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Review of Stephen Kinzers Overthrow By Rahul Mahajan Did you know that December 7, 1941, was not the

only day of infamy associated with Pearl Harbor? When Liliuokalani of the Hawaiian royal family learned in 1887 that her brother King Kalakua, a pliable puppet of the white planter aristocracy that wielded all power in Hawaii at the time, had turned over Pearl Harbor to the United States for use as a naval base, she wrote in her diary that it was a day of infamy in Hawaiian history. A few years later, as Queen of Hawaii, she tried to promulgate a new constitution that would give everyone the vote, regardless of race, which led the white planters to depose her in a coup that had the full support of the U.S. military, followed in 1898 by annexation of Hawaii. Stephen Kinzers new book, Overthrow, is full of fascinating stories like this, fleshed out with the illuminating details, like Liliuokalanis diary, that bring historical characters to life. While not based on original scholarship, it brings together a great deal of information that is known to almost no one but a handful of specialists, and does so in a very coherent, easy-to-grasp framework. The third of his regime change trilogy the first, Bitter Fruit, cowritten with Stephen Schlesinger, was about U.S. overthrow of the democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman of Guatemala in 1954 through a CIA coup, and the second, All the Shahs Men, about the CIA coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 Overthrow completes the story by surveying 14 different regime change operations carried out by the United States from 1893 until 2003. Kinzer covers the various operations in a historical sequence, giving the necessary background and, most important, not stopping with the intervention itself but picking up the story afterward in order to draw conclusions about the long-term effects. After Hawaii, he goes to the Spanish-American War, in which, under the guise of liberating subject peoples from Spanish imperialism, the United States destroyed independence movements in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. When one reads of General Nelson Miles proclaiming to the people of Puerto Rico, We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but, on the contrary, to bring you protection, its hard not to think of the various pronouncements over the past 15 years that we are not making war on the people of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Yet that same war saw a savage counterinsurgency in the Philippines, which killed tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and saw U.S. soldiers committing torture and mass murder as standard operating procedure. As Kinzer relates, when the U.S. military suffered a defeat at the village of Balangiga on the island of Samar, it send Colonel Jacob Smith, a former participant in the Wounded Knee massacre, to subdue the island by any means necessary. He ordered his men to kill everyone over the age of ten and turn it into a howling wilderness, saying, I want no

prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and the more you burn, the better you will please me. In a particularly potent lesson for today, Kinzer closes that chapter with a recounting of special Senate hearings into American atrocities, chaired by Henry Cabot Lodge. As he writes, Lodge himself ran the hearings and he carefully limited their scope. There was much testimony about operational tactics, but no exploration of the broader policy that lay behind them. One historian described its work as less a whitewash than an exercise in sleight-of-hand. Change a few names and this could have been written yesterday about Iraq. Kinzer goes on to recount regime change operations in Honduras and Nicaragua early in the 20th century, with a brief account as well of Theodore Roosevelts creation of Panama, about which, when asked by Roosevelt to come up with some sort of legal argument justifying the intervention, his Secretary of State Philander Knox said, Oh, Mr. President, do not let such a great achievement suffer from any taint of legality. These operations were key elements in making Central America a colonial protectorate of the United States, at least until significant policy changes in the 1930s with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Next comes the Cold War, and the regime change interventions in Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, Chile, and Grenada. As might be expected, since Kinzer has written entire books on Guatemala and Iran, these chapters are particularly well-developed and insightful. The colonialist arrogance of the British government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Mossadeghs passionate nationalism and commitment to freedom of speech and democracy, and the dour, simple-minded, and brutal view of U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles come through loud and clear. So does a sense of the results of this era, from the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the birth of political extremist Islam to the 200,000 dead, mostly Mayan peasants, because of the actions of Guatemalan regimes put into place by U.S. meddling (in 1954 and again in 1964) and supported heavily by the United States. He then closes with the post-Cold-War regime changes in Panama (1989), Afghanistan (2001), and Iraq (2003). The last two chapters are sort of thrown in and not meant to provide the same depth of understanding. About Iraq, he can conclude only that, It is the only conflict Americans fought without ever truly knowing why. There are certainly better sources for understanding Iraq. It is to Kinzers credit that he addresses the fact that, while removing the Taliban from power, the United States ignored the man who was quite possibly the best candidate for a new leader in Afghanistan Abdul Haq, a widely respected non-fundamentalist mujaheddin commander who offered to work with the Americans but made it clear that he would not be a puppet. For the rest, he says little about Afghanistan that is different from numerous standard accounts. The segment on South Vietnam is also rather weak, in a very different way that reveals some of the analytical limitations of his project. It is not sketchy; there is a lot of detail about Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Nhu and the various follies of their administration

