American Military Intervention: A Useful Tool Or A Curse? CSC 1984 SUBJECT AREA Foreign Policy AMERICAN MILITARY INTERVENTION: A USEFUL TOOL OR A CURSE? Submitted to Mr. Rudolph V. Wiggins, Ph.D. In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for Written Communications The Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico, Virginia Major W.D. Bushnell United States Marine Corps April 6, 1984 AMERICAN MILITARY INTERVENTION: A USEFUL TOOL OR A CURSE? OUTLINE Thesis Statement - Although military intervention is a viable diplomatic tool, the United States must return to the use of statesmanship to effect positive, long- lasting international diplomacy. I. Introduction A. Four paragraphs B. Thesis statement, second paragraph II. Background A. Five paragraphs 1. Geography 2. History 3. U.S. interest 4. Teddy Roosevelt 5. Jose Zelaya and President Taft III. Intervention A. Eight paragraphs 1. U.S. Marines land, 1910 2. Legation Guard 3. 1927, another intervention 4. Coolidge and Sandino 5. Escalation 6. Modern guerilla warfare 7. Marines depart 8. Henry Stimson IV. Aftermath: Nicaragua A. Four paragraphs 1. First intervention, 1909 2. Second intervention, 1927 3. Sandino's demise 4. Somoza's rise V. Aftermath: Latin America A. Two paragraphs 1. Fear of intervention 2. Spread of guerilla warfare VI. Aftermath: Marine Corps A. Seven paragraphs 1. "State Department Troops" 2. Recruiting 3. Tactics 4. Small Wars Manual 5. Development retarded 6. Professional edge 7. Legends VII. Conclusion A. Three paragraphs 1. Military intervention is difficult at best 2. Lack of understanding 3. Other interventions The sucessful exercise of international diplomacy in the twentieth century must be considered one of mankind's most difficult tasks. The complex nature of politics, cultures, societies, races and ideologies have made diplomacy a game of chess in which the nations are checkmated. To the statesman then lies the responsibility of sorting out the complexities. A statesman has at this disposal a number of tools with which to build mutually effective internation relations. Diplo- matic discourse, conferences, ambassadors, mediators, arbi- trators, international courts, friendship and commerce are but a few of the tools. There is one other tool which is usually spoken of as a last resort, but which has also gained use with popular frequency - military intervention. For years the United Stated has prided itself on a sense of diplomatic fair play and a genuine concern for national sovereignty. Americans have long felt it was proper to give the other guy a fair shake. American patience was long and understanding, up to a point. Once that point was reached, however, American muscle prevailed. It seems then that during this century, American patience has shortened. In the first third of the twentieth century, the United States has inter- vened militarily in the affairs of six nations in the Carib- bean area alone. Since 1933, the list of military interventions keeps growing longer. American military intervention is becoming the foremost tool of diplomacy. Sadly, the results of military intevention have been negative and (even) often counter-productive to America's best intentions. Although military intervention is a viable diplmatic tool, the United States must return to the use of statesmanship to effect positive, long-lasting international diplmacy. The American military interventions in the Caribbean area between 1900 and 1933 offer the best illustrations of diplmacy gone wrong, especially the military intervention in Nicaragua. During those thirty-three years, the United States intervened militarily in Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic), Panama and Nicaragua. In each case, the intervention was justified to the government of the United States, but to no one else. As a result, over forty, fifty and even sixty years later, the United States is still suffering from the damage caused by American military intervention in those countries. A poli- tical writer named Eduardo Crawley wrote, "At the vase of many U.S. foreign policy failures appears to be the persistent belief that most American political and social models can be transplanted into foreign systems."1 The American military intervention in Nicaragua from 1909 to 1933 serves as the best example of Crawley's statement, with the predictably sad failure of that attempt. America's military presence in Nicaragua for those twenty-four years has caused long-lasting repercussions in Nicaragua, Latin America and the United States Marine Corps. BACKGROUND Nicaragua is one of the six countries that make up Central America. It is the largest and least densely popu- lated of the six countries, about the size of the state of Iowa or Wisconsin. It is bordered on the north by Honduras and on the south by Costa Rica. Nicaragua has two coastlines, Pacific and Caribbean, each over two hundred miles long. The country's geography is divided into three regions. The western coastal plain is the most populated and is the center for agriculture, industry and commerce. The mountainous central highlands are characterized by rugged, pine-covered ridges and scattered villages. The third region, the lowland jungles of the Caribbean coast, is