Read these articles about our past to learn about today’s challanges

Summary:  One reason we have such difficulty charting  path to the future is that have lost so much of our past. It not only destabilizes us, but limits our ability to learn from our history. Here are three articles about our past that illuminate problems we face today.



(1) Why weren’t they grateful?“, Pankaj Mishra reviews Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue, London Review of Books, 21 June 2010


APOC, renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935, grossed profits of $3 billion between 1913 and 1951, but only $624 million of that remained in Iran. In 1947, the British government earned £15 million in tax on the company’s profits alone, while the Iranian government received only half that sum in royalties. The company also excluded Iranians from management and barred Tehran from inspecting its accounts.

Growing anti-British sentiment finally forced Muhammad Reza to appoint Mossadegh as prime minister early in 1951. The country’s nationalists by now included secularists as well as religious parties and the communist as well as non-communist left. Mossadegh, who, de Bellaigue writes, ‘was the first and only Iranian statesman to command all nationalist strains’, moved quickly to nationalise the oil industry. Tens of thousands lined the streets to cheer the officials sent from Tehran to take over the British oil facilities in Abadan, kissing the dust-caked cars – one of which belonged to Mehdi Bazargan, who would later become the first prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The American ambassador reported that Mossadegh was backed by 95% of the population, and the shah told the visiting diplomat Averell Harriman that he dared not say a word in public against the nationalisation. Mossadegh felt himself to be carried along on the wings of history. … He was supported by a broad coalition of new Asian countries.

{T}he British, desperately needing the revenues from what was Britain’s biggest single overseas investment, wouldn’t listen. …

Lost Worlds
It’s our history. We should want it back


Still believing it ‘had done the Iranians a huge favour by finding and extracting oil’, Britain rejected a proposal, backed by the US, that the profits should be shared equally, and launched a devastatingly effective blockade of the Iranian economy. ‘If we bow to Tehran, we bow to Baghdad later,’ as the Express put it.

… The Foreign Office started a campaign to persuade the American public of the rightness of the British cause and the US press duly fell in with it. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal compared Mossadegh to Hitler, even though his occasionally authoritarian populism had to contend with a fractious parliament, and a growing internal opposition composed of merchants, landowners, royalists, the military and right-wing clerics (some of these would give the adventurers of the CIA and MI6 their opening).

In The US Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference (1988) William Dorman and Mansour Farhang show that no major American newspaper had ever spelled out Iran’s grievances against the AIOC. Rather, the Washington Post claimed that the people of Iran were not capable of being ‘grateful’. Looking back remorsefully, the New York Times correspondent in Tehran, Kennett Love, later described Mossadegh as a ‘reasonable man’ acting under ‘unreasonable pressures’. But Love himself was subtly coerced into going along with what he called his ‘obtusely establishment’ editors in New York, and into collaborating with the US Embassy.

Having proclaimed the ‘American Century’, Henry Luce’s Time took a particular interest in commodity-rich Iran, arguing that the ‘Russians may intervene, grab the oil, even unleash World War Three’.

Already determined to overthrow Mossadegh, the British did not take long to exploit the growing American obsession with Soviet expansionism: Iran was to provide a test run on how to taint Asian nationalism by associating it with communism. They found a receptive audience in the Dulles brothers, the secretary of state and the head of the CIA in Eisenhower’s new administration in 1953.

Drawing on Persian sources, de Bellaigue gives an authoritative account of Operation Ajax, the CIA/ MI6 coup that toppled Mossadegh’s government and established Shah Reza Pahlavi as Iran’s unchallenged ruler in August 1953. The story of the Anglo-American destruction of Iran’s hopes of establishing a liberal modern state has been told many times, but the cautionary message of 1953 is still far from being absorbed.

… War between Iran and the United States has never seemed more likely than in recent months, as American politicians and journalists dutifully endorse Binyamin Netanyahu’s bluster. There is little sign in the mainstream press here or in the US that anyone is paying attention to de Bellaigue and other knowledgable writers on Iran. A recent Guardian review of de Bellaigue’s book claimed that the shah ‘brought to Iran a prosperity, security and prestige unknown since the 17th century’. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an opportunistic tub-thumper whose support is dwindling and who suffers the supreme leader’s disapprobation, is routinely portrayed as the next Hitler.

