#2. The CIA Fights Communism With Modern Art
It's not exactly a secret that capitalism and communism had a bit of a tiff after the end of World War II. Even less of a secret is that many of the CIA's actions during the Cold War were rather ... inspired. Indeed, when it fell upon them to undermine the USSR using subterfuge, their first action was to jump straight into the insanity pit, balls out and screaming.
What followed were spy operations featuring kitty cats, assassinations via exploding cigars and general covert warfare using the Wile E. Coyote approach. Most of their more insane plans unsurprisingly fell flat, which is why you wouldn't hold out much hope for a plan to undermine communism with the power of modern art.
Mark Rothko's "Red Is a Dirty Communist Color" is clearly tearing down the Iron Curtain here.
First, they set up the not-at-all-Orwellian-sounding Congress for Cultural Freedom as a front for their meddling with the art world. Through it, CIA spooks infiltrated each and every aspect of modern culture, from film to music to, yes, modern art. The CIA loved themselves some squiggly lines, and sank millions of public dollars through front companies to promote it. In fact, the Congress for Cultural Freedom directly sponsored artists such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning, who in essence got to showcase their mind-bending talents for the U.S.A. thanks largely to the Company.
That seizure you're having is just your mind being expanded. Also the carbon monoxide.
Yes, the CIA made Jackson Pollock's career to undermine communism. It makes a strange kind of sense when you think about it, doesn't it?
No. No, it doesn't.
How It Worked:
It was an ideas fight all along. The CIA knew modern art showed the world that America didn't play by anyone's rules. The underlying message was this: "We're not squares like those commies. We can just vomit paint at a canvas like we don't care and call it art, and there's not a thing you can do about it."
Despite this apparently ridiculous line of thinking, the CIA's plan worked like a dream. Modern abstract art made big leaps forward while the communists' socialist realism style was pushed back.
The only way this would be realism is if Stalin were smacking them around a little.
Shows in Europe began to feature abstract American art and deemphasize communist artists with their boring pictures that people could actually understand. Even communist artists themselves started to surreptitiously rebel by sneaking abstract elements into their paintings.
Down with capitalism! And well-defined jaw lines!
But surely this was just some minor slice of insanity, one of many the CIA was toying with? Nope. As one of the head honchos of the art operation has said: "I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War."
Keep that in mind the next time someone drags you to an art gallery. Those blots and squiggles? They're blots and squiggles of freedom.
Lady Liberty has never looked so beautiful.
#1. The U.S. Intimidates North Korea ... by Cutting Down a Tree
This is one of those stories that's so stupid it's actually difficult to explain. But to understand how the U.S. military decided that they needed to embark on a huge 800-man mission to assassinate a tree, you need a little context.
The tree was a complete bastard.
In 1976, the border between North and South Korea was even more tense than it is today. There were numerous outposts in the Demilitarized Zone, the unofficial border between Cool Korea and Crazy Korea, and there were constant violent incidents between the soldiers manning them.
In the middle of that powder keg stood a tree. It was a huge tree that was blocking the view between two South Korean outposts, meaning one could be attacked by the North without the other outpost realizing anything had gone wrong (and in fact that had happened more than once). So the South Koreans, with their U.S. cohorts, decided to give the branches a good trim.
Starting from the trunk.
The North Koreans, however, were in the mood for a fight, so they came up, too, barking orders. You can probably picture the cartoony mess that followed. Shots were fired and, after the dust settled, two American soldiers were killed. Kim Il Sung, father of Kim Jong Il, mourned this mainly by patting the responsible soldiers on the back and making neener-neener noises across the DMZ at the Americans and South Koreans.
He basically looks like an overgrown 9-year-old anyway.
The U.S. was in an impossible situation. They couldn't let the attack go without a response, but they didn't want to trigger World War III either. So they came up with an operation that they thought would make Kim Il Sung back down. Its name? Operation Paul Bunyan.
Their target? That damn tree.
How It Worked:
The equipment they sent for the task included an armed platoon, 27 helicopters, some B-52 bombers and -- because why the hell not? -- a bunch of freaking martial arts experts, presumably just to make cool poses with their backs turned to the explosions. The operation involved 813 men total.
Together, they wiped the tree off the face of the earth with extreme prejudice, in full view of the North Koreans. Then they went up to the charred site, built a small monument in memory of their fallen comrades, gave the North Koreans a long look ... and walked away.
You can't see it, but there's a dick carved into the North Korean side of the trunk.
Well, that probably just confused them more than anything, right? What good could possibly come from something so aggressively pointless?
How about this: Kim Il Sung came forward and expressed regret for the original killings that day.
He also wrote a letter to the Americans, pretty much telling them that he would never attack them. Within days, the formerly so arrogant Kim had also agreed to an official partition of Korea along the demarcation line. Killing that stupid tree had solved everything.
It's now on display as a warning to all perennial menaces everywhere.
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