Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change
pub 2006 Stephen Kinzer
384 pages

The prolonged debacle in the middle east is not, sadly, an exception in modern American foreign policy.  Since the late 19th century,  the powers that be in DC have repeatedly looked abroad – both with  honest avarice and with idealistic dreams of remaking the world in an Empire of Liberty. In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer delivers a review of its actions, beginning with the seizure of Hawaii,  covering seemingly every country in central and South America save Brazil,  and ending up in the Ozymandian wastes of Afghanistan and Iraq, delivered with a slightly journalistic flair.
Because of the popularity of books like those penned by Howard Zinn,  some of these adventures are not as unknown as they once were. Popular ignorance about the events, however, is chronic.  When Cuba and Iran roiled in revolution and their people spoke of previous interference from America,  few in the United States knew what they meant — even American leadership. The scales of American involvement in the countries detailed here  — places as small as the isle of Grenada, and as large a Afghanistan — vary from  clandestine coups arranged by the CIA, to outright invasions. The interventions often happen in connection with “helping” the people in the target country, either to save them from themselves (Cuba, the Phillipines), to secure democracy (Hawaii, Iraq),  or to prevent worse evils from occurring (most of Central and  South America).  Teddy Roosevelt’s role in interventionist wars is no surprise, but Eisenhower  arguably accounts for more.  Considering how he warned the American people about a military-industrial complex  driving all too much of public policy, that comes as something of a surprise. Eisenhower invariably got involved in these outside adventures out of fear of the Soviet Union’s rising influence, however, and it’s possible that he realized he was manipulated in retrospect, and based his warning on that. This is only speculation on my part, however.
I mentioned Howard Zinn earlier, because his history published decades before exposed more Americans than ever to the bare facts of these events, and Kinzer does not go into that much more detail.   What he has is documented,  but  in tone it struck me as more of a newspaper-esque expose in book form than a work of history, making the regime-change events more dramatic than necessary by having DC attack men on false pretenses every single time.   This kind of foreign intervention can still be argued against even when the persons targeted are objectively awful human beings; it isn’t necessary to make them angels first. Frankly, I’ve been a bit wary about Kinzer since he revealed he keeps a portrait of the dictator Ataturk in his office.

While Americans definitely need to be more aware of their government’s history in this regard — both to guard against future excursions and to understand why  there might be resentment between our neighbors and ourselves —  Overthrow doesn’t quite suit the task.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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9 Responses to Overthrow

  1. mudpuddle says:

    \”Ozymandian wastes\”: great! i've suspected that the truth about U.S. involvements overseas will never be fully revealed…

  2. R. T. says:

    Thanks for your helpful review. I’m not a fan on Zinn, and I think Kinzer would also annoy me. Your review is fair warning.

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    .Great commentary. I agree that this history is important and that too many Americans are unaware of it. With that, I may have gone to an unusual high school, but I was given a fairly complete education that included the bad stuff that America did, Thus, I was not surprised by much when I read Zinn.As for the author keeping Ataturk's picture in his office, I find that in some quarters, there is a quickness to criticize the West while being apologetic when it comes to non – Western outrages

  4. Stephen says:

    Heh, glad that one found an audience.

  5. Christina says:

    Kinzer keeps a portrait of Ataturk in his office? Woah, that's news to me. I've read a number of Kinzer's books since his 'All the Shah's Men' was assigned as required reading for my US-Middle East Relations class in college. I found 'Overthrow' informative because, as you said, the details of these events are missing from American history classes. But I agree that this one is very newspaper-esque in its handling of events. More a list of the dramatized wrongs Americans have done thannuanced examinations.

  6. CyberKitten says:

    Of course the US hasn't been the only country to do this. The British Empire just to do this sort of thing all the time – subverting governments, backing political opponents, or simply invading countries we had an 'interest' in. Of course back in the Imperial days we were not portraying ourselves as the democratic saviour of the world…..! [grin]

  7. Stephen says:

    Well, Iran was a US-UK collaborative effort, so we learned from the best. 😉

  8. Stephen says:

    According to him in \”Crescent and Star\”, his book on Turkey, he does! Or did — that book was published years ago. Frankly, a lot of basic uncontroversial stuff is skipped from American classes, let alone the controversial stuff.

  9. CyberKitten says:

    Indeed. The US learnt a lot from us Brits over the years! I have Kinzer's book on the Iran fiasco \”All the Shah's Men – An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror\” in my pile of upcoming R4 books… Going to take me a while to get to it though. SO much in that category to read up on!

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