On Thursday, January 16, Ben Tumin presented his “talkumentary”1954 at Guilford College as part of the Shifting Worlds Institute. Tumin is a comedian and filmmaker hailing from New York. He mainly uses history and humor to explore current socio political issues in order to uncover the truth not always found in a textbook. On this visit, his second time speaking at Guilford College, he asked the question: “Are we living in a post-truth era?”
He explored this question through the national coverage of the 1954 U.S.-led coup in Guatemala, exposing the flaws in journalism through first-hand accounts. He analyzed many articles that claimed the coup was warranted to stop the evils of communism.
In reality, the United Fruit Company (the one that owns Chiquita bananas) was responsible for the falsities in reporting. In order to keep their hundreds of acres of land for banana farming, the company exploited the “red scare” to dismantle the Guatemalan government. The government at the time wasn’t even communist — it was a democratic government with socialist elements, and they wanted to buy their land back for the low price the company claimed it was really worth.
The U.S. intervention actually destroyed the democratic government in Guatemala.
“We’re now living in a post-truth era, where it is hard to tell fact from fiction,” said Tumin.
Tumin came to this conclusion with the help of his mentor, historian Stephen Schlessinger Jr., who assisted him in uncovering the discrepancies in truth in the news at that time, and inspired him to pursue this topic. His documentary featured interviews with Schlessinger, as well as Oscar Augusto Rodas Rivera, a Guatemalan citizen who lived in Guatemala in 1954 and remembers the effects of the coup.
Tumin also exposed the truth about false or watered-down information in history textbooks. Textbooks are produced by giant manufacturers that send their drafts to the Texas Board of Education, and those are who decides on what it emphasized. The Texas Board of Ed are not trained in history, and they are likely conservative. It is in their best interest to portray the United States as victorious and moral to raise patriotic citizens.
As a result, other countries are villainized.
What does this mean for refugees, asylum-seekers, and im/migrants coming to the U.S.?
Tumin explained that the coup in 1954 led to some of the factors that caused forced migration of Central Americans. The U.S. instated Guatemalan government was a militaristic dictatorship in which the leader, Carlos Castillo Armas, banned other political parties and imprisoned those who went against him. The coup set the groundwork for the widespread instability seen today in many Central American countries.
Of all the refugees that came to the U.S. in the 1970s, only 3 of them committed murder. He noted that statistically, cows are more likely to kill than refugees are. In a time where news is often manipulated for political or capitalist gain, it is important to thoroughly do your research.
To learn more about Ben Tumin, visit his website here.