H-Diplo Roundtable XVI, 31 on The Invaded: How Latin Americans and their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. Occupations [27 July 2015]

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H-Diplo Roundtable Review
Volume XVI, No. 31 (2015)
27 July 2015

Roundtable Editors:  Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse
Roundtable and Web Production Editor:  George Fujii
Commissioned for H-Diplo by Dustin Walcher
Introduction by Dustin Walcher

Alan McPherson.  The Invaded:  How Latin Americans and their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. OccupationsNew York:  Oxford University Press, 2014.  ISBN:  9780195343038 (hardcover, $45.00).

URL:  http://www.tiny.cc/Roundtable-XVI-31


© 2015 The Authors.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Why do great powers embark on long-term and costly occupations?  What motivates some of the inhabitants of occupied territories to resist while others collaborate?  These are fundamental questions for historians of U.S. foreign relations.  As Jason Colby observes, in light of the recent U.S. occupations in the Middle East the questions are no less relevant to contemporary policy discussions.  


During the third of a century following 1898 the United States embarked on an unprecedented number of overseas political, economic, and military interventions.  A surprising number resulted in prolonged occupations (the number varies depending on how ‘occupation’ is defined).  Although the interventionism of the era included incursions into parts of Asia (most notably the war, occupation, and colonization of the Philippines), Africa, and South America, the Caribbean littoral received the most concentrated attention.  Along with the Pacific, the Caribbean littoral experienced not just U.S. interventionism but also episodes of prolonged occupations through which Americans exercised significant controlling influence over their host countries. 


Historians of U.S. foreign relations have long examined the roots of the U.S. occupations.  Alan McPherson enters this historiography from a largely different angle.  Rather than focusing on the genesis of U.S. occupation policy, he principally discusses the origins of the resistance to U.S. occupations.  The Invaded lives up to its title; it is fundamentally a history of the people who lived under, collaborated with, and resisted long-term U.S. occupations in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua.  As Colby explains, “McPherson gets ‘the invaded’ to speak as they seldom have in the scholarship on U.S.-Latin American relations.”  McPherson acknowledges that he could have selected any number of other case studies, but holds that these three occupations “were the longest and most complex.” (1) 


Perhaps McPherson’s most notable argument centers on the causes of resistance to U.S. occupations.  He finds that those who resisted U.S. occupations rarely did so for reasons related to nationalism (Nicaraguan resistance leader Augusto Sandino was a notable exception).  Most resistance leaders – and the people who followed them – did not articulate a vision for a larger national project.  Nor did they imagine themselves as part of larger national communities.  Rather, their resistance emerged from more prosaic and practical reasons.  The centralizing tendencies of occupation authorities prompted local elites who necessarily lost power and influence in that process to revolt against the emergent regimes. 


Although McPherson is primarily interested in analyzing responses to occupations, he also engages the underlying roots of U.S. policy.  He dismisses economic motivations as having significantly influenced U.S. behavior because the level of U.S. investment in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua remained modest, particularly in the context of the high fiscal costs associated with maintaining the occupations.  Nor does he emphasize a perception on the part of U.S. policymakers that occupations enhanced U.S. security.  Instead McPherson posits an ideological motivation: the United States occupied countries in the Caribbean littoral because policymakers sought to change the political cultures of those countries – to export a particular American political culture. 


Like book-award committees, which have already awarded The Invaded the Ellis W. Hawley Prize and the William LeoGrande Prize, the participants in this roundtable find much to praise in McPherson’s work.  Colby concludes that the book has established McPherson as “the foremost young scholar in the field” of U.S.-Latin American relations, and that it “should be required reading for any policymaker, U.S. or other, contemplating military intervention and occupation.”  Richard Grossman find that the book is “well written and should be read not only by historians but by the general public.”  Thomas O’Brien calls The Invaded “a deeply researched work that offers new insights into local reactions to U.S. occupation and challenges common assumptions about the role of nationalism in the Circum-Caribbean in the early twentieth century.” 


The reviewers also raise important questions.  Unsurprisingly, McPherson’s argument, which downplays nationalism as a central factor motivating those who opposed most U.S. occupations, attracts attention.  Among the roundtable participants O’Brien expresses the greatest degree of skepticism, arguing that McPherson advances “a fairly narrow interpretation of what constitutes nationalism.”  While O’Brien favors a broader definition, he also notes that McPherson’s analysis “at the very least will cause those of us who have studied U.S. interventions in the region to rethink the importance of nationalism in popular resistance movements.”  Colby, by contrast, finds McPherson’s argument most compelling.  “[A]fter reading this book,” he writes, “it is difficult to imagine calling the anti-U.S. resistance in this period ‘nationalist.’” 


