Yesterday evening [well, actually, late yesterday afternoon] Susie and I went to the movies to see Ben Affleck's new film, Argo, also featuring John Goodman and Alan Arkin in marvelous lesser roles. I have liked Affleck ever since he and Matt Damon made their breakout film, Good Will Hunting. I can watch forever the delicious scene in which Damon, while mopping the floor in an MIT hall, stops long enough to solve a math problem that none of the MIT undergraduates or graduate students can crack. That scene captures the essential difference between MIT and Harvard, which is that at MIT, all that matters is sheer brains. Affleck has not had as successful a career as his buddy, Damon, but he has done some fine work, including a lovely minor role in Shakespeare in Love.
Argo tells the apparently true story of the "exfilation" from Teheran of six Americans from the embassy who hide out in the Canadian embassy after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Never mind the plot. For purposes of this blog post, what matters is the brief prelude to the narration of the story in which the shameful history is recounted of the coup by MI6 and the CIA deposing Mossadegh in 1953 and the subsequent installation of Pahlavi as Shah. I almost wept, once again, as a sepulchral voice told the bare bones of the affair over news clips of Mossadegh and Pahlavi. Had the United States embraced Mossadegh's secular democratic regime instead of overthrowing it because it was "socialist," Iran could have been, these past thirty-odd years, an ally and friend rather than a member of the Axis of Evil. In just the same way, Cuba could have been the Socialist paradise Castro wanted to make it had the United States poured aid into the new democratic regime instead of sending that hapless collection of exiles into the Bay of Pigs on their doomed mission. So too could America have stepped into the void left by France's departure from Southeast Asia to help create a flourishing Viet Nam, instead of nearly destroying that country and a generation of American men in the appalling carnage of the Viet Nam War.
There is nothing secret about these events. All of us in my generation have lived through them and their inevitable consequences. And yet, as things stand in this country today, it would be simply impossible to introduce what I have said about them into a serious discussion of American international affairs. The "progressive" position among "serious" people is that Viet Nam was an unfortunate but unavoidable war, that it is time to attempt a tentative opening to Cuba now that Castro has aged sufficiently to step down, and that we ought to impose crippling sanctions on Iran rather than go to war with that country.
Affleck directed Argo, and it was his choice to open the film with that recitation of what is now ancient history. I honor him for that. It was a courageous and honorable choice.,