Places you Did Not Know the United States Invaded

The United States has a reputation for invading other countries. However, the list of countries America has invaded is small when compared to Britain.

To be fair, the British have been invading countries for over 300 years. The USA has only been in the invasion business for around 120 years. On the other hand, the United States has invaded a few places most Americans are unaware of.

Some countries you did not know the United States invaded include:

Haiti

The United States occupied the second-oldest republic in the New World, Haiti, for 19 years from 1915 until 1934.

President Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) ordered the invasion of Haiti after the assassination of dictator President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in July 1915. One of Wilson’s fears was that the Germans were planning to establish a base in Haiti.

There were around 200 Germans in Haiti who played a disproportionate role in the country’s economy. However, US forces stayed in Haiti after Germany’s defeat in World War I.

Only one Haitian soldier Pierre Sully fought the US Marines who landed on 28 July 1915. Marines killed Sully while the rest of the Haitian army surrendered or ran away.

US Marines fought a Guerrilla war against Haitian insurgents called cacos. Many Haitians resented the occupation because American troops forced men to labor on infrastructure projects.

One motivation for the occupation was racism. Haiti is a black country, and President Wilson was a notorious racist. Many white American officers treated Haitians poorly.

Strangely, the best known American hero of the Haitian invasion US Marine General Smedley Butler became its most famous critic. After retirement, Butler wrote a book called War is a Racket in which he condemned imperialism. Butler even compared his role in Haiti to that of a gangster.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York) ended the US occupation of Haiti in 1934 because he considered the operation a waste of money.

The Dominican Republic 1916

US Marines landed in Haiti’s neighbor the Dominican Republic in May 1916 to protect American and Haitian diplomats.

As in Haiti, the Dominican army did not fight the invasion, but insurgents did. However, the Dominican resistance was no match for the heavily armed Marines who had artillery.

As in Haiti, a guerrilla movement fought the Marines. However, the guerrillas had no source of modern weapons or training which kept them from driving out the Americans.

One result of the occupation was the organization and training of a modern military; the Dominican Constabulary Guard by the Marines. After US forces withdrew, the Constabulary Guard became the most powerful force in the Dominican Republic.

The Marines withdrew after pro-American politician Horacio Vásquez Lajara won the 1924 Dominican presidential election. However, the US operated the Dominican Republic’s customs service until 1941.

The Dominican Republic 1965

On 28 April 1965, 42,000 US troops invaded the Dominican Republic again.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Texas) ordered the invasion because he was afraid that Communist-sympathizer Juan Bosch was about to return to the Dominican Republic’s presidency. Bosch’s followers staged a successful coup against President Donald Reid Cabral, an American ally. Johnson feared that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and his ally the Soviet Union were behind Bosch’s coup.

Johnson was not about to repeat the mistake of his predecessor John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) who had invaded Cuba with CIA agents, mercenaries, and amateur rebels. Kennedy’s invasion failed at the Bay of Pigs, paving the way for Soviet troops to land in Cuba.

The 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic was one of the most elaborate in American history. Unlike earlier US invasions in the Caribbean, the Army, not the Marines, led the way. The units involved in the invasion included the 82nd Airborne Division.

After the invasion, US forces turned the occupation of the Dominican Republic over to an “Inter-American Peace Force” commanded by Brazilian General Hugo Panasco Alvim. Alvim’s force included American, Brazilian, Paraguayan, Nicaraguan, Costa Rican, Salvadoran and Honduran troops. US troops began withdrawing on 26 May 1965. The Inter-American Peace Force left in September 1966.

Nicaragua

The 1912 to 1933 US occupation of Nicaragua was the most famous of the Banana Wars. During the Banana Wars, several US companies fought to control the lucrative banana trade in Central America.

The US Navy intervened in Nicaragua in 1909 after government troops executed two Americans accused of helping rebels. Marines, commanded by Major Smedley Butler, landed in 1910 to secure Bluefields, a port used by US banana companies.

In 1912, US President William Howard Taft (R-Ohio) ordered a large intervention in Nicaragua to counter European (German) influence in the country. In reality, Taft was trying to stop German or British companies from seizing America’s banana farms.

One result of the 1912 occupation was the ratification of the Knox-Castrillo Treaty of 1911 by the US Senate. The  Knox-Castrillo Treaty of 1911 put America’s in charge of Nicaragua’s financial system.

A large force of Marines returned to Nicaragua in 1927 after civil war broke out between rival political factions. The 1927 Nicaraguan intervention featured the first uses of dive bombing by Marine biplanes.

The 1927 invasion created Nicaragua’s most famous hero; Liberal military commander Augusto César Sandino. Sandino became a hero by refusing to quit the fight. They named the Sandinista government which seized control of Nicaragua in 1979 for Sandino.

The guerrilla war petered out after elections in 1928. President Herbert Hoover (R-California) withdrew the last of the Marines on 2 January 1933. The US would keep meddling in Nicaragua through proxies and the CIA through the 1980s, however.

Grenada 1983

One of America’s most controversial invasions was of a former British colony and Commonwealth member the island of Grenada in 1983.

Trouble began on the island in 1979 when Communist Maurice Bishop seized power in a coup. In September 1983, a power struggle broke out between Bishop and rivals in the Communist New Jewel Movement.

During the struggle, soldiers loyal to Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Conrad took Prime Minister Bishop hostage. However, Bishop’s followers freed the Prime Minister.  

