"The Quiet Americans," Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Former war correspondent and skilled storyteller Scott Anderson has written an elucidating chronicle of four U.S. spies and their activities during the early years of the Cold War.
He frames his report within two important years: 1944 when the United States dominated the world militarily, economically, and morally, and 1956 when the Soviet Union crushed a democratic revolution in Hungary and the Eisenhower administration failed to act. Anderson’s book describes the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency during those years as a secret U.S. espionage bureau to enable the U.S. to secure world peace.
The original four CIA spies whose sagas are entwined in the book are: Michael Burke, a handsome former football player fallen on hard times; Frank Wisner, an ambitious, wealthy Southerner; Peter Sichel, a Jewish émigré who had escaped the Nazis; and Edward Lansdale, a successful advertising executive. This foursome was charged with outsmarting the Soviet Union’s KGB agents in Berlin, undermining Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, plotting revolutionary coups in various fascist nations and battling communist insurgents in Asia.
Many of these CIA efforts failed due to inexperience, ineptitude and the rigid ideology held by President Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. There was also much duplicitous scheming by J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy. The CIA's most scandalous activities were perpetrated by its Office of Policy Coordination agents. They became notorious examples of CIA lawlessness and overreach for their 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and for their support of the coup against Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala.
Anderson cites these blunders as harbingers of the United States' fall of "moral standing in the world, the extinguishing of whatever claim to a higher degree of honor or altruism it still enjoyed. It was to be the final laying bare of the myth of America as the herald of freedom." At the height of its power, he maintains, the U.S. abdicated its moral leadership among the world's nations. He notes this is a tragedy with consequences that endure today.
“The Quiet Americans…” is an engrossing record of the four spies, the early years of the CIA and the danger of McCarthyism. The author supports his points with in-depth research, smart interpretation and sophisticated prose.