Meanwhile liberal opinion ignores the effects that sanctions have on ordinary citizens, just as they did in the 1950s, and governments choose not to see that they offer a lifeline to a semi-discredited regime by radically shrinking the possibilities for any political or economic change …

About the conflict with Iran:

  1. The hidden objective of our alliance against Iran, 11 June 2012
  2. Threats to attack Iran are smoke. Sanctions on Iran are our tool. Weakening Iran is our goal., 14 June 2012
  3. Hegemon at work on Iran, doing what hegemonic powers do. No war needed – or likely., 17 July 2012
  4. Our crusade slowly crushes Iran, and reveals much about us, 8 October 2012
  5. Links to all posts about Iran

(2) The Long Run Impact of Bombing Vietnam“, Edward Miguel and Gérard Roland (both Professors of Economics, Berkeley), May 2010 — Abstract:

We investigate the impact of U.S. bombing on later economic development in Vietnam. The Vietnam War featured the most intense bombing campaign in military history and had massive humanitarian costs. We use a unique U.S. military dataset containing bombing intensity at the district level (N=584) to assess whether the war damage led to persistent local poverty traps. We compare the heavily bombed districts to other districts controlling for district demographic and geographic characteristics, and use an instrumental variable approach exploiting distance to the 17th parallel demilitarized zone.

U.S. bombing does not have negative impacts on local poverty rates, consumption levels, infrastructure, literacy or population density through 2002. This finding indicates that even the most intense bombing in human history did not generate local poverty traps in Vietnam.

For more about the Vietnam War:

(3) Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit“, David Graeber, The Baffler No. 19 — Excerpt:

If it wasn’t unrealistic in 1900 to dream of men traveling to the moon, then why was it unrealistic in the sixties to dream of jet-packs and robot laundry-maids?

In fact, even as those dreams were being outlined, the material base for their achievement was beginning to be whittled away. There is reason to believe that even by the fifties and sixties, the pace of technological innovation was slowing down from the heady pace of the first half of the century. There was a last spate in the fifties when microwave ovens (1954), the Pill (1957), and lasers (1958) all appeared in rapid succession. But since then, technological advances have taken the form of clever new ways of combining existing technologies (as in the space race) and new ways of putting existing technologies to consumer use (the most famous example is television, invented in 1926, but mass produced only after the war.) Yet, in part because the space race gave everyone the impression that remarkable advances were happening, the popular impression during the sixties was that the pace of technological change was speeding up in terrifying, uncontrollable ways.

Alvin Toffler’s 1970 best seller Future Shock argued that almost all the social problems of the sixties could be traced back to the increasing pace of technological change. … While many of the historical trends Toffler describes are accurate, the book appeared when most of these exponential trends halted.

Graeber gives provoctive explanation based on social and economic trends.

Posts about the tech slowdown:



10 thoughts on “Read these articles about our past to learn about today’s challanges”

  1. Pingback: Read these articles about our past to learn about today’s challanges - Global Dissident

  2. No breakthrough new technologies have emerged in spite of the levels of expertise and funding available to the technological economy. But why? Could it be simply that the borders of human intelligence have been reached? The impasse may not be solved until

    – “Freakishly” intelligent people like Srinavatha Ramanujan enter physics, or
    – Genetic engineering enhances human IQ, or
    – A synthesis between artificial and human intelligence multiplies mental power, just as machines have done for muscle power.

  3. Let me see, first two articles are about lack of empathy, but third one is about expectations that technology will solve all problems, even social and personal problems, as are presented in first two articles.
    Am i wrongly comprehending this post?
    But these posts do not prove lack of learning since you can find opposing opinions on each issue. It is the part of learning and it is a part of human nature to have two opposing poles, + and -, liberal and conservative, black and white, money and debt, progress and regress, action and reaction. Btw it is the nature of matter, of subatomic particles, what keps them togheter is exactly the opposition.

  4. It is about the process of learning, we are relearning same things over and over at ever larger scale. As societies learn how to cooperate on ever larger scale it reorganizes itself to learn again the same things it knew as smaller society; how to cooperate as a larger society.
    What motivates cooperation in society? Money.
    Money initiate cooperation.

