Home > A Brief History of U.S. Interventions: 1945 to the Present
A Brief History of U.S. Interventions: 1945 to the Presentby Open-Publishing - Saturday 30 July 2005
by William Blum
The engine of American foreign policy has been fueled not
by a devotion to any kind of morality, but rather by the necessity
to serve other imperatives, which can be summarized as follows:
* making the world safe for American corporations;
* enhancing the financial statements of defense contractors
at home who have contributed generously to members of congress;
* preventing the rise of any society that might serve as a
successful example of an alternative to the capitalist model;
* extending political and economic hegemony over as wide an
area as possible, as befits a "great power."
This in the name of fighting a supposed moral crusade against
what cold warriors convinced themselves, and the American people,
was the existence of an evil International Communist Conspiracy,
which in fact never existed, evil or not.
The United States carried out extremely serious interventions
into more than 70 nations in this period.
Intervened in a civil war, taking the side of Chiang Kai-shek
against the Communists, even though the latter had been a much
closer ally of the United States in the world war. The U.S. used
defeated Japanese soldiers to fight for its side. The Communists
forced Chiang to flee to Taiwan in 1949.
Using every trick in the book, the U.S. interfered in the
elections to prevent the Communist Party from coming to power
legally and fairly. This perversion of democracy was done in the
name of "saving democracy" in Italy. The Communists
lost. For the next few decades, the CIA, along with American corporations,
continued to intervene in Italian elections, pouring in hundreds
of millions of dollars and much psychological warfare to block
the specter that was haunting Europe.
Intervened in a civil war, taking the side of the neo-fascists
against the Greek left which had fought the Nazis courageously.
The neo-fascists won and instituted a highly brutal regime, for
which the CIA created a new internal security agency, KYP. Before
long, KYP was carrying out all the endearing practices of secret
police everywhere, including systematic torture.
U.S. military fought against leftist forces (Huks) even while
the Huks were still fighting against the Japanese invaders. After
the war, the U. S. continued its fight against the Huks, defeating
them, and then installing a series of puppets as president, culminating
in the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
South Korea, 1945-53:
After World War II, the United States suppressed the popular
progressive forces in favor of the conservatives who had collaborated
with the Japanese. This led to a long era of corrupt, reactionary,
and brutal governments.
The U.S. and Britain tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the
communist government and install a new one that would have been
pro-Western and composed largely of monarchists and collaborators
with Italian fascists and Nazis.
The CIA orchestrated a wide-ranging campaign of sabotage,
terrorism, dirty tricks, and psychological warfare against East
Germany. This was one of the factors which led to the building
of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
Prime Minister Mossadegh was overthrown in a joint U.S./British
operation. Mossadegh had been elected to his position by a large
majority of parliament, but he had made the fateful mistake of
spearheading the movement to nationalize a British-owned oil company,
the sole oil company operating in Iran. The coup restored the
Shah to absolute power and began a period of 25 years of repression
and torture, with the oil industry being restored to foreign ownership,
as follows: Britain and the U.S., each 40 percent, other nations
A CIA-organized coup overthrew the democratically-elected
and progressive government of Jacobo Arbenz, initiating 40 years
of death-squads, torture, disappearances, mass executions, and
unimaginable cruelty, totaling well over 100,000 victims -indisputably
one of the most inhuman chapters of the 20th century. Arbenz had
nationalized the U.S. firm, United Fruit Company, which had extremely
close ties to the American power elite. As justification for the
coup, Washington declared that Guatemala had been on the verge
of a Soviet takeover, when in fact the Russians had so little
interest in the country that it didn’t even maintain diplomatic
relations. The real problem in the eyes of Washington, in addition
to United Fruit, was the danger of Guatemala’s social democracy
spreading to other countries in Latin America.
