". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reading Wednesday - The Company: A Novel of the CIA by Robert Littel

The Company: A Novel of the CIA (2002) by Robert Littell is a very long novel -- 884 pages. The narrative begins immediately in post-WWII Germany, and is populated by thinly disguised real life figures and others such as Kim Philby who are not disguised at all. These figures were by-and-large extremely colorful people, judging by the many other non-fiction accounts I've read of these same years, people, events and matters. Yet in this novel they described, speak and think in remarkably in the same monotone, making for remarkably dull reading. Fortunately I was feeling unwell enough not to care about that.

The Company was turned into a television three hour minseries in 2007.  As mentioned, the novel is 894 pages, while the miniseries is only three hours.

Thus the miniseries concentrates on the beginning, with the CIA's recruitment of three of the protagonists', the disasters that the U.S. made of the Hungarian revolt, and the mess of the Kim Philby and his own  group of traitors to Britain and the U.S., who eventually defect to safety in the Soviet Union.  It's a slick and sleek production, not much resembling the liquor-bloated, rumpled appearance of government-employed D.C. males post WWII and the 1950's. Also, more heroic . . . .

I began reading  The Company on January 1st in Miami. I barely finished last night what felt like an endless slog through the hardly fictionalized material from non-fiction books, and from other novels movies and television series, as well as well as Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, a novel just as long, but much more interesting and well written.

While still in Cuba (sick as I was, I stayed in most nights while the fellow Travelers were cavorting with Music and El Ron) I reached the thematic and narrative center of the novel.  Naturally, this would be the Bay of Pigs debacle, the run-up to the inevitable catastrophe itself, and the surprisingly little effect it has on thinking and operations afterwards at the highest military, executive and espionage in D.C.

This was the only section of The Company that had any kind of fictional kick for me, probably due to being in Cuba while reading it. But even for the author of this book, which appears to be a sort of admonishment of the US and the CIA, Littell's Cuba of 1960-1961 looks remarkably like the Cuba of 2000 - 2003, not at all like the Cuba of 1960-1961.  Littell seems to have not figured out that Cuba wouldn’t be looking the same in 1960 as it did in 2000 whenever, before the bushwahs put the hammer down on the Clinton's administration's People-to-People, etc. 1960's cars rusting old junkers in 1961? Not likely. (And not now either, as they've all been retrofitted in the last 3 - 5 years with diesel engines, painted, re-upolstered and make huge profits for the owners as taxis for US tourists with more money than sense or information.)

After the rescue of one of our central protagonists from the sea off the baie des Cochons, we skip past the Missile crisis and the JFK assassination, with the exception of a suggestion that Cubans were executing mafiosi in revenge for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion -- WHAT????? The general consensus is that it was the mafia that whacked JFK in revenge for not getting Cuba back, and particularly for allowing Bobby the Attorney General to prosecute them for a variety of crimes including tax evasion, when they had understood that they'd have immunity for helping old Jack Kennedy get JFK elected in the first place.

The subject of The Company is the long conflict between the US and the Soviets, as played out via their Great Game of espionage and counter espionage. Thus the novel concludes with the Afghani civil war (1989-1992), which contributed so much to the financial dissolution of the Soviet Empire.

Though it is a novel there appears no imaginative leap that another incarnation of Mother Russia and strong leader that could be a global player and a threat to the United States.

As with the 19th century Cuba filibusters sponsored by the southern fire eating secessionsists, the 20th century  Pentagon, the Oval Office, Capitol Hill and the CIA, when it comes to Cuba and Vietnam, it seems even in fiction D.C. cannot learn anything from past errors, but, rather, insist on making the same ones over and over again, far into the future.

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