A Brief History of United States Interventions, 1945 to the Present
By William Blum
The engine of American foreign policy has been fueled not by a devotion to any kind of morality, but rather by the necessity to serve other imperatives, which can be summarized as follows:
making the world safe for American corporations
enhancing the financial statements of defense contractors at home who have contributed generously to members of congress
preventing the rise of any society that might serve as a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model
extending political and economic hegemony over as wide an area as possible, as befits a "great power."
This in the name of fighting a supposed moral crusade against what cold warriors convinced themselves, and the American people, was the existence of an evil International Communist Conspiracy, which in fact never existed, evil or not.
The United States carried out extremely serious interventions into more than 70 nations in this period. Among these were the following:
China 1945-49: Intervened in a civil war, taking the side of Chiang
Kai-shek against the communists, even though the latter had been a
much closer ally of the United States in the world war. The U.S. used
defeated Japanese soldiers to fight for its side. The communists
forced Chiang to flee to Taiwan in 1949.
Italy 1947-48: Using every trick in the book, the U.S. interfered in
the elections to prevent the Communist Party from coming to power
legally and fairly. This perversion of democracy was done in the name
of "saving democracy" in Italy. The Communists lost. For the next few
decades, the CIA, along with American corporations, continued to
intervene in Italian elections, pouring in hundreds of millions of
dollars and much psychological warfare to block the specter that was
Greece 1947-49: Intervened in a civil war, taking the side of the
neo-fascists against the Greek left which had fought the Nazis
courageously. The neo-fascists won and instituted a highly brutal
regime, for which the CIA created a new internal security agency,
KYP. Before long, KYP was carrying out all the endearing practices of
secret police everywhere, including systematic torture.
Philippines 1945-53: U.S. military fought against leftist forces
(Huks) even while the Huks were still fighting against the Japanese
invaders. After the war, the U.S. continued its fight against the
Huks, defeating them, and then installing a series of puppets as
president, culminating in the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
South Korea 1945-53: After World War II, the United States suppressed
the popular progressive forces in favor of the conservatives who had
collaborated with the Japanese. This led to a long era of corrupt,
reactionary, and brutal governments.
Albania 1949-53: U.S. and Britain tried unsuccessfully to overthrow
the communist government and install a new one that would have been
pro-Western and composed largely of monarchists and collaborators
with Italian fascists and Nazis.
Germany 1950s: The CIA orchestrated a wide-ranging campaign of
sabotage, terrorism, dirty tricks, and psychological warfare against
East Germany. This was one of the factors which led to the building
of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
Iran 1953: Prime Minister Mossadegh was overthrown in a joint U.S.
and British operation. Mossadegh had been elected to his position by
a large majority of parliament, but he had made the fateful mistake
of spearheading the movement to nationalize a British-owned oil
company, the sole oil company operating in Iran. The coup restored
the Shah to absolute power and began a period of 25 years of
repression and torture, with the oil industry being restored to
foreign ownership, as follows: Britain and the U.S., each 40 percent,
other nations 20 percent.
Guatemala 1953-1990: A CIA-organized coup overthrew the
democratically-elected and progressive government of Jacobo Arbenz,
initiating 40 years of death-squads, torture, disappearances, mass
executions, and unimaginable cruelty, totaling well over 100,000
victims -- indisputably one of the most inhuman chapters of the 20th
century. Arbenz had nationalized the U.S. firm, United Fruit Company,
which had extremely close ties to the American power elite. As
justification for the coup, Washington declared that Guatemala had
been on the verge of a Soviet takeover, when in fact the Russians had
so little interest in the country that it didn't even maintain
diplomatic relations. The real problem in the eyes of Washington, in
addition to United Fruit, was the danger of Guatemala's social
democracy spreading to other countries in Latin America.
