Reviewed 10/15/2005

War Made Easy, by Norman Solomon

How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death
Norman Solomon
New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2005




ISBN-13 978-0-471-69479-3
ISBN 0-471-69479-7 314p. HC $24.95

Memory. George Santayana's oft-quoted comment aptly expresses the truism that memory is important. Norman Solomon, founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, here examines recent cases where Santayana's dictum was apparently overlooked and the lessons of history were not heeded — the most recent being the invasion of Iraq begun by George W. Bush.

In his Prologue, Building Agendas for War, Solomon presents a history of the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. That was a land where, in 1962, Juan Bosch received two-thirds of the popular vote, replacing the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Within 7 months, Bosch had been ousted by a military coup. When in 1965 it looked like a popular uprising was about to sweep him back into power, Lyndon Johnson — acting on evidence as thin as foolscap — sent in 20,000 Marines to support the military junta. This invasion was sold to the public as necessary to protect American lives (but virtually all of the 2,000 Americans present had already been evacuated by the U.S. Navy) and to thwart the uprising which had been taken over by Communists. This disinformation1 was successful in selling Johnson's War to most of the American public. Only a few critics: Robert Kennedy, the New York Times, and protestors like the late Phil Ochs are on record as objecting. Joaquin Balaguer, Trujillo's vice president, was inserted as leader of the Dominican Republic by the occupying forces. Living in exile in New York City, Balaguer had advised Johnson during the invasion. The net result, Solomon reports, was that "For the next few decades, in and out of office, Balaguer thrived while Dominican society as a whole sank further into dire poverty."

In short, our invasion of the Dominican Republic was not needed, approval for it was gained by duplicity, and it supported a tyrannical government.

Solomon's Prologue compares these events of Johnson's "incursion" in the Dominican Republic to more recent ones — including the war in Iraq, which should be fresh in your mind.

Now, do you remember Ahmed Chalabi? How about the informer code-named Curveball?

Solomon's purpose in writing this book is to analyze the techniques used to bring the public around to supporting a war that the president, for whatever purpose, wants to wage. As he expresses it:

Intense public controversy may precede the onset of warfare, but the modern historical record is clear: No matter what the Constitution says, in actual practice the president has the whip hand when it comes to military deployments—and if a president really wants a war, he'll get one. That can hardly be said about passage of landmark domestic legislation.

– Page 9

Solomon's Prologue also discusses two other actions from the shameful U.S. history in Central America and the Caribbean2 — Panama and Grenada. But this emphasis on what happened is merely illustrative; Solomon's objective is to open our eyes to how such "realpolitik" interventions are sold to the public. And, as the Table of Contents shows, he covers a variety of justifications and rationalizations.

The book is thorough: thoroughly researched, thoroughly annotated, thoroughly indexed. It is dense with citations and quotations, written in relatively long, complex sentences with a somewhat dry tone. This may make it hard going for many readers. I recommend it as an important contribution to the ongoing debate about international relations in the 21st century.

1 In this case, the U.S. State Department went so far as to ask its ambassador on the scene, since the Junta's original request for aid hadn't mentioned saving lives, to suggest they send another one that did. And evidence for the claim that leftist fighters trained in Cuba had joined the insurgency was described by reporters of that time as extremely flimsy. A few weeks later, U.S. pressure led the OAS to endorse American intervention (contrary to the OAS charter) and commit peacekeeping troops. Most of the troops came from Brazil, where another democratically elected government had been overthrown with U.S. assistance. Outrage!
2 It is a record replete with supportive relationships with one dictator and right-wing assassin after another: Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Manuel Noriega of Panama, Maximiliano Martinez and later Alfredo Cristiani (puppet to death-squad leader Roberto D'Aubisson) of El Salvador, Efrain Rios Mont of Guatemala, Roberto Suazo Cordova of Honduras, Francois & Jean Claude Duvalier of Haiti, Anastasio Somoza, Sr. & Jr. of Nicauragua, in addition to Trujillo. And this omits the rest of the world; see the Index to Friendly Dictator Trading Cards. Such "authoritarian" leaders can be supported for decades in the name of stability, then removed overnight when their presence becomes inconvenient.
3 The U.S. invasion of Panama to remove Manuel Noriega was condemned by the OAS 20 nations to 6. But the English translation of the proclamation allowed for some favorable spin. Where the Spanish version said "deeply deplore", the English version had the weaker "deeply regret" — and regret was what the U.S. media reported. Also, the claim by Colonel Snell that a large stash of cocaine had been found in Noriega's quarters made headlines. However, when the story of the true nature of this material — tamales wrapped in banana leaves — broke 32 days later, the correction was little noticed.
Valid CSS! Valid HTML 4.01 Strict To contact Chris Winter, send email to this address.
Copyright © 2005-2014 Christopher P. Winter. All rights reserved.
This page was last modified on 10 June 2014.