Although enthusiastic about the book’s central arguments, Colby finds its structure more problematic.  He suggests that “a different organization of the book might more effectively have conveyed McPherson’s important insights and staggering research.”  In particular Colby finds the “chronological bounce” that occurs from one thematic chapter to another sometimes serves “to obscure analytical connections.” 


Grossman raises the challenging question of the definition of an occupation.  During much of the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua “there were only 100 Marines based at the U.S. Embassy.”  In Grossman’s opinion, a force comprising a mere 100 marines does not amount to an occupation.  For McPherson the emphasis is less on the number of people under arms than it is on the degree to which the United States was able to exercise a controlling influence over the country’s institutions.  In addition, Grossman questions the rationale behind McPherson’s selection of case studies.  Grossman holds that “the occupations of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama were at least as long and as complex” as those of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua.  Consequently, Grossman calls for “a better explanation” of McPherson’s selection criteria. 


Grossman also questions McPherson’s conclusion that the United States occupied these three countries in an effort to alter their political cultures.  “For me,” he writes, “the need to change the political culture was a tool towards a greater end, the creation of stable, pro-American governments.”  At this point Grossman explains that he continues in his struggle to find a reason why U.S. elites thought that occupations would lead toward their desired outcome.  He does, however, posit that a degree of mission creep and an unwillingness to admit failure sustained occupations long after policymakers made the initial decision. 


Finally, in the specific case of Nicaragua, Grossman highlights the ways in which centralized state formation was underway prior to the U.S. occupation, which McPherson ascribes with significant responsibility for those trends.  While the United States might be assigned responsibility for facilitating the acceleration of the process, the U.S. occupation was not the sole factor. 


McPherson has produced a compelling examination of U.S. occupations – and especially of local resistance to U.S. occupations – during the first third of the twentieth century.  His book occupies important space not only in the historiography of U.S.-Latin American relations but also on the historiography of occupations.  In light of the renewed recent U.S. experience with overseas occupations, The Invaded should continue to attract the attention of a wide assortment of historians and international studies practitioners. 





Alan McPherson is Professor of International and Area Studies and Director of the Center for the Americas at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author or editor of seven books, most recently The World and U2: One Band’s Remaking of Global Activism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). His six others are about U.S.-Latin American relations or anti-Americanism. The Invaded has won the 2015 Ellis W. Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians and the 2014 William LeoGrande Prize from American University’s Center for Latin American & Latino Studies and School of Public Affairs.


Dustin Walcher is Associate Professor and Chair of History and Political Science at Southern Oregon University.  A specialist in international history, the history of U.S. foreign relations, and inter-American affairs, his scholarship analyzes international economic policy, global capitalism, and social disruption.  He is currently revising a manuscript that examines the link between the failure of U.S.-led economic initiatives and the rise of social revolution in Argentina during the 1950s and 1960s. 


Jason Colby is Associate Professor of History at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.  He is the author of The Business of Empire: United Fruit, Race, and U.S. Expansion in Central America (Cornell University Press, 2011) as well as several articles and books chapter, including “‘A Chasm of Values and Outlook’: The Carter Administration’s Human Rights Policy in Guatemala,” Peace and Change (October 2010).


Richard Grossman, Ph.D. is an Instructor in History at Northeastern Illinois University. His research focuses on Augusto Sandino and his resistance to the U.S. occupation. Recent publications include “Solidarity with Sandino: The Anti-Intervention and Solidarity Movements in the United States, 1927-1933,” Latin American Perspectives. Volume 36, No. 6; and “The Nation Is Our Mother: Augusto Sandino and the Construction of Peasant Nationalism in Nicaragua, 1927-1934,” The Journal of Peasant Studies, Volume 35, No. 1.


Thomas O’Brien is a John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History at the University of Houston.  His major area of interest is inter-American relations with a particular focus on the role of American corporations in influencing those relations.   His books include The Revolutionary Mission: American Enterprise in Latin America, 1900-1945, (Cambridge University Press, 1996) and The Making the Americas from the Age of Revolutions to the Era of Globalization (University of New Mexico Press, 2007).  He is currently working on an interactive study of the Americas that spans the history of the region from the era of European colonialism to the present.



In a press conference on 13 April 2004, President George W. Bush was asked what forces were driving the resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.  “They are not happy they’re occupied,” he retorted.  “I wouldn’t be happy if I were occupied either.”[1]  It was a rare moment of clarity from a man who thought he could use military force to change the political culture of the Middle East, and it speaks powerfully to the issues raised in Alan McPherson’s impressive new study, The Invaded.