Middle East 1956-58: The Eisenhower Doctrine stated that the United
States "is prepared to use armed forces to assist" any Middle East
country "requesting assistance against armed aggression from any
country controlled by international communism." The English
translation of this was that no one would be allowed to dominate, or
have excessive influence over, the middle east and its oil fields
except the United States, and that anyone who tried would be, by
definition, "communist." In keeping with this policy, the United
States twice attempted to overthrow the Syrian government, staged
several shows-of-force in the Mediterranean to intimidate movements
opposed to U.S.-sported governments in Jordan and Lebanon, landed
14,000 troops in Lebanon, and conspired to overthrow or assassinate
Nasser of Egypt and his troublesome middle-east nationalism.
Indonesia 1957-58: Sukarno, like Nasser, was the kind of Third World
leader the United States could not abide by. He took neutralism in
the cold war seriously, making trips to the Soviet Union and China
(though to the White House as well). He nationalized many private
holdings of the Dutch, the former colonial power. And he refused to
crack down on the Indonesian Communist Party, which was walking the
legal, peaceful road and making impressive gains electorally. Such
policies could easily give other Third World leaders "wrong ideas."
Thus it was that the CIA began throwing money into the elections,
plotted Sukarno's assassination, tried to blackmail him with a phoney
sex film, and joined forces with dissident military officers to wage
a full-scale war against the government. Sukarno survived it all.
British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64: For 11 years, two of the oldest
democracies in the world, Great Britain and the United States, went
to great lengths to prevent a democratically elected leader from
occupying his office. Cheddi Jagan was another Third World leader who
tried to remain neutral and independent. He was elected three times.
Although a leftist -- more so than Sukarno or Arbenz -- his policies
in office were not revolutionary. But he was still a marked man, for
he represented Washington's greatest fear: building a society that
might be a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist
model. Using a wide variety of tactics -- from general strikes and
disinformation to terrorism and British legalisms, the U.S. and
Britain finally forced Jagan out in 1964. John F. Kennedy had given a
direct order for his ouster, as, presumably, had Eisenhower.
One of the better-off countries in the region under Jagan, Guyana, by
the 1980s, was one of the poorest. Its principal export became
Vietnam, 1950-73: The slippery slope began with siding with the
French, the former colonizers and collaborators with the Japanese,
against Ho Chi Minh and his followers who had worked closely with the
Allied war effort and admired all things American. Ho Chi Minh was,
after all, some kind of communist. He had written numerous letters to
President Truman and the State Department asking for America's help
in winning Vietnamese independence from the French and finding a
peaceful solution for his country. All his entreaties were ignored.
For he was some kind of communist. Ho Chi Minh modeled the new
Vietnamese declaration of independence on the American, beginning it
with "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator
with ... " But this would count for nothing in Washington. Ho Chi
Minh was some kind of communist.
Twenty-three years, and more than a million dead, later, the United
States withdrew its military forces from Vietnam. Most people say
that the U.S. lost the war. But by destroying Vietnam to its core,
and poisoning the earth and the gene pool for generations, Washington
had in fact achieved its main purpose: preventing what might have
been the rise of a good development option for Asia. Ho Chi Minh was,
after all, some kind of communist.
Cambodia 1955-73: Prince Sihanouk, yet another leader who did not
fancy being an American client. After many years of hostility towards
his regime, including assassination plots and the infamous
Nixon/Kissinger secret "carpet bombings" of 1969-70, Washington
finally overthrew Sihanouk in a coup in 1970. This was all that was
needed to impel Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge forces to enter the fray.
Five years later, they took power. But five years of American bombing
had caused Cambodia's traditional economy to vanish. The old Cambodia
had been destroyed forever.
Incredibly, the Khmer Rouge were to inflict even greater misery upon
this unhappy land. To add to the irony, the United States supported
Pol Pot, militarily and diplomatically, after their subsequent defeat
by the Vietnamese.
The Congo/Zaire 1960-65: In June 1960, Patrice Lumumba became the
Congo's first prime minister after independence from Belgium. But
Belgium retained its vast mineral wealth in Katanga province,
prominent Eisenhower administration officials had financial ties to
the same wealth, and Lumumba, at Independence Day ceremonies before a
host of foreign dignitaries, called for the nation's economic as well
as its political liberation, and recounted a list of injustices
against the natives by the white owners of the country. The poor man
was obviously a "communist." The poor man was obviously doomed.
