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The U.S. Intervention in Grenada: Apologism City

July 4th, 2008 Comments off

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The following is intended merely for a demonstration about ignorance, not as a reflection of my current point of view.

I wrote this paper in my first year of college, while still desperately holding on to the idea of America as a good military power. But even I, as a vigorous apologist, simply had to cede the many, many facts that made the idea of noble American intervention absurd. I find this to be particularly instructive; not of the historical facts of the Grenada intervention, but of how easily one can talk about politics in floating abstractions with no foundation for good/bad. Far-fetched chance of Soviet intervention: bad! Invasion, coercion, and death: now justifiable! If you can spot all of the nationalistic and other mythological delusions in this paper and email them to me, I’ll paypal you $2. –more–>The U. S. Intervention in Grenada: Why?

When discussing the 1979-1983 U. S. actions in Grenada, one must ask the first and most important question: what interest could the world’s capitalist superpower possibly have in a tiny island less populous than a South American football stadium? The miniscule nation’s economy, lacking any significant natural resource or consumer markets (for example), naturally precluded almost any possibility of American business interest in Grenada that could capably provide a specific political-economic impetus for invasion. It likely follows, then, that the intervention was part of an arrangement of Cold War policy disassociated from narrow, influential business interests, and one more involved with broader ideological and strategic (Realist) theories. The new socialist government of 1979 had already not been in good standing with the Carter administration; the coming of Reagan in 1981 only deepened U. S. negativity toward Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement (NJM), which had aligned with Cuba and the Soviet Union. Washington could, in turn, publicly allege that Grenada was a significant security threat if it were used militarily by the Cubans as a base for regional subversion, notably in Central America, or by the Soviets for projection of power, whether conventional or nuclear. In line with the U. S. ’s hard-line economic stance on Cuban communism, policymakers also sought to isolate (and destroy) any non-capitalist system to prevent the creation of any precedent toward the success of such systems anywhere else in the region. Finally, as probably the most central motivation for the invasion of Grenada, Reagan, battling a proxy war in Nicaragua against the leftist Sandinistas, wanted to send a clear message to all countries in the region that the United States still had the power to intervene-with its own forces- anywhere it deemed necessary during the post-Vietnam era, and did not need to rely on proxy armies like the Contras. The causes for intervention, separate from the Reagan Administration’s stated rationale, can be principally divided into three parts: the long-term military security of the nation, in addition to rolling back the influence of the Soviet Union; the discouragement and destruction of any installation of a “socialist experiment” in such proximity to the United States; and the symbolic display of military power to intimidate regional opponents while restoring prestige to the nation’s armed forces.

Background and Outset of the Conflict (Some Lies, too! )

Grenada, a small island nation one hundred miles north of the coast of South America, is a heavily agriculture and tourism-dependent state with a population of under 100,000. Formerly a British colony, it gained its independence from Britain in 1974 under the leadership of Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy, one of the key players in fomenting change through trade union organizations in the previous decades. Though his popularity after independence successfully won his reelection to the premiership three times, he soon proved to be eccentric- obsessed with UFOs, extraterrestrial contact, and occult practice- and despotic, maintaining his rule through a secret police known as the “Mongoose Squad. ”[1] Gairy’s opponents, the largest being the New JEWEL (Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education and Liberation) Movement, a Marx-inspired socialist group led by attorney Maurice Bishop, began to take action. In a coup with little bloodshed, Bishop and the NJM seized the government while Gairy was in New York discussing UFOs in the United Nations. Following the NJM victory, the new government began to pursue aggressive and ambitious socialist programs that arguably turned the country toward progress, reducing unemployment from 49 to 14% and pulling up impressive growth rates in the midst of a world recession. The World Bank praised the new government in 1980, declaring, “government objectives are centered on the critical development issues and touch on the country’s most promising development areas. ” The U. S. stance toward Bishop rapidly turned adversarial, however, and the Administration under Carter (and then Reagan) began taking measures to undermine Bishop’s government, particularly through subversion of the Grenadian economy. Travel-scare rumors were spread to American travel agencies while the White House painted the island as a communist enemy in order to discourage economically important tourism, and several international lending institutions were aggressively lobbied to halt loans to Grenada (to not much avail).

