I finished Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer last night. I like reading nonfiction books when I have the time and the brain capacity, and I wasn’t disappointed by this one. I disliked how I felt so disgusted with my country while reading it, but the actual book, I liked.
Here’s the description of the book off of Goodreads:
“Regime change” did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush, but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the toppling of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the United States has not hesitated to overthrow governments that stood in the way of its political and economic goals. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is but the latest example of the dangers inherent in these operations.
In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells the stories of the audacious politicians, spies, military commanders, and business executives who took it upon themselves to depose foreign regimes. He details the three eras of America’s regime-change century–the imperial era, which brought Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras under America’s sway; the cold war era, which employed covert action against Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, and Chile; and the invasion era, which saw American troops toppling governments in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Kinzer explains why the U.S. government has pursued these operations and why so many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences, making Overthrow a cautionary tale that serves as an urgent warning as the United States seeks to define its role in the modern world.
I had the opportunity to meet Kinzer when I was in college. I was a journalism student at the time, and it was really cool to meet a journalist who had covered so much in so many places. (He has covered stories on five different continents, and was the NY Times Bureau Chief in Istanbul, Turkey.)
While I won’t go into details (it would be a REALLY long blog post if I did!) suffice it to say that I finished this book with the sense that we, as citizens of the United States of America, need to study our history. While I know we aren’t a very old country, like many of the countries of Europe or like China, we have a sort of ADD when it comes to things that have happened in the past. What’s happening now is the only thing we know about, and even then we don’t know much. Once something else catches our attention, we forget what we were doing before.
If we (or more accurately, our leaders) had studied some history and knew what happened in the past, we might have been able to avoid some of these problems we’re facing today. Kinzer makes the strong point that, had we not gotten involved in (or been smarter about how we were involved in) kicking the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the attacks on 9/11 might never have happened. (Obviously, there were other factors, but we contributed.)
This was a very good read, and anyone interested in how the U.S. has interfered in other countries, and probably hurt our safety rather than strengthening it, should check out this book or some of Kinzer’s other books.