McPherson’s subject is not new.  Over the past five decades, dozens of scholars have examined the U.S. military interventions of the early twentieth century.  Some, such as Dana Munro, were former policy makers searching for the lessons of “dollar diplomacy.”  Others, such as Walter LaFeber, used those lessons to make sense of a new round of U.S. interventions in the 1980s.  More recently, the prolific Greg Grandin has examined U.S. intervention in the region as an imperial laboratory, where Latin American resistance “saved the United States from itself” by forcing U.S. officials to develop techniques forms of imperial control, many of which were later applied to the Middle East.[2]


McPherson’s goal is at once more modest and more profound.  He seeks to reveal the complex dynamics of occupation by examining not only the motivations and actions of U.S. policymakers and marines in the manner of Mary Renda’s Taking Haiti but also the relationship between accommodation, resistance, and power within occupied societies.[3]  To do so, he focuses almost exclusively on the three long-term military occupations of this period: Nicaragua (1912-1925, 1926-1933), Haiti (1915-1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916-1924).  Although this represents a relatively narrow slice of U.S. imperial endeavors in the early twentieth-century Caribbean, McPherson’s approach makes sense, not only for comparative purposes but also for discerning the larger patterns of occupation and resistance.   


In his exploration of these events, McPherson offers key reminders as well as revelations.  I was, for example, quite taken by his emphasis on the two phases of resistance: the first, rural based and opposing the invasions themselves; the second, more elite, urban and transnational, and focused on the conduct rather than the fact of occupation.  I was also struck, as never before, by the disproportionate casualties suffered by anti-occupation forces compared to those of the U.S. marines themselves. Finally, I deeply appreciated McPherson’s effort to correct the common misperceptions of the events so often, and so absurdly, called the “banana wars.”[4]  In addition to casting an inappropriately comical light on serious and violent events, this phrase has bolstered the faulty assumption that it was mainly private U.S. interests that drove Washington’s military interventions.  Yet, with the arguable exception of Cuba, the nations that suffered the longest and most intrusive occupations actually hosted little American investment.  In fact, as McPherson notes, “military occupations were far more costly than any investments they might [have] protect[ed]” (5). And while it was true that some geostrategic interests—fear of German intervention in Hispaniola or Japanese rights to a Nicaraguan canal—provided the initial pretexts for invasion, it was ultimately the desire to transform political culture that became the primary objective and most intractable challenge of these occupations.


And it is on the subject of political cultural change that McPherson offers his most important contributions.  In all three occupations, U.S. marines, with relatively little input from the State Department, set out to modernize and centralize political systems crippled by the corruption and regional autonomy that were common to undeveloped nations.  For that very reason, rural and urban elites alike viewed the occupations as threats to both their power and their livelihood.  This helps explain, for example, why some Haitian elites secretly supported “caco” rebels such as Charlemagne Péralte against the marines.  Dominican elites proved even more desperate, as the U.S. military government left precious little opportunity for them to raid the state coffers. 


Throughout his exploration of these relationships, McPherson gets “the invaded” to speak as they seldom have in scholarship on U.S.-Latin American relations.  In addition to official correspondence, private letters and oral histories lend a fine- grained quality to his study of shifting interests, allegiances, and personal calculations.  Above all, these sources underscore McPherson’s central argument that “those who resisted were anti-occupation activists who defended an autonomy that was local rather than national” (265). Indeed, after reading this book, it is difficult to imagine calling the anti-U.S. resistance in this period ‘nationalist.’


Yet it is the one leader who effectively mobilized nationalism and pan-Latin American discourse who provides the most fascinating component of McPherson’s study.  From the semantic debate over Nicaraguan resistance leader Augusto Sandino’s status as ‘bandit’ or ‘patriot’ to the exploration of his turn to mysticism as his military fortunes declined, I have not read a better account of Sandino and his place within this era of U.S. interventions.  In particular, McPherson’s treatment shows how a rebellion located in Nicaragua’s isolated region of the Segovias was able to survive and thrive through a combination of local support and transnational ties, while speaking the language of nationalism and pan-Latin American unity.


Another superb contribution is McPherson’s examination of how and why each of these occupations ended and what it meant for the professed goal of political change.  In the Dominican Republic in 1922 and in Haiti in 1930, respectively, squabbling and divided elites formed united fronts to press Washington to end the occupations.  Although these temporary coalitions impressed transnational anti-imperial activists and Congressional committees, they obscured the reality that the political culture of both nations remained fundamentally unchanged.  And as McPherson convincingly argues, without such change all nation-building projects were doomed to fail.


