These decrees, or Farmāns as they are called, were specifically written as dictated by Donald Wilber the CIA architect of the plan, which were designed as a major part of Wilber’s strategy to give the impression of legitimacy to the secret coup, as can be read in the declassified plan itself which bears his name.”

This is a complete fabrication. Read the document and you will see Wilber claims nothing of the sort. According to the document itself, “After discussion between Roosevelt and Rashidian, they reverted to a decision closer to the original London draft of TPAJAX, deciding that there should be two firmans (royal decrees), one dismissing Mossadeq and one naming Zahedi as Prime Minister. Rashidian and [Behbudi] , the Shah’s [palace] [head] and an established UK agent, prepared the documents, and on the evening of 12 August [Colonel Nematollah Nasiri], [Commander of the Imperial Guard] took them by plane to Ramsar.”).

Quoting again from the Wikipedia article, “Soon, massive protests, engineered by Roosevelt’s team, took place across the city and elsewhere with tribesmen paid to be at the ready to assist the coup. Fake anti- and pro-monarchy protesters, both paid by Roosevelt (as he reports in his book, cited), violently clashed in the streets, looting and burning mosques and newspapers, leaving almost 300 dead. The pro-monarchy leadership, chosen, hidden and finally unleashed at the right moment by the CIA team, led by retired army General and former Minister of Interior in Mosaddeq’s cabinet, Fazlollah Zahedi joined with underworld figures such as the Rashidian brothers and local strongman Shaban Jafari to gain the upper hand on 19 August 1953 (28 Mordad). The military joined on cue: pro-Shah tank regiments stormed the capital and bombarded the prime minister’s official residence, on Roosevelt’s cue, according to his book.”

This is a complete pack of lies. Roosevelt didn’t “engineer” any of it. The part taken in the protests by people working directly for the CIA was limited to the independent acts of two – !! Count ’em, two, the total of the CIA’s actual “assets” claimed by Wilber in all of Tehran – agents, acting on their own, with guidance from no one, as stated repeatedly by Wilber in the document. Roosevelt makes no claim whatsoever in his book that any significant number of the demonstrators who played a role in the coup were “fake anti- and pro-monarchy protesters” he had paid. (Again, read the source material, in this case, Roosevelt’s book), the “pro-monarchy leadership, chosen, hidden and finally unleashed at the right moment by the CIA team” in fact played no role in the successful execution of the coup, which was a fait accompli before they ever left their CIA safe houses, and no “cue” to the military units that were decisive in the struggle to seize power is mentioned, either in Roosevelt’s book, as suggested by the lying author of the Wikipedia article, or in Wilber’s CIA history.

In a word, the authors of these fanciful tall tales about the Great Coup are either lying through their teeth, or haven’t bothered to actually read the documents they claim as “proof” of their assertions themselves. Meanwhile, our brilliant leaders, including Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, and President Obama himself, simply swallow these impostures whole, humiliating their country by apologizing for crimes it never committed.

There’s a lot more about the “Great CIA Masterstroke” that may interest you. I’ll continue the story tomorrow.

Parts II and III of this post can be found here and here.

Mossadegh and Ayatollah Kashani
Mossadegh and Ayatollah Kashani

Stendhal’s “Memoirs of a Tourist” in the Quarterly Review

I stumbled across something remarkable in an old copy of the British Quarterly Review.  It was a review of Stendhal’s “Memoirs of a Tourist.”  Stendhal is my favorite novelist, so I was not a little interested in learning what the Quarterly had to say about him.  What I found was one of the better vignettes of the author I’ve run across, quite true to life and full of insight into the human condition, written by a sadly anonymous someone who must have himself been a formidable intellect.  I heartily recommend it to the safekeeping of Stendhal’s “Happy Few.”  One could read through many a modern literary review without finding his equal in intelligence, perception, and writing skill.

The Tory (conservative) Quarterly Review and the Whig (liberal) Edinburgh Review towered like giants over the literary and political scene in Great Britain during most of the first half of the 19th century.  Their influence was worldwide, and their praise or contempt could mean life or death to the literary careers of the aspiring artists of the day.  In spite of their political agendas, they tended to be more judicious and fair in their treatment of authors whose politics they found uncongenial than the magazines and journals of our own day.  The Quarterly, however, seldom praised liberals, and Stendhal was a liberal, although one of a decidedly unusual stamp.  Any weakness in a political opponent’s style, the accuracy of their work, or the strength of their logic was treated with a high toned, rather elegant derisiveness.  There were several playful jabs, but nothing derisive in this review, Tory though its author certainly was.

