DATE April 5, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Journalist and author Stephen Kinzer discusses new book
"Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Regime change in Iraq is part of an ongoing American foreign policy, according
to journalist Stephen Kinzer. He writes, "The invasion of Iraq is the
culmination of 110-year period during which Americans overthrew 14 governments
which displeased them for various ideological, political and economic
reasons." He says most of these operations, like Iraq, seem to work, at first,
and then had terrible unintended consequences. Kinzer has written a new book
called "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq."
He writes about 14 places where the US was the decisive factor in overthrowing
the government. These are Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico,
Nicaragua, Honduras, Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, Chile, Grenada, Panama,
Afghanistan and Iraq.
Kinzer recently left The New York Times, where he served as bureau chief in
Turkey, Germany and Nicaragua. He has also worked as the Boston Globe's Latin
American bureau chief. He has written earlier books about America's role in
the coups in Iran and Guatemala, two of the 14 regime changes also covered in
his new book.
Are there certain patterns that you think hold together the various eras of
regime change that you write about?
Mr. STEPHEN KINZER: Yes. With a few exceptions, most of them do fall into
certain patterns. First of all, in almost every case, the reason why the
United States first became focused on a country was economic. We didn't like
the fact that our companies, whether it's an oil company or a banana company
or a sugar company or copper company, was not being allowed freedom to operate
the way we thought it should in a foreign country. The people who run these
companies, many of whom are often closely tied to the US government, protests
to American officials, and it is the economic motive that brings these
countries to the attention of policy makers first.
We never would have even thought about overthrowing the government of Iran if
oil companies had not been howling in protest at Iran's nationalization of the
oil industry. We would never have overthrown the government of Guatemala if
the United Fruit Company had not been so upset about the policies of that
However, although it is economic motives that bring these countries and these
regimes to the attention of the White House and the Statehouse and other
agencies, we actually frame our intervention in other ways. The US government
then transmutes the economic argument into a political argument. We begin to
think that since these regimes are bothering American corporations, they must
be hostile to US interests in general. And in order for them to be hostile to
US interests, they must be an enemy, they must be probably manipulated by some
foreign power that is anti-America.
Another pattern is that, in the long run, these interventions almost always
turn out disastrously. When I look back at some of these operations and try
to think how the world might have been different had we not launched them,
it's enough sometimes to make you cry. Imagine if we could have had a stable
democratic Iran in the Middle East for the last 50 years. I can hardly wrap
my mind around what the Middle East might look like now. Some of these
operations have been moral catastrophes, like Guatemala, where hundreds of
thousands of people were killed in 30 years of civil war that was set of by
our coup there. But they also result in weakening the strategic position of
the United Stats in the long run.
GROSS: Now, you say that our policy of regime change actually started in 1893
with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. What were the US interests in
Hawaii at the time?
Mr. KINZER: It's actually a very interesting story. The United States
government was not directly involved in Hawaii at all. But starting in the
19th century, a group of American missionaries, mostly from New England,
arrived in Hawaii to begin converting what they considered to be the heathen
savages. And over a period of decades, many of these missionaries and their
sons became aware that they could make a lot of money in Hawaii. There had
always been sugar grown in Hawaii by natives, but it had never been refined or
Soon the sons and grandsons of these missionaries built up very large sugar
interests, but the United States passed a series of laws, including tariffs,
that made it very difficult for the Hawaiian sugar planters to export their
sugar into the United States. The only way that they could get rid of these
tariffs and build up their industry and protect their profits was to bring
Hawaii into the United States. So with the cooperation of the president of
the United States, the secretary of state, the secretary of the Navy, an
operation was launched in Hawaii by a group of white Hawaiians, that is to say
descendents of missionaries and sugar planters, who worked with the American
consul and the commander of an American Naval vessel that was going
conveniently posted off the shore of Honolulu.
So together this group of only a few dozen people overthrew the monarchy of
Hawaii. And before the forces of the monarch were able to respond, United
States troops marched off that ship and occupied Honolulu, making it clear
that any resistance was futile. So that led to the overthrow of that monarchy
and, after a few years, the annexation of Hawaii into the United States. So
it was sugar that was really at the root of why Hawaii became part of the
GROSS: So this was a peaceful overthrow.