an inhospitable area known as "The Mosquito Coast." Throughout its early history Nicaragua has been a back- water of Caribbean area. First colonized by the Spanish, it languished in squalor and proverty, while its indian popu- lation was decimated by slavery and European disease. Finally, independence from Spain came in 1821, but Nicaragua only embarked on an even more erratic course of despair. National- ism was popular, but internal squabbles began which diluted any true efforts towards progress and prosperity. Two political factions rose from within Nicaragua - the Liberals, based in the city of Leon, and the Conservatives, based in the city of Granada. Competition and conflict between these two political factions would carve Nicaraguan history up to and through today. The United States first became interested in Nicaragua in 1850 when Cornelius Vanderbilt, and American business tycoon, began to investigate the possibility of building a canal across southern Nicaragua. The British were also sniffing around along the Mosquito Coast, attempting to establish trading centers of influence there. This British interest caused the American government to dust off the Monroe Doctrine and become concerned about foreign encroachment into the western hemisphere. Meanwhile, within Nicaragua continued to languish in turmoil. It has been said that "no Central American nation has wasted its natural potential so shamelessly."2 When Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States in the early twentieth century, he headed a fierce passion of nationalism which swept America. Foreign policy became outright imperialism. The Great White Fleet was steaming around the globe showing the flag, and "Big Stick" diplomacy governed international relations. Roosevelt also added a new touch to the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary. Where the Monroe Doctrine was created to discourage foreign inter- vention into the western hemisphere, Teddy wanted it under- stood that the United States would intervene if it felt so justified. Teddy Roosevelt said, "Chronic wrongdoings or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation."3 By 1905, the United States had intervened militarily in Cuba and Santo Domingo. Nicaragua was also gaining attention because of its Liberal president, Jose Zelaya. Zelaya had been in office for sixteen years, a miracle of Nicaraguan politics. In that time he had proved to be ambitious and aggressive, always trying to unite the six nations of Central America under his rule as an empire. There was also more talk of a canal across Nicaragua, with Panama being considered as well. President Roosevelt had other ideas. He wanted Panama and he got it through intrigue, some U.S. Navy warships and a few U.S. Marines. Zelaya was angered at Roosevelt's deception and he began making deals with European powers for loans. Zelaya was clearly becoming a thorn in Roosevelt's side. By 1909, William H. Taft had inherited the troublsome Zelaya of Nicaragua. Finally, even the Nicaraguan Conservatives grew tired of Zelaya and a revolt began. Zelaya fought back and thus provided President Taft with an excuse to end this Caribbean irritation. Nicaragua had finally qualified for an energetic application of "the Big Stick." INTERVENTION By February, 1910, U.S. Marines had landed and were in control of the major coastal cities and the capitol, Managua. Zelaya resigned, but he was replaced by a string of presidents who could not seem to hold office for more than a few months. The Marines were used to support whichever side Washington favored. The decision-makers in Washington felt that they knew best what was good for this mischievous country. The Marines remained in Nicaragua until 1912, when most were sent back to Panama. A legation guard of one hundred Marines would remain in Managua for the next thirteen years. During that time the Marines behaved badly and caused much animosity and resentment. The presence of the Marines was viewed as a hated symbol of imperialism. Meanwhile, two American political scientists, first Thomas C. Dawson and later Harold W. Dodds, attempted to create a viable election system in Nicaragua so that popular vote would rule the country rather than revolt. Elections were held every four years, always supervised by the Marines. From 1912 to 1924, every election was won by the Conservatives, and each election was reported to be more honest than the last. In 1925, the United States was finally satisfied that Nicaragua could manage its own affairs now that it had a taste of democracy and the Marines. After fifteen years of occupation in Nicaragua the Marines left for home. Two years later, in 1927, Nicaraguan political tran- quility collapsed. A revolt began to ouster the government favored by Washington. Once again, U.S. Marines were sent into Nicaragua to intervene. This time, however, the United States was in for a big surprise. In the past most Caribbean troublemakers were easily handled by a show of force or by restained use of minor force. This was to be much different case. Calvin Coolidge was then President of the United States and his Latin American policies earned him a position of infamy.. His foremost biographer, Willam Allen White, stated, "Historians