[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

6691: review: U.S, Naval Mission to Haiti, 1959-1963. Review by , Robert Lawless

The U.S. Naval Mission to Haiti, 1959-1963.  CHARLES T. WILLIAMSON.
Annapolis MD:  Naval Institute Press, 1999.  xv + 395 pp.  (Cloth

Robert Lawless
Department of Anthropology
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas 67260-0052, U.S.A. 

        As I began reading this book, the images of the brutal occupation
of Haiti by its own army from September 1991 to September 1994 kept
creeping into my mind and producing this nagging question:  What were U.S.
policy makers, members of this Mission, and in particular Col. Robert D.
Heinl (head of the mission for most of its existence) think they were
doing by trying to improve the performance of the Haitian army when the
very probable use of an army in a country like Haiti would eventually be
to suppress its own people?  And I dont think Im guilt of hindsight; the
history and role of armies worldwide was quite clear at the time of the
        Williamson finally faces this question only on almost the last
page of the book when he writes, Finally, there is the oft-asked question,
Why did Haiti need an army?  The answer is simple.  Haiti did not need an
army (p. 355).  The Mission was, therefore, not only a failure in terms of
its own defined goals but was also simply a bad idea.  The Mission came
from a Duvalier request for military assistance, and the members of the
Mission initially and erroneously thought they would provide the Haitian
army with mobile tactical units, trained to use light modern weapons, and
capable of being integrated into a hemispheric defense force (p. 356).
        Williamson makes clear in Chapter One that the Mission was often
unable to discern what Duvalier really wanted.  It is certain that he
didnt want any competition to his power, but this is exactly what Heinl
came to see as his mission.  Williamson quotes a 1962 memo from Heinl
saying, Our policy of 1959, of trying to sustain and build up the Haitian
Armed Forces while Duvalier distrusts and downgrades them, is highly
realistic and is premised on the sound, long-term considerations that,
however troublesome Duvalier may be, he is mortal and therefore a
short-term problem, while the Haitian Armed Forces will remain as a
central focus of internal power in Haiti as long as the country exists....
They will dominate the selection of the junta or provisional president
that succeeds Duvalier (p. 198).  Heinl was incorrect in both of his
predications; in 1971 Duvaliers son succeeded him with no opposition from
the army, and under President JeanBertrand Aristide the Haitian army was
effectively abolished in 1995.  And most of the top officers in the
several incompetent and brutal regimes that ran the country in the years
subsequent to the fall of Duvalier in 1986 were in the Mission training
        In this same memo Heinl writes, The overriding requirement for
civil stability and freedom from disorder in Haiti can only be met through
the Haitian Armed Forces.  At this time the symbolic presence of even a
handful of Marines is a major prop to this stability, frail though it may
be (p. 215).  Ironically Haitians were able to get rid of the Duvaliers
only through civil disorder.  And the instability that Haiti experienced
after 1986 was created largely by its own army and the allies of this
        A major theme of United States for policy in the Caribbean is the
craving for sociopolitical stability.  U.S. policy-makers often
disconcertingly equate stability with the suppression of popular
discontent, reflecting their distrust of mobs.  Instructively the year
after the end of the Mission the United States with the administration of
President Lyndon B. Johnson implemented the so-called Mann Doctrine, which
virtually lifted all sanctions on military regimes.  By 1969 President
Richard Nixon had restored military assistance to the unsavory Duvalier
regime.  After the end of the Duvalier era and after the U.S.-trained
general Henri Namphy became chief of state the Reagan administration
almost doubled aid dollars to Haiti, including about $500,000 of riot
equipment.  The poor and powerless all suffered from the military's use of
that equipment.  The United States under the Bush administration continued
the strange notion of the Reagan administration that democracy could
flourish under a military dictatorship and viewed the simple mechanism of
an election as an elixir-as long as the "right" person was elected.
Unfortunately, in the view of U.S. policy-makers, the wrong person was
eventually elected and took office in 1991 in the person of Aristide, the
fiery priest and advocate for the poor.  He was, of course, overthrown by
the military.
        Williamsons story, however, is simply a straightforward,
chronological, detailed, abundantly readable account of the Mission.  A
retired Marine Corps officer, Williamson is well qualified to write this
history; he was a member of the Mission in the early years and privy to
most of the meetings between Colonel Heinl and the Haitian General Staff
(p. xi).  He makes excellent use of official documents and also of the
memoirs, diaries, and private papers, as well as magazine and newspapers
articles and the published works on Haiti.  He also interviewed many
members of the Mission.  Most of the book is an account of the
obstructions and frustrations met by the Mission, especially evident in
dealing with an unpredictable Haitian general staff that changed personnel
quite often.