Middle East, 1956-58:
The Eisenhower Doctrine stated that the United States "is
prepared to use armed forces to assist" any Middle East country
"requesting assistance against armed aggression from any
country controlled by international communism." The English
translation of this was that no one would be allowed to dominate,
or have excessive influence over, the middle east and its oil
fields except the United States, and that anyone who tried would
be, by definition, "Communist." In keeping with this
policy, the United States twice attempted to overthrow the Syrian
government, staged several shows-of-force in the Mediterranean
to intimidate movements opposed to U.S.-supported governments
in Jordan and Lebanon, landed 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and conspired
to overthrow or assassinate Nasser of Egypt and his troublesome
Sukarno, like Nasser, was the kind of Third World leader the
United States could not abide. He took neutralism in the cold
war seriously, making trips to the Soviet Union and China (though
to the White House as well). He nationalized many private holdings
of the Dutch, the former colonial power. He refused to crack down
on the Indonesian Communist Party, which was walking the legal,
peaceful road and making impressive gains electorally. Such policies
could easily give other Third World leaders "wrong ideas."
The CIA began throwing money into the elections, plotted Sukarno’s
assassination, tried to blackmail him with a phony sex film, and
joined forces with dissident military officers to wage a full-scale
war against the government. Sukarno survived it all.
British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64:
For 11 years, two of the oldest democracies in the world,
Great Britain and the United States, went to great lengths to
prevent a democratically elected leader from occupying his office.
Cheddi Jagan was another Third World leader who tried to remain
neutral and independent. He was elected three times. Although
a leftist-more so than Sukarno or Arbenz-his policies in office
were not revolutionary. But he was still a marked man, for he
represented Washington’s greatest fear: building a society that
might be a successful example of an alternative to the capitalist
model. Using a wide variety of tactics-from general strikes and
disinformation to terrorism and British legalisms, the U. S. and
Britain finally forced Jagan out in 1964. John F. Kennedy had
given a direct order for his ouster, as, presumably, had Eisenhower.
One of the better-off countries in the region under Jagan,
Guyana, by the 1980s, was one of the poorest. Its principal export
The slippery slope began with siding with French, the former
colonizers and collaborators with the Japanese, against Ho Chi
Minh and his followers who had worked closely with the Allied
war effort and admired all things American. Ho Chi Minh was, after
all, some kind of Communist. He had written numerous letters to
President Truman and the State Department asking for America’s
help in winning Vietnamese independence from the French and finding
a peaceful solution for his country. All his entreaties were ignored.
Ho Chi Minh modeled the new Vietnamese declaration of independence
on the American, beginning it with "All men are created equal.
They are endowed by their Creator with ..." But this would
count for nothing in Washington. Ho Chi Minh was some kind of
Twenty-three years and more than a million dead, later, the
United States withdrew its military forces from Vietnam. Most
people say that the U.S. lost the war. But by destroying Vietnam
to its core, and poisoning the earth and the gene pool for generations,
Washington had achieved its main purpose: preventing what might
have been the rise of a good development option for Asia. Ho Chi
Minh was, after all, some kind of communist.
Prince Sihanouk was yet another leader who did not fancy being
an American client. After many years of hostility towards his
regime, including assassination plots and the infamous Nixon/Kissinger
secret "carpet bombings" of 1969-70, Washington finally
overthrew Sihanouk in a coup in 1970. This was all that was needed
to impel Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge forces to enter the fray.
Five years later, they took power. But five years of American
bombing had caused Cambodia’s traditional economy to vanish. The
old Cambodia had been destroyed forever.
Incredibly, the Khmer Rouge were to inflict even greater misery
on this unhappy land. To add to the irony, the United States supported
Pol Pot, militarily and diplomatically, after their subsequent
defeat by the Vietnamese.
The Congo/Zaire, 1960-65:
In June 1960, Patrice Lumumba became the Congo’s first prime
minister after independence from Belgium. But Belgium retained
its vast mineral wealth in Katanga province, prominent Eisenhower
administration officials had financial ties to the same wealth,
and Lumumba, at Independence Day ceremonies before a host of foreign
dignitaries, called for the nation’s economic as well as its political
liberation, and recounted a list of injustices against the natives
by the white owners of the country. The man was obviously a "Communist."