in South Vietnam. The problem is that, in trying to shoehorn Vietnam into a narrow regime-change framework, Kinzer has focused on the least significant aspect of the Vietnam War. The problem with American policy in Vietnam stemmed not from the U.S.-backed overthrow of Diem, a ruler they had created themselves, but from their deliberate subversion of the key provisions of the 1954 Geneva Accords, one of which called for a nationwide election in 1956 and reunification of the country. Given the absolute certainty that Ho Chi Minh would win those elections, the United States decided to bring Diem in, put him in power, and prop him up instead. More weaknesses are shown by his omissions. Although his preface states the principles on which he made his choices they had to involve a change of regime and the United States had to be the key player, not a minor player as it was with the assassination of Lumumba in the Congo in 1961 his claim that his list is comprehensive cannot be sustained. He leaves out the 1915 invasion of Haiti, in which U.S. Marines dissolved the National Assembly and rammed through a new constitution at bayonet-point (through a referendum where all voters were handed a white ballot marked Oui, although, they were free to approach the Marines at the polling places and ask for a pink ballot marked Non). Although he has written a book about Nicaragua, he also leaves out the regime change against the Sandinistas, which was accomplished through an election in which Nicaraguans were explicitly threatened that a vote for the Sandinistas would mean a resumption of the brutal and vicious Contra war and where the United States meddled in operations aimed at civil society much as it had earlier in Guatemala, Iran, and Chile, but through the National Endowment for Democracy instead of the CIA. Nor does he mention the regime change in Yugoslavia in 2000, accomplished first by a war in 1999, followed by major NED and USAID operations in 2000. Kinzers conviction, which rings throughout these three books, is that understanding our history is important to understanding the present day. It is particularly vexing, then, that in Overthrow he does not consider seriously the kinds of interventions that are more characteristic of recent U.S. history and that employ a very different modality. Equally vexing is the overall lesson we are supposed to take away. Kinzer is painfully honest in describing the things he understands. He makes clear, for example, the role of racism in the earlier interventions, and even talks about the role of racism, not just among the supporters of imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but among the antiimperialists who often opposed imperialism primarily on the grounds that it would bring us into too much contact with lesser races. He is also very clear on the role that U.S. corporations and U.S. corporate interests have played in these operations the case of Guatemala and United Fruit being the most obvious, but far from the only case. He even suggests that in numerous interventions, from Hawaii to Chile, the United States was actually acting against democracy and the democratic impulses and agendas of other peoples, and not for them. The first two sentences of the book make the issue clear enough: Why does a strong nation strike against a weaker one? Usually because it seeks to impose its ideology, increase its power, or gain control of valuable resources. And Kinzer does not shy away

from detailing the way all three of these not exactly noble motives have played out in U.S. interventions. Then, somehow, he forgets all of it and concludes simply that regime change operations were unwise, a substitute for thoughtful foreign policy, and that the United States should pursue exactly the same goals through diplomatic and political approaches. Gone is any idea that perhaps the goals the United States was pursuing were not so good for other countries, and even, in the long run, perhaps not so good for the United States and this after thousands of words devoted to that very theme. He tells us that the best way to deal with oppressive and threatening regimes is through combinations of incentives, threats, punishments, and rewards, which seems to miss several points at once. It says little about U.S. opposition to regimes which are neither, like Chavez in Venezuela; it would not contradict anything about U.S. policy toward Saddam in the 1980s or, indeed, during the ruinous sanctions of the post-Gulf-War era (on which he did very good reporting for the New York Times). Most important, if U.S. motives in all these past regime changes have been so questionable, why shouldnt we question U.S. motives instead of simply figuring out less destructive ways to serve them? Notwithstanding these criticisms, Kinzers book is a major achievement. Synthesizing the contents of over 500 books into a compact narrative with a clear theme, it is a valuable reference and an engaging read. With its broad scope, it would make an excellent high school textbook, although the chances of that seem remote.