The perceived dark side of the United States' international involvement in the 20th century was portrayed in a harsh light last Thursday evening, as guest speakers Tom Melville and George Mische presented a lecture entitled "U.S. Interventionism: From Guatemala to Iraq."
Through the first hour of the lecture, Melville, a former Catholic priest, spoke about his missionary trip to Guatemala in 1957. He primarily discussed the political turmoil during that time period and intermittently included his first-hand experiences.
"I was humiliated," he said, "to preach to people who knew more about a Christian life than I did."
Melville described how he planned to join the rebels in Guatemala who were in opposition to the U.S.-supported dictator, Carlos Castillo Armas.
"You might be surprised that the U.S. is in the business of overthrowing democratic governments because a democracy doesn't always do what you want," he said, referring to the 1954 CIA-orchestrated overthrow of democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz after his government, as part of a land-reform program, seized large tracts belonging the U.S.-based United Fruit Company.
During the process of organizing opposition in the United States, Melville and his wife were arrested and imprisoned. Melville was in prison for 18 months and his wife for nine.
Melville's book, Through a Glass Darkly: The U.S. Holocaust in Central America, recounts these first-hand experiences and speaks of perceived atrocities committed by the U.S. government since the mid-20th century.
Mische has also worked the greater part of his life trying to bring attention to the iniquities of the American government, especially of the 1960s. He spoke about the role of the U.S. in major events from the time of Melville's experience in Guatemala to the current Iraq war.
"If Americans were put on trial they would have received the same fate as those leaders in the Nuremburg trials," he said.
At one point, Melville asked the student audience, "Do you really believe that the U.S. is in Iraq to promote democracy?" He went on to explain his ideas about the unfounded entry of the United States into the Iraq war and the corruption that he believes surrounded it.
"The next election will be the most important in your lifetime," he said. "It will set a precedence of foreign policy for the next 30 years. We all have to learn to be citizens of the world."
The lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session that stirred up a heated debate between the speakers and several students who were critical of the one-sided message.
"I felt that I was being attacked as a neutral individual," said Brittany Frankel, a sophomore. "I believe that the U.S. foreign policy is far too complicated for one individual to understand and to force an opinion on another individual implies an all-knowing nature."
Rose McEwen, associate professor and chair of foreign languages, expected the lecture to be more about the parallels between "the propaganda employed by the CIA to justify U.S. intervention in Guatemala back in 1954 and the misinformation used by our government to legitimize our involvement in Iraq."
"I was personally disappointed," she said, "that the parallels were not clearly drawn, and especially uncomfortable when the presentation degenerated into a verbal squabble with the students who raised intelligent questions after the presentation."
Several professors from the sponsoring departments were in attendance as well as a few residents from the town.
The lecture was sponsored by the Latin-American studies program and the departments of anthropology, foreign languages and literatures, geography, history, international relations and sociology.