Mr. KINZER: It was done on a single day. It was an uprising. There was one
person wounded during the course of the day. There were clashes. But since
the United States had posted a military vessel off the coast of Honolulu and
made clear that it favored the revolutionists' side, it was quite foolish,
unthinkable really, for the Hawaiian regime to try and respond. In fact, the
queen convened all the foreign ambassadors in Hawaii--there were about a dozen
of them then--and asked them, `What shall I do? Shall we try to fight or
shall we just accept this and then try to resolve the problem by peaceful
means later?' And all the other ambassadors told her, `You cannot try to fight
against the US Marines.' I think they were wise when they told her that. So
it was a peaceful takeover but with the threat of force.
GROSS: You said that this overthrow was approved by the American president,
but soon after a new president took office and denounced it. Who are the
presidents and how did their opinions differ?
Mr. KINZER: That's an interesting story. President Benjamin Harrison was in
office at the time that the Hawaiian coup was staged. One of the leaders of
the coup, in fact the principal leader, Lorrin Thurston, actually came to
Washington to meet with the president. So right after the coup in Hawaii, the
new regime applied for entry into the United States, and President Harrison
submitted a treaty to the US Senate to achieve that. However, it took some
weeks before the Senate got to it. There was a lot of angry publicity in the
United States about this operation. Many people were very upset that it had
And then President Grover Cleveland took office. He was an anti-imperialist,
and not only disapproved of the coup but made some efforts to try to replace
the queen on her throne. That did not succeed, but Hawaii, not being able to
enter the United States, became an independent country. And so it was for
five years until President McKinley came into office. Then during the
Spanish-American War in 1898, when the US was seizing the Philippines, Hawaii
was presented as a valuable stepping stone to the Philippines. And at that
moment, the Senate, caught up in a great frenzy of expansion as it was in the
summer of 1898, voted to annex Hawaii. So there was a five-year interlude
between the coup and the time Hawaii actually became American.
GROSS: Now, you think that most of the times we've practiced regime change in
another country had really bad consequences. Do you feel that way about
Mr. KINZER: Hawaii might be one of the exceptions. I think Hawaiians are
now enjoying the privileges of membership in the United States. They are full
US citizens. We took full responsibility for Hawaii rather than assigning
local dictators to tyrannize. And I think that's one of the big differences.
You might say the same thing about Puerto Rico. There's resentment, and I
think resistance, both in Hawaii and in Puerto Rico, to the fact that the
United States absorbed them in this way and has not always treated them
fairly. Nonetheless, looking around the neighborhood, I think Hawaiians and
Puerto Ricans might well be able to say that, considering the other
alternatives, things haven't turned out so badly for them.
That was because the Americans actually decided that they would absorb these
countries and, at least after a period of neglect, try to encourage the
development of democratic institutions there. This is something very
different than what we did in many other countries.
GROSS: You write that the overthrow of the monarchy in Hawaii in 1893 didn't
have a grand vision of American power, but the Spanish-American War five years
later did. What was that vision of American power in 1898?
Mr. KINZER: That was the time when the US was seized by a fervor for
overseas expansion. Essentially, the US had been expanding within the North
American continent ever since the pilgrims arrived but by 1890, the frontier
was officially declared to be closed, and there was no more room for the
United States to expand within North America. But the expansionist impulse
was still very strong.
We looked at Cuba, we looked at Puerto Rico and the Philippines as places that
should be under our influence because they were close enough to us, at least
in the case of Cuba and Puerto Rico. They all were under Spanish colonial
rule. The press built up a terrifying image of the brutality of Spanish
colonialism. And then, of course, the key incident came when the United
States battleship, the Maine, was over--was exploded, blown up in Havana
harbor. That was seen as an act of war by Spain and it became something like
the version of weapons of mass destruction. That became the reason why we
felt we had to go into Cuba and fight the Spanish there because they had blown
up our battleship and killed hundreds of our soldiers. It wasn't until more
than half a century later that the Navy actually launched an investigation and
found out that that blowing up of the Maine was actually an accident.
