Book Reviews


 

Overthrow

America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

by Stephen Kinzer

Review by Richard Sheppard

 

An informative if skewed summary of what the author almost universally describes as “unprovoked” American overseas adventures. From America’s annexation of the Hawaiian Islands in 1893, down through present-day Iraq, Mr. Kinzer offers event summaries with an over-arching theme of American running-dog imperialism. As the author generally and sometimes incorrectly presents these American smackdowns as bully-ish, he tends to portray interventions and their fallout as always inimical to American interests. A few, such as Vietnam obviously, were. Others weren’t, and some are debatable. The message repeats: America shouldn’t ever be in such-n-such country(s) in the first place, so tough luck that America ends up with egg smush on the national face. The book does offer bona-fide real world cautions and balance on the limits of American power, but Mr. Kinzer never finds any decent wins out there for the good ol’ USA. And America wouldn’t be waggling the Big Stick if there weren’t mostly wins. Even if the wins are sometimes sloppy.

As even an armchair first-striker like me admits, it’s not always the best option to throw weight and weapons around. Yet America’s long-standing safety and security, with the exception of Pearl Harbor and 9/11/01, speaks volumes about the desirability of diddling in other countries’ interests - before those dastardly interests become dangerously un-American. Before America becomes the country on the receiving end. When we consider the horror of 9/11/01, with people choosing between death by fire or jumping from windows (and choosing the latter), what American wants to be that receiving end? What’s the point of having the Big Stick if it can’t be carried and wielded?

Send in the Marines

Overall though, the book is well researched and includes policy details and personalities as successive American presidents “sent in the Marines,” usually with gusto, sometimes with spotty results. Tales abound of frantic cables, “men of action” couping up revolutions, and outright force-of-American-military-arms toppling governments good and bad alike. Although for Kinzer, even the truly bad governments have enough redeeming features so their demise still defines Yankee Imperialism run horribly amok worldwide. “Overthrows” are always a bad end when clearly they’re not..

A nuanced reading of Overthrow provides peppy recounts of American military adventures out in the bad wide world. You can always ignore the sermonizing “Pox America” tone and savor, at least while we can, being the nation that waggles the Big Stick and doesn’t submit to it. The author doesn’t make that distinction so you the reader might so choose.