Time to step into history class, folks.
Recently, I stumbled upon an article on Vice that featured an interview with Joel Whitney, author of Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers. In his novel, he reveals how great writers such as James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Richard Wright, and Ernest Hemingway became soldiers in America’s cultural Cold War. The book sets out to debunk the myth of a once-moral intelligence agency and reveals an extensive list of writers who were involved in transforming the image of America in countries suffering destabilisation due to coups, dictatorships, assassinations and other all-American interventions.
Gabriel García Márquez | Image Via Pinterest
Ernest Hemingway | Image Via Pinterest
James Baldwin | Image Via Pinterest
Aside from the American writers listed above, Whitney claims that the CIA had investments planted in multiple cultural platforms that would cast a controlled image of America all over the world. For example, The Paris Review, the quarterly literary magazine, is known to be co-founded by once-undercover CIA agent Peter Matthiessen in Paris, 1953. Mundo Nuevo was created to offer moderate-left perspectives to earn trust among Latin American readers, which then muted the more radical ones during the Cuban Revolution. The Agency also launched the Congress for Cultural Freedoms (CCF), which built editorial strategies for each of these literary outposts. Editors were funded, content was created, and writers were directly chosen to shape the discourse America wanted to the world to have. It wasn’t only literary platforms either; artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were also, in Whitney’s words “championed by the arms of the agency.”
Jackson Pollock, “Autumn Rhythm”, 1950 | Image Via The Guggenheim
Mark Rothko | Image Via Guggenheim
So you might ask yourself why Latin American left-leaning writers such as Márquez were used since his writings gave credibility to the idea of autonomy in the region. But Whitney explains the left’s most beloved writers were massively influenced by anti-Communist propaganda. Therefore, Márquez, like many others, became a tool for the CIA. As Whitney says in his interview, “It was a control of how intellectuals thought about the US.” This makes me wonder whether literature is the most effective medium for propaganda in times of political strife?
Image Via Vice
Whitney talks about the multiple ways in which the support systems around these young writers were infiltrated. He says, “They were in their early 20s, and when you’re young and your professors have national reputations, you take their attention seriously.” A fair point made by the interviewer is that this information is of utmost use to us now, and may serve as a cautionary tale for those trying to navigate today’s “post-truth” environment, particularly within the media landscape.
Feature Image Via Time Magazine