Nonetheless, the US was seized with this fervor for expansionism, and it fits
in with the patter that we'll see throughout the 20th century, which is that
economic interests began the operation. We had a lot of interests in Cuba,
large agricultural interests, including big sugar plantations. We exported a
lot of goods there. And it was the desire of those companies and those
businessmen to act more freely in Cuba, to have a regime in Cuba that would be
friendly to their interests, that first brought these questions to the
attention of the American government. But it was the idea of expanding
American strategic power and liberating the oppressed victims of colonialism
that was actually used as the explanation, the excuse, the justification for
launching that war.
GROSS: Now you write that when we intervened in Cuba, we promised that
American troops would withdraw as soon as the fighting was over. Did we?
Mr. KINZER: This was a very interesting story. When the United States
decided it would send troops into Cuba to help the Cuban patriots rebel
against Spanish colonialism, the Cubans were quite wary. They weren't so sure
they wanted a lot of American troops on their soil because they didn't know
what would happen after the victory. As a result of this concern, the US
Senate passed a law that said that the US promised that it would withdraw all
its American troops from Cuba as soon as the revolution against Spain was won.
Once that resolution was passed, that law was passed, the Cuban patriots
agreed. Then they said, `OK, you've already promised in law that you will
withdraw so, yes, we will welcome your help.'
The Americans arrived and then immediately after the Spanish were defeated and
the Cuban patriots were victorious, the Americans changed their mind. They
decided, `Well, that law was passed in a moment of overenthusiasm and now that
we look at Cuba and we consider the possibility that it could have a
completely independent government, one that is going to consider the interests
of Cuba first, not the interests of the United States first, we decided, no,
this is not what we want.' So, instead, we never did withdraw our troops. We
maintained a military governorship of Cuba for some decades and then turned
Cuba over to a series of dictators who did our bidding.
One of the results of this was that, in 1952, one of those dictators canceled
the election in which a young student leader Fidel Castro was running for
Congress. That's what led Castro to decide that he would launch a revolution
instead. And amazingly enough, after Castro won the revolution in January of
1959, he came down from the hills into Santiago. And in his very first speech
as the victorious leader of the revolution, he made no promises. He did not
describe what kind of a regime he was going to impose. But he only made one
statement. He said, `I promise you this. This is not going to be like 1898
again when the Americans came in and made themselves master of our country.'
Now, I bet anyone in the United States who heard that speech would wonder,
`What is he talking about?' He's talking about something that happened more
than half a century ago. It's because we in America tend to forget these
episodes, these overthrows, these interventions very quickly, but they burn in
the souls, in the hearts, in the consciousness of the people in the countries
in which we have intervened. And although the ill effects do not appear
immediately, they ultimately do.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Stephen Kinzer. His new book is called
"Overthrow." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Stephen Kinzer. He's a former reporter for The New York
Times. As a foreign correspondent, he covered about 50 countries. His new
book is called "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to
Under President Eisenhower, the United States overthrew regimes in Iran and
Guatemala. President Eisenhower's secretary of state was John Foster Dulles,
who you point out had spent decades working for some of the world's most
powerful corporations before becoming secretary of state. Who had he worked
Mr. KINZER: He was a partner, in fact, a managing partner in a legendary law
firm in New York, Sullivan & Cromwell. When you read over his list of
clients, it's nothing less than a list of the most powerful corporations in
the world. He represented United Fruit. He represented International Nickel,
which was one of the great resource consortiums in the world. His clients dug
ports in Peru and they had mines in Colombia. He negotiated contracts for
loans to Arabian countries. He sued the Soviet Union for insurance companies.
He was the pre-eminent corporate lawyer in America.
So after spending nearly all of his adult life in the service of the largest
and most powerful American corporations, he became the US secretary of state
and brought with him a perspective that was very business-oriented. He had
come from a background of great privilege and believed that protecting
American corporations in the world was something almost holy.
