By Lucy Komisar
When theater distorts history: “Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground” is fake hagiography about a man who signed off on CIA coups that killed democracies and multi-thousands of people.
Dwight David Eisenhower was U.S. president from 1953 to 61. This play by Richard Hellesen fits perfectly into the 1950s pablum of “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet” that spoon-fed audiences the fake lives of families without dark spots. This play invents a president who had a few minor defects, but nothing serious. Nothing that could be called violations of international law. Or define a war criminal of which the U.S. has had many.
The idea is that Eisenhower is the “great commander of WW2” who when the war was over made Germans visit concentration camps. Then as president he sent troops to Little Rock to escort nine black children to school. He pretty much had to after Gov. Orval Forbus withdrew the national guard. Though he did importantly propose the civil rights act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, which established the Justice Department Civil Rights Section and empowered federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote.
The framing device is Eisenhower’s unhappiness at being rated #22 among presidents. Stupid to begin with. Rated by whom? Deep state media and pundits? And much of the text in this boring hagiography is platitudes.
The main failure of the play is the foreign policy side. After all, this was a wartime general who has to care about what the U.S. was doing in the world. We are supposed to admire that he opposed the “isolationism” of Republican leader Robert Taft. But there is zero said about his imperialism, about CIA coups in Guatemala and Iran and the planning of the (failed) coup by invasion in Cuba. Except for the elites, people in those countries probably would have preferred Taft.
IRAN To remind, the CIA sponsored the 1953 coup against the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in Iran who wanted his country to take back control over Anglo-American oil. The coup installed the corrupt, bloody Shah Pahlavi whose dictatorship was overthrown by an Islamic jihad. Is the international Islamic terrorist movement set off by the CIA coup in Iran of interest? Apparently not to this playwright.
GUATEMALA And the 1954 coup against the elected Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala, a democrat who started a land reform that would challenge United Fruit. It ended the Guatemalan Revolution of 1944–1954 that had replaced a military dictatorship and returned to power a military that in the following decades committed widespread torture and genocide, victims numbering over 100,000. It was the first in a series of U.S.-backed authoritarian rulers in Guatemala.
CUBA In March 1960, just a year after a popular uprising ousted the U.S.-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista, who had supported American corporate and military interests, Eisenhower approved the CIA plan to overthrow the new government and the U.S. began its embargo of the island. John Kennedy took up the Bay of Pigs invasion plan, which as we know ended disastrously for the Americans and their proxies.
CONGO According to declassified U.S. State Department cables and testimony to the Senate’s Church committee on assassinations, the Eisenhower government plotted with the incipient dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the Belgians in 1961 to bring down Patrice Lumumba, the popular nationalist leader who’d been chosen prime minister by a Brussels “roundtable” of Congo leaders.
The Congo had extensive untapped mineral wealth: copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan and oil. Lumumba’s sin was that, when neither the Americans nor the United Nations would help him against Belgian-organized plots to destabilize his government, he turned to the Russians. National Security Council staff member Robert Johnson told the committee that he was astonished to hear that Eisenhower had given an order for the assassination of Lumumba.
Eisenhower’s now famous “military industrial complex” speech was a fake. The time to talk and act about the danger he warned against was while he had the power of the presidency, not at departure. But he didn’t, he couldn’t, because he was part of the military industrial complex. Along with John Foster Dulles, Mr. American imperialism, his Secretary of State 1952 to 59. After all, the coup in Guatemala was for United Fruit and that in Iran for Anglo-American oil. Perhaps on a smaller scale, American casino owners wanted to oust Fidel Castro. How much more “military industrial complex” can you be?
For Dulles and the CIA, any challenge to American hegemony was bad, and its advocates had to be destroyed.
Maybe a playwright like Hellesen could get away with this disinformation years ago. Now with the internet cancelling out the “heroes” invented by corporate media, including allied pundits and academics, we know too much.
Assessing the actor John Rubinstein, he is presidential if not an Eisenhower sound-alike. A minor complaint when you judge the play’s failures of truth.
“Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground.” Written by Richard Hellesen, directed by Peter Ellenstein. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, NYC. Runtime 1hr:50. Opened June 20, 2023, closes July 30, 2023. And Oct 2 – 27, 2023. Review on NY Theatre Wire.