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When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (Penguin Lives Series) Hardcover – 23 Sep 2004

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A fascinating look at US Presidents and their relation with the facts.

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During the final days of the Clinton presidency, Tracfone, a prepaid cellular phone service, began running a TV ad with some familiar footage of recent American presidents. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Well-written look at truth 29 Sept. 2004
By MKS - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is a joy to read with clear, usually incisive and often very entertaining prose, and yet Alterman has kept an even hand by not focusing on Presidents of only one party.

I especially liked the brief section about Guatemala that is found within the larger section on Iran-Contra. Alterman recounts the facts often overlooked by so many: That in 1954 the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected Arbenz government, installed a dictator, and for decades thereafter supported dictators who killed 200,000 Guatemalan civilians. He even briefly mentions that the CIA overthrow resulted in major-league blowback in the form of radicalizing Dr. Ernesto Guevara, who was in Guatemala in 1954 and witnessed the overthrow, and as a result came to believe that only armed revolution could help the poor.

The irony of course is that those who are currently most vociferous about installing democracy in Iraq were those who had no problem with the U.S. support in the 1980s of Guatemalan dictators who directed the genocide of the Mayan Indians. It is the same cast of characters-- with Cheney leading the pack.

Alterman also impressed me in the Guatemalan subsection of his book with his reluctance to overstate. Alterman states that "one" of the reasons the CIA overthrew the Arbenz government was to please the United Fruit Company, which opposed Arbenz's economic policies. Well, that really was the main reason. United Fruit Company complained to two of its former lawyers who were high up in the U.S. government--the Dulles boys, John Foster who was Secretary of State, and Allen who was the head of the CIA. The result was quite helpful to the United Fruit Company.

The second area where Alterman pulls back a little is where he comments that because so many records are still being kept secret by the U.S. government, we don't know, beyond some verified CIA involvement, the extent to which the U.S. was complicit in the mass killings of tens of thousand of Mayans in the 1980s. Well, again, we do know a lot based on Department of Defense memoranda, State Department cables and CIA documents, which have been secured in part through the Freedom of Information Act. And the conclusion is not pretty. Of course the U.S. officials in the Reagan/Bush administrations knew about the butchery and yet continued to fund and train the butchers.

Alterman has convinced me of his evenhandedness. His incisiveness is wonderful to read.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Four Deadly Incidents 24 Sept. 2004
By John Matlock - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I'm reminded about the old joke - How do you tell when a salesman is lying, his lips move and he makes noise. ==With politicians it has become almost accepted behavior up to the time that they got caught. We are all familiar with Clinton's lies, made under oath, about Monica, which got him impeached. Nixon, of course resigned over the lies regarding Watergate. This book, exhaustively researched concentrates on four specific incidents.

The first incident concerns Yalta, the Churchill-Stalin-Roosevelt conference at the end of WW II. At this meeting Roosevelt made concessions to Stalin that he subsequently expected to change. But he died ten weeks later and left the presidency to Truman who had not been at the conference and had not been informed of the deal that Roosevelt had cut. The result was the cold war, causing an immense amount of treasure and even lives over the next fifty years.

Second he describes the secret deal cut by Kennedy in regards to the Cuban Missile Crisis. This enhanced the Cold War and helped pave the way for the Viet Nam war.

Third is Lyndon Johnson's version of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents. These provided the basis for the congressional resulutions that allowed the United States to send an army to Viet Nam.

Finally is the Iran-Contra strategy of Ronald Reagan. At one meeting Reagan was told that his announcements might constitute an impeachable offense. He replied, they can impeach me if they want, visiting day is Wednesday.

I write this in the midst of the new presidential campaign. Kerry has just spoken out about Assault Rifles with the ability to kill dozens of people at a time, while the only thing in the legal definition that makes an assault rifle more deadly is the ability to attach a bayonet on the end. And Bush, well the fact that one of his press aids said, The President is not a fact-checker, just about says it all.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding history of executive deception 17 Jan. 2005
By J. Davis - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Eric Alterman continues his excellent writing (please read What Liberal Media)in this terrific book. He covers the deceptions of five different presidents, 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Part of the appeal of this book comes from its nonpartisanship; he is as tough on Johnson as he is on Reagan. Throughout the book Alterman is consistent in his belief that American leaders owe the American people the truth at all times. He has no patience for neo-Machiavellians who would pardon politicians for lying in the name of a greater cause, e.g. national security. Or, of course, for the peoples' "own good."

From Yalta to Gulf War II, Alterman shows the deleterious impact of presidential lying. His history of the Vietnam War is the best part of the book, as it was the lies of LBJ that led to thousands of deaths. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American political history, regardless of their political leanings. Thanks, Eric!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An excellent examination of recorded events and reality. 15 Dec. 2004
By Sean R. Funk - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Some people may scoff at the idea of exposing politicians for their lies. Several reviewers above mentioned such "noble" people such as Churchill, and Plato - bringing up "noble lies" and so on and so forth - self-serving rich men who believe in misling the public in the best interests of political expediency. If you are someone who believes politicians must be strong as well as honest, this book is an excellent review of the American political failures of some of the most important parts of the American 20th century, as well as the beginning of the 21st century.

it covers a small portion of FDRs presidency, mostly only the dealings at Yalta; what led up to, and what occurred immediately afterwards when Truman took power. He then moves onto Kennedy, and his failures in dealing with Cuba - comparing his neoconservative-like attacks on Eisenhower/Nixon in their "failures" to contain and control Cuba to the modern political establishment that we know as the modern Republican party. it exposes Kennedy's hypocrisy in dealing with both Cuba and the Soviet Union.. all in the interest os his own political gain - it must have worked because we revere this dog as one of our best Presidents!

He then moves on to talk about Johnson and his political ineptitude and paranoia in dealing with Kennedy's leftover men, and the infected issue of Vietnam - and his lies that forced our country into a long, protracted war which we lost in the end.

Alterman then writes a scathing chapter reviwing the Reagan administrations dealing in both El Salvador and Nicaragua, and how this interacted with Iran (Iran/Contra scandal).

The last chapter deals with GWB, comparing GWB to the idiotic behavior of Ronald Reagan, and Bush's failure to lead the country down a truthful path, and his cabinets blase attitude towards telling the public one thing, and not requiring themselves any factual data to back their statements up. True Reaganism at it's best!

Excellent book for all to read. If you do not know anything about Iran-Contra, this book explains the issue in a reasonable amount of detail. It also gives great detail on the inner workings of the the ineptitude of Americans in dealing with WW2, the massive coverups and lies spewing forth from people like John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Reagan, Bush I & II and a gaggle of other chickenhawks too scared to fight in their own wars.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Presidents And Their Administrations Often Lie (Spin) 19 Jan. 2005
By G. Reid - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is an eye-opening book about Presidential Deception. The author covers the deceptions of five different presidents in a nonpartisan manner. Eric Alterman throughout the book maintains the position that American Presidents owe the American people the truth and should not engage in the deception that he has discovered in too many cases.

The author covers the lies of LBJ surrounding the Vietnam war that led to many thousands of deaths. Ronald Reagan's involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal involved lies. The author discusses a secret deal that Kennedy made involving the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are Clinton's lies regarding Monica and Nixon's lies about Watergate. Roosevelt made a secret deal with Stalin at Yalta.

Americans evalulate presidents often on their words and their charisma sometimes without paying much attention to the validity of those words.
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