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The U.S. Intervention in Grenada: Apologism City   [ Part 2]

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Plans were also drafted by the CIA to “cause economic difficulties for Grenada in hopes of undermining the political control of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop,” but never came into fruition due to opposition from the Senate Intelligence Committee. [2] In the months leading up to the invasion, the Reagan Administration made a series of allegations against the Bishop government, centered about an image of a proximate hostile military threat that leveled accusations of military transfers to the island, such as a the construction of a Soviet submarine base and a shipment of a vast armada of aircraft. The most media attention was given to the construction of a new airfield under construction with the assistance of Cuba and Cuban workers, which was suspect to use for military purposes. [3] In March 1983, President Reagan announced on television:

Grenada doesn’t even have an air force. Who is it intended for? … the rapid build-up of Grenada’s military potential is unrelated to any conceivable threat… the Soviet-Cuban militarization of Grenada … can only be seen as a power projection into the region. [4]

All of these claims were at least in most part proven false. A Washington Post reporter visited the purported submarine construction site, finding nothing except the sea being too shallow for a sub-base; the massive Soviet arsenal of MIG fighters and attack helicopters was never found; and the clear economic motivations for the airfield were supplemented by a report by the British multinational corporation, Plessey, that enumerated a number of necessary military specifications not applied to the airfield’s construction. [5] With the specious groundwork of such claims, opportunity then struck for an invasion: on October 19, 1983, hard-liners in the NJM (later forming the Military Revolutionary Council) led a military coup and imprisoned Bishop and his ranking supporters. Capitalizing on the presence of 800 American medical students, Reagan began attempting to emphasize their imminent danger from the chaos and unrest of the coup as a pretext for an invasion, despite assurances from Cuban officials, the Grenadian military government, and the students themselves that no such threat existed. Though there were valid grounds to be skeptical of promises made by enemy powers, widespread refusal by medical school officials and students to acknowledge any significant danger trumped any realistic need for action for the sake of American safety. Why Washington would hold such an antagonistic and disruptive position would lie beyond the televised broadcasts.

Security Concerns (warning: apologist bullshit)

Lies, falsehoods, and fabrications to drum up public approval notwithstanding, there were indeed several potential security concerns for the U. S. and the Western Hemisphere involving Grenada. After coming to power, Bishop, shunned by the U. S. and blocked from most Western aid, had no choice but to support his bankrupted treasury by appealing to the Soviet Union and Cuba for assistance. Unfortunate as these circumstances were for Grenada (either attracting more American enmity or letting the country’s economy suffer), associating with the Communist alliance would only invite influence and leverage from it. That the Reagan Administration concocted myths of vast Cuban and Soviet military aid to the island obviously did not change that such aid was possible and even desirable to the communists as a future opportunity. With strategic access to the Caribbean and Latin America, Grenada could serve as another Soviet power projection in the hemisphere and be used as a base of operations for South America. It had the potential to receive heavy aid and grow into a state similar to Cuba, it possibly becoming another flash-point for a confrontation similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961. Shortly after Bishop’s 1979 coup, the U. S. Ambassador delivered a note to address fears of a mercenary army (led by the exiled Gairy) counter-coup: “… it would not be in Grenada’s best interests to seek assistance from a country such as Cuba to forestall such an attack. We would view with displeasure any tendency on the part of Grenada to develop closer ties with Cuba. ”[6] At the First International Conference in Solidarity with Grenada in November 1981, Bishop’s government outlined its plan for building a socialist Grenada while protecting it from “imperialism” abroad to delegates from “around the world”; that is, as they wanted it to seem. Though present were representatives from U. S. British, and other national political interest groups (communist parties, Grenada Friendship Societies, etc. the majority of delegates sent by actual governments themselves were from such nations as Nicaragua, Libya, Vietnam, North Korea, and the USSR. [7] Over the course of the conference, the Grenadian ministers continuously expressed support for a vast list of distinct U. S. enemies, while emphasizing its positive relations with “the socialist community and other democratic and peace-loving states,” including those under the control of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. [8] Meanwhile, they lambasted American policy with harsh rhetoric, at one point labeling the Reagan Administration a “fascist clique.

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The U.S. Intervention in Grenada: Apologism City   [ Part 3]

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[9] Considering these outward gestures, Bishop’s government appeared to be following a route of foreign policy similar to Cuba’s, attempting to ensure its survival by aligning with the “anti-U. S. ” Soviet and miscellaneous powers. A viable purpose of the conference, then, was to visibly demonstrate to these powers that Grenada was ready for a serious commitment in return for economic and military assistance. Whether this predicament was caused unfairly or not, Bishop’s strategy would become grounds for U. S. concern. The 1983 MRC coup, however, drastically altered Grenada’s strength. After imprisoning and executing Bishop and his cabinet, General Hudson Austin, the military architect of the coup, realized that his new government had overstepped and become isolated, condemned by Cuba, sanctioned by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, and only supported with words from Moscow. In the language of British correspondent Hugh O’Shaughnessy,

There is every reason to think that in the case of Grenada the MRC would have collapsed under the great weight of the opprobrium it was suffering within the island, combined if there had been a need with the outside pressures exerted on it by its neighbors… had [Austin] and Coard not given up their narrowly dictatorial aspirations it is difficult to see what force they could have relied on to maintain them against the popular anger at the massacre they were responsible for. [10]

Indeed, though Austin desperately sought to negotiate his government out of its helpless position and the previously mentioned security concerns were all but dissipated for the time being, the U. S. immediately seized the opportunity to invade and claim a victory in the name of liberation.