Eleven days later, Katanga province seceded, in September Lumumba was
dismissed by the president at the instigation of the United States,
and in January 1961 he was assassinated at the express request of
Dwight Eisenhower. There followed several years of civil conflict and
chaos and the rise to power of Mobutu Sese Seko, a man not a stranger
to the CIA. Mobutu went on to rule the country for more than 30
years, with a level of corruption and cruelty that shocked even his
CIA handlers. The Zairian people lived in abject poverty despite the
plentiful natural wealth, while Mobutu became a multibillionaire.
Brazil 1961-64: President Joao Goulart was guilty of the usual
crimes: He took an independent stand in foreign policy, resuming
relations with socialist countries and opposing sanctions against
Cuba; his administration passed a law limiting the amount of profits
multinationals could transmit outside the country; a subsidiary of
ITT was nationalized; he promoted economic and social reforms. And
Attorney-General Robert Kennedy was uneasy about Goulart allowing
"communists" to hold positions in government agencies. Yet the man
was no radical. He was a millionaire land-owner and a Catholic who
wore a medal of the Virgin around his neck. That, however, was not
enough to save him. In 1964, he was overthrown in a military coup
which had deep, covert American involvement. The official Washington
line was ... yes, it's unfortunate that democracy has been overthrown
in Brazil ... but, still, the country has been saved from communism.
For the next 15 years, all the features of military dictatorship
which Latin America has come to know and love were instituted:
Congress was shut down, political opposition was reduced to virtual
extinction, habeas corpus for "political crimes" was suspended,
criticism of the president was forbidden by law, labor unions were
taken over by government interveners, mounting protests were met by
police and military firing into crowds, peasants' homes were burned
down, priests were brutalized ... disappearances, death squads, a
remarkable degree and depravity of torture ... the government had a
name for its program: the "moral rehabilitation" of Brazil.
Washington was very pleased. Brazil broke relations with Cuba and
became one of the United States' most reliable allies in Latin
Dominican Republic, 1963-66: In February 1963, Juan Bosch took office
as the first democratically elected president of the Dominican
Republic since 1924. Here at last was John F. Kennedy's liberal
anti-communist, to counter the charge that the U.S. supported only
military dictatorships. Bosch's government was to be the long sought
"showcase of democracy" that would put the lie to Fidel Castro. He
was given the grand treatment in Washington shortly before he took
Bosch was true to his beliefs. He called for land reform; low-rent
housing; modest nationalization of business; and foreign investment
provided it was not excessively exploitative of the country; and
other policies making up the program of any liberal Third World
leader serious about social change. He was likewise serious about the
thing called civil liberties: Communists, or those labeled as such,
were not to be persecuted unless they actually violated the law.
A number of American officials and congressmen expressed their
discomfort with Bosch's plans, as well as his stance of independence
from the United States. Land reform and nationalization are always
touchy issues in Washington, the stuff that "creeping socialism" is
made of. In several quarters of the U.S. press Bosch was red-baited.
In September, the military boots marched. Bosch was out. The United
States, which could discourage a military coup in Latin America with
a frown, did nothing.
Nineteen months later, a revolt broke out which promised to put the
exiled Bosch back into power. The United States sent 23,000 troops to
help crush it.
Cuba 1959 to present: Fidel Castro came to power at the beginning of
1959. A U.S. National Security Council meeting of 10 March 1959
included on its agenda the feasibility of bringing "another
government to power in Cuba." There followed 40 years of terrorist
attacks, bombings, full-scale military invasion, sanctions, embargos,
isolation, assassinations ... Cuba had carried out The Unforgivable
Revolution, a very serious threat of setting a "good example" in
The saddest part of this is that the world will never know what kind
of society Cuba could have produced if left alone, if not constantly
under the gun and the threat of invasion, if allowed to relax its
control at home. The idealism, the vision, the talent, the
internationalism were all there. But we'll never know. And that of
course was the idea.