The poor man was obviously doomed.
Eleven days later, Katanga province seceded, in September,
Lumumba was dismissed by the president at the instigation of the
United States, and in January 1961 he was assassinated at the
express request of Dwight Eisenhower. There followed several years
of civil conflict and chaos and the rise to power of Mobutu Sese
Seko, a man not a stranger to the CIA. Mobutu went on to rule
the country for more than 30 years, with a level of corruption
and cruelty that shocked even his CIA handlers. The Zairian people
lived in abject poverty despite the plentiful natural wealth,
while Mobutu became a multibillionaire.
President Joao Goulart was guilty of the usual crimes: He
took an independent stand in foreign policy, resuming relations
with socialist countries and opposing sanctions against Cuba;
his administration passed a law limiting the amount of profits
multinationals could transmit outside the country; a subsidiary
of ITT was nationalized; he promoted economic and social reforms.
And Attorney-General Robert Kennedy was uneasy about Goulart allowing
"communists" to hold positions in government agencies.
Yet the man was no radical. He was a millionaire land-owner and
a Catholic who wore a medal of the Virgin around his neck. That,
however, was not enough to save him. In 1964, he was overthrown
in a military coup which had deep, covert American involvement.
The official Washington line was...yes, it’s unfortunate that
democracy has been overthrown in Brazil...but, still, the country
has been saved from communism.
For the next 15 years, all the features of military dictatorship
that Latin America has come to know were instituted: Congress
was shut down, political opposition was reduced to virtual extinction,
habeas corpus for "political crimes" was suspended,
criticism of the president was forbidden by law, labor unions
were taken over by government interveners, mounting protests were
met by police and military firing into crowds, peasants’ homes
were burned down, priests were brutalized...disappearances, death
squads, a remarkable degree and depravity of torture...the government
had a name for its program: the "moral rehabilitation"
Washington was very pleased. Brazil broke relations with Cuba
and became one of the United States’ most reliable allies in Latin
Dominican Republic, 1963-66:
In February 1963, Juan Bosch took office as the first democratically
elected president of the Dominican Republic since 1924. Here at
last was John F. Kennedy’s liberal anti-Communist, to counter
the charge that the U.S. supported only military dictatorships.
Bosch’s government was to be the long sought " showcase of
democracy " that would put the lie to Fidel Castro. He was
given the grand treatment in Washington shortly before he took
Bosch was true to his beliefs. He called for land reform,
low-rent housing, modest nationalization of business, and foreign
investment provided it was not excessively exploitative of the
country and other policies making up the program of any liberal
Third World leader serious about social change. He was likewise
serious about civil liberties: Communists, or those labeled as
such, were not to be persecuted unless they actually violated
A number of American officials and congresspeople expressed
their discomfort with Bosch’s plans, as well as his stance of
independence from the United States. Land reform and nationalization
are always touchy issues in Washington, the stuff that "creeping
socialism" is made of. In several quarters of the U.S. press
Bosch was red-baited.
In September, the military boots marched. Bosch was out. The
United States, which could discourage a military coup in Latin
America with a frown, did nothing.
Nineteen months later, a revolt broke out which promised to
put the exiled Bosch back into power. The United States sent 23,000
troops to help crush it.
Cuba, 1959 to present:
Fidel Castro came to power at the beginning of 1959. A U.S.
National Security Council meeting of March 10, 1959 included on
its agenda the feasibility of bringing "another government
to power in Cuba." There followed 40 years of terrorist attacks,
bombings, full-scale military invasion, sanctions, embargoes,
isolation, assassinations...Cuba had carried out The Unforgivable
Revolution, a very serious threat of setting a "good example"
in Latin America.