And, in fact, the holiness was also a part of his character. He came from a
family of religious leaders. His father was a minister. His grandfather was
a clergyman and a missionary in India. He, himself, had at one point thought
of becoming a cleryman. So he was a person who also prefigured another aspect
of American expansionism, which is the religious aspect. The aspect that the
United States has been chosen by God to spread certain holy principles. And
that since the United States has been so fortunate, so lucky in producing a
country that is based on prosperity and democracy, it is not only our right
but actually our responsibility to share our good fortune with other countries
and allow them--or force them--to embrace governments that are favorable to
American interests because those are the interests that God wants the world to
GROSS: Had Dulles worked for the oil industry? Had he represented the oil
industry as a lawyer?
Mr. KINZER: Yes, he had several clients through Latin America that were
drilling for oil. He represented oil interests in the Middle East and
essentially was the go-to lawyer in America for any large corporation that had
GROSS: Do you think he represents something new in terms of having somebody
in such a high place position who had such corporate multinational kind of
Mr. KINZER: There had been a number of other people before him who came from
this background. Philander Knox, who was the secretary of state that wrote
the letter to President Zelaya in Nicaragua essentially firing him, was also a
very important corporate lawyer who represented corporations in Nicaragua that
were not being allowed to function freely because President Zelaya wanted them
to observe labor laws and pay taxes and so forth. So when Knox came into
office, he made it one of his priorities to overthrow Zelaya.
However, I don't think there has ever been, either before or since, a leading
figure in the American government who is so closely tied to corporate
interests. In fact, Dulles represents a change because he doesn't only speak
on behalf of corporate interests but he is corporate interest. That is, he,
himself, spent his entire life at the service of foreign corporations.
This has not always been the case for American leaders. Many of the American
figures who promoted intervention abroad, like Henry Kissinger, for example,
have no business background, actually look at business with a kind of disdain.
But Dulles was quite different. He really believed that no country would ever
bother American corporations unless it was evilly motivated and probably a
representative of a force determined to destroy the United States. He never
was able to grasp the idea that people in foreign countries want to control
their own resources.
GROSS: Stephen Kinzer's new book is called "Overthrow: America's Century of
Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq." He'll be back in the second half of the
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
I'm Terry Gross back with Stephen Kinzer, author of the new book "Overthrow:
America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq." It describes
America's key role in the overthrow of governments in 14 places, including
Hawaii, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, Chile, Afghanistan
and Iraq. Kinzer also writes about the unintended consequences of these
operations. Kinzer has worked as The New York Times' bureau chief in Turkey,
Germany and Nicaragua, and was Latin-American correspondent for the Boston
You suggest in your book that you think one of the reasons why we intervened
in other countries is because we misinterpreted their expressions of
Mr. KINZER: American diplomats and American statesmen and American leaders
are, by nature, Eurocentric. Everything that American diplomats learn about
the world is more or less based on the experience of Europe. We study
European diplomacy and European history. We understand European historical
patterns such as wars of conquest and shifting alliances and power blocks, but
we do not understand that intensity of nationalism in developing countries.
In the period after World War II, the winds of nationalism were sweeping
across Asia and Africa and Latin America. What that brought to the peoples of
those countries was a fervent desire to take control of their own natural
resources. They began to see that they had great natural wealth but they were
very poor. Why was this? Because the natural wealth of their country was
being used for the profit of foreign corporations. They expressed their
nationalism by trying to take back control of these resources. That naturally
alienated the American and other foreign companies that were working in those
Now, the desire of people in poor countries to take control of their natural
resources is not part of the European tradition. It's not something that ever
was part of European history. Therefore, Americans were not able to
understand it. And I think we began to believe that all of these attempts to
reclaim control over natural resources were part of an international
anti-American conspiracy, probably directed by the Kremlin, and that any
regime in any foreign country that would try to molest or bother or restrict
American companies must be probably socialistic and most likely a pawn of the
Kremlin. Therefore, we would move to overthrow it.
So we overreacted in a terrible way to regimes that actually were only
expressing American principles and in their place imposed leaders who despised
everything that the United States stands for.
