About 66 years ago, the United States ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, the popular reformer and FDR fan, Jacobo Árbenz. That story is well-known by now. But over the past year, my research team and I investigated a more obscured aspect of that coup that has taken on surprising relevance today: The primary weapon the U.S. used to overthrow Guatemala’s democracy was fake news. A key part of why the plot worked tells us something important about what Americans need to watch out for as the Russian government tries to interfere with our democracy in 2020.
To get rid of Árbenz in 1954, CIA agents and U.S. State Department officials created a hoax radio station in the style of Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds. CIA director Allen Dulles, in a now-declassified memo to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, explained the plan. “The entire effort,” Dulles wrote, was “more dependent upon psychological impact rather than actual military strength.” …
In the early days of humankind, the way to resolve a difference of opinion was to bash the other person’s head with a rock. Fortunately, we’re now able to handle most conflicts with our words.
But in order to hash out differences — or even better, to build off one another’s viewpoints and make conflict productive — we need to express our thinking clearly. That means choosing the right words.
I have become concerned about a linguistic habit that I hear everywhere, from casual conversations to serious confrontations. It sounds like this:
Writing a book is hard. Writing a good book is even harder. Writing a good book for children is in many ways even harder than that.
So it’s rare for me as an adult nonfiction author to have a children’s book catch my eye as an example of good writing. The last one that comes to mind was B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures. The latest one just came out this month: Mighty May Won’t Cry Today by Claire-Voe & Kendra Ocampo.
The irony of the book’s title is that as an adult, it might actually make you cry. Mighty May is more than a fun kids book; it’s an opportunity to shift perspective in the way that the TV show Modern Family altered viewer’s perceptions of what’s different about having gay parents vs. straight parents (it turns out, not much, aside from other people being weird about it). In both cases, the story and writing came first — not some sort of heavy hand — and that’s why it works and stays true to real life. …