Thursday, October 25, 2007

Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

I just finished reading Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. It is by Stephen Kinzer. A description of the book reads, "A fast-paced narrative history of the coups, revolutions, and invasions by which the United States has toppled fourteen foreign governments—not always to its own benefit."

I really enjoyed this book. It was well laid out and provided the stories of the American overthrows in an informative way. Kinzer told the tale of each of the overthrows and explained what he felt the consequences of each were. I understand why this book has been getting such good reviews.

I have a few quibbles. Why did Kinzer include the overthrow of the the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan while ignoring the American overthrows of Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War Two? The latest American overthrows were a result of war just as the World War Two regime changes were. This make them very different than the overthrow of Allende in Chile in the 1970s for example. Also, Kinzer claims the United States has overthrown more foreign governments than any other modern state. Really? I would think that the Soviet Union would hold that dubious honor. The Soviets overthrew the governments of the three Baltic states, participated in the partition of Poland in 1939, and were involved in other overthrows in Europe, Asia, and Africa throughout the short history of the Soviet state. The Soviets overthrew the government of Afghanistan long before the USA did. Maybe Kinzer does not consider the Soviet Union a modern state as it no longer is around but I do.

On the positive side, Kizner also is not an anti-American revisionists who only interprets historical events through a USA is always bad lens. He acknowledges that some of these overthrows may have been good things. He writes that most were bad but he lists exceptions.

On Hawaii, Kinzer noted, "Most people on the islands, however, are pleased with the way their history has turned out. They enjoy the prosperity and freedom that comes with American citizenship, and especially with statehood. Their experience suggests that when the United States assumes responsibility for territories it seizes, it can lead them towards stability and happiness" (p. 88).

On Puerto Rico, he wrote, "As colonial experiments go, American rule over Puerto Rico has been relatively benign. It did not produce the violent backlash that emerged in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. This is due mainly to the fact that the United States agreed to take direct political responsibility for governing Puerto Rico, rather than governing it through local clients" (p. 94).

And on Grenada, "Almost every American overthrow of a foreign government has left in its wake a bitter residue of pain and anger. Some have lead to the slaughter of innocents. Others have turned whole nations, and even whole regions of the world, into violent cauldrons of anti-American passion. The invasion of Grenada had quite the opposite effect. Of the fourteen countries whose governments the United States has forcibly deposed, Grenada is one of the few in which most citizens were, and have remained, genuinely grateful for intervention" (p. 302).

This is a nice book which will annoy people from all over the political spectrum. It is also well written and very educational. Kizner is upfront on his biases in interpreting history and I think most people will enjoy reading this book.

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