must record the fact that Calvin Coolidge was never well beloved in South America."4 The Liberals were then rebelling against the Consevative government in Nica- ragua. The Marines arrived, took control and disarmed every- one. Everyone, that is, except one man. A Liberal general named Augusto Sandino refused to comply with anyone's wishes but his own. He led his small band of insurrectionists into the mountains, vowing to rid Nicaragua of all foreign inter- ference. Sandino was an intense nationalist, with a burning hatred of all foreigners. He wanted Nicaragua to be free of all outside influence, especially from the United States. The Marines at this time felt that Sandino was nothing more than a ragged bandit, with few followers and little spirit. For the next five years, however, Sandino showed the entire world that he was not a mere bandit. From 1927 to 1933 Sandino waged war against the American Marines and the govenment of Nicaragua. At the height of the conflict the United States had over 5,000 Marines in Nicaragua trying to capture or subdue Sandino. The reason for even being in Nicaragua became obscure, as American energy forcused entirely on catching Sandino. Suprisingly, only one major battle was fought during this five year campaign. It occurred at the outset in 1927 and Sandino's forces lost. They lost the battle, but ultimately won the war. After the first battle Sandino changed his tactics. He created what is know today as modern guerilla warfare. His forces would ambush, raid and plunder, always keeping on the move, operating in small groups. The Marines were in a react- ive posture for the whole five years, chasing groups of rebels all over Nicaragua. The Marines never caught Sandino. The rebel leader even traveled abroad to seek support for his cause. Throughout the world, even in the United States, Sandino was considered a hero. He was a master of propaganda and the image of the United States grew more tarnished as each year passed. By 1932, Americans had had enough of this intervention in Central America. Nicaragua was still in chaos, Sandino was still on the loose, and American prestige had sunk to an alarming low point. During that five year period only 132 Americans were killed in Nicaragua, so the price was not too high, except no one could remember why we paid it in the first place.5 The Marines pulled out of Nicaragua on January 1, 1933. Before leaving, though, in an effot to leave a stable government behind, the Marines created a constabulary called La Guardia Nacionale. It was headed by General Anastasio Somoza. After the Marines had left Nicaragua for the last time, Secretary of State Henry Stimson was to say, "Marines had come to save lives in the civil war, they had remained to disarm the contenders, chase bandits, and hold an election, and they left behind in the end a country, peaceful and independent. It was a job well done."6 Or was it? AFTERMATH: NICARAGUA The first intervention, beginning in 1909, with its lightning swift campaign, had restored order, prevented possible European intervention, and allowed Nicaragua to develop a degree of stability. American interests, business, people and property were protected. But, the first inter- vention did not provide a solution for the internal problems that plagued the country. Even less successful, however, was the second inter- vention. It is true that Nicaragua did benefit to a degree from Marine presence. Roads were built, airfields were introduced, and communications were improved. The Marines had stopped a bloody civil war, but they had not brought peace. Sandino was never stopped, never beated by the Marines. The Marines did leave behind two other monuments to their presence. One was the Guardia Nacinoale and the other was an election system. Neither would turn out quite as expected. Nicaraguan politics remained distinctly Nicaraguan. After the Marines left, politics once again turned from the ballot to the bullet. The Sandino problem was solved finally, but not as any fair-minded American would expect. Later in 1933, Sandino negotiated an amnesty for himself and his men. The Guardia Nacionale, however, was unenthusiastic about peace with a live Sandino. Early in 1934, after he had surrendered, Sandino was assassinated by memebers of the Guardia Nacionale. Guardia Nacinoale troops then attacked and massacred the remaining Sandinistas. General Anastasio Somoza, the head of the Guardia Nacinoale, then deposed the Nicaraguan president and took control of the country himself. Backed up by the Guardia Nacionale, Somoza established a family dictatorship which lasted for over forty-five years. The same thing had happened in 1905 in Santo Domingo when the Marines installed Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who led a family dictatorship in that country for the next thirty years. Many Nicaraguans felt that Somoza was a puppet of the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even said of Somoza, He's a son of a bitch, but he's ours!"7 Since the Marines never had the support of the Nicaraguan people during either intervention it is easy to place the blame for Somoz'a ruthless dictatorship on Marine occupation of their country. After all, did not the Marines create the