    I am looking at money as an initiative and learning that from history of EU and unifications of ever larger societies (states), from unifications of city states of Europe in medievel times to EU as continuation of such historic trend.
    Globalisation is one of such trends.

    Single currency area as a society that is motivated by single initiative tool. Germany that was very succesful in learning on how to cooperate at Germany level needs to learn how to cooperate on EU level, it just can not see the paradigm switch that is in size only, and nationalism is what prevents it from seeing it. Nationalism that was unification motivator for cooperation at national level becomes a problem for unification at multinational level. Merkel’s pronouncing “Multikulturalism is a failure” translate into disunification of EU and lack of solidarity between large societies separated as groups.

    Then there is a problem of relearning of fiat money function as initiative tool at larger scale which shows in these articles. Public initiative (using fiat money) moved a huge society and won the WWII at the moment when many tought it was impossible to build a public kitchen and feed all hungry in USA. Cooperation using right initiative did much more then tought possible.
    NASA was a product of public initiative with cooperation on right goals. Technology advancement from third example is a case for using public initiative on cooperation. We need to relearn it on how to use it.

    But some people are hoarding public initiative and do not allow for cooperation on everlarger scales.

  5. Bravo! Nobody else seems to be discussing these kinds of broad-picture trends.

    American journalism and the U.S. blogosphere seem divided twixt cheerleaders mindlessly applauding the latest U.S. folly as “great new advances” and proof that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” (c.f. Niall Ferguson, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, George Stephanopolous, et al.) and cranks spewing out rosy science-fictional predictions about the alleged wonderfulness of our near-future “post-scarcity economy” (.c.f. David Brin, the website NextBigFuture, economist Brad DeLong, et al.).

    1. Tom,

      The question is why? That s usually the most difficult and most important question.

      My next post takes a different approach. Rather than data-rich examination of individual bricks, I speculate about the overall structure.

      In brief, perhaps we have gone mad as a society. Like France during the time of John Law and the early revolutionary period. Or Britain during theSouth Sea bubble. Or as often happens at start of or during wars. The South after June 1963. Europe after 1914. NAZI Germany. Imperial Japan’s ruling class 1941-1945.

      Sometime after the fall of the USSR, starting in the late 1990s, we slowly slid into madness. A broad madness, affecting much of society.

      That is my impression each day after reading the news. Purely subjective, just a wild guess.

  6. I am wondering if technological innovation decline has something to do with misallocation of resources due to investments in military related functions? Seymour Melman has discussed in his works how manufacturing was harmed by it. But it also meant how investments were used up for this function when they could have been utilized elsewhere.

    See for example:

    “In fact deterioration in the production competence of U.S. industries had been well under way since 1960 and was reported in some detail by 1965.”
    http://ejournals.library. ameriquests/article/view/127/ 136
    Chaper 3 – Deindustrializing the US: The War Against American Workers

    The security complex has become increasingly dominant since Kennedy’s era. He appears to be the last President who made any real effort to change the paradigm. Note this was after Eisenhower’s famous speech about MIC. And Dukes played a pivotal role in this.
    The Mysterious Death of a UN Hero

    If you now German, you may find this book of interest:
    Mathias Broeckers, born 1954, is a German investigative journalist and the author of more than ten books, most of them related to the topics of drugs, terrorism and deep politics. He works for the daily German newspaper TAZ and the webzine Telepolis. His latest book, “JFK: Staatsstreich in Amerika” (“JFK: Coup d’Etat in America“), was published this August at Westend Verlag in Frankfurt, Germany.
    The JFK Assassination Marked the End of the American Republic
    Interview with Martin Broeckers, author of JFK: Coup d’Etat in America“
    A CIA Hand in an American ‘Coup’?

    It is too late now perhaps to reverse course through conscious changes in policy. I think economic and demograohic changes will end up doing it and it will not be accomplished elegantly. it will be a messy process.
    The NSA Affair: A Symptom, Not a Cause

  7. About bombing’s impact on Vietnam. This was because of Vietnam’s leadership, not about whether bombing per se could have made an impact. Would have been different story in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria etc. Vietnam has just been fortunate to have the quality of leadership missing in these countries.

    In fact with DU, it will be interesting to see what transpires over time in the countries where these weapons were used/are being used.

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