Indonesia 1965: A complex series of events, involving a supposed coup
attempt, a counter-coup, and perhaps a counter-counter-coup, with
American fingerprints apparent at various points, resulted in the
ouster from power of Sukarno and his replacement by a military coup
led by General Suharto. The massacre that began immediately -- of
communists, communists sympathizers, suspected communists, suspected
communist sympathizers, and none of the above -- was called by the
New York Times "one of the most savage mass slayings of modern
political history." The estimates of the number killed in the course
of a few years begin at half a million and go above a million.
It was later learned that the U.S. embassy had compiled lists of
"communist" operatives, >from top echelons down to village cadres, as
many as 5,000 names, and turned them over to the army, which then
hunted those persons down and killed them. The Americans would then
check off the names of those who had been killed or captured. "It
really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of
people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands," said one
U.S. diplomat. "But that's not all bad. There's a time when you have
to strike hard at a decisive moment."
Chile, 1964-73: Salvador Allende was the worst possible scenario for
a Washington imperialist. He could imagine only one thing worse than
a Marxist in power -- an elected Marxist in power, who honored the
constitution, and became increasingly popular. This shook the very
foundation stones upon which the anti-communist tower was built: the
doctrine, painstakingly cultivated for decades, that "communists" can
take power only through force and deception, that they can retain
that power only through terrorizing and brainwashing the population.
After sabotaging Allende's electoral endeavor in 1964, and failing to
do so in 1970, despite their best efforts, the CIA and the rest of
the American foreign policy machine left no stone unturned in their
attempt to destabilize the Allende government over the next three
years, paying particular attention to building up military hostility.
Finally, in September 1973, the military overthrew the government,
Allende dying in the process.
Thus it was that they closed the country to the outside world for a
week, while the tanks rolled and the soldiers broke down doors; the
stadiums rang with the sounds of execution and the bodies piled up
along the streets and floated in the river; the torture centers
opened for business; the subversive books were thrown to the
bonfires; soldiers slit the trouser legs of women, shouting that "In
Chile women wear dresses!"; the poor returned to their natural state;
and the men of the world in Washington and in the halls of
international finance opened up their check-books. In the end, more
than 3,000 had been executed, thousands more tortured or disappeared.
Greece 1964-74: The military coup took place in April 1967, just two
days before the campaign for national elections was to begin,
elections which appeared certain to bring the veteran liberal leader
George Papandreou back as prime minister. Papandreou had been elected
in February 1964 with the only outright majority in the history of
modern Greek elections. The successful machinations to unseat him had
begun immediately, a joint effort of the Royal Court, the Greek
military, and the American military and CIA stationed in Greece. The
1967 coup was followed immediately by the traditional martial law,
censorship, arrests, beatings, torture, and killings, the victims
totaling some 8,000 in the first month. This was accompanied by the
equally traditional declaration that this was all being done to save
the nation from a "communist takeover." Corrupting and subversive
influences in Greek life were to be removed. Among these were
miniskirts, long hair, and foreign newspapers; church attendance for
the young would be compulsory.
It was torture, however, which most indelibly marked the seven-year
Greek nightmare. James Becket, an American attorney sent to Greece by
Amnesty International, wrote in December 1969 that "a conservative
estimate would place at not less than two thousand" the number of
people tortured, usually in the most gruesome of ways, often with
equipment supplied by the United States.
Becket reported the following:
Hundreds of prisoners have listened to the little speech given by
Inspector Basil Lambrou, who sits behind his desk which displays the
red, white, and blue clasped-hand symbol of American aid. He tries to
show the prisoner the absolute futility of resistance: "You make
yourself ridiculous by thinking you can do anything. The world is
divided in two. There are the communists on that side and on this
side the free world. The Russians and the Americans, no one else.