Guardia Nacionale and place Somoza as its leader? The answer is yes. Even Sandino's murder has been blamed on "Yankee imperial- ists." The Somoza government was finally overthrown in 1979 by a Liberal faction known as "Sandinistas." Today the Sandinista government is now fighting an insurrection led by a pro-Somoza officer formerly of the Guardia Nacionale. This spirit of Sandino still lives in Nicaragua. That same spirit may account for the current unpopular feelings Nicaraguans have today towards the United States. In 1984, is it any wonder that Nicaraguans fear another intervention by United States Marines? AFTERMATH: LATIN AMERICA But that of the rest of Central and South America? How did Marine intervention in Nicaragua affect the rest of the hemisphere? Many Latin Americans opposed American military intervention from the outset. They feared that the United States would find a reason to intervene in their countries, too. Past interventions in Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Panama proved their fear. That fear also harbored resentment and smoldering anger toward the United States. The Peruvian scholar, F. Garcia-Calderon, called America's military involvement in Nicaragua, "a triumph of vulgarity."8 Sandino's successful guerilla war against the American Marines served as the model for guerilla war as an instru- ment of social revolution in Latin America. Sandino's example was emulated by insurrectionists throughout the western hemisphere. The best example would later appear in action with Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1959. Newspaper headlines today report guerilla war and insurrectionist turmoil in many Latin American countries, with much of the rhetoric being anti-American and often using present-day Nicaragua as a shining example of successful social revolu- tion. AFTERMATH: MARINE CORPS By the time the Marines came home from Nicaragua in 1933, they were very glad to have something else to do. They had been fighting in the "Banana Wars" for over thirty years. It was generally accepted in the period that the Marines were the State Department's "instrument of foreign policy." In fact, Marines called themselves "State Department Troops." During this period Congress, the Navy Department, the State Department, and even the Marines viewed military intervention as the Corps' primary mission. In the late 1920's, two-thirds of the Marine Corps' total strength was serving at sea or abroad, with almost half that number in Nicaragua. General Smedley Butler, who fought in Haiti, Panama, Mexico and Nicaragua, stated the point quite clearly when he said he had spent his life making the world safe for American investors and corporations.9 Marines viewed the mission of colonial occupation and pacification as a mixed blessing. Recruiting boomed during the "Banana Wars." Adventure and glory awaited the young man who dreamed of tropical excitement, of campaigns in Central America and the Caribbean. At one point, recruiting was so good, men were even allowed to buy their way out or their enlistments after serving only one year. Even through Marine tactics on the ground in Nicaragua did not change during either intervention, the Marines gained valuable appreciation for the use of automatic weapons, close air support, effective communications in poor terrain, proper supply planning,, and patrolling and ambush techniques. Marine aviation, in particular, enjoyed an explosion of acceptance and development. It was the single most important tactical result of the war. Articles on these and other topics of the day abound in the Marine Corps Gazette of the period. The lessons from Nicaragua were not fully compiled and officially adopted unitl 1935, however, when the Marine Corps published The Small Wars Manual. This book comes in three volumes and covers a wide variety of subjects, including psychology, use of pack mules, care of animals, disarming the population, organizing a constabulary and supervising elections. It is a valuable manual, with most of its concepts applicable today, such as staff action and military-civil relationships. Unfortunately, it did not appear until after the "Banana Wars" were over, and it was never tested because World War II was next and it was hardly a small war. Also, during the Nicaraguan campaigns other Marine Corps activities were curtailed. So much emphasis was given to Nicaragua and other States Department-supported missions that development of amphibious doctrine and equipment was retarded. The Marine Corps seldom participated in fleet manuvers, even with single battalions. The patrol was the tactical unit of the Corps. The Nicaraguan campaigns did provide the Corps its only period of serious fighting between the world wars. This did much to temper the Corps' professional edge as a fighting force. While only forty-seven Marines died in combat in the second intervention, with even fewer combat deaths in the first intervention, the Corps developed a taste for combat.10 In contrast with other "Banana War" campaigns, the Marines in Nicaragua faced an adept enemy, a modern-style guerilla effort, internationally supported, which waged a ruthlessly effective politico-military campaign. Nigaragua also produces Marine legends. Famous