GROSS: You have talked about how America's interventions in Latin America
have left a strong anti-US sentiment there. President Chavez of Venezuela,
President Morales of Bolivia, have been speaking very nationalistically. Do
you think that there's going to be a conflict between the US and those
Mr. KINZER: Our actions in Latin America have probably been more shamefully
interventionist and have produced more horrific results than our interventions
anywhere else in the world. There's really a very fertile ground for
The speeches that you hear from leaders like Chavez are full of references to
the times the United States has intervened in Guatemala, in Nicaragua, in
Dominican Republic, in Cuba, in Chile and so forth. So our interventions
there are now being used as proof that we have only evil intentions in Latin
Whether that's true or not, there is certainly plenty of historical evidence
to support that argument.
GROSS: So do you see more conflict ahead between those presidents and the
Mr. KINZER: These days, the United States seems completely to have given up
on or stopped paying attention to Latin America. Latin America has moved way
down to the bottom of our list of concerns. That provides an opening for
anti-American leaders like Chavez and others who support him to leap into this
gap and to say that, `Since the US has been so evil to us in the past and is
ignoring us now, we need to find a new paradigm.' And since no one else is
offering one, since the United States is not offering a kind of creative
alternative in Latin America, the Chavez message is really the only one that's
circulating around that region.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stephen Kinzer. He was a
longtime correspondent for The New York Times, a foreign correspondent who
covered about 50 countries. His new book is called "Overthrow: America's
Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq."
Having looked at the 14 regime changes that you cover in your new book
"Overthrow," starting with Hawaii, ending with Iraq, what do you--emerge as
the larger lessons of regime change?
Mr. KINZER: If there's one overriding lesson, it is that violently
interrupting the political processes in foreign countries always has terrible
effects in the end. We got to start to look at these interventions in the
longer time frame and not just imagine what's going to happen in the months or
the next few years after we do it.
Take Iran as an example. We overthrew the government of Iran, which was a
functioning democracy, in 1953. Now, for 25 years we benefited from that
overthrow. We had the shah's regime in power, the shah did more or less
whatever we wanted. He gave us access to his oil. He allowed us to use Iran
as our strategic platform in the Middle East. So that operation seemed like a
success for quite a long time.
But the regime that we placed in power in Iran, the shah's regime, produced
the explosion of the late 1970s that we call "The Islamic Revolution." It
brought a fanatically anti-American clerical regime to power, which began its
period in office by seizing American diplomats as hostages and has spent the
last 25 years working fervently to undermine American interests all over the
world. And now we are at the brink of another big world crisis with Iran.
All of this can be traced back to episodes that happened more than half a
Cuba is another example. Had we not intervened in Cuba in the late, late 19th
century, we might never have been faced with the whole Castro Communist Cuba
So when we intervene, we're doing something like what you do when you release
a wheel at the top of a hill. You can never tell where that wheel is going to
bounce and where it's going to end up. These interventions abroad, these
overthrows of foreign governments, not only plunge whole regions of the world
into instability and turn them into places from which undreamed threats emerge
years later, but they undermine American security. They are not just bad for
the countries where we intervene. You cannot violently overthrow a foreign
regime and then expect that that won't have any long-term effect. It's like
beating your child every day. You cannot expect that that child is going to
grow up normal.
GROSS: You know, you look at the consequences of the United States'
overthrowing of other governments. If we just take the Cold War era, for
example , the argument could be made that had we not intervened in other
countries the way we had that the Soviets might have expanded more and more
successfully. And, in fact, the Soviets might have won the Cold War.
Mr. KINZER: I don't think that's true at all. In the first place, the
countries whose governments we overthrew, all countries that we claimed were
pawns of the Kremlin, actually were nothing of the sort. We now know, for
example, that the Kremlin had not the slightest interest in Guatemala at all
in the early 1950s. They didn't even know Guatemala existed. They didn't
even have diplomatic or economic relations.
The leader of Iran who we overthrew was fiercely anti-communist. He came from
an aristocratic family. He despised Marxist ideology.