It is clear that this admirable reviewer felt the power of Stendhal’s writing.  In other words, he had that very unusual combination of knowledge and intellect necessary to perceive that he was dealing with a man of genius, at a time when, while that man had a certain literary reputation, he had hardly begun to acquire the literary status he eventually achieved.  One must recall that “Memoirs of a Tourist” was one of Stendhal’s minor works, written under a pseudonym, merely to bring in some very necessary income.  No matter.  Our reviewer caught the essence of the man through the mist, and portrayed him with such wonderful simplicity, strength, and accuracy, that one can only hope that some, at least, of the Quarterly’s readers could appreciate what he put before them.

Here are a few excerpts from the review, which appeared in the December 1839 issue of the Quarterly.  First, the beginning:

“We have read these volumes with lively interest:  much amusement is to be found in them; not a little of valuable information; the observations, reflections, jokes, and sarcasms, of a clever man – a very favourable specimen of the liberal of the present time; noted down from day to day, as he repeatedly asserts, in the course of journeys undertaken for professional purposes through several of the finest, and one or two of the obscurest, provinces of France.  The book is undoubtedly one of the ablest that the Parisian press has lately produced; and we are inclined to believe that it offers better materials for an estimate of the actual social condition of the France of Louis Philippe than could be gathered from a score of works holding forth graver pretensions.”

This is rare praise indeed for a liberal to appear in the pages of such a quintessentially Tory journal as the Quarterly Review.  Our Great Unknown was hardly taken in, by the way, by the typically Stendhalian pseudonym the author used in “Memoirs of a Tourist.”  In his own words:

“We understand (the work) is generally ascribed to the pen of M. Beyle (Stendhal’s real name)… We are not well acquainted with M. Beyle’s personal history (an observation that makes the rest of the review that much more remarkable, ed.) but it is evident that if he be the author of the Memoires, he has endeavoured to mystify his readers by the account which the Touriste is made to deliver of himself.  …never was there a thinner disguise than this gentleman’s assumed character of an iron-merchant.  There is not one mercantile atom in his composition.”  (How true! ed.)

There follows:

“He is evidently a practiced professional litterateur, who has spent a considerable part of his life in Italy…”  (No doubt about that!)

Perhaps the most convincing bona fide of our worthy reviewers recognition of Stendhal’s virtuosity is his attempt to convert him to his own party on the spot:

“M. Beyle may placard whatever liberalism he thinks proper upon fit occasions, but neither he, no, nor any other gentleman (the French have adopted this word by the way, as well as dandy) can be at heart an enemy of aristocracy.  He has exactly the same horror for universal suffrage, even for the coaxing of shopkeepers, and the mystification of town-councils, that the most dainty Sybarite of Vienna could avow.  In all his habits, feelings, opinions – in all but a certain stock of phrases – he is diametrically opposed to the principles of the Movement and the practices of its sincere advocates.”

There is much truth in what our Great Unknown says here, but I suspect he’s rather wide of the mark in converting Stendhal to a Tory, lock stock and barrel.  Be that as it may, I must say I’m grateful the fashion of writing anonymous reviews has passed.  Tory or Whig, our reviewer is surely a superlative one, and I would be pleased to learn more of what he has to teach if only I knew his name.  I appeal to those most likely to know to favor me with any clues they might have.

I note in closing that this particular number of the Quarterly Review has a great deal more matter of interest to anyone who cares to peek through a looking glass at another age, including an account of the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, written long before Darwin dreamed of publishing “The Origin of Species.” 


Dynamic Detroit: The Decline and Fall of the US Automotive Industry

Diego Rivera Detroit Mural
Diego Rivera Detroit Mural

Detroit hasn’t always been on the ropes. Back in 1935, when we still hadn’t completely recovered from the Great Depression, an article appeared in “The American Mercury” entitled “Detroit the Dynamic.” In those days, morale in Motown was high. The workers were the best in the country and knew it. America was leaving the hard times behind, and Detroit was leading the way. Optimism prevailed, and “Detroit the Dynamic” reflected it. Some excerpts:

“This life, to be known and appreciated, must be experienced as Detroit commoners live it, and witnessed with their vision. Then it appears as the best that America has to offer.”

