08/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Now I Get It

We've been suckered. Big time. The United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the presidents who have been giving them their orders for 60+ years demonstrably do not believe in democracy. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner, finally makes sense of today's world. Haynes Johnson's The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism fills in the political gaps. Mass Media has mostly been AWOL or complicitous.

Fundamental American values, democracy everywhere, and the sovereign people of the United States have been betrayed, time and again, by illegal, immoral and unethical actions -- overt and covert -- that fly in the face of all rhetorical flourishes to the contrary. If you find a mess somewhere in the world, there's a good chance the CIA's fingerprints are on it. All over the world. For more than half a century.

And remember who was giving them their orders (and to whom the CIA was regularly ... dissembling). The president. The people to whom we have entrusted our government want to be our rulers -- and everyone else's too, by all appearances. We've let 'em.

Reporter Tim Weiner has done a masterful job and inestimable service with Legacy of Ashes. Appropriately, it won the National Book Award. He did what reporters are supposed to do. Everything in the book is on-the-record, pulled from thousands of official documents and hundreds of first-person interviews. He's meticulously documented more than 60 years of the CIA -- from the end of WW2 forward -- carrying out immoral and unethical orders from Presidents stretching all the way back to Eisenhower. And the CIA bumble-stumbling its way from one disaster to another. If the effects had not been so murderously devastating to millions, it would be farcical.

Like most Americans, these ugly truths are deeply repugnant to me. In his provocative and insightful new book, James Carse suggests that Jesus got it wrong when he said (as reported in the Gospel of John) "The truth will set you free." Better, Mr. Carse suggests, is "What will set you free is not truth but truthfulness." We need truthfulness from the CIA (et al) not their version of THE TRUTH. A good dose of humility is manifestly needed. Belief in democracy would help, as well.

Mr. Weiner's book beats fictional "spy thrillers", hands down.

What roles can we, individually and collectively, play in restoring democratic principles after more than 60 years of lies, deceptions and illegal acts carried out in our name? Start with truthfulness. Then: Act.

You'll find our Conversation with Tim Weiner, Haynes Johnson, and other Guests who champion democracy and offer better alternatives to the current condition on our Show