The saddest part of this is that the world will never know
what kind of society Cuba could have produced if left alone, if
not constantly under the gun and the threat of invasion, if allowed
to relax its control at home. The idealism, the vision, the talent
were all there. But we’ll never know. And that of course was the
A complex series of events, involving a supposed coup attempt,
a counter-coup, and perhaps a counter-counter-coup, with American
fingerprints apparent at various points, resulted in the ouster
from power of Sukarno and his replacement by a military coup led
by General Suharto. The massacre that began immediately-of Communists,
Communist sympathizers, suspected Communists, suspected Communist
sympathizers, and none of the above-was called by the New York
Times "one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political
history." The estimates of the number killed in the course
of a few years begin at half a million and go above a million.
It was later learned that the U.S. embassy had compiled lists
of "Communist" operatives, from top echelons down to
village cadres, as many as 5,000 names, and turned them over to
the army, which then hunted those persons down and killed them.
The Americans would then check off the names of those who had
been killed or captured. "It really was a big help to the
army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have
a lot of blood on my hands," said one U.S. diplomat. "But
that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard
at a decisive moment. "
Salvador Allende was the worst possible scenario for a Washington
imperialist. He could imagine only one thing worse than a Marxist
in power-an elected Marxist in power, who honored the constitution,
and became increasingly popular. This shook the very foundation
stones on which the anti-Communist tower was built: the doctrine,
painstakingly cultivated for decades, that "communists"
can take power only through force and deception, that they can
retain that power only through terrorizing and brainwashing the
After sabotaging Allende’s electoral endeavor in 1964, and
failing to do so in 1970, despite their best efforts, the CIA
and the rest of the American foreign policy machine left no stone
unturned in their attempt to destabilize the Allende government
over the next three years, paying particular attention to building
up military hostility. Finally, in September 1973, the military
overthrew the government, Allende dying in the process.
They closed the country to the outside world for a week, while
the tanks rolled and the soldiers broke down doors; the stadiums
rang with the sounds of execution and the bodies piled up along
the streets and floated in the river; the torture centers opened
for business; the subversive books were thrown into bonfires;
soldiers slit the trouser legs of women, shouting that "In
Chile women wear dresses!"; the poor returned to their natural
state; and the men of the world in Washington and in the halls
of international finance opened up their check- books. In the
end, more than 3,000 had been executed, thousands more tortured
The military coup took place in April 1967, just two days
before the campaign for j national elections was to begin, elections
which appeared certain to bring the veteran liberal leader George
Papandreou back as prime minister. Papandreou had been elected
in February 1964 with the only outright majority in the history
of modern Greek elections. The successful machinations to unseat
him had begun immediately, a joint effort of the Royal Court,
the Greek military, and the American military and CIA stationed
in Greece. The 1967 coup was followed immediately by the traditional
martial law, censorship, arrests, beatings, torture, and killings,
the victims totaling some 8,000 in the first month. This was accompanied
by the equally traditional declaration that this was all being
done to save the nation from a "Communist takeover."
Corrupting and subversive influences in Greek life were to be
removed. Among these were miniskirts, long hair, and foreign newspapers;
church attendance for the young would be compulsory.
It was torture, however, which most indelibly marked the seven-year
Greek nightmare. James Becket, an American attorney sent to Greece
by Amnesty International, wrote in December 1969 that "a
conservative estimate would place at not less than two thousand"
the number of people tortured, usually in the most gruesome of
ways, often with equipment supplied by the United States.
Becket reported the following: Hundreds of prisoners have
listened to the little speech given by Inspector Basil Lambrou,
who sits behind his desk which displays the red, white, and blue
clasped-hand symbol of American aid. He tries to show the prisoner
the absolute futility of resistance: "You make yourself ridiculous
by thinking you can do anything. The world is divided in two.
There are the communists on that side and on this side the free
world. The Russians and the Americans, no one else. What are we?
Americans. Behind me there is the government, behind the government
is NATO, behind NATO is the U.S. You can’t fight us, we are Americans."