Ideological Security

In another political dimension, Grenada presented an ideological challenge to the United States and its economic system. Keenly aware of this, the Bishop government used it to explain the hostility of the “big-powers”:

From the outset, the anti-imperialist nature of Grenada’s solution and the “danger” of a new, successful, non-capitalist model in the bosom of the English-speaking Caribbean was more than the Washington/London axis was willing to tolerate. The hostility of imperialism and the threat of instant confrontational politics were on the horizon the very week following March 13, 1979. [11]

Initially influenced by Black Power ideology, a typical vessel for dissent in the Caribbean, Bishop gravitated toward the formation of the JEWEL, a rural-oriented faction aimed at undermining Prime Minister Gairy’s support among the “agro-proletariat. ” Eventually, the New JEWEL Movement was created by merging similar socialist political factions. It is important to note that long before any U. S. involvement, the NJM was already Marxist-Leninist oriented (in direct refutation of the belief that like Castro in Cuba, Grenada’s leadership was “forced” into leftist ideology to find allies against a hostile United States). In the Party Manifesto of 1973, it was made clear that atop the goal of redistribution of economic and political opportunity was the absolute transformation into a socialist economy with a full welfare system. [12] Early reforms were met with big success in the diversification of agriculture, strong growth rates, increases in literacy, and a slew of ambitious programs to boost development of important economic sectors. Bishop also capitalized on racial and ethnic appeal and took it to the United States, where he garnered the support of Black-American unions and Communist/Socialist groups who attended the 1981 Grenada conference, such as the Black Workers Organization and the U. S. Communist Party. [13] In the period of “Reaganomics” and dissatisfied minorities, a socialist “Black Power” movement could prove to be, however small in breadth, a considerable domestic political threat. Over an extended period of time, Bishop’s government would have likely been the target of a major U. S. -sponsored destabilization attempt had it continued its course of domestic and foreign policy. However, the MRC coup, executed by hard-line Leninists within the government, proved to be an effective substitute to remove the arguably successful “socialist experiment. ”

Military Pride

The actual invasion of Grenada in 1983, Operation “Urgent Fury,” is best explained by the urgency and fury with which Reagan needed a successful military campaign. A show of significant force would make governments in Latin America and the Caribbean think twice about stirring the political cauldron without permission from the United States. Already in the pessimistic shroud of the post-Vietnam era, the U. S. was dealing with the after-effects of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 servicemen a mere 2 days before the invasion. The MRC had largely disarmed and dismantled a majority of the militias for being “pro-Bishop,” leaving the bulk of what would be costly resistance to the American Marines out of the picture. As a quick and generally low-cost intervention (18 American dead, 116 wounded), the attack paid off. 7,000 servicemen were awarded medals for participating in the operation.

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The U.S. Intervention in Grenada: Apologism City   [ Part 4]

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Back home, the public responded with a surge in Presidential approval ratings and bipartisan support in Congress, even by Reagan’s future democratic challenger, Walter Mondale. The rapid deployment and achievement of military superiority demonstrated the still-living power of American hegemony. As William Blum smugly describes, “America had regained its manhood, by stepping on a flea. ”[14]

Conclusion

Too frequently, writings on the US intervention in Grenada address the topic solely as what happened in the October of 1983- and what the Reagan Administration made up to get there- but they treat with surprising brevity and simplification the years prior. If public recognition of falsehoods related to the intervention is limited, then recognition of studies done on the relationships between Grenada and the rest of the world beforehand is even sparser in visibility. As in the in current Gulf War, surrounding the 1983 intervention was a slew of misinformation from the government, but accompanying it in its aftermath were criticisms that treated the conflict in an overly one-dimensional manner. The one qualification that can be made about both wars- ethical justifications and moral qualms aside- is that the U. S. acted on them with a specific national-strategic purpose. Between Syria, Iran, and Iraq, Iraq was chosen; between Cuba, Nicaragua, and Grenada, Grenada was “the place to invade. ”


[1] American Academic Encyclopedia, “Grenada: History and Government. ”

[2] Zunes, http://www. globalpolicy. org/empire/history/2003/10grenada. htm

[3] Blum, p. 273-274

[4] New York Times, 28 March 1983.

[5] Lormand, Grenada: How We Continue to Believe the Hoaxes of Our Military Establishment.

[6] Blum, p. 274

[7] Appendix (II), Grenada is not Alone, p. 144-146

[8] Cde. Unison Whiteman, Grenada is not Alone, p. 114

[9] Cde. Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, Grenada is not Alone, p. 22

[10] O’Shaughnessy, p. 220

[11] Cde. Unison Whiteman, Grenada is not Alone, p. 119

[12] Dujmovic, p. 11

[13] Appendix (II), Grenada is not Alone, p. 144-146

[14] Blum, p. 277

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