Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations

The 20th century saw a wave of anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, national liberation movements transform the world, often with the aid of Soviet, Eastern European, and Cuban Communists. Just as often, these revolts against the old world – the racist, sexist world of subjugation and oppression of entire peoples – were violently suppressed.

In the first two decades of the 21st century, the story is much the same. Cuba remains a favored boogeyman to be attacked through economic sanctions and embargo. Left-leaning governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, and throughout South America who dare to assert their independence face sanctions, intervention, and CIA-backed far-right opposition; nefarious plots spill over into blood filled streets.

Unfortunately, historically, inevitably right-wing opposition takes the shape of bullets – bullets emanating from Washington!

Despite this history of violence, though, at the heart of Vijay Prashad’s new book Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations is hope. As he notes, “It is a book about the shadows; but it relies upon the literature of the light.”

Of course, Washington’s bullets were fired by people who were doing the bidding of a foreign power, not just by U.S. soldiers. As Prashad writes, “Many of these bullets are fired by people who have their own parochial interests, their petty rivalries, and their small-minded gains. But more often than not, these have been Washington’s bullets.”

According to Prashad, these bullets were “shinned by the bureaucrats of the world order who wanted to contain the tidal wave that swept from the October Revolution of 1917 and the many waves that whipped around the world to form the anti-colonial movement.”

After World War II and the emergence of nuclear weapons among the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, Prashad argues, the Cold War East-West conflict turned into a “far more deadly North-South or West-South conflict.”

As he put it, “The battlefield moved from along the Urals and the Caucasus into Central and South America, into Africa, and into Asia – into, in other words, the South…Washington’s bullets that pointed towards the USSR remained unused, but its bullets were fired into the heart of the South. It was in the battlefields of the South that Washington pushed against Soviet influence and against national liberation projects, against hope and for profit.”

Eloquently, and with keen insight hinting at the heartbreak of broken promises, Prashad, adds, “Liberty was not to be the watchword of the new nations that broke away from formal colonialism; liberty is the name of a statue in New York harbor.”

Of interest to this reader is Prashad’s willingness to highlight the role of the Soviet Union in the United Nations; a role often ignored. It “operated as an umbrella,” a “shield” to anti-colonial movements and governments; the USSR “boycotted the Security Council” in protest of the UN refusing to seat the delegate from the People’s Republic of China; the “first 56 vetoes in the UN Security Council were made by the USSR…,” etc.

“The importance of the shield,” Prashad continues, “comes mainly on the anti-colonial, national liberation question. It was the USSR that used its veto to defend the process of national liberation, from the struggles of the Palestinians to the struggles in South Rhodesia, from the South African freedom struggle to the liberation war in Vietnam.”

Despite local and international resistance, though, “in Guatemala or in Indonesia, or…in South Vietnam, the U.S. government and its allies egged on local oligarchs and their friends in the armed forces to completely decimate the Left,” leading to tens of millions – if not hundreds of millions – of deaths.

Fortunately, Prashad’s Washington Bullets isn’t consigned solely to the distant past. He deals briefly with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), the Kurdistan Workers Party, and more recently the attempted overthrow of the governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil. He discusses “hybrid warfare,” the use of NGOs, sanctions, and, yes, the continued use of Washington’s bullets.

Washington Bullets is a short, concise book jam-packed full of information. Despite the century of bloodshed it depicts, Washington Bullets offers hope. Time and time again, the resistance documented by Prashad can’t help but inspire. Washington’s bullets may kill, maim, or disfigure individual movements, but it has not – and cannot – kill the ideas that have inspired millions upon millions. This is the joy in reading a book like Washington Bullets. Vijay Prashad has inspired!

Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations

By Vijay Prashad, Monthly Review Press, 2020, 162 pages


Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.