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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Propaganda is Propaganda: Rethinking the US Intervention in Grenada


For those of you wondering about how we’ve come to see the events in 1983, here is some food for thought. To begin, let me just say that most of the people we’ve talked to here see the US intervention favorably (note the picture)- which I found surprising based on what I had read before our arrival. It’s also interesting to note that most people here could be divided into two groups: those who call it the “US Intervention,” as I’ve come to see it, and those who call it the “US Invasion,” as it’s listed on Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, the choice can be loosely correlated to the person’s fondness of Eric Gairy or Maurice Bishop, respectively. (Of course, there are many people who blur the spectrum.)

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan said the main reason for the US invasion of Grenada was the safe evacuation of American medical students. While reports show that the students were not in any danger, the point is largely moot. Everybody assumes that Reagan really acted on the perceived threat of communism, a Caribbean domino-theory with Cuba leading the infection. Articles at the time cited the building of an international airport by the Cuban government as a causal factor for US involvement. However, the fact is that from the moment Maurice Bishop gained power in 1979, he realigned the country with Cuba and the USSR and began instituting an anti-US, pro-communist agenda. This was no secret- he had been proclaiming this very agenda for years on the stump, and had engendered an enormous following along the way. So when Bishop spearheaded a successful communist revolution in 1979, why didn’t the US act then? Perhaps the Carter presidency didn't see the threat of communism as a good reason to invade another country? (This is something the Right still refuses to understand.)


So we didn’t invade in 1979. Instead we watched Grenada become a militarized, communist state with heavy political oppression, driven by a cult of personality around Bishop. (It’s interesting to note that we had allowed this before- USSR, Cuba, North Korea. If it had been democratic socialism like in Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, etc. then we probably would have invaded immediately.) Fast forward four years to October 1983, when in-fighting within Bishop’s government lead to a violent split, quickly resulting in his brutal execution along with a dozen supporters. This was the moment when the island was truly thrown into a chaotic purgatory. People stayed in their houses, afraid to go out in the streets where armed soldiers stood on every corner. Those that lived through it told me this was one of the scariest moments of their lives- right up there with Hurricane Ivan. No one knew what was going to happen, and it seemed clear that there was a need for intervention by larger powers.


Now that’s not to say that President Reagan’s explanation was justified (or, as an aside, that there was not a shocking number of medals given out after the intervention). As it turns out, though, the US involvement was, in fact, justified, just not for any of the reasons officially provided. It was justified on moral grounds- the same way that an invasion of Darfur or Somalia or Nigeria or any modern failed state would be justified. The sad part is that America will never invade such places without strategic necessity. (It’s debatable, then, what the strategic necessity was for Grenada: fear of Soviet involvement? A need to show America’s strength in the wake of the Beirut bombings?)


What’s most interesting to me, though, is that the American Left generally condemns the invasion, whereas the Right is generally in support. But in reality, neither side seems to have gotten it right. Our intentions were duplicitous and vague, but the need was clear. In other words, we got it all wrong, but we still got lucky. This wasn’t Nicaragua or Vietnam or Iraq- Grenadians actually wanted us here. This is something that the Left needs to understand. Thus, it seems that propaganda comes in subtle forms. The condemnation by left-oriented sources, with whom I would normally agree, appears to be as equally shallow as the rationalization from the Right. I guess propaganda is propaganda, no matter which side you’re on. However, sometimes you just get lucky. And the Truth can be a powerful ally by any measure.


-JH