Despite such praise, I do have some critiques and quibbles, most of which pertain to organization.  McPherson divides his study into four parts, with fourteen chapters dealing with the 1912-1934 period.  While most of the chapters focus on particular years in one of the three occupied nations, several in the middle of the book are thematic in nature.  Having struggled with this region (and period) in my own book, Business of Empire, I can appreciate the challenges it presents: a wide range of actors and interests, many issues, and lots of little countries.[5]  At the same time, I cannot help but feel that a different organization of this book might more effectively have conveyed McPherson’s important insights and staggering research.  For starters, a background chapter on U.S. intervention and empire prior to 1912 would have better contextualized these occupations, as would maps of the region and the countries that are his focus. 


In addition, the arrangement of the chapters makes it somewhat difficult to track developments chronologically.  For someone familiar with the region’s history, a certain amount of chronological bounce is no great bother.  But there are several times when the events in this book seem to fold back on one another in a manner that seems to obscure analytical connections. One example is the discussion of Samuel Inman’s seminal 1924 anti-imperialist critique,[6] which comes about 100 pages after McPherson’s superb section on Sandino in 1927-1929.  Another example is McPherson’s citation of an extraordinary December 1928 speech by then-retired U.S. diplomat Sumner Welles on the self-defeating nature of occupation.  Although Welles’s insight clearly applies to all three of the occupations, McPherson seems forced to shoehorn it into a chapter on later events in Haiti (246-247).  One cannot help but feel that a different arrangement would have lent greater force to his insights.


A final point comes more in the form of a question.  McPherson closes the book with a pithy list of conclusions.  Among them is the point, powerfully illustrated by his study, that “political culture is resilient” (266) and virtually impossible to change if the military and diplomatic officials running an occupation are not on the same page. I would push this question further and ask if it is possible for an inherently undemocratic and authoritarian institution such as the U.S. marines (or any other military organization, for that matter) to serve as a vehicle for democratic political change.  It seems a question worth exploring for historians and high officials alike.  But then again, McPherson may have answered it by quoting U.S. citizen John Vance, a resident of the Dominican Republic, who observed after the 1924 U.S. withdrawal that the Dominicans “had a very strong lesson in government by force, something they were already well schooled in, from a people who they thought were the champions of freedom throughout the world (193).


Quibbles and questions aside, it is clear that Alan McPherson has produced a unique contribution to the literature on U.S.-Latin American relations.  Viewing this work in relationship to his previous scholarship, it is easy to conclude that he has become the foremost young scholar in the field.  Further, despite the criticism I have expressed, I think this book should be required reading for any policymaker, U.S. or other, contemplating military intervention and occupation, and that is high praise indeed.  After all, as McPherson reminds us with his closing line, “The greatest lesson then is most likely that occupation is a folly to be avoided at all cost” (269).



I enjoyed reading Alan McPherson’s new book The Invaded.  He starts with what should be considered a simple premise: people generally do not like to see their country invaded and occupied by a foreign power.  Unfortunately, this seems to be a lesson that needs to be re-learned over and over.


The focus of The Invaded is the United States (U.S.) occupation of Nicaragua (1912-1933), Haiti (1915-1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916-1924).  McPherson states that he chose these three countries because they were the “longest and most complex” (1) of the various U.S. intervention in Latin America at the beginning of the twentieth century.  He emphasizes that these were occupations since the “US Marines took over many of the functions of the state. . .” (1).


As opposed to many other studies, the focus of this work is to “view events through the eyes of the invaded” (2). Local resistance to the occupations finally forced the withdrawal of U.S. forces and a change in official U.S. policy with the adaptation of the Good Neighbor Policy in 1933. These resistance movements included participants who were both armed and peaceful, and who came from both rural and urban environments. They were also able to connect with transnational solidarity networks of both other Latin American and U.S. activists.


McPherson makes several controversial contentions.  First he declares that “those who resisted invasion were motivated not primarily by nationalism but by more concrete concerns that were material, power-related, self-protective, or self-promoting” (2). Then he rejects the idea that the occupations (not necessarily the invasions) were motivated by U.S. economic or strategic concerns.  Instead he states that the occupations were primarily a “struggle over political culture. The beliefs and practices of politics were what occupiers wanted to change and what the occupied wanted to protect” (3). For McPherson the occupied wanted to protect personalist-style politics, which meant political instability and weak central governments in the eyes of the United States.


The bulk of the book is comprised of a chronological discussion, country by country, of the occupation and local reactions, both collaboration and resistance, to the occupation. Starting with Nicaragua, Haiti, and then the Dominican Republic, McPherson describes the initial occupations and mistakes made by the U.S. Marines which contributed to the growing resistance. For example, in Nicaragua the Marines failed to understand the local circumstances because they were “jingoistic and often racist” (20).


