Monday 2 September 2013, 13:55

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis


Much of the debate about whether to intervene in Syria or not is taking place in a strange ahistorical vacuum. As with so much debate about humanitarian intervention the underlying world view is of a simplified story of bad dictators and good, well intentioned westerners who must somehow intervene to stop him.

But the truth is that America has a very complicated relationship with Syria which stretches back over sixty years.

Back in the 1950s America set out to intervene in Syria, liberate the people from a corrupt elite, and bring about a new democracy. They did this with the best of intentions, but it led to disaster. And out of that disaster the Assad regime rose to power.

America's actions were by no means the only factor that led to the violence and horror. But their unforeseen consequences played an important role in shaping a feverish paranoia in Syria in the late 1950s - which helped Assad, and his Baath Party, come to power.

A while ago I wrote the story of America's strange relationship with Syria and the dark and bloody twists and turns that resulted - from 1947 onwards. I thought it would be good to link to it again because so much of what happened is relevant to today's debate.

You can find the original post on Syria here.


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    Comment number 1.

    Ha, I posted the original 2011 piece just a few hours ago on a facebook discussion. I am one step ahead of you Adam.

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    Comment number 2.

    @rpmcdangklung No one is one step ahead of Adam Curtis. No one.

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    Comment number 3.

    All of this deliberately ignores that MI6 and the CIA planned the break up of Syria two years before fomenting the uprising. This is documented.

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    Comment number 4.

    @3. charlesfrith
    He wrote the original post over two years ago, so it hardly "deliberately ignores" whatever article* you're linking to.

    * I'll be polite and call it 'uninformed speculation', although 'paranoid ramblings' might be closer to the mark.

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    Comment number 5.

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    Comment number 6.

    to refer to Adam's blog a little while back about Thatcher's death and her appeal to the myth of this 'great nation' - of course, one step ahead again, now Cameroon has started his own myth making!!

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    Comment number 7.

    You need to write more stuff my mate Adam. There's nothing on the interenet worth destroying your F5 key like your blog. At least tell us what you're working on! We need it so bad. Good information and enlightened opinion is so hard to get these days, ironically enough.

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    Comment number 8.

    It was a fascinating and informative piece but I do find one aspect of it rather strange. You document numerous military coups in the Middle East, manipulated and backed covertly by the US, yet you assume that the Americans' ultimate goal was eventually to bring about democracy. Is it not possible that you may be deluding yourself in this?

    Here's a list of countries - just off the top of my head - where the US has intervened to overthrow or thwart democracy, strangling freedom in its cradle since 1947: Guatemala, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Cambodia, Italy, Australia.

    In the cases of Iran (1954, Operation Ajax) and Chile (1973, Project FUBELT), the CIA engineered military coups against existing liberal, secular, democratically elected, pluralistic, popular governments and replaced them with murderous authoritarian tyrants. I would therefore suggest that perhaps democracy was never really their ultimate aim in Syria.

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    Comment number 9.

    Dear Adam, I am a big fan of your work and blog. And so thank you so much first of all for your kind assistance, my post has nothing to do with yours here.

    I simply wanted to get in touch to ask you a little question in relation to one of your amazing documentaries 'Pandoras'Box, the Engineer's Plot' for a personal academic research project of mine. At some point in the documentary you show very revealing dysfunctional outcomes of soviet planning: when the plan measured tonnes carried per kilometers, trains went long distances just to meet the quota, sofas and chandeliers increased in size to meet measurements of material usage.

    I was wondering if you could kindly let me know the bibliographical sources you used in your research to find these anecdotes, where to find similar examples?

    In advance a very big thank you for your kind help on this.


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    Comment number 10.

    Excellent article.

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    Comment number 11.

    As usual Adam you have had your finger on the pulse before others even knew there was a pulse. Have been watching/reading/listening to you lo these many years and am ever grateful for your insistent presence. Terribly disappointed I missed Massive Attack in NYC. Will it return? Do I need to come to the UK?

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    Comment number 12.

    Great essay as always.

    I thought you might be interested in a book I've been reading called "Everything's Coming Up Profits." It's about American corporations in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s staging elaborate, professionally produced musicals as odes to their products and as a way to motivate employees. Here's a companion website with several bizarre, hilarious, industry-themed show tunes for your listening pleasure...

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    Comment number 13.

    Mr. Curtis, are you familiar with the work of the American historian Morris Berman? If so, what do you think of his idea that America has a negative identity, that is, that it needs an enemy to know who they are?

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    Comment number 14.

    Hello Adam - you've gone a bit quiet on us. Have you been hanging around the North Kent marshes again?! Not sure what right we readers have to 'demand' content - especially when these pieces clearly need a lot of research. But, hey, its not stopping me adding this comment.


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