A Personal Journey Through Space and Time
©David N. Dodson, March, 2018
The box of my mother’s memorabilia had been occupying over a square foot of precious floor space in my cramped little bedroom for over a month. I decided to go through it and tossed out half. But when I pulled out page A7 of the Long Beach Press Telegram dated August 31, 1958, 60 years ago, I was floored. Right there, front and center, was a picture of my dad in his old office. This wouldn’t be surprising except Dad had divorced Mom ten years earlier to marry his mistress and secretary (my capable and kind stepmother). I don’t think Mom had ever divorced Dad, however. I remember her once saying that she had nothing to do with it, and, when Dad visited Mom on her deathbed, she lit up like a Christmas tree.
Dad had that effect on people. I, myself, was mesmerized for decades by his narcissistic charisma. But I got over it — albeit with a lot of difficulty. Mom never did.
Dad also did a lot of good in the world, including introducing me to a larger, more inclusive world that his parents and his first wife had never really seen, having been impaired by the myopia of religious dogma and nationalistic fervor.
Bob Houser’s op ed piece is entitled ‘The Arab is for Himself’ and subtitled Nation Needs Grass-Root Contacts in Middle-East and I suspect Dad may have written most of it. Much later in life, my father maintained a weekly newspaper column in the Daily Sun of Seal Beach, California, and another monthly column translated into a newspaper in Luanda, Angola, the country of his birth.
We had lots of chances to make Arabs our friends.
Dad set up a $200,000 mobile training center in Afghanistan for diesel mechanics and staffed it with master mechanics from Europe and America who, for two years, taught Afghans until they could teach themselves. This happened long before Soviets and Americans supported minority factions in civil wars tearing this Arab country apart and galvanizing a wealthy Saudi university student named Osama bin Laden to accept American guns and support to oust a succession of foreign invaders from taking over this part of the world.
Dad brought home well-educated middle-management Arabs from all over and set up internships for training in US companies.
And he was often debriefed by the CIA about what was going on.
We knew what to do. But we were too greedy, we were too dogmatic, we were far too enamored of our own rhetoric and too appalled at theirs to find the humility necessary to get along rather than bully the Arab world.
I joined the world condemning the actions of the 9/11/01 terrorists, but I knew why they had done it. My family was living in Beirut, Lebanon during and after the six day war. It wasn’t radical Islamic terrorism. It was an educated Arab response to a century of German, British, American and Soviet interference in their local affairs; the normal and natural response to an alliance of selfish, self-satisfied colonialists and neocolonialists too thick-headed to recognize or respect Arab sovereignty, Arab dignity, or Arab self-interest.
Two dozen American pin-up girl photos decorate one side of the Arab’s tent. Opposite is a single picture — the likeness of [Gamal Abdel] Nasser.
The decor symbolizes a reasonable answer to the nagging question of Middle East loyalties, in the interested view of one Long Beach executive.
William T. Dodson, vice president and general manager of Transworld Management Corp., 120 E. Ocean Blvd, admits the answer is over-simplified but contends it shows Nasser as the symbol of Arab self respect; the pin-ups dispel the notion that the Arab rejects American ideas.
Dodson’s firm provides technical and non-technical experts for various companies and organizations abroad, with its major activity in Middle Eastern countries. While his mission takes him to the desks of princes and prime ministers, his ideas for workable relations with the Mid-East are borne of his more extensive grass-root contacts.
Among Dodson’s ideas and observations:
It’s ridiculous to say that Arabs, as individuals, have a basic opposition to American ideas. They have a great desire for American ideas and to be friendly. They have no basic interest in Russia.
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It is a form of Western insanity to demand always a census of everything, to analyze every statistic, to demand advance commitment of whether you’re for us or against us. “This is immaterial. The Arab is for himself, his family and his tribe.”
If American individual enterprise comes to him with know-how and aid on an individual basis and in a way that he can use it, the Arab will defend it because it is HIS, not because it is ours.
We need fewer people abroad, but ones who get around more and don’t scream defense of American policy, ones who have the guts to stand up and take criticism. Huge project staffs sent abroad with a lot of Americans who isolate themselves from the people, eat and drink and socialize with other Americans are not typical of American enterprise. “These ‘Little America’ stockades will never find out what the individual people need.”
Such missions explain the American position in the Middle East and the American way of life. There is no need to explain — it needs to be demonstrated.
The answer is American industry sending men of “foreman” caliber to meet face-to-face the men of industry and enterprise there — to give them the kind of aid they need and thereby the means whereby they can accomplish something for themselves. It is no place for high-pressure salesmanship.
Dodson gave some examples:
An acetylene bottling plant in the Mid-East could sell three times as much as it can produce. It doesn’t know how to get additional facilities. Its management has not been given reason to believe it could get assistance from “Little America” isolated attaches. Informal and low-level approach is indicated.
A Palestinian paper bag manufacturer wrote six American firms for information on getting a highly-prized American machine for his business. He got no answers. German firms gave him the answers he sought but the Palestinian still prefers the American machine.
A print shop executive, eminently capable, has demands for pharmaceutical labels. He can’t keep up because he needs capital. The return for an American investor is a sure thing. The American project staff never even finds out that conditions like this exist.
“We must build on the existing social and economic structures of the Middle East, no matter how primitive, not try to supplant them. We must develop their small beginnings. Then the success will be theirs and they will fight for it.”
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Dodson emphasized that he is not critical of the motives of our foreign policy personnel — “after all, our foreign policy is an accretion of the inheritance from the British and other governments. And our foreign missions are not going to return reports critical to themselves. It’s axiomatic that if you appropriate $10 million for a job you’re going to spend the $10 million. In [one unreadable line in the fold] 10-year plan is going to use those years no matter what.”
The approach should be two-fold. Dodson maintains: 1. Train their craftsmen and 2. Stimulate individual business.
“Asia must be run by the Asiatics.” Dodson believes, “and the day should come when the East will no longer have to depend entirely on the West.”
In Iran, there is some excellent big, top-caliber management. It can’t afford American craftsmen to operate the business. It has no craftsmen of its own.
“Now in Tehran at the old American University,” says Dodson, “there is a superb American machine shop equipped by Point 4 aid, but the plan is to take 12 years to train teachers to train craftsmen. Iran can’t afford to wait 12 years. So we need to organize practical trade craft activities where instructors are of foreman caliber.”
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Palestine has capable management people, he points out, “so let them run it and have American staff working for Arab management. This means Arab effort and is acceptable to them. There is a limit to what the American label can achieve. We must help them accomplish something.”
Nasser has received more credit than he deserves. The Iraq revolt was being prepared while he was a schoolboy, says Dodson. Nothing that’s happened in Iraq or Lebanon has been surprising.
Dodson claims America is throwing away one great advantage it has in dealing with the Mid-East situation — the factor of distance — by trying to shove Iran. This advantage was admitted to some years ago with the late King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia’s tribute of an American statesman: “The reason I like you Americans is that you are so far away.”