In Chile, we always portrayed President Allende as a cat's paw of the Kremlin.
We now know from documents that have come out that the Soviets and the Chinese
were constantly fighting with him and urging him to calm down and not be so
provocative towards the Americans. So, in the first place, the Soviets were
not behind those regimes. We completely overestimated the influence of the
Soviet Union on those regimes.
But there's a second point. By intervening in those countries, we turned
ourselves into an object of hatred and opprobrium, and we opened up millions
of hearts around the world to communism and to the ideology of America's
enemies. We have promoted anti-American sentiment around the world by these
interventions and thereby strengthened our enemies.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Stephen Kinzer. His new book is called
"Overthrow." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stephen Kinzer, author of the
new book "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq."
He's a former New York Times reporter who covered about 50 countries.
I'm interested in what you think now of the spread of radical Islam. You
know, you covered Turkey for a long time. You have a book about the history
of Turkey. Turkey is a large Islamic country and the most secular of the
Islamic countries. So, I guess, it's a really big question about the spread
of radical Islam, but I guess specifically what I'm wondering is really post
the cartoon riots. Is the power of radical Islam spreading to countries in
which radical Islam itself isn't even strong? In other words, is the power of
radical Islamists to say, `If you publish this, you will be punished by us,'
spreading beyond their own countries?
Mr. KINZER: We sometimes like to think that our interventions in these
countries don't have effects, but when we break down the doors of foreign
countries and impose our own leaders, as we did in Iran and as we've recently
done in Iraq, we outrage a lot of people. We like to think that everybody
will soon calmly come to realize that by rational standards, this was a good
thing to do. But that doesn't happen. We are not able to change cultures as
easily as we are able to change regimes.
It's true that the cartoons were Danish. But in the Middle East, I think,
they are largely perceived as part of a Western conspiracy against Muslim
interests and Muslim countries. After all, if you go to Iran, you'll still
today find that Britain is still thought of as the real evil force in that
part of the world, as much as the United States. Therefore, they all blend
together. But who has been the country that has been intervening there most
boldly over the last half century? It's been the United States. So I think
that opens up the possibility that anything that any Western country does is
seen as a reflection of American attitudes.
Interestingly enough, this is just the reverse of what we used to do. In the
1950s, we looked around the world and we saw every relatively innocent effort
by countries to control their own natural resources as part of a Kremlin
conspiracy. Now what radical Muslim leaders in the Middle East are doing is
exactly what we did. They are saying that everything that happens in the
world that seems inimical or insulting to Muslim interests must be part of US
conspiracy. And although that is not true, our actions in that part of the
world have made that easy to believe.
GROSS: You know, your book on the American history of regime change ends with
Iraq. We've talked a little bit about larger historic themes that you think
have been played out in Iraq. Is Iraq the first time that we have overthrown
a government and, you know, in a lot of other places we helped install a
leader that was favorable to the United States, you know, maybe an oppressive
leader to their people but still somebody who was seen as favorable in policy
towards the United States, and in some instances, somebody who we could
control. In Iraq, right now, there almost is no government because they have
been unable to agree on a government after the election. And we are in a
position of having a lot of responsibility for Iraq, yet Iraq is, you know,
appears to be nearing civil war. Is the predicament that we are now in in
Iraq unprecedented as far as you can tell?
Mr. KINZER: Absolutely not. You are now putting your finger on one of the
crucial elements that ties all of these interventions together. In almost
every case when we've overthrown a government, soon afterward we have to put
our own leader in power. After we overthrow the guy we don't like, we have to
find someone we do like. And what we want from that leader is two things. We
want to find somebody who is genuinely popular, who is admired, who has a
popular base. And, second, we want somebody that will support American
interests. After all, we didn't overthrow a regime just so that we could have
someone in power who doesn't like us.
Soon after we face this dilemma, we find that these two factors are
contradictory. You cannot have a leader who is both popular and pro-American.
If he's popular, it means that he puts the interests of his own country first.
