In 1956, Juan Jose Arevalo, revolutionary and President of Guatemala from 1945-1950, published a book with the title Fable of the Shark and the Sardines. Into the book, written after the subversion of the left-wing government of Guatemala by American-armed invaders, was poured all the bile and frustration of the Guatemalan patriot. The thesis was simple. The United States was a Shark and all the Latin American countries were Sardines. The sardines existed for the pleasure of being eaten by the shark. And the shark had three faces, Wall Street, the Department of State and the Pentagon, “three distinct aspects and one true personality.”
The book, which to the knowledge of this reviewer has not yet been translated into English (which is of itself revealing), swept the student body of Latin America by storm. It had certain magnificent advantages. It tied into one neat package the filthiest aspects of American imperialist and monopolist practice, always seen more clearly from the outside by the injured party. It was a clear description of what had happened in Guatemala. And it presented a common enemy to unite against. The fact that it made general a particular case, that it presented only some of the facts and many of these wildly distorted, and that it freed Latin Americans from responsibility in their own delinquencies, while objective weaknesses, only made the book more appealing.
Guatemala faded into history and Cuba erupted. And now the chickens have come home to roost. For C. Wright Mills, taking his keynote from Juan Jose Arevalo, has reasserted the doctrine of the Shark and the Sardines, softened at certain points too obnoxious for the American amour pro pre but retaining its basic theme. The mirror is held up and we are obliged to look at ourselves as others see us. The fact that the mirror is in a crazy house, sometimes making the squat tall and the fat lean, even has oblique advantages. For the world today is a crazy house and even distortion mirrors are forms of communication. “Know thyself” is incomplete doctrine in a world creaking with hydrogen bombs; it is also necessary to know thyself as others see thee.