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 19thcentury, 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 theOzymandian 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.