“Detroit calls up the most intelligent and energetic laborers of the land, even as California lures the bums. Candidates for jobs are rigorously culled in the great shops. The survivors are, beyond question, the pick of plain Americans.”

“…Detroit was agitated by the Dionne quintuplets to a degree reached by the folk of no other region. The appeal was simply to Detroit’s ruling spirit – mass production.”

“This is the Detroit of the Detroiters: first, of course, the automobile capital of the world; then, the city of champions – Joe Louis, the Tigers, the Redwings; …the patriotic community that put on the most monstrous of American Legion parades; the music capital that presents Gargantuan outdoor festivals of song; the financial center that produced the most prodigious banking crash of the Depression;… the scene of the colossal spectacle and the nations’s hugest crowds; the city that calls itself Detroit the Dynamic.”

You can read the whole article here. It makes you think. Times change. The changes aren’t always in the direction of “progress.” If what’s happened to Detroit is what Greenspan refers to as “creative destruction,” then the destruction part has spun out of control. The last time I was driving through the area, I heard a radio announcer scornfully proclaim there was no one left in Detroit now but the mice. May the day never come when a radio announcer can say that about America.

Torture: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

We are told that torture is essential to defend our “security.” Here are a few examples of how torture has contributed to the “security” of society over the years.

From “The History of the Franks,” by Gregory of Tours (in 584 AD a nobleman named Mummolus annoyed Queen Fredegund. Gregory continues with the story):

(The Queen) had a number of Parisian housewives rounded up, and they were tortured with the instruments and the cat, and so compelled to act as informers. They confessed that they were witches and gave evidence that they had been responsible for many deaths. They then added something which I find quite incredible: “We sacrificed you son (a young boy who had just died of dysentery) O Queen, to save the life of Mummolus…

Chilperic (the king) immediately sent his men to seize the person of Mummolus. He was interrogated, loaded with chains and put to the torture. Then his hands were tied behind his back, he was suspended from a rafter and he was questioned about these sorceries…Mummolus was extended on the rack and then flogged with treble thongs until his torturers were quite exhausted. After this splinters were driven beneath the nails of his fingers and toes. So things continued…

From “Red Victory” by W. Bruce Lincoln, describing the methods of the Cheka, the first of the infamous Communist security organizations, during the civil war that followed the 1917 Revolution:

Rapes of female prisoner by Cheka guards and interrogators were so commonplace that they occasioned comment from superiors only if performed in some particularly brutal or perverted fashion…

…each Cheka headquarters evidently developed certain specialities. The Cheka in Voronezh rolled its prisoners around inside a barrel into which nails had been driven, while the Cheka in Kharkov used scalping as a preferred form of torture. In Armavir, the Cheka used a “death wreath” that applied increasing pressure to a prisoners skull; at Tsaritsyn, they separated prisoners joints by sawing through their bones; and, in Omsk, they poured molten sealing wax on prisoners’ faces, arms, and necks. In Kiev, Chekists installed rats in pieces of pipe that had been closed at one end, placed the open end against prisoners’ stomachs, and then heated the pipes until the rats, maddened by the heat, tried to escape by gnawing their way into the prisoners’ intestines.

From a U.S. military autopsy report:

Final Autopsy Report: DOD 003164, (Detainee) Died as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation as evidenced by the recently fractured hyoid bone in the neck and soft tissue hemorrhage extending downward to the level of the right thyroid cartilage. Autopsy revealed bone fracture, rib fractures, contusions in mid abdomen, back and buttocks extending to the left flank, abrasions, lateral buttocks. Contusions, back of legs and knees; abrasions on knees, left fingers and encircling to left wrist. Lacerations and superficial cuts, right 4th and 5th fingers. Also, blunt force injuries, predominately recent contusions (bruises) on the torso and lower extremities. Abrasions on left wrist are consistent with use of restraints. No evidence of defense injuries or natural disease. Manner of death is homicide. Whitehorse Detainment Facility, Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Such acts really do merit moral condemnation, but we’ve become jaded to moral condemnation. We’ve been afflicted by the professionally pious with their ostentatious displays of superior virtue and their holier than thou preening for so long that we dismiss moral revulsion as a pose, because that’s what it usually is. For the professionally pious, the pose is everything, and the reality nothing. When the reality really is an outrage to human decency, we tend not to notice, dismissing any reservations about, for example, torture, as just another pose, just another facet of someone’s political narrative.

