Notes: Episode 21, The Iran-Contra Affair (Part 1)

As with every show, I’ll list any corrections or clarifications here. If there’s anything I’ve overlooked, please contact me by email or in the comments and I’ll edit the notes to reflect the new information.


A general correction: throughout this show, I use “Central America” and “South America” interchangeably, and identify Nicaragua and Honduras as South American countries. They aren’t interchangeable terms and I really should have been more specific about it, or used the more acceptable “Latin America” to refer to the regions holistically. Thanks to Adrian for bringing this to my attention.

6:05 – Fifty. The answer is definitely very specifically fifty.

6:47 – To expand a bit on my disclaimer, I don’t think that there’s anything inherently evil about intelligence work, the CIA, the United States and its foreign policy, or any of that. If I’m going to honestly and accurately pinpoint my bias here, the thing I take exception with in regards to CIA operations in Latin America is an infringement on sovereignty. The concept of sovereignty is a very nebulous one, but one simple definition is the right to self-determination within a state’s own borders – in other words, states should not involve themselves in other states’ business. Diplomatic and economic relationships are fine, and there are cases in history where warfare has been a means by which one state has imposed its will on another for reasons of varying legitimacy, but clandestinely inciting revolt or performing assassinations or encouraging political forces are almost universally considered illegitimate uses of a state’s power outside its own borders. It’s been awhile since I brought up our old friend the Treaty of Westphalia, so let’s trot it out: the Thirty Years War basically determined that what the United States has done in Latin America in the past isn’t alright. To be honest, I think it smacks of imperialism without the courage to call it what it is. So when I sound like I’m against the American position on these things, remember that I’m against the infringement on the sovereignty of any nation by any other nation. I don’t really have much more of an agenda than that.

9:40 – I realize there isn’t really a single definition of socialism out there, and that it’s a mercurial word that tends to always mean exactly what the user wants it to mean. Specifically in the case of Latin
America, there was an aspect of class warfare in a Marxist spirit, but often the target of hostility was American business owners or the United States itself rather than a wealthy class within the society. More importantly in my mind, at least, is a focus on furthering the needs and progress of the community (rather than existing to serve American interests) through public programs like education, health care, and welfare. Very few leaders have been interested in a truly Communist government abolishing ownership of property and such; it’s been more of a commitment to building a strong society through cooperation. It often has focused on social democracy, feminism, liberalism, and environmentalism as part of its core values. I think that without the lens of the Cold War, the Latin American brand of socialism seems like an admirable and extremely valid social system.

12:40 – I have no idea why I picked Sweden. It seems like a lovely country. Also, they have a king named Carl Gustaf and a prime minister, not a president, so I was way off there.

15:20 – One point I meant to get to here but seem to have never quite hit was that for someone like Somoza, hiding the fact that your army was American trained wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The American military was quite feared, and for someone looking to reign through threat of power, having it known that your men had been trained by the best was an effective tactic to discourage dissent.

36:35 – I couldn’t find proof of Contra soldiers being trained within the United States, but it seems that the CIA did run training camps in Nicaragua and later Honduras, which is really quite close to the same thing. If anything, it’s more effort by the American government to create a training camp from scratch than it would be to bring combatants to an already existing one maintained by the U.S. Army.

38:37 – My pronunciation, I mean. The Shatt al-Arab is definitely the source (or at least the reason) for the escalating tensions between Iran and Iraq throughout the 1970s.

48:35 – We call this the “punch the biggest guy in the prison yard on your first day” technique.

1:02:44 – I really should acknowledge that the Korean War wasn’t just a US venture – it was a UN-sanctioned task force made up of a number of nations, and at the time seen as a prime example of the way that the body would ideally function when it came to conflict. The United States probably would have been there with or without the support of the UN on ideological grounds, but that doesn’t diminish the service of people from other countries.

2 thoughts on “Notes: Episode 21, The Iran-Contra Affair (Part 1)”

  1. Adrian says:

    South America ≠ Central America… the two are not interchangeable and have very distinct (though interrelated) histories. You’d want to be saying Latin America to include everything.

    1. Adam Adam says:

      You’re absolutely right – that’s a pretty bad error on my part. Thanks for pointing it out; I’ll add a note to this page and the page for part 2.

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