UNITED STATES—Moreover, being invited to the myth-finding mission implied obligation from reporters whose attention was directed with the precision of a master magician—only underscored by Bernie’s and the Company’s repeated claims to the contrary. Bernie came up to most people’s shoulder.

To be sure, Bernie was gaining ground with the press but, like a relentless general, each step forward only made him more determined to gain more ground.

In March 1952, Guatemala offered Allied Fruit the labor contract it had long sought. The pay was peanuts and there were provisions against strikes and forming labor unions, Sam and his minions crowed about it. They were top banana again. They assembled were all smiles.

“You did it again, Bernie.” They patted him on the back.

“Don’t be too hasty to declare victory,” he said in his sluggish voice that induced drowsiness. “This is only a tactical retreat by the communists,” Bernie Lukasey told a meeting of Allied Fruit managers at his 42nd Street office in New York. With a view of the New Jersey timberlands and tugboats scudding past the green-cast Statue of Liberty.

“It does not mean in any sense that the cancer has been eliminated,” Bernie said. The appropriate response, he added in a letter to Allied Fruit President Kenneth H. Pritchard, would be “to carry forward the strong aggressive tactics employed by the Allied Fruit Company in pointing the finger at Communism in Guatemala.”

In letters over the next two years to Edmund Wilson, the fruit company’s publicity chief, Bernie spelled out the “aggressive tactics” he had in mind. One way to strike out at the regime would be to issue the “first book on Communist propaganda” and outline the “scientific method of approach” needed to fight back. (This would become IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE…IT ALREADY HAS: What you should know about communism in our back yard. Soon after he proposed hiring Leigh White, “an outstanding investigating expert” working in Cairo, to undertake a “private intelligence survey” of the political situation in Guatemala.

That was the first in a series of references by Bernie to a network of intelligence agents, spies of sorts, he helped set up in Central America to be coordinated by “the company’s ‘state department.’” Bernie’s memos to Pritchard and to newspaper executives suggest the network did supply valuable information. In a May 1954 letter to David Keyes of the International News Service, he said weapons were being funneled from the Soviet embassy in Mexico City to “Guatemalan reds,” adding that some of that information came from “a very responsible correspondent of ours in Guatemala City” while the rest was from “an equally responsible gentleman in Honduras.” Only select journalists—on what Bernie called his “confidential list of approximately 100 special writers interested in Latin America”—received such sensitive leaks.

In June 1952, Bernie brought up the topic of psychological warfare. History suggested how valuable such activities could be, Bernie argued in another memo, writing that in “studies of the Nazi criminals by psychologists, the studies psychiatrists make of court cases after the criminal has been sentenced would indicate that had previous knowledge been had of the situation, one might have coped much more effectively.” In the case of President Gascón and his colleagues, Bernie wanted “information about the cultural background of the individual, his family background, his early upbringing, his education, development of career and a look at the various incidents and activities in his life that might shed light on his personality.” And thus, discovered areas of vulnerability.

Things in Guatemala, meanwhile, were heating up. The new tenant of the White House, who assumed office in 1953, stepped up the pressure on Gascón. The Guatemalan president responded by hardening his socialist stance. Month by month, the situation edged surely towards confrontation. As Bernie assured the Allied Fruit brass:

“Only the top three percent of Guatemalan households have a radio. It’s a very poor country. The efforts of my Intelligence Bureau are concentrated around those populations with the greatest wealth and influence—the decision-makers.”

The perception that the country was on the verge of a communist takeover was supported by false radio reports produced in Miami, explosive flashes of detonation on the horizons and hordes of screaming people stampeding (amplified by giant speakers), flashes of Kleig lights supplied by Hollywood. It was a gig the Hollywood director Jules Kaminsky, later hailed as an auteur by the French New Wave, was not proud.

The final showdown began on 18 June 1954 when Lieutenant Colonel Juan David Conde Castillo, an army officer living in exile, crossed the border from Honduras with two hundred men recruited and trained by the CIA—a band Bernie called the “army of liberation.” Conde Castillo’s “invasion,” supported by a CIA air attack, painted colors of the Guatemala Air Force, quickly achieved its end, and on 27 June a military junta took control of Guatemala. Conde Castillo was named president a week later.

To be continued…

Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)