McPherson then follows with detailed chapters on the resistance that developed in each of the countries. He also analyzes the response of the U.S. Marines to this resistance. Thus he presents a cycle of invasion, resistance, and repression. As part of the pacification process in each of the three countries the Marines organized constabularies, local soldiers whom they trained and commanded. Together they then brutally suppressed the opposition to the occupations.  Thus by 1922 organized armed resistance in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic had been defeated. However, few within the United States “fully realized how much their [military’s] abusive, callous, or negligent behavior . . .” (110) had alienated the local populations.


In Nicaragua the armed resistance movement lead by Augusto Sandino was never defeated on the battlefield. The Sandino rebellion was the most complicated and politically developed of the insurgencies. McPherson devotes several chapters to describing and analyzing the complexities of Sandino. (A disclaimer: my research is one of the sources which McPherson uses while discussing Sandino.) Beyond examining the local support for the insurgency, McPherson also correctly notes that Sandino was able to develop a broad transnational movement which was critical to his success and survival.


Repression and continued occupation also contributed to non-violent resistance. McPherson discusses both cultural and political opposition in all three counties.  His chapter on the “Cultures of Resistance” is short but very wide-ranging. The U.S. occupations did propose a number of changes in local cultures and institutions but generally failed. “Race, religion, education, and other cultural forms proved highly resistant to change during the occupations, partly because occupiers were not intent on deep cultural change and mostly because the invaded wanted next to none” (130).


In the chapter on the “Politics of Resistance”, McPherson notes that the occupations “aimed reforms far more directly at politics” (131). These reforms were supposed to create strong central governments and end political corruption and incompetence at all levels. Particularly those members of the urban elites who were afraid of losing their control of politics opposed these changes. Furthermore, McPherson claims that this opposition-expressed nationalism was merely rhetoric to protect the elite’s economic and political interests.  “Political resistance, large and small, was the heart of the anti-occupation phenomenon”  (131). Because of this resistance, here again, the efforts of the invaders generally failed.


In an important contribution to the historiography of these events, McPherson goes beyond the local reactions and presents the development of transnational movements to oppose the U.S. occupations.  He does an excellent job in describing the development of ties between local resistance leaders in each of the three countries and forces, especially within the United States, that were mobilized to oppose U.S. policies. There was a wide range of anti-imperialist activists which included organizations as diverse as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the communist led All-America Anti-Imperialist League (AAAIL). Anti-imperialists included some within the U.S. Congress, where there was “a significant minority of anti-occupation voices . . .” (204).  These movements greatly contributed to the pressures that ended the occupations.           


The Invaded by being a comparative study paints a broad picture at times.  Those whose research is more focused on one of the countries will find occasional points to criticize.  Since my field of study is Nicaragua, I will raise several questions about McPherson’s assertions specific to that country.  First, the author suggests that Nicaraguan politics was a continuation of nineteenth-century personalist, or caudillo, politics where “nation-state formation remained embryonic.” (13)  Accordingly, the Liberal and Conservative parties were non-ideological and were local to national chains of patron/client relationships. While this is true, state formation and centralization was underway during the presidency of Jose Santos Zelaya (1893-1909) and was disrupted by the U.S. intervention that forced Zelaya from office. (A fact that McPherson very briefly acknowledges on page 143.)  Thus in Nicaragua, caudillismo and political instability were re-invigorated by the United States activities.


Second, McPherson states that Nicaragua was occupied by U.S. forces from 1912-1925.  However, he admits that in this time period there were only 100 Marines based at the U.S. Embassy. Here I disagree with his definition of occupation.  Nicaragua had its own government that clearly accepted domination and direction from Washington, but to call it occupied might suggest that many countries around the global are still ‘occupied’ today.


Another general concern I have is McPherson’s discussion of the perceived need by the United States to change the political culture of the three countries.  While this is the focus of McPherson’s argument, it is not clear to me why Washington should be concerned with the weak central states and political instability in these countries specifically.  McPherson is correct in stating that U.S. businesses had very little money invested in any of these countries.  While there were some potential strategic concerns (i.e., the possibility of an interoceanic canal through Nicaragua, concerns about German influence in Haiti, etc.,) these do not explain occupation by themselves.


Then why occupation? For me the need to change the political culture was a tool towards a greater end, the creation of stable, pro-American governments. But again, why occupation? Here the answer is less clear to me. My own research suggests that the long-term occupations developed from the concept in Washington that once the United States intervened in a country, the outcome must be what U.S. leaders determined it should be.  No alternatives could be allowed because then the United States would appear weak in the eyes of its global competitors. Continued resistance by the occupied helped created the perceived need for repeated interventions and occupations.


