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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,277

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This is the grave of John Peurifoy.

Born in 1907 in Waterboro, South Carolina, Peurifoy grew up fairly well off and got himself an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He was close to the South Carolina political world, especially the despicable Cotton Ed Smith, and so that helped a lot. But in the middle of his training, he came down with a pretty serious case of pneumonia and so dropped out. He got a job in D.C. thanks to ol’ Cotton Ed, running a congressional elevator. This was after a few years of drifting around. He wanted to get into the State Department and the thing about that congressional elevator, you meet a lot of congresscritters. He also took night classes at American University and George Washington to get his degree.

Well, this finally paid off in 1938. He got his State Department job. By this time, he was over thirty and married so it was definitely time to make the career work. He was a fast riser. It seems that Peurifoy was very good at making those above him feel good because he rose fairly fast. He was a solid Democrat of course–any white man from South Carolina was. Incidentally, although he was Cotton Ed’s boy, he identified as a political liberal. This is an important point because his career in the State Department is one of the most odious in American history. But the rise of the Cold War state and the overthrow of democratically elected regimes by CIA-sponsored coups, I mean that’s pretty much bipartisan. Yeah, there’s an active left with people such as Henry Wallace or Rexford Guy Tugwell who would oppose this kind of thing, but they are so isolated after 1947 that they are utterly irrelevant, basically driven out of respectable circles. Men like Peurifoy could support the New Deal state, but also be more than happy to attack the left or just frame good people as communists. After all, doing so both promoted one’s own career and the dominant trends in American and international politics.

At first, Peurifoy was a top rate administrative man. By 1946, he was assistant to the Under Secretary of State. He was also given charge of organizing the UN’s founding conference in San Francisco in 1945. After the war, the second Red Scare came down on the State Department. Joe McCarthy and others were making hay on the supposed traitors and communists in the State Department. Peurifoy’s role in this was being the State Department guy who basically would do whatever McCarthy wanted. He felt the State Department was not aggressive enough in finding communists and convinced the FBI to investigate. He gladly participated in the Alger Hiss case and appeared before HUAC. And when McCarthy claimed that the commies were in the State Department, Peurifoy challenged him to reveal his information, but then also went to the Senate to claim there was a cadre of homosexuals in the State Department that needed purging. He announced that 91 gays had been fired. McCarthy picked up on this and the persecution of gays in the government grew rapidly. So that’s one legacy of Peurifoy.

In all of this, he pleased his bosses. In 1948, George Marshall made him Deputy Undersecretary of State for Administration and he was in charge of relations with Congress. He was the key organizational man in the State Department. He could have had a very nice career here, but he wanted more. He wanted to go abroad. Given he was a trusted figure, his friends made that happen. He had to take the Foreign Service exam like anyone else, but passed that in 1949.

Given his importance, Peurifoy wasn’t just any potential appointee. He became the guy the government would appoint to the hottest Cold War nation to pursue American policy goals with ruthless brutality. This meant he was named ambassador to Greece in 1950. I’m not sure why he needed to officially join the Foreign Service to become an ambassador, but whatever. The point is that Greece was a front line country, with the Truman Doctrine implemented to give the Greek fascists whatever they needed to crush the communists, who it must be noted, had been the ones to resist into of collaborate with the Nazis. He was openly interventionist as an ambassador. He became friends with the royal family and would give them whatever they wanted in the commie hunting department. To this day, in Greece, Peurifoy is seen as a major villain, the kind of interventionist American that gave the Cold War U.S. a bad name. And boy was he….

In 1953, with Greece in pretty good shape, the Eisenhower administration moved Peurifoy to another hot spot–Guatemala. This was the era of Jacobo Arbenz, when a democratically elected left leaning but non-communist government decided to nationalize unused United Fruit land to redistribute to landless farmers. United Fruit called up the Dulles Brothers, who were very close to the company and currently were Secretary of State and CIA head, to get rid of Arbenz. The U.S. was glad to comply and sent the perfect hatchet man to be the new ambassador to that country. There, Peurifoy was an active participant in the CIA planned coup. He hounded Arbenz constantly about the evils of his nationalization plan and worked closely with the military to oversee the coup and decide who would be the pro-US, pro-United Fruit leader of the nation.

Of course, a three decade civil war followed. There are so many American villains in Guatemalan history and no one in the U.S. has even heard of Peurifoy but he’s right there at the top of the terrible Americans with responsibility for what Guatemala has become. He became something of a media star after his work in Guatemala, even receiving a fawning New York Times profile in 1954. This is a pretty gross defense of what was going on down there, but is a good window into how the elite media would defend the worst American provocations in the Cold War.

With Guatemala in hand, Peurifoy went to the next hot spot–southeast Asia. As ambassador to Thailand, he was to play a critical role in using that nation to host American operations in Indochina, primarily to ensure that Vietnam never united as it was mandated in the 1954 agreement to end the war with France. I can only imagine what terror he would have been responsible for. However, in August 1955, he collided with a truck while driving. It killed him and his nine year old son. While I am sorry for the kid, I am not sorry for his father. The man already had a ton of blood on his hands and was angling for more.

John Peurifoy is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you would like this series to visit some of the other terrible people who were involved in screwing over Guatemala in the Cold War, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Norman Armour, who replaced Peurifoy and was another big time diplomat shuttled around to the hotspots, is in Princeton, New Jersey. John Muccio, who was more known for his work during the Korean War as first Ambassador to South Korea and who was Eisenhower’s last Ambassador to Guatemala, is in Washington, D.C. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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