Marines would rise out of the mountains and jungles of Nicaragua. A generation of company-grade officers would be the colonels and generals of World War II: Captain Merritt Edson, Captain James C. Breckinridge, Captain Chesty Puller, First Lieutenant Holland M. Smith, Captain Harry Lee, Second Lieutenant Roy Geiger, and Second Lieutenant Alexander Vandergrift. These men later shaped the Corps from their experiences in Central America's Nicaragua. CONCLUSION One thing remains, however, that the Marine Corps and the United States seem unable to grasp, even today: Military intervention is difficult at best. Even the greatest power, with the best of intentions, lacks the ultimate capability to change the fundamental nature of internal politics in other countries. To attempt to turn a complex problem of the head into a simple moral question for the heart to answer is to be naive and short-sighted. The American military intervention in Nicaragua was unfortunate because of all the major U.S. interventions in the Caribbean area, it was the most difficult to justify. Consequently, there was good reason for its universal condemnation in Latin America and whole-hearted regret in the Untied States. One would be hard pressed to prove that the national interests of the United State were served by the whole sorry business. The fact that an undeclared war was fought and lost in Nicaragua would seem to indicate that the diplomats of the United States lacked a clear understanding of the social, economic and political factors which operate in Latin America. Military interventions have seldom achieved the long-lasting positive results intended. More often military intervention creates more problems than it solves. The Kissinger report on Central America opens with the enlightened statement that "the best route to consensus on U.S. policy toward Central America is by exposure to the realities of Central America."11 Other American military interventions have followed the Caribbean adventures of the early twentieth century. American troops have landed in Lebanon twice, once in 1956 and again in 1982, the Dominican Republic in 1965, South Vietnam also in 1965, and most recently again in the Caribbean, on the island of Grenada in 1983. Think of the results of the outcomes of those interventions. There has not been much good ascribed to those affairs. The American military recog- nizes its role as an instrument of foreign policy. What remains then is for the diplomats to recognize its proper application to avoid squandering a valuable resource and risk harm to American prestige and influence. A homespun philo- sopher named Kin Hubbard has a solution: "There's some folks standing behind the President that ought to get around in front where he can watch them."12 FOOTNOTES 1Crawley, Eduardo, Dictators Never Die (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979), p.9. 2Martz, John D., Central America: The Crisis and the Challenge (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), p.165. 3Crawley, p.37. 4Cummins, Lejeune, Quijote on a Burro (Mexico, D.F.: La Impresora Azteca, 1958), p.147. 5Ibid, p.239. 6Macauley, Neill, The Sandino Affair ( Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967), p.240. 7Crawley, p.99. 8Cummins, p.145. 9Millett, Allan R., Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1980) p.262. 10Macauley, p.239. 11The National Bipartisan Commision on Central America, Report of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America, (Washington, D.C., 1984), p.1. 12Murphy, Edward F., ed., Webster's Treasury of Relevant Quotations (New York: Greenwich House, 1978), p.491. BIBLIOGRAPHY The American University, Foreign Area Studies. Nicaragua, A Country Study. Washington, D.C., 1982. Bell, Belden, ed. Necaragua: An Ally Under Siege. Washington, D.C.: Council on American Affairs, 1978. Crawley, Eduardo. Dictators Never Die. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979. Cummins, Lejeune. Quijote on a Burro. Mexico, D.F.: La Impresora Azteca, 1958. Denny, Harold N. Dollars for Bullets: The Story of American Rule in Nicaragua. New York: The Dial Press, 1929. Macauley, Neill. The Sandino Affair. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967. Martz, John D. Central America: The Crisis and the Challenge. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1959. Mecham, J. Lloyd. A Survey of United States-Latin American Relations. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1965. Millett, Allan R. Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1980. Nalty, Bernard C. The United States Marine in Nicaragua. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Rev. 1968. The National Bipartisan Commission on Central Americal. The Report of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. Washington, D.C., 1984. Schweitzer, LtGen. Robert L., Chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board, Speech at the Inter-American Defense College, Washington, D.C., on 7 March 1984. U.S. Congress. House. Congressional Record. Senator Rankin Speech, 2 February 1927, pages 2825-2826. Walker, Thomas W., ed. Nicaragua in Revolution. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1982.
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