On 19 October 1983, soldiers killed Bishop, two cabinet members, and others in a shootout. The growing violence prompted US President Ronald Reagan (R-California) to order an invasion of the island.

Reagan was afraid of a repeat of the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis that had wrecked his predecessor Jimmy Carter’s (D-Georgia) reelection chances. Reagan’s fears were prompted by the presence of 600 US medical students in Grenada.

Reagan was also worried about the possibility of Soviet intervention. Four years earlier, the Kremlin used a coup against a Communist leader as an excuse to invade Afghanistan.

One reason for Reagan’s fear was the 784 Cubans on Grenada. The Cubans were supposedly “construction workers;” however, they had weapons, and a Cuban army officer, Colonel Pedro Tortoló Comas was in command. Comas claimed the weapons for self-defense.

Some historians think the “construction workers” were members of the Cuban Special Forces and combat engineers. Conversely, US forces found no Russians on the island.

On 25 October 1983, 7,600 US military personnel including NAVY SEALS, the Delta Force, Marines, Army Rangers, and Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne took part in Operation Urgent Fury. Some Jamaican troops and soldiers from other Caribbean countries also took part.

Ironically, one of Operation Urgent Fury’s most vocal critics was Reagan’s close ally, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was upset because Reagan had not notified her of the Operation. On 2 November 1983, the United Nations General Assembly condemned Operation Urgent Fury as “a flagrant violation of international law.”

Grenada soon returned to normal as American troops pulled out fast. However, the ultimate fate of Maurice Bishop is still a mystery. The former Prime Minister’s body is still missing.

Historians regard the invasion of Grenada as the coming out party for the United States’ professional post Vietnam military. Failures of communications and coordination among troops led to a Congressional investigation and sweeping reforms in the US military.

Panama 1989

The last major US invasion in Latin America occurred in Panama in 1989.

Ironically, the target of the invasion was a supposed US ally dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega. Noriega had angered Americans with his blatant involvement in the drug trade.

Hypocritically, Noriega pretended to “help” the US Drug Enforcement Agency, while taking money from drug smugglers. By 1988, Noriega was under indictment for drug trafficking in the United States. Earlier Noriega had been a US ally who had even met with US leaders, including future President George H. W. Bush .

Noriega angered US President George H. W. Bush (R-Texas) by refusing the accept the results of the May 1989 presidential elections. Noriega claimed his candidate won, even though Guillermo Endara received two-thirds of the vote. Similarly to Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) in 2021, Noriega claimed they stole the election.

After failed coup attempts against Noriega, the Panamanian General Assembly foolishly declared war on the United States on 15 December 1989. On 16 December 1989, the Panama Defense Forces (PDF) fired on a car in Panama City and killed U.S. Marine First Lieutenant Robert Paz. Paz was supposedly on his way to dinner with three other US officers and was unarmed.

The PDF detained and beat three other American officers. The incident so enraged Bush that he ordered an invasion of Panama. Dozens of US military units took part in what they called Operation Just Cause. Noriega had stupidly given Bush the pretext for the invasion with his idiotic declaration of war on the United States.

During the invasion they swore Guillermo Endara in as President of Panama at Fort Clayton, a US military base in the Panama Canal Zone. Instead of fighting, Noriega tried to flee. However, Navy SEALS blew up the general’s yacht and private jet.

Noriega fled to the Vatican embassy in Panama City, where US forces tried to drive him out by playing loud rock music. Noriega surrendered to the US military on 3 January 1990. Different sources estimate between 500 to 3,000 Panamanians, a Spanish photographer, and two American school teachers died in the invasion.

The major casualty of the invasion was the Panamanian Defense Forces which was abolished. In 1994, Panama permanently abolished its military with a constitutional amendment. Thus, Panama became one of the few nations on Earth that lacks a military.

Noriega became one of the few dictators to pay for his crimes. A US Court sentenced him to 40 years in a US prison. A court reduced the sentence to 30 years, and they eventually released Noriega to Panama, where he died in 2017.

The invasion of Panama marked the first time that the National Guard took part in an invasion. Historically, invasions were the work of the regular military.

However, in the 1980s, US military commanders tried to dissuade politicians from prolonged military actions by including part-time National Guard troops in military operations. The long occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq prove that strategy was a failure.

Lessons from the Invasions?

So what lessons can we learn from these invasions?

The first lesson is that to succeed invasions require professional military units with overwhelming force. For example, the amateur Bay of Pigs failed, but the professional invasion of the Dominican Republic succeeded.

A second lesson is that invasions can work if they do not lead to occupation or regime change. Grenada and Panama are fairly peaceful today because US forces pulled out fast and let locals settle their problems. Afghanistan and Iraq are messes today because US forces stayed.

A second lesson is that invasions can work if they do not lead to occupation or regime change. Grenada and Panama are fairly peaceful today because US forces pulled out fast and let locals settle their problems. Afghanistan and Iraq are messes today because US forces stayed.

Another difference is that there is strong political pressure in the United States to maintain a permanent occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nobody in 1983 or 1989 wanted US forces to stay in Panama and Grenada. Indeed, America gave the Panama Canal and Canal Zone to the Republic of Panama on 31 December 1999.

So yes, there have been several US invasions in the Caribbean. However, in the 21st Century, US military operations shifted to the Middle East and Afghanistan, where large scale US military operations continue to this day.

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