Finally, I have a more general question as to why these countries were chosen for this study.  McPherson acknowledges that the United States did occupy other countries in the region, specifically Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, and Mexico, but states that the three that he examines were the “longest and most complex” (1).  I suggest that, while their histories are very different, the occupations of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama were at least as long and as complex. While authors clearly can choose their own subjects, a better explanation should have been given to readers in this case.


Despite what I feel are some minor criticisms, The Invaded is an important new contribution to both our understanding of U.S. foreign policies and the resistance to these policies. McPherson carefully examines both archival and secondary sources from all four countries in his quest to write a comprehensive overview of the occupiers and occupied. No other work examines these questions with McPherson’s clarity and complexity.


As stated at the beginning of this review, I enjoyed reading this book.  While clearly a scholarly work with 71 pages of endnotes, it is very well written and should be read by not only by historians but by the general public.  It will make an excellent textbook for the appropriate classes in U.S. foreign policy, modern Latin American history, and U.S.-Latin American relations.


In conclusion, The Invaded is valuable not only for its scholarly contributions but for its political analysis. Occupation creates resistance.  In today’s complicated world, what lessons can be learned from events of a century ago?  As McPherson notes, “The greatest lesson then is most likely that occupation is a folly to be avoided at all costs” (269).

U.S. interventions in the Circum-Caribbean during the early decades of the twentieth century have in recent years generated exciting new scholarship that explores the motivations and goals of the invaders.   Scholars such as Mary Renda and Michel Gobat have demonstrated how racism influenced the views and policies of American occupiers and have chronicled the occupiers’ attempts to establish political systems that would assure stable transfers of power between elite groups rather than create popular democracies.[7]  Alan McPherson takes a different and interesting approach, as he explores the responses of local populations to invasion and occupation, as well as examining the resistance movements that eventually pressured Washington to end these extended interventions.  


McPherson structures the work largely along chronological lines, tracing the initial reaction to the invasions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, subsequent responses to the realities of occupation, the American reform efforts that threatened local values and behaviors, and, finally, the resistance movements that helped speed American departures.  The central theme tying the chapters together is the author’s effort to uncover the forces that motivated both the initial reactions to invasion as well as longer-term resistance to the forced American presence.  He argues that the initial hostile reception of the invaders stemmed from the fears of national leaders that their power would be compromised as a result of the American presence.  The longer-term resistance derived from responses by local and regional leaders as well as popular forces to policies of the occupying forces that ran contrary to their interests, and rejection of the Americans’ disdainful attitudes toward the people and cultures that they encountered.  As for the sources of long-term resistance, one critical element was the unsuccessful attempt to alter the cultures of these invaded societies.  That failure in turn gave further encouragement to the Americans’ efforts at political reform.  Believing that the infighting and instability that frequently marked these nations’ political processes were the root of all the supposed evils that afflicted them, Washington reformers attempted to fashion political systems that would provide a legacy of stability after their departure.  That belief proved forlorn, for during and after the occupations local powerbrokers continued to engage in the practices that the Americans found so abhorrent. 


Aside from offering a perspective from the viewpoint of the invaded, McPherson’s principal contribution is his examination of the forces that drove the resistance to the American mission of occupation and reform.  He offers a wide array of factors that influenced the resistance, including the ambitions of local contenders for power and popular resistance to the brutality and discrimination that often marked the occupiers’ behavior. Most importantly, the author argues that for all the appeals to nationalism made by resistance leaders, nationalism played a very small role as a motivating force when compared to personal ambitions combined with political and region rivalries.  Given the considerable weight that scholars have long given to nationalism as a critical force in shaping the nineteenth- and twentieth-century histories of Latin American countries, this is an important and challenging conclusion. 


McPherson’s discussion of nationalism is bound to earn praise and criticism from other scholars, and at the very least it will cause those of us who have studied U.S. interventions in the region to rethink the importance of nationalism in popular resistance movements.  There is no doubt that the author has made a strong case for alternative causes of hostility toward American occupation, but part of that strength lies in a fairly narrow interpretation of what constitutes nationalism.  While offering no specific definition of popular nationalism, McPherson concludes that resistance leaders such as Haiti’s Charlemagne Péralte lacked nationalistic motivations for their movements.  He bases this conclusion primarily on their hostility toward, or failure to embrace, the concept of a centralized, modernizing state.  As the author also points out, with the exception of the Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto Sandino, the most prominent resistance leaders failed to articulate their conceptions of a nation state.  However, this failure does not necessarily mean that their beliefs and actions were devoid of nationalistic intent.  Latin American regional caudillos and their rural supporters often rejected centralizing states as tools of an exploitive oligarchy; and those elites in turn denounced the barbarism of popular forces.  As a result, it was not unusual for revolutionary nationalists such as Mexican insurgent leaders Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa to exhibit hostility toward the powers of the centralizing state.[8]  A more nuanced understanding of popular resistance and nationalism might reveal a more significant role for incipient nationalists, who, rather than defining themselves by embracing the concept of a centralizing state, focused instead on an emerging sense of a common identity and shared hostility toward a threatening foreign power.  In that same light, the study might have considered to what extent the occupations themselves contributed to the development of nationalism. 


