Lincoln Gordon died a few weeks ago at the age of 96. He had graduated summa cum laude from Harvard at the age of 19, received a doctorate from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, published his first book at 22, with dozens more to follow on government, economics, and foreign policy in Europe and Latin America. He joined the Harvard faculty at 23. Dr. Gordon was an executive on the War Production Board during World War II, a top administrator of Marshall Plan programs in postwar Europe, ambassador to Brazil, held other high positions at the State Department and the White House, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, economist at the Brookings Institution, president of Johns Hopkins University. President Lyndon B. Johnson praised Gordon’s diplomatic service as “a rare combination of experience, idealism and practical judgment”.
You get the picture? Boy wonder, intellectual shining light, distinguished leader of men, outstanding American patriot.
Abraham Lincoln Gordon was also Washington’s on-site, and very active, director in Brazil of the military coup in 1964 which overthrew the moderately leftist government of João Goulart and condemned the people of Brazil to more than 20 years of an unspeakably brutal dictatorship. Human-rights campaigners have long maintained that Brazil’s military regime originated the idea of the desaparecidos, “the disappeared”, and exported torture methods across Latin America. In 2007, the Brazilian government published a 500-page book, “The Right to Memory and the Truth”, which outlines the systematic torture, rape and disappearance of nearly 500 left-wing activists, and includes photos of corpses and torture victims. Currently, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is proposing a commission to investigate allegations of torture by the military during the 1964-1985 dictatorship. (When will the United States create a commission to investigate its own torture?)
In a cable to Washington after the coup, Gordon stated — in a remark that might have had difficulty getting past the lips of even John Foster Dulles — that without the coup there could have been a “total loss to the West of all South American Republics”. (It was actually the beginning of a series of fascistic anti-communist coups that trapped the southern half of South America in a decades-long nightmare, culminating in “Operation Condor”, in which the various dictatorships, aided by the CIA, cooperated in hunting down and killing leftists.)
Gordon later testified at a congressional hearing and while denying completely any connection to the coup in Brazil he stated that the coup was “the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century.”
Listen to a phone conversation between President Johnson and Thomas Mann, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, April 3, 1964, two days after the coup:
MANN: I hope you’re as happy about Brazil as I am.
LBJ: I am.
MANN: I think that’s the most important thing that’s happened in the hemisphere in three years.
LBJ: I hope they give us some credit instead of hell.
So the next time you’re faced with a boy wonder from Harvard, try to keep your adulation in check no matter what office the man attains, even — oh, just choosing a position at random — the presidency of the United States. Keep your eyes focused not on these “liberal” … “best and brightest” who come and go, but on US foreign policy which remains the same decade after decade. There are dozens of Brazils and Lincoln Gordons in America’s past. In its present. In its future. They’re the diplomatic equivalent of the guys who ran Enron, AIG and Goldman Sachs.
Of course, not all of our foreign policy officials are like that. Some are worse.
And remember the words of convicted spy Alger Hiss: Prison was “a good corrective to three years at Harvard.”
 Michael Beschloss, Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes 1963-1964 (New York, 1997), p.306. All other sources for this section on Gordon can be found in: Washington Post, December 22, 2009, obituary; The Guardian (London), August 31, 2007; William Blum, “Killing Hope”, chapter 27