Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.
An earlier post discussed the Department of State reaction to the publication of The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas Ross. That book was one of the first “exposés” of Central Intelligence Agency activities. As the 60s wore on, critical books appeared in ever greater numbers, some penned by former CIA officers. One of the more sophisticated critics was Miles Copeland who wrote the book The Game of Nations, The Amorality of Power Politics, published in 1969. Copeland’s other claim to fame is that he is the father of Stewart Copeland, the drummer for the band The Police.
The publication of The Game of Nations threatened to affect U.S. relations with the countries in the Middle East, where Copeland had served and that served as the basis for his critique. To provide U.S. diplomats in the region with background information and guidance, the Department of State prepared the following critical commentary on the book.
The CIA’s internal journal Studies in Intelligence ran a lengthy review of The Game of Nations in early 1970. Some choice comments from that include:
- The Arab press and radio and the “anti-imperialist” press and radio elsewhere have noted it, more or less hysterically, as another evidence of the deviousness of American methods and purposes.
- The Game of Nations is a readable, though often confused, and ultimately incomprehensible book. It reflects Miles Copeland’s fabled charm and nimbleness of mind. It is also replete with his special brand of jargon which has so often beguiled and disarmed both colleagues and antagonists. Despite the many curious turns of language and thought, the book gives a memorable picture of the world of Miles Copeland.
- There has seldom been so revealing a title: The Game of Nations, The Amorality of Power Politics. The author means every word of it. His basic proposition is that international politics is a game in which morality and principle are stupidities and which only the devious and unprincipled can win.
- The villains of the piece are the “goo-goos,” i.e., those “who believe that, even in a country like Syria, Good Government is not only desirable, but possible.” There are also harsh words for those who follow the “High Road of Statesmanship and Diplomacy,” which Copeland informs us was known in the Pentagon and CIA as “HORSESHIP.” …He refers to a distressing “distaste for violence” which became evident in the US business community and Government about the time of the Lebanese crisis of 1958 and says that the ability of the US to play the game was curtailed by the fact that “high morality” became the “in thing” in the State Department in the early sixties.
- Throughout the book Copeland harps on the subject of amorality, which he advocates, and morality, which he regards as foolishness. Moralists in the State Department and elsewhere, he explains, are always thwarting the efforts of the hard-headed realists in international politics. However, he says in one of the most revealing passages of the book, we Americans can “sleep more easily at night from knowing that behind this front (of high morality) we are in fact capable of matching the Soviets perfidy for perfidy.” We “do indeed believe in honesty,” says Copeland, “although not so much as a great moral principle as because, as Benjamin Franklin said, it ‘is the best policy.’”
- Miles Copeland’s book will make a lot of serious and devoted US Government servants wince, particularly those who are already nervous about this kind of thing making headway in Washington. It will frighten a lot of outsiders, friends of the US and of the US Government, who have on occasion suspected that things inside the Government might be as weird as Copeland says they are.
- On the other hand there may be some little consolation in the knowledge that Copeland’s book is going to confuse the dickens out of the real enemies of the US. They will make some obvious propaganda use of it, but surely most of them will hold back, fearing that they are being put on, that some ingenious trap has been laid for them.
- Copeland has dealt a mortal blow to the theory that gamesmanship is the key to success in international politics, and a good thing, too. For his own sake, and for the sake of those of his former associates who are still active intelligence officers, however, it would have been better if he had not written this book.
- Department of State to the U.S. diplomatic posts in Aden, Algiers, Amman, Beirut, Benghazi, Cairo, Dhahran, Jerusalem, Jidda, Kuwait, London, Rabat, Tehran, Tripoli, and Tunis, CA-5895, October 29, 1969, file PPB 12 US, 1967-69 Subject-Numeric File (NAID 580618), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
- The review is in Studies in Intelligence, volume 14, No. 1, Spring 1970 on the CIA FOIA website under document number 78T03194A000300010009. For a scholarly account, see Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 (UNC Press).