Despite the limitations imposed by a rather narrow definition of popular nationalism, this is a deeply researched work that offers new insight into local reactions to U.S. occupation and challenges common assumptions about the role of nationalism in the Circum-Carribbean in the early twentieth century.  It will at the very least prompt scholars to reexamine the causes of resistance to the American mission in its overt interventionist phase.


Thanks to Dustin Walcher for putting together this roundtable, and especially to Jason Colby, Richard Grossman, and Thomas O’Brien for writing penetrating, thoughtful reviews. Their own work on U.S.-Latin American relations is among the best in the field and has inspired me to improve my research and writing. I am heartened that all three described with aplomb the purposes and arguments of The Invaded and also that, well, they enjoyed the book. 


That said, they do have criticisms. Colby is correct that the book could have benefited from maps. More background on U.S. intervention might also have helped, but I chose, largely for reasons of space, to limit that context to the introduction. The book was over its contractual word count, and what readers see is the result of shearing 50,000 words from an initial draft. That draft was also radically re-organized into The Invaded’s fourteen chapters after thorough readings from Oxford’s anonymous reviewers. In that reorganization, I did try to avoid breaks in the chronology, but some proved resilient. For those who want more about the occupations, I refer them to eight journal articles I published between 2006 and 2014, none of which repeats chapters from the book.[9] 


Colby also asks whether the U.S. military, which is “inherently undemocratic and authoritarian,” could ever have promoted democracy under occupation. It is unlikely, and part of the reason why these occupations failed. However, it has happened, namely in Germany and Japan, which confirms the importance of the willingness of peoples under occupation to change their political culture. More to the point, we should recall, as O’Brien does in his review, that “democracy” was not often the goal of these occupations. Washington would have welcomed U.S.-style democracy, but the marines more realistically wished for the end of revolutionary violence. When they said ‘self-government,’ they would have been content with a rule by elites who were in some way elected by at least a portion of the population, who did not raid the treasury, and who did not use violence to achieve political power. It is a set of minimal requirements to which the U.S. military in Iraq reduced its ambitions once again after years of quixotic efforts to produce ‘democracy.’


Grossman has more specific objections to my coverage of Nicaragua, which is not surprising since his dissertation and Michael Schroeder’s are arguably the most impressive feats of research on Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto Sandino ever produced.[10] Grossman is correct that I could have emphasized how U.S. intervention itself revived caudillismo in Nicaragua. It is also true that there may have been more centralization in pre-intervention in Nicaragua than in my other two case studies. My characterization of caudillismo applied to the region as a whole, and I maintain that the rule of caudillos remained an important political force before and after each occupation—the essential point. Grossman also would not characterize the “hundred-man” posting from 1912 to 1925 as an occupation. Fair enough; it certainly was neither a U.S. military dictatorship such as in the Dominican Republic nor a poorly disguised puppet show as in Haiti. But the marines in Managua, along with the U.S. legation, did intervene significantly in affairs of government, and they did so backed by the implicit threat that, if Managua did not comply, more marines would land, as they had in 1912 and would again in 1926. Therefore, Nicaragua presented key characteristics of an occupation that do not exist, for instance, in today’s Germany and South Korea, despite U.S. troops being stationed there.


Grossman also asks a searching question about the root cause of occupation and of the desire for changing political culture. There is no smoking-gun answer to that question. U.S. civilian and military officials expressed a host of motivations for occupation and political cultural change. As Grossman suggests, geopolitical ones were important for initial landings, but not for occupations. I also agree that “stable, pro-American governments” were desired. But I never found evidence of U.S. leaders arguing that, without occupation, “the United States would appear weak in the eyes of its global competitors.” Reasons of culture, political culture, and politics were more salient. Racism played a role, in that all U.S. policymakers had difficulty imagining responsible self-government in what they considered to be inferior peoples. Added to White-Man’s-Burden self-congratulations, feeling of racial superiority were enough to foster endlessness in occupations. In terms of political culture, marines, it seemed, felt that all societies under their tutelage should behave as hierarchically and as efficiently as the Marine Corps did. In comparison, one can only imagine the intensity of resistance if the marines had tried to control Chicago in the 1920s the way they did Latin American countries. Finally, the political cause was that the State Department largely let the marines handle post-landing issues, and the tendency of the marines was to imagine occupations that lasted two to three generations and to resist any encroachment from Washington.


