Mary Pinchot Meyer
Mary Pinchot was born on 14th October, 1920. Her father Amos Pinchot, was a wealthy lawyer who helped fund the radical journal, The Masses. He was also a key figure in the Progressive Party. Her mother, Ruth Pinchot, was a journalist who worked for worked for magazines such as The Nation and The New Republic.
As a child Mary was brought into contact with left-wing intellectuals. People like Mabel Dodge, Crystal Eastman, Max Eastman, Louis Brandeis, Robert La Follette and Harold Ickes were regular visitors at their Grey Towers home in Milford, Pennsylvania.
Mary attended Brearley School and Vassar College. In 1938 she began going out with William Attwood. It was while with Attwood at a dance held at Choate that she met John F. Kennedy for the first time.
While at Vassar Mary became interested in left-wing politics. This did not seem to upset her father, Amos Pinchot, who wrote to his brother Gifford: "Vassar seems to be very interested in communism. And a great deal of warm debating is going on among the students of Mary's class, which I think is an excellent thing. People of that age ought to be radical anyhow."
After leaving Vassar she obtained work as a journalist at United Press. This included writing for magazines such as Mademoiselle. Mary also became a member of the American Labor Party. This insured that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) started a file on Meyer's political activities. Mary, like her parents, was also a committed pacifist.
In 1944 Mary met Cord Meyer, a lieutenant in the US Marines who was recovering from serious shrapnel injuries that had resulted in him losing an eye. The couple married on 19th April, 1945. Soon afterwards the couple went to San Francisco to attend the conference that established the United Nations. Cord went as an aide to Harold Stassen, whereas Mary, who was working for the North American Newspaper Alliance at the time, was one of the reporters sent to cover this important event.
Cord Meyer had been shocked by the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war Meyer commissioned a film by Pare Lorentz called The Beginning or the End. Meyer wanted this film to be the definitive statement about the dangers of the atomic age. Cord wrote at the time: "Talked with Mary of how steadily depressing is our full realization of how little hope there is of avoiding the approaching catastrophe of atomic warfare."
In 1952 Cord Meyer showed up as a CIA official in Washington knowing the names and activities of these same trade union and national liberation organizations, and the public story was that he had defected from the one-world movement because he had suddenly seen that world government was in danger of being Communistic. This transformation, so out of character for a man of his methodical intellect, caused people within the movement to believe that World Federalism may have been a lengthy intelligence assignment.
It is 1956, then, and Ben Bradlee's brother-in-law is stationed as a covert operations agent in Europe. He travels constantly, inciting "student" demonstrations, "spontaneous" riots and trade union strikes; creating splits among leftist factions; distributing Communist literature to provoke anti-Communist backlash. This localized psychological warfare is ultimately, of course, warfare against the Russians, who are presumed to be the source of every leftist political sentiment in Italy, France, the entire theater of Meyer's operations. In Eastern Europe his aim on the contrary is to foment rebellion. Nineteen fifty-six is the year the CIA learns that the Soviets will indeed kill sixty thousand agency-aroused Hungarians with armored tanks.
All of this goes on quite apart from his marriage. Mary does not have a security clearance, so he cannot tell her what he is doing most of the time. They begin to drift apart, and Mary draws closer to her sister and to Ben. When in the late fifties her marriage to Cord ends, she goes to live with Tony and Ben in Washington, where Newsweek has transferred him, and sets up her apartment and art studio in their converted garage.
Jane Barnes, the daughter of CIA officer Tracy Barnes, a man who was deeply involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion and plots to assassinate Castro, believed that her mother was silenced by the sheer enormity of what was happening during the cold war. "Practically the hardest thing for my mother to do was hold a strong opinion. She knew there was this dire world horror going on, and it scared her." Wives and children regarded the men as unassailable authorities. "We thought of Daddy as James Bond," Barnes said. Like many CIA men, Barnes loved the works of Ian Fleming and John le Carre. A neighbor once said to Barnes, "These books must be nonsense," and he replied, "On the contrary, they're understated."
Mary Meyer did hold opinions and she was not afraid to express herself. Wives like Mary picked up tidbits here and there, through dinner conversation or listening to their husbands talk on the telephone. They were only half in the dark, whereas the rest of the country during the fifties was completely unaware of the agency and its work. Mary knew generally that her husband was fighting Communism within organizations such as the American Veterans Committee and labor unions. As the years passed she learned enough about the methods and aims of her husband and his colleagues to become openly critical of the CIA in a way that upset some of the other wives. Peter Janney recalled his mother becoming upset about Mary's anti-CIA remarks. But she was never a politically strident woman and, like the other wives, probably never knew the full extent of the CIA's activities or the details of highly classified matters such as assassination plots and coups.
© John Simkin 2013
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