What are we? Americans. Behind me there is the government, behind the
government is NATO, behind NATO is the U.S. You can't fight us, we
George Papandreou was not any kind of radical. He was a liberal
anti-communist type. But his son Andreas, the heir-apparent, while only a
little to the left of his father had not disguised his wish to take
Greece out of the cold war, and had questioned remaining in NATO, or
at least as a satellite of the United States.
East Timor, 1975 to present: In December 1975, Indonesia invaded East
Timor, which lies at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago,
and which had proclaimed its independence after Portugal had
relinquished control of it. The invasion was launched the day after
U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had
left Indonesia after giving Suharto permission to use American arms,
which, under U.S. law, could not be used for aggression. Indonesia
was Washington's most valuable tool in Southeast Asia.
Amnesty International estimated that by 1989, Indonesian troops, with
the aim of forcibly annexing East Timor, had killed 200,000 people
out of a population of between 600,000 and 700,000. The United States
consistently supported Indonesia's claim to East Timor (unlike the UN
and the EU), and downplayed the slaughter to a remarkable degree, at
the same time supplying Indonesia with all the military hardware and
training it needed to carry out the job.
Nicaragua 1978-89: When the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza
dictatorship in 1978, it was clear to Washington that they might well
be that long-dreaded beast -- "another Cuba." Under President Carter,
attempts to sabotage the revolution took diplomatic and economic
forms. Under Reagan, violence was the method of choice. For eight
terribly long years, the people of Nicaragua were under attack by
Washington's proxy army, the Contras, formed from Somoza's vicious
National Guardsmen and other supporters of the dictator. It was
all-out war, aiming to destroy the progressive social and economic
programs of the government, burning down schools and medical clinics,
raping, torturing, mining harbors, bombing and strafing. These were
Ronald Reagan's "freedom fighters." There would be no revolution in
Grenada 1979-84: What would drive the most powerful nation in the
world to invade a country of 110 thousand? Maurice Bishop and his
followers had taken power in a 1979 coup, and though their actual
policies were not as revolutionary as Castro's, Washington was again
driven by its fear of "another Cuba," particularly when public
appearances by the Grenadian leaders in other countries of the region
met with great enthusiasm.
U.S. destabilization tactics against the Bishop government began soon
after the coup and continued until 1983, featuring numerous acts of
disinformation and dirty tricks. The American invasion in October
1983 met minimal resistance, although the U.S. suffered 135 killed or
wounded; there were also some 400 Grenadian casualties, and 84
Cubans, mainly construction workers. What conceivable human purpose
these people died for has not been revealed.
At the end of 1984, a questionable election was held which was won by
a man supported by the Reagan administration. One year later, the
human rights organization, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, reported
that Grenada's new U.S.-trained police force and counter-insurgency
forces had acquired a reputation for brutality, arbitrary arrest, and
abuse of authority, and were eroding civil rights.
In April 1989, the government issued a list of more than 80 books
which were prohibited from being imported. Four months later, the
prime minister suspended parliament to forestall a threatened
no-confidence vote resulting from what his critics called "an
increasingly authoritarian style."
Libya 1981-89: Libya refused to be a proper Middle East client state
of Washington. Its leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, was uppity. He would
have to be punished. U.S. planes shot down two Libyan planes in what
Libya regarded as its air space. The U.S. also dropped bombs on the
country, killing at least 40 people, including Qaddafi's daughter.
There were other attempts to assassinate the man, operations to
overthrow him, a major disinformation campaign, economic sanctions,
and blaming Libya for being behind the Pan Am 103 bombing without any
Panama, 1989: Washington's mad bombers strike again. December 1989, a
large tenement barrio in Panama City wiped out, 15,000 people left
homeless. Counting several days of ground fighting against Panamanian
forces, 500-something dead was the official body count, what the U.S.
and the new U.S.-installed Panamanian government admitted to; other
sources, with no less evidence, insisted that thousands had died;
3,000-something wounded. Twenty-three Americans dead, 324 wounded.
Question from reporter: "Was it really worth it to send people to
their death for this? To get Noriega?"