Well, a healthy conscience and a conventional sense of right and wrong aren’t really necessary to understand why it’s necessary to resist the legitimization of torture. It can really be boiled down to a matter of self-preservation. Read through the above incidents, and multiply them hundreds of thousands of times. That’s been the reality of human history. Can anyone really still be so naïve as to believe that what goes around will never come around, that they will never be the victim of what they gladly condone when applied to others? As state power continues to expand exponentially, not only in the US, but in virtually every other country on the globe, who can still be blind enough not to see that, if they legitimize torture, they will eventually become its victim, or, if not them, their children? Has “security” become the sine qua non of modern society, trumping habeas corpus, the right to a trial by jury, the right to confront ones accusers, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without hindrance except by due process of law? If so, then I submit that security is not to be found by the legitimization of torture, but by its final, unequivocal condemnation as a legal instrument of state power.

If security has really become the ultimate social value, then perhaps, when it comes to torture, it would be wise to forget the terminological hair-splitting one finds here, there, and everywhere on the web these days, and coolly consider the odds of ourselves becoming victims. Do you really want security above all else? Then work to put the state out of the torture business once and for all. You’ll be a more secure.


Iran, Twitter, and Revolution

In looking through the first five blogs on my list of usual suspects for this evening, I noticed that all five of them had “Facebook Revolution” posts on Iran. Here’s tonight’s line-up, not necessarily in the order of their current favor at Court: Sullivan, Kos, Huffpo, Instapundit, and Little Miss Attila. The whole Twitter, Flickr, Facebook revolution of the future thing seems compelling, but I have my doubts. All of the above can be monitored and controlled, and despotic states will become increasingly likely to do just that every time another Ahmadinejad is caught flat footed. Back in 1789, 1830, 1848, and 1917, there was no Internet, but the word still got around, and, occasionally, revolutions succeeded even without Tweets. Of course, they often succeeded because guys like Louis XVI and Nicholas II lacked the will and ruthlessness to resist. They also succeeded because the state in those days lacked anything like the means of controlling its citizens that are easily at the command of any ruler who wants to use them today. In the end, technology will favor the oppressors, and not the oppressed. Just as the proponents of torture on the right will have second thoughts as soon as they become the victims, the proponents of the unrestricted growth of state power on the left should be careful what they wish for. They assume they will always be the state, and that it will never turn on them, but only on their enemies. So did Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin and Trotsky.
If state power cannot be limited and controlled, all the tweeting in the world won’t raise Liberty from the dead. Mankind’s brush with Naziism and, especially, Communism in the 20th century were near things. We may not be so lucky in the years to come.
Update: Publius on the limits of Twitter.

Marsilius of Padua and “Defensor pacis”

How is it that I never heard of Marsilius of Padua until now? Yes, I know, ignorance, but even the illustrious Dr. Johnson was guilty of that occasionally. (In case you haven’t heard the anecdote, he erroneously defined a pastern as “the knee of a horse,” in his famous dictionary when it ought to be “that part of the leg of a horse between the joint next the foot and the hoof.” When he was asked, at a large dinner, how he managed to get this one so wrong, he was unevasive: “Ignorance, Madam, ignorance.”)
But I digress. Marsilius was one of the outstanding thinkers of the middle ages, and made a profound impression in his own time, and for centuries thereafter. More to the point, in his book, “Defensor pacis,” which I heartily recommend to the gentle reader, he makes some powerful and brilliant arguments in favor of the separation of church and state, drawing heavily on scripture. In a word, he was the Roger Williams of his day. Perhaps the reason that he is virtually unknown outside of academia today is that fact that his teaching must certainly have been uncomfortable to those who cherish the good things of this world that can be acquired by gulling others into a belief in the world to come. I suspect that the same may be said of Jean Meslier, and many another brilliant but unconventional thinker.
It has been a great boon to mankind that one of the world’s greatest religions could produce thinkers like Marsilius and Williams from among the ranks of its own clerics. Drawing their arguments from scripture itself, they provided a strong philosophical basis for the separation of church and state and freedom of religion. It is regrettable that Islam never produced similar thinkers. One can only hope that, some day, it will.


Jean Meslier
Jean Meslier