George Papandreou was not any kind of radical. He was a liberal
anti-Communist type. But his son Andreas, the heir-apparent, while
only a little to the left of his father had not disguised his
wish to take Greece out of the Cold War, and had questioned remaining
in NATO, or at least as a satellite of the United States.
East Timor, 1975 to present:
In December 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, which lies
at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, and which had
proclaimed its independence after Portugal had relinquished control
of it. The invasion was launched the day after U. S. President
Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had left Indonesia
after giving Suharto permission to use American arms, which, under
U.S. Iaw, could not be used for aggression. Indonesia was Washington’s
most valuable tool in Southeast Asia.
Amnesty International estimated that by 1989, Indonesian troops,
with the aim of forcibly annexing East Timor, had killed 200,000
people out of a population of between 600,000 and 700,000. The
United States consistently supported Indonesia’s claim to East
Timor (unlike the UN and the EU), and downplayed the slaughter
to a remarkable degree, at the same time supplying Indonesia with
all the military hardware and training it needed to carry out
When the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in
1978, it was clear to Washington that they might well be that
long-dreaded beast-"another Cuba." Under President Carter,
attempts to sabotage the revolution took diplomatic and economic
forms. Under Reagan, violence was the method of choice. For eight
terribly long years, the people of Nicaragua were under attack
by Washington’s proxy army, the Contras, formed from Somoza’s
vicious National Guard and other supporters of the dictator. It
was all-out war, aiming to destroy the progressive social and
economic programs of the government, burning down schools and
medical clinics, raping, torturing, mining harbors, bombing and
strafing. These were Ronald Reagan’s "freedom fighters."
There would be no revolution in Nicaragua.
What would drive the most powerful nation in the world to
invade a country of 110,000? Maurice Bishop and his followers
had taken power in a 1979 coup, and though their actual policies
were not as revolutionary as Castro’s, Washington was again driven
by its fear of "another Cuba," particularly when public
appearances by the Grenadian leaders in other countries of the
region met with great enthusiasm.
U. S. destabilization tactics against the Bishop government
began soon after the coup and continued until 1983, featuring
numerous acts of disinformation and dirty tricks. The American
invasion in October 1983 met minimal resistance, although the
U.S. suffered 135 killed or wounded; there were also some 400
Grenadian casualties, and 84 Cubans, mainly construction workers.
At the end of 1984, a questionable election was held which
was won by a man supported by the Reagan administration. One year
later, the human rights organization, Council on Hemispheric Affairs,
reported that Grenada’s new U.S.-trained police force and counter-insurgency
forces had acquired a reputation for brutality, arbitrary arrest,
and abuse of authority, and were eroding civil rights.
In April 1989, the government issued a list of more than 80
books which were prohibited from being imported. Four months later,
the prime minister suspended parliament to forestall a threatened
no-confidence vote resulting from what his critics called "an
increasingly authoritarian style."
Libya refused to be a proper Middle East client state of Washington.
Its leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, was uppity. He would have to be
punished. U.S. planes shot down two Libyan planes in what Libya
regarded as its air space. The U. S . also dropped bombs on the
country, killing at least 40 people, including Qaddafi’s daughter.
There were other attempts to assassinate the man, operations to
overthrow him, a major disinformation campaign, economic sanctions,
and blaming Libya for being behind the Pan Am 103 bombing without
any good evidence.
Washington’s bombers strike again. December 1989, a large
tenement barrio in Panama City wiped out, 15,000 people left homeless.
Counting several days of ground fighting against Panamanian forces,
500-something dead was the official body count, what the U.S.
and the new U.S.-installed Panamanian government admitted to;
other sources, with no less evidence, insisted that thousands
had died; 3,000-something wounded. Twenty-three Americans dead,
Question from reporter: "Was it really worth it to send
people to their death for this? To get Noriega?"
George Bush: "Every human life is precious, and yet I
have to answer, yes, it has been worth it."