George Bush: "Every human life is precious, and yet I have to answer,
yes, it has been worth it."
Manuel Noriega had been an American ally and informant for years
until he outlived his usefulness. But getting him was not the only
motive for the attack. Bush wanted to send a clear message to the
people of Nicaragua, who had an election scheduled in two months,
that this might be their fate if they reelected the Sandinistas. Bush
also wanted to flex some military muscle to illustrate to Congress
the need for a large combat-ready force even after the very recent
dissolution of the "Soviet threat." The official explanation for the
American ouster was Noriega's drug trafficking, which Washington had
known about for years and had not been at all bothered by.
Iraq 1990s: Relentless bombing for more than 40 days and nights,
against one of the most advanced nations in the Middle East,
devastating its ancient and modern capital city; 177 million pounds
of bombs falling on the people of Iraq, the most concentrated aerial
onslaught in the history of the world; depleted uranium weapons
incinerating people, causing cancer; blasting chemical and biological
weapon storages and oil facilities; poisoning the atmosphere to a
degree perhaps never matched anywhere; burying soldiers alive,
deliberately; the infrastructure destroyed, with a terrible effect on
health; sanctions continued to this day multiplying the health
problems; perhaps a million children dead by now from all of these
things, even more adults.
Iraq was the strongest military power amongst the Arab states. This
may have been their crime. Noam Chomsky has written: It's been a
leading, driving doctrine of U.S. foreign policy since the 1940s that
the vast and unparalleled energy resources of the Gulf region will be
effectively dominated by the United States and its clients, and,
crucially, that no independent, indigenous force will be permitted to
have a substantial influence on the administration of oil production
Afghanistan 1979-92: Everyone knows of the unbelievable repression of
women in Afghanistan, carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, even
before the Taliban. But how many people know that during the late
1970s and most of the 1980s, Afghanistan had a government committed
to bringing the incredibly backward nation into the 20th century,
including giving women equal rights? What happened, however, is that
the United States poured billions of dollars into waging a terrible
war against this government, simply because it was supported by the
Soviet Union. Prior to this, CIA operations had knowingly increased
the probability of a Soviet intervention, which is what occurred. In
the end, the United States won, and the women, and the rest of
Afghanistan, lost. More than a million dead, three million disabled,
five million refugees, in total about half the population.
El Salvador, 1980-92: Salvador's dissidents tried to work within the
system. But with U.S. support, the government made that impossible,
using repeated electoral fraud and murdering hundreds of protestors
and strikers. In 1980, the dissidents took to the gun, and civil war.
Officially, the U.S. military presence in El Salvador was limited to
an advisory capacity. In actuality, military and CIA personnel played
a more active role on a continuous basis. About 20 Americans were
killed or wounded in helicopter and plane crashes while flying
reconnaissance or other missions over combat areas, and considerable
evidence surfaced of a U.S. role in the ground fighting as well. The
war came to an official end in 1992; 75,000 civilian deaths and the
U.S. Treasury depleted by six billion dollars. Meaningful social
change has been largely thwarted. A handful of the wealthy still own
the country, the poor remain as ever, and dissidents still have to
fear right-wing death squads.
Haiti, 1987-94: The U.S. supported the Duvalier family dictatorship
for 30 years, then opposed the reformist priest, Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. Meanwhile, the CIA was working intimately with death
squads, torturers and drug traffickers. With this as background, the
Clinton White House found itself in the awkward position of having to
pretend -- because of all their rhetoric about "democracy" -- that
they supported Aristide's return to power in Haiti after he had been
ousted in a 1991 military coup. After delaying his return for more
than two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide
to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that he
would not help the poor at the expense of the rich, and that he would
stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that Haiti would
continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere, with its
workers receiving literally starvation wages.
Yugoslavia, 1999: The United States is bombing the country back to a
pre-industrial era. It would like the world to believe that its
intervention is motivated only by "humanitarian" impulses. Perhaps
the above history of U.S. interventions, can help one decide how much
weight to place on this claim." JC