Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer

9780805082401Nonfiction — print. Times Books, 2006. 400 pgs. Library copy.

Subtitled “America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq”, Kinzer’s book looks at regime change perpetrated or supported by the United States – whether that is financially, militarily, or covertly – in a variety of countries around the world. Specifically, the book spends a couple of pages on:

  • Hawaii
  • Cuba
  • Puetro Rico
  • Philippines
  • Nicaragua
  • Honduras
  • Iran
  • Guatemala
  • South Vietnam
  • Chile
  • Grenada
  • Panama
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq

In the majority of these countries, these actions occurred, at the time, because of a perceived communist threat. However, Kinzer’s analysis shows that nationalization was confused with communism and that the United States stepped in to protect American companies (Standard Fruit, ITT, etc) and American access to natural resources (oil, wood, waterways).

“For more than a century, Americans have believed they deserve access to markets and resources in other countries. When they are denied that access, they take what they want by force, deposing governments that stand in their way. Great powers have done this since time immemorial. What distinguishes Americans from citizens of past empires is their eagerness to persuade themselves that they are acting out of humanitarian motives.” (pg. 316)

Kinzer’s also spends some time discussing what happens after American action. Except in the case of Hawaii (and maybe Puerto Rico), American actions have not lead to long-term success and have often backfired in the region (the Iranian Revolution, for example).

“Most American-sponsored ‘regime change’ operations have, in the end, weakened rather than strengthened American security. They have produced generations of militants who are deeply and sometimes violently anti-American. . . .” (pg. 317)

Although I’ve read Kinzer’s book on overthrow in Iran and obviously know about overthrow in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was shocked to found out how little I know about American foreign policy in other regions of the world, especially Latin American. None of this was covered in my history class, and I certainly learned a lot.

This book wasn’t nearly as gripping as the other book by Kinzer that I’ve read; I think in part because there wasn’t a single example and the players a part of it to follow closely. Instead, the book jumps from country to country in sets of four and then attempts to tie action in these four countries together in a single conclusion of sorts. It took me a while to read this book, but I do feel like it was a worthwhile read because I learned way more than I expect to.

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