But we don't want that. We want somebody who will put the interest of the
United States first. That's why we intervened in the first place. So this is
the crucial moment in every intervention. We have to decide, `Who are we
going to put in office now?' Naturally we have to choose between somebody who
is popular and someone who will do what we want. And it's an easy choice.
Naturally we choose somebody who will do what we want.
That person becomes less and less popular. We then have to support him as he
uses more repression to keep himself in power. And that leads to a spiral
like we've seen in so many countries, where you have frustration, anger,
rebellion. It shows you that you cannot combine these two things. You can't
have leaders in foreign countries who are genuinely popular and who also put
the interests of the United States ahead of their own national interests.
GROSS: But our government has said the reason why we're in Iraq is to support
democracy. And, you now, we've had--you know, we've overseen an election
Mr. KINZER: But we are very eager to assure that the next leader of Iraq and
the leader after that and all future leaders will be favorable to American
interests. It's not because we want them to be anti-Iraqi but we have deluded
ourselves into believing that whatever is good for the US in Iraq will also be
good for Iraqis in Iraq. We can't believe that there are many programs and
projects and initiatives in Iraq that would benefit Iraq but would not be good
for the United States, like Iraqi national control over its own oil resources
and using oil as a weapon for achieving economic and strategic power. That's
something every Iraqi would support, but it's not something Americans went in
there to invade so they could have someone there who wants to use Iraqi oil
for its own strategic power. Therefore, we always are faced with this
conflict. Do we want somebody who will do our bidding or do we want someone
who will think first of his own country? And, naturally, we choose the
latter, which leads us into the same spiral that we have gotten ourselves into
in so many countries.
GROSS: You were a long-term foreign correspondent for The New York Times.
You recently left the paper. What's the difference for you being a kind of
daily journalist at a newspaper and now just writing books.
Mr. KINZER: I owe a lot to The New York Times because the Times sent me to a
lot of places and put me in a lot of fascinating situations, and I learned a
tremendous amount from those foreign assignments. On the other hand, at a
certain point, I think, I began to feel that I didn't want to be the slave of
events anymore. I didn't want to have to rush off when there was a daily news
I actually realized that although I was a newsman for more than 20 years, I am
not interested in news. News is the opposite of information. I'm more
interested in why something has happened and in what is going to happen in the
future rather than in reporting just what happened today. What I like to use
as a guide for my own reporting was this, if something happens in a country
I'm covering, some big events, and you've been following my reporting all
along, you won't be surprised because I prepared you for this. That's what
I'm more interested in doing.
GROSS: Stephen Kinzer, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. KINZER: It's always a pleasure, Terry.
GROSS: Stephen Kinzer's new book is called "Overthrow." You can read an
excerpt on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Rock historian Ed Ward reviews "Talking Heads Brick"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The so-called "Talking Heads Brick," a white plastic box set containing all
eight of the Talking Heads albums, was released at the end of 2005. It
provided rock historian Ed Ward with the opportunity to take a look at the
rise and fall of a great American band.
(Soundbite of Talking Heads)
TALKING HEADS: (Singing) "I can't seem to face up to the facts. I'm tense
and nervous and I can't relax. I can't sleep cause my bed is on fire. Don't
touch me I'm a real live wire.
Psycho Killer, qu'est que ce'st fa-fa-fa-fa-far better. Run, run, run, run,
run, run away. Ohh, Psycho Killer..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. ED WARD: What happens when a student art project takes over your life?
David Byrne and Chris Frantz could answer that. While students at the Rhode
Island School of Design, they started a band called The Artistics. Nope,
wait, not cool enough, The Autistics. They recruited Chris' girlfriend Tina
Weymouth to play bass and then decided to go for the big time and head to New
York, where they arrived just as the downtown scene was gelling.
Sharing stages with The Ramones, Blonde and television, they became a hot
word-of-mouth item. And after making a demo funded by Beserkley Records'
Matthew King Kaufman, they were signed by Sire Records.
