Intervention in
the Caribbean:

The Dominican
Crisis of 1965.

Gen. Bruce Palmer, Jr.
(University of Kentucky)
It's always seemed passing strange to us that the United States has considered the countries to the south of us to be our personal playing ground. First it was Mexico: we helped ourselves to half their territory 150 years ago. Then, in the last half of the 19th Century, we went after Cuba and Nicaragua, among others. (William Walker --- a "filibusterer" --- came to Nicaragua in 1855, took control of Granada, proclaimed himself president, took several concubines, and opened the country to slavery. He was recognized shortly after by President Franklin Pierce.)

This century began with our taking over the northern half of Columbia and renaming it "Panama." Self-determination, claimed Theodore Roosevelt, who should have known better. We moved into the Dominican Republic, ran it from 1916 to 1924, and stayed a total of nineteen years in Haiti as well, just to be sure that all of Hispanola was under control.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Cuba were and are countries with their own laws, their own citizens --- presumably with the ability to run their own affairs. But somewhere, somehow, it's been decided that the United States had the right, duty, and obligation to move in and take over whenever we don't like what's going on. A country that expresses the strange desire to be in control of its own land, rather than being owned by an American corporation, seems to irritate us no end.

In the old days, we never bothered about disguising our invasions: we just moved the hell in, and damned if we would let anyone tell us otherwise. We called it "The Monroe Doctrine." However, after the Bay of Pigs and the Dominican Crisis of 1965 which, for some reason, outraged the Organization of American States, it was decided that we should turn our foreign policy over to the folks at the CIA. In this way, if an invasion was needed, they'd do it hush-hush --- and no-one would ever find us out. Thus, the quiet murders of the 70's and 80's --- mostly in Chile, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. In keeping with tradition, Oliver North changed the names of American-drafted "soldiers-of-fortune" to "Freedom Fighters." We aren't sure to this day whose Freedom he was talking about.

          

General Palmer learned about world affairs in West Point and, later, in Viet Nam, where he was Acting Chief-of-Staff for the Army. In 1965, in the Dominican Republic, the followers of Juan Bosch, the "Constitutionalists," took power from the pro-American "Loyalists." Lyndon Johnson decided that this was a Bad Thing. He knew that Bosch's people had lingering doubts about the good-will of American corporations. In addition, whatever it was we were trying to do to Cuba next door --- like trying to murder their leader --- made the Dominicans a bit uneasy. Johnson tapped General Palmer to step in and fix everything up.

Without consulting the OAS, the U S Marines and 82nd Airborne moved into the Dominican Republic in late April of 1965, and the author of this book arrived on the first of May to, as he phrases it so archly, "calm the situation." (He admits that the problems that erupted in 1965 probably stemmed from the thirty-one year dictatorship of one Rafael Trujillo, who had been trained in the Dominican Military Academy --- founded by the U. S. during one of our decades of occupying the country.)

Palmer's attitude towards the country he was instructed to "pacify" is wonderfully descried in Intervention:

    ...many Dominican males with much time on their hands enjoy such pursuits as gambling, cockfighting, and baseball. At the lower levels the Dominican society is a matriarchy: the mothers raise and feed large families, eking out a bare existence, while the men brag about how many children they have sired. To make life more interesting, however, Dominicans have a tradition of violence in settling the disputes that erupt all too frequenty. It is said that a Dominican boy becomes a man when he starts wearing a pistol in his belt.

Palmer, needless to say, thinks that we did right in the Dominican Republic. Who's to know? The people who live there, and their neighbors, might think differently, but who cares about the word of men spend their days bragging about how many children they have and, presumably, spend their nights doing something about it.

We can't gainsay that Palmer is gung-ho, and loves his buddies in the military to death. They are all really good fellows, under all that soldierly bearing:

    Brig. Gen. Robert Taber was a slender, incisive and tough-minded soldier....Equally hard-nosed and efficient, [Brig. Gen. Ernest] Hardin was a big, raw-boned cigar-chomping Kentuckian whose troops, air force or army, would go to hell for him. Military professionals and leaders don't come much better than "Moose" Hardin.
In other words, those cigar-chompers can beat a cockfighter, or baby-maker, any day of the week.

--- B. B. McCarthy


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