By Bob Shacochis
September 22, 1999
New York: Viking Press, 1999. xxi + 404 pp. $27.95, cloth.
Reviewed by Robert Lawless
Department of Anthropology
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas 67260-0052, U.S.A.
Shacochis is a terrific writer, and this book is fun to read. I'm not sure, however, how much of it should be taken seriously. It isn't the book of a scholar, and it has no documentation. The story is, of course, more about Shacochis in Haiti than about Haiti itself. Secondarily it is about the Americans in Haiti who came with the September 1994 pseudo-invasion and occupation that were supposed to restore democracy. Haitians themselves appear as a supporting cast-often in mobs, unruly and comic.
A great deal of the book contains the hyperbolic prose and the imagined conversations that can only come from a fiction writer. Those who already know something about Haiti will probably want to skip most of it. It is clearly worth reading, however, for the parts based on Shacochis's time spent with a U.S. Special Forces unit in LimbE9, which begin on page 163.
In general Shacochis's impressions of the American operation in Haiti are correct. In Port-au-Prince, for example, it was obvious that the U.S. military was there 93to protect the well-heeled elites up on the mountainside from the wrath of a million poor people in the slums below, whom the troops had ostensibly come to liberate (p. 134). In the countryside units such as the one in LimbE9 had little idea of what they were supposed to do and little guidance from their rule-driven military superiors.
Clearly -as Shacochis states- the publicly-stated U.S. mission to maintain democracy was frustrated by anti-democratic elements within the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. embassy in Haiti, the CIA, and the U.S. and Haitian military. Particularly upsetting to Shacochis -and to most Haitians- was the U.S. support for FRAPH (Front pour l'Avancement et le Progres d'Haiti) as a legitimate opposition party when it was actually a Haitian-army supported group of thugs who terrorized proponents of democracy.
Shacochis's political analysis is, however, not terribly sophisticated, and, again, I suggest that the book be read as a superbly crafted first-hand, ground-level account of soldiers in a new era of soldiering that the military calls Operations Other Than War.
Robert Lawless Wichita State University
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