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How America Picks Its Fights…How Many Countries Has The United States Occupied Since 1945?

How America Picks Its Fights

By Michael Powell

March 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

This nation never conquers, but we liberate.

-- President Bush

This war is a dramatic break with American historical tradition.

-- Newsweek

Every powerful nation sustains itself with a historical narrative. Rome imagined a barbarian world panting for its embrace. The British and French chased colonial expansion while convinced of their civilizing mission. The United States reigns as the world's hyperpower, but believes itself a humble republic rising only reluctantly to war.

As American tanks race across the Iraqi desert and Apache helicopters skid along the horizon toward suburban Baghdad, the claim that this preemptive war is something new in our history registers as a touch naive.

The United States has marched dozens of times into unprovoked battle, from the Mexican War to the Dominican Republic, from campaigns against the Indians to World War I and Grenada.

These martial excursions may be defended as Big Stick, Monroe Doctrine or Manifest Destiny. America's armies fought to make the world safe for democracy, to contain communism or to make Honduras and Nicaragua comfy for United Fruit. But in the end, the United States has proven a reliable preemptive warrior.

"Our notion of ourselves as a peace-loving republic is flawed," says Eric Foner, a professor of American history at Columbia University. "We've used military force against many, many nations, and in very few of those cases were we attacked or threatened with attack.

"We tend to frame our wars in very abstract moral language," he adds. "Even when we invade some nearby Latin country, there is a grandiose rhetoric of liberty. The nature of our political culture encourages this language."

But the mantle of empire -- and preemptive war -- rests uneasy on many Americans, and their unease is rooted in America's past. The Founders feared that a democratic republic was inherently perishable. Man's more natural state, they believed, was anarchy or empire. Unprovoked war promised a dangerous flirtation with despotism.

"American unease with openly aggressive, first-strike imperial wars comes directly from our tradition as a republic," says T.J. Jackson Lears, a Rutgers University historian who has written extensively on the transformation of American culture at the turn of the last century. "The Founding Fathers were very aware that the best-known republics all became empires.

"They looked at the monarchies of continental Europe and did everything they could to construct a system that would not suffer that fate."

Perhaps as a result, those Americans who favor a muscular expansionism tended to cull the record for insult and provocation to convince fellow Americans that war is a necessity. "There was enough anxiety present in the public consciousness that throughout our history warmakers felt they had to justify war as an act of liberation and spreading democracy," Lears says. "Those who wanted to go to war at least felt they had to trump up some facsimile of a reason."

In the 1840s, President James K. Polk wanted to buy Texas, California and pretty much everything in between from Mexico. The Mexicans, not unreasonably, declined. Polk then allowed armed American settlers to pour into Texas. When the Mexican army crossed the Rio Grande to evict them in 1846, Polk declared himself aggrieved and unfurled a war declaration written some weeks earlier.

In the 1890s, America's muscular establishment hankered to join the imperialist race for what Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge called the "waste places of the earth." They set their eyes on Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the full power of a nation's ambition and a supportive media were brought to bear.

Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst sent the illustrator Frederic Remington to Cuba to sketch the expected gruesome atrocities. Remington, alas, found none and asked to come home. Hearst cabled back his reply: "You supply the pictures, I'll supply the war."

A short while later, the battleship Maine exploded in Havana Harbor and Congress cried: Remember the Maine. There was likely nothing more to remember than a faulty boiler -- but American inspectors blamed a Spanish mine, and soon enough the United States was at war.

A few years after that, the Colombian Senate displeased Theodore Roosevelt and voted against selling him the Isthmus of Panama. Roosevelt roared that they were "foolish and homicidal corruptionists" and ordered up a "spontaneous" revolt, helped along by the appearance of an American battleship.

And so it goes. U.S. presidents repeatedly sent troops into the beggar nations of the Caribbean basin, Marines wading ashore in Nicaragua and Honduras, and occupied Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1915 and 1916. In the latter cases, President Woodrow Wilson claimed German meddling might threaten the Panama Canal.

And in 1983, President Ronald Reagan saw a threat to sandal-shod medical students in Grenada and sent in the Marines. In any case, the Marxist-Leninist clique running that government was overthrown.

The point is not that every U.S. intervention is poisoned. But each sally came cloaked in rhetoric suggesting that preemption had nothing to do with it.

And that's what is intriguing about Iraq. American rhetoric is characteristically baroque -- Operation Iraqi Freedom follows on the heels of the Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. But rarely have this country's leaders made their preemptive intent so clear. U.S. officials have only halfheartedly argued that Iraq itself threatened American soil. When the United Nations refused to endorse the war, the United States struck out on its own.

"Their reasoning now seems almost utopian: Making the Middle East safe for democracy," Lears says. "It's breathtakingly audacious."

How Many Countries Has The United States Occupied Since 1945?


March 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Globe and Mail, Thomson Canada Limited or its licensors. All rights reserved.

There have been reports that the United States is planning to install General Tommy Franks as military governor of Iraq after the regime is toppled. How many countries has the United States occupied after the Second World War?

Within the Bush administration, one postoccupation model being considered is sketched out along the lines of the U.S. occupation of Japan under General Douglas MacArthur after its surrender in 1945.

For several years after the Second World War, the United States also occupied the southern half of Korea after its partition, and one of the four zones of Germany.

In the former, the United States Army Military Government in Korea ruled what became know as South Korea until 1948 when it withdrew its forces, leaving only a small group of military advisers.

In the latter, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France each administered a zone of Germany. The U.S., British and French zones were integrated in 1948 and in September of 1949 were established as a new western German state.

Since 1954, when Central Intelligence Agency-backed exiles overthrew the socialist government of Guatemala, there have been at least a dozen examples of U.S. direct foreign military interventions. They include the invasions of Grenada and Panama.

But postintervention, direct U.S. rule is non-existent. The 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic by more than 20,000 U.S. Marines led to the installation of a pro-American government.

Within months, however, the U.S. force was incorporated into an Inter-American peace contingent that withdrew shortly afterward.

In 1994, a nominally multinational force comprised almost entirely of U.S. troops expelled the military junta in Haiti. After Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return from exile and the re-establishment of a government in 1995, the temporary occupiers transferred their authority to the United Nations.

By contrast, the period from just before the turn of the century until the First World War is replete with examples of the United States conquering and then directly ruling weak countries. Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, Nicaragua, and Haiti all came under U.S. military control for lengthy periods. The United States' occupation in 1898 of the Philippines continued until 1946, when independence was granted.

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