Manuel Noriega had been an American ally and informant for
years until he outlived his usefulness. But getting him was not
the only motive for the attack. Bush wanted to send a clear message
to the people of Nicaragua, who had an election scheduled in two
months, that this might be their fate if they reelected the Sandinistas.
Bush also wanted to flex some military muscle to illustrate to
Congress the need for a large combat-ready force even after the
very recent dissolution of the "Soviet threat." The
official explanation for the American ouster was Noriega’s drug
trafficking, which Washington had known about for years and had
not been at all bothered by.
Relentless bombing for more than 40 days and nights, against
one of the most advanced nations in the Middle East, devastating
its ancient and modern capital city; 177 million pounds of bombs
falling on the people of Iraq, the most concentrated aerial onslaught
in the history of the world; depleted uranium weapons incinerating
people, causing cancer; blasting chemical and biological weapon
storage and oil facilities; poisoning the atmosphere to a degree
perhaps never matched anywhere; burying soldiers alive, deliberately;
the infrastructure destroyed, with a terrible effect on health;
sanctions continued to this day multiplying the health problems;
perhaps a million children dead by now from all of these things,
even more adults.
Iraq was the strongest military power among the Arab states.
This may have been their crime. Noam Chomsky has written: "It’s
been a leading, driving doctrine of U.S. foreign policy since
the 1940s that the vast and unparalleled energy resources of the
Gulf region will be effectively dominated by the United States
and its clients, and, crucially, that no independent, indigenous
force will be permitted to have a substantial influence on the
administration of oil production and price. "
Everyone knows of the unbelievable repression of women in
Afghanistan, carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, even before
the Taliban. But how many people know that during the late 1970s
and most of the 1980s, Afghanistan had a government committed
to bringing the incredibly backward nation into the 20th century,
including giving women equal rights? What happened, however, is
that the United States poured billions of dollars into waging
a terrible war against this government, simply because it was
supported by the Soviet Union. Prior to this, CIA operations had
knowingly increased the probability of a Soviet intervention,
which is what occurred. In the end, the United States won, and
the women, and the rest of Afghanistan, lost. More than a million
dead, three million disabled, five million refugees, in total
about half the population.
El Salvador, 1980-92:
El Salvador’s dissidents tried to work within the system.
But with U.S. support, the government made that impossible, using
repeated electoral fraud and murdering hundreds of protesters
and strikers. In 1980, the dissidents took to the gun, and civil
Officially, the U.S. military presence in El Salvador was
limited to an advisory capacity. In actuality, military and CIA
personnel played a more active role on a continuous basis. About
20 Americans were killed or wounded in helicopter and plane crashes
while flying reconnaissance or other missions over combat areas,
and considerable evidence surfaced of a U.S. role in the ground
fighting as well. The war came to an official end in 1992; 75,000
civilian deaths and the U.S. Treasury depleted by six billion
dollars. Meaningful social change has been largely thwarted. A
handful of the wealthy still own the country, the poor remain
as ever, and dissidents still have to fear right-wing death squads.
The U.S. supported the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30
years, then opposed the reformist priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Meanwhile, the CIA was working intimately with death squads, torturers,
and drug traffickers. With this as background, the Clinton White
House found itself in the awkward position of having to pretend-because
of all their rhetoric about "democracy"-that they supported
Aristide’s return to power in Haiti after he had been ousted in
a 1991 military coup. After delaying his return for more than
two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide
to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that
he would not help the poor at the expense of the rich, and that
he would stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that
Haiti would continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere,
with its workers receiving literally starvation wages.
The United States is bombing the country back to a pre-industrial
era. It would like the world to believe that its intervention
is motivated only by "humanitarian" impulses. Perhaps
the above history of U.S. interventions can help one decide how
much weight to place on this claim.
William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: US Military and
CIA Interventions Since World War II. Portions of the book can
be read at: http://members.aol.com/bblum6/American_holocaust.htm