Finally, in response to Grossman, I certainly could have chosen other occupations. The reasons I offer in the book for choosing the three I did were the most important, because longer and more complex occupations brought about longer and more complex resistance. Had I masochistically taken on a fourth case study, it would have been Cuba because of its resistance, but the Cuban occupations were many and shorter, and so creating a narrative arc would have been more challenging. I would encourage other scholars to study Puerto Rico and Panama and ask, instead, why there was relatively little resistance in those instances—especially the violent kind. 


As I expected, there is controversy around my argument that nationalism was a secondary concern for most who opposed the occupations. Colby writes that, “after reading this book, it is difficult to imagine calling the anti-U.S. resistance in this period ‘nationalist,’” while O’Brien argues that my definition of nationalist is too narrow because I see it as the embrace of “a centralized, modernizing state.” O’Brien’s characterization is half-correct. I do not think that nationalists needed to believe in modernization. But I do assume that centralization is a necessary component, at least the centralization of whatever “nationalists” consider their “nation.” If Mexico’s Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa opposed the centralizing elite oligarchy, that is admirable, but I would consider them nationalists only if they also called for unity among Mexicans. I also assume that nationalists harbor some altruistic feelings and that they call for nationals and not foreigners to control the reins of power. Anti-occupation activists and the historians who have chronicled them, unfortunately, have too often considered the latter as a sufficient condition for nationalism. This is largely because those who could write and disseminate their writings—journalists, editors, lawyers, politicians; in short, the educated bourgeoisie and a tiny minority in these countries—have left behind the most documents, and so historians have concluded that they formed the bulk of the resistance. Ordinary people under occupation, I hope I have demonstrated in this book, expressed a far more complex universe of motivations.


Again, thanks to everyone in this roundtable, and especially to Jason Colby for calling me ‘young.’



[2] Dana G. Munro, Intervention and Dollar Diplomacy in the Caribbean, 1900-1921 (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1964); idem., The United States and the Caribbean Republics, 1921-1933 (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1974); Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983); and Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Holt, 2006), The quotation refers to the title of Chapter 1.

[3] Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

[4] See, for example, Ivan Musicant, The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the Invasion of Panama (New York: Macmillan, 1990); and Lester D. Langley, The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934 (Lanham, MD: Scholarly Resources, 2002).

[5] Jason M. Colby, The Business of Empire: United Fruit, Race, and U.S. Expansion in Central America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011).

[6] Samuel Guy Inman, “Imperialistic America,” The Atlantic Monthly (July 1924): 107-116.

[7] Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Michel Gobat, Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua under U.S. Imperial Rule (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005)

[8] See for example, E. Bradford Burns, The Poverty of Progress: Latin America in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1980); John Mason Hart, Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1987). 

[9] “Herbert Hoover, Occupation Withdrawal, and the Good Neighbor Policy,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 44: 4 (December 2014): 623-639; “Lid Sitters and Prestige Seekers: The U.S. Navy v. the State Department and the End of US Occupations,” The Journal of Military History 78 (January 2014): 523-556; “Foreigners Under U.S. Occupations in the Caribbean,” The International History Review 35: 1 (March 2013): 100-120; “The Irony of Legal Pluralism in U.S. Occupations,” The American Historical Review 117: 4 (October 2012): 1149-1172; “Artful Resistances: Song, Literature, and the Representation of U.S. Occupations in Nicaragua and Hispaniola.” The Latin Americanist 56: 2 (June 2012): 93-117; “Joseph Jolibois Fils and the Flaws of Haitian Resistance to U.S. Occupation,” The Journal of Haitian Studies 16: 2 (fall 2010 (published 2011)): 120-147; “Personal Occupations: Women’s Responses to U.S. Military Occupations in Latin America,” The Historian 72: 3 (fall 2010): 568-598; “Una tercera perspectiva: Los europeos durante la ocupación militar norteamericana del 1916-1924,” Clío (Dominican Republic), 75: 172 (July-December 2006): 249-288.

[10] Michael J. Schroeder, “‘To Defend Our Nation’s Honor’: Toward a Social and Cultural History of the Sandino Rebellion in Nicaragua, 1927-1934” 2 vols. (PhD diss., The University of Michigan, 1993); Richard Grossman, “‘Hermanos en la Patria’: Nationalism, Honor and Rebellion: Augusto Sandino and the Army in Defense of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua, 1927-1934,” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1996).