(Soundbite of Talking Heads)
TALKING HEADS: (Singing) "It's not love. It's not love. Which is my face,
which is a building, which is on fire. On fire. When my love..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: By the time they made their first album, "Talking Heads '77," they
had added a fourth member on keyboards and guitar, Jerry Harrison, who had
been in Jonathan Richman's "Modern Lovers." With their waspy good looks and
nerdish clothes, they were clearly on the art side of the art punk divide and
thus attracted another downtown New York Brian Eno, whose unconventional
approach to studio recording invigorated the group.
(Soundbite of Talking Heads)
TALKING HEADS: (Singing) "Let's go! I'm painting. I'm painting again. I'm
painting. I'm painting again. I'm cleaning. I'm cleaning again. I'm
cleaning. I'm cleaning my brain."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: "More Songs about Buildings and Food" came out in mid-1978 and
consolidated Talking Heads position as America's artiest band and spawned an
almost hit single with a cover of, of all things, Al Green's classic "Take Me
to the River." Their next album "Fear of Music" pretty much perfected the
band's vision as a four-piece and showed that David Byrne had become a nicely
(Soundbite of Talking Heads)
TALKING HEADS: (Singing) "Hit me in the face. I run faster, faster, faster,
faster, faster, faster into the air. I say to myself, what is happening to my
skin? Where is that protection that I needed? Air can hurt you, too. Air
can hurt you, too.
Some people say..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: By 1980, Brian Eno was a member of Talking Heads in all but name.
He and Byrne had spent a fruitful time together assembling an album of fake
field recordings called "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," the title
appropriated from a novel by a Ghanaian author Amos Tutuola. The collage
approach to recording the two had used on this record became the center of the
next Heads albums, "Remain in Light" and "Speaking in Tongues," which brought
in numerous extra players who accompanied them on a tour, captured by Jonathan
Demme in his film, "Stop Making Sense." Help came from the downtown art world
in the persons of percussionist David van Tieghem and saxophonist Richard
Landry, the art rock world in guitarists Robert Fripp and Andrian Belew, and
funk from keyboardist Bernie Worrell.
(Soundbite of Talking Heads)
TALKING HEADS: (Singing) "Hello, again. Yes, indeed, my friend. I can tell,
goin' together again. I could be right. I could be wrong. I feel nice when
I sing this song. And I don't mind, whatever happens is fine.
Baby likes to keep on playing. What do I know, what do I know? Wilder than
the place we live in. I'll take you there, I'll take you there. I don't mind
some slight disorder. Pull up the roots, pull up the roots. I know every
living creature. Pull up the roots, pull up the roots.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: "Speaking in Tongues" also featured the band's only top 10 single,
"Burning Down the House." But cracks were beginning to appear in Talking
Heads' ranks. Chris and Tina and some of their friends had made a record as
the Tom Tom Club while David and Eno were doing their project, and it spawned
a club hit, "Genius of Love," which caused the Tom Tom Club's album to far
Everyone was pitching ideas into the Heads pot for recording, but with so many
other musicians on deck, a lot of them never got used. Things might have
worked out, as the band, back to four members with occasional help, recorded
"Little Creatures" in 1985.
(Soundbite of Talking Heads)
TALKING HEADS: (Singing) "Mommy had a little baby. There he is, fast asleep.
He's just a little plaything. Why not wake him up? Cute, cute, little baby.
Little feet-feet, little toes. Now he's comin' to me. Crawl across the
Baby, baby, please let me hold him. I wanna make him stay up all night.
Sister, sister, he's just a plaything. We wanna make him stay up all night.
Yeah we do."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: But Byrne, not content with being a songwriter musician and
graphic artist, had his heart set on making a film. Although I had a couple
of seconds screen time playing an accordion in "True Stories," it's a film I
detest. Its sneering, condescending look at small-town America as imagined by
arty New Yorkers showed how out of touch David Byrne had become.
It was two years before the next Talking Heads album appeared. Called
"Naked," it's crammed with busy African percussion, huge horn sections and,
with the exception of "Nothing But Flowers," not a single memorable song. Not
long after it appeared, the band announced it was breaking up. But for a lot
of people, Talking Heads had disappeared long before.
GROSS: Our rock historian Ed Ward lives in Berlin.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is NPR, National Public Radio.
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