The CIA Comic Book Airdropped Over Grenada

Operation Urgent Fury, the controversial US-led invasion of Grenada, concluded with a decisive victory for the United States on 15 December 1983. The Reagan administration claimed that this action, the country’s first major military operation since the end of the Vietnam War, was launched in response to appeals for help by Grenada’s neighbouring islands. However, it has also been widely argued that the campaign was instead a ploy aimed at quashing Cuban and Soviet influence in the Caribbean.

In the aftermath of the invasion an aggressive piece of artistic propaganda appeared in support of the official line. GRENADA: Rescued from Rape and Slavery, a 14-page comic book, was printed in its thousands and airdropped over the island. The eye-catching, brightly-coloured pamphlet presented Operation Urgent Fury as a glorious defence of democracy by the United States, reimagining its military not as invaders but as liberators from “imminent totalitarian danger”.

The comic was ostensibly sponsored by the fictitious organisation V.O.I.C.E. (Victims Of International Communist Emissaries) … but it later transpired that the book had in fact been produced by the CIA. The agency had secretly commissioned Malcolm Ater of the Commercial Comics Company in Washington, DC to write the script, with illustrations provided by veteran comics artist Jack Sparling.

A PDF version of the full comic book is available for free download from the Government Comics Collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Images: Front cover and detail from page 3 of GRENADA: Rescued from Rape and Slavery (New York: V.O.I.C.E., 1984).

Rivera Paints the Guatemalan Coup d’État

In one of the most ignoble missions in the CIA’s Cold War history, on 18 June 1954 the intelligence agency led US-backed troops in a covert invasion of Guatemala. The objective: a coup d’état to remove from power the hugely-popular and democratically-elected president, Jacobo Árbenz. The politician had created powerful enemies in the US with his land reforms, which claimed back from the American United Fruit Company vast areas that had been given away by an earlier dictatorship, in gratitude for US support. After Árbenz was overthrown the country was ruled by a military junta for the next 4 decades, during which time the government committed genocide against the remaining Mayan population during the Guatemalan Civil War.

In the aftermath of Árbenz’s deposition and exile, the legendary Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, responded with a vitriolic canvas. The mockingly-titled Glorious Victory depicts John Foster Dulles, CIA Director (and board member of United Fruit Company) shaking hands with Colonel Castillo Armas, the leader of the coup who would soon take the presidency for himself. At their feet stands an anthropomorphised bomb bearing the grinning face of US President Eisenhower. The trio are surrounded by the slaughtered bodies of Guatemalan workers.

Rivera was a committed communist, who gave a home to Trotsky after his exile from the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union is where the mural (painted on linen) was sent, as a donation to the workers of the USSR. After touring behind the Iron Curtain until 1958 the painting went missing and was thought to have been destroyed. But it was only revealed in 2000 that Rivera’s mural had been in storage for nearly half a century in Moscow’s State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. It enjoyed a triumphant return to Mexico in 2007 for an exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Image: Diego Rivera, Glorious Victory, 1954. Movable mural painted on linen. State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

Dominican Artists Protest US Occupation

The costly failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 did not deter the United States from intervening in the politics of its Caribbean neighbours to prevent the spread of communism. Just four years later, on 28 April 1965, the administration of Lyndon Johnson responded to the start of the Dominican Civil War and fears of “a second Cuba” with the launch of Operation Power Pack. US Marine Corps entered Santo Domingo and would maintain their occupation of the island until September 1966, successfully quashing the popular uprising and managing the installation of the authoritarian but pro-American government of Joaquín Balaguer.

lora war of aprilOn 4 July 1965 a group of Dominican artists, poets and playwrights delivered a statement deploring the ‘unspeakable outrage’ of American intervention in issues of national sovereignty and self-determination. Under the auspices of the Frente Cultural Constitucionalista (Constitutionalist Cultural Front) the artists called for the use of art in aid on society and would make posters, organise art exhibitions and publish a collection of poems in support of the revolution.

The action was led by militant painter Silvano Lora, who that year created a series of paintings entitled Guerra de Abril (War of April). Under Balaguer’s rule Lora was forced into exile, but throughout his life the artist remained fiercely committed to social causes. In recognition of his lasting influence, in 2013 (ten years after his death) the Galería Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santo Domingo celebrated his work in the exhibition Silvano Lora: Un Arte Combatiente (Silvano Lora: A Combatant Art).

Image: Silvano Lora, Homenaje a Jacques Viau (Tribute to Jacques Viau) from the series Guerra de Abril (War of April), 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 64 x 44. Collection Tony Raful.

Illustrating the Bay of Pigs Invasion

2241307199_3dbbabf2f4_zThe Bay of Pigs Invasion, launched from Guatemala on 17 April 1961, was one of the most painful moments in the Cold War for the US government. The mission was led by a group of Cuban exiles known as Brigade 2506, who had been recruited in Miami and trained by the CIA. This attempt to overthrow the rule of Fidel Castro was an unmitigated disaster for the counter-revolutionaries and was quashed in less than 3 days by Cuban forces. An estimated 114 men lost their lives while the majority of the recruits were captured and imprisoned. Most would eventually be purchased back by the United States in December 1962 in exchange of $53 million worth of food and medicine.

The next year, on 10 May 1963, LIFE magazine printed an extended account of the invasion, featuring interviews with veterans to highlight the ‘heartbreaking price they paid for U.S. miscalculations’.

The piece featured 19 spreads illustrated by Sandy Kossin. An acclaimed and prolific illustrator, Kossin’s horribly vivid and tragic images were startlingly different from his usual output of lightly-comic film posters and book covers. Kossin worked from life, hiring a team of models to recreate poses based on photographs of the action, while a Cuban veteran advised on the authenticity of armaments and vehicles.

Kossin spoke about the series in an interview of 1969, which was recently republished on the Today’s Inspiration blog.

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Images: Sandy Kossin, illustrations from Life magazine, 10 May 1963 © All rights reserved.

The Return of the Pink Panzer

On the evening of 20 August 1968 the armies of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet-led military alliance, invaded Czechoslovakia. During the night, hundreds of thousands of soldiers flooded into the country, bringing an end to the liberalising reforms of the Prague Spring.

pink tank

The epic scenes of Soviet tanks entering the Czechoslovak capital brought new significance for one Soviet tank that had long stood in Prague. Monument to Soviet Tank Crews was dedicated in 1945 to commemorate the liberation of the city by the Red Army at the end of World War II. But after 1968 the memorial came to symbolise the invasion and the heavy Soviet military presence that remained in the country for two decades.

On the morning of 28 April 1991, residents of Prague awoke to find the tank painted bright pink. On its roof stood a huge erect middle finger. In a provocative flourish worthy of the master of readymades himself, Marcel Duchamp, the monument’s base was daubed with the signature ‘David Černý and the Neostunners’. The offending art student, future enfant terrible of the Czech art world, was swiftly jailed for causing a public disturbance and the tank was repainted green.

tank4But it didn’t end there… A few days later on 12 May members of the newly-elected parliament together repainted the tank pink, signifying their commitment to the end of Soviet authority. Černý was released and the Pink Tank was removed from Prague, pre-empting the collapse of the USSR later that year. For once, it seemed, art had trumped politics.

Images: Tank 91, April 1991, Courtesy of the Prague Aviation Museum, Kbely; Deputies of the Federal Assembly, May 1991, taken from NTV documentary. Courtesy David Černý