24 12 2009

When I first read in some Indian sacred text that one of the duties of a king is to expand the boundaries of his empire, I couldn’t help think about the destruction that results from the wars that are waged to fulfill that duty. I admit that there are advantages for a unified empire as opposed to small independent provinces like efficient management and use of natural resources, for instance. But how much destruction or violence is justified in the process? I fail to impart any greatness to rulers and conquerors like Akbar and Asoka when I read about or visualize their numerous battles and wars.

The powerful oppressing or controlling the weak is a natural phenomenon we see everywhere – be it a playground or a house or markets or world in general. But of course, the fact that something is omnipresent doesn’t make it right. However much is the temptation of the powerful to dominate and control the weak, they must display certain restraint. The powerful should need to recognize and value the individuality – the right of freedom and independence for everyone. When just morals or ideals don’t work, rules and processes are established and there is a need for an overseeing body to enforce them.

Having been from once-a-British-colony, I perpetually get heated up over all those oppressing and ruling nations. Some argue that India has benefited from its rulers in the form of technology, education etc, but in my opinion the loss they caused by looting the resources and amassing wealth at the expense of the country and its people far outweighs any progress they have brought to India.

It’s not with pride that I admit that I don’t usually follow the world events closely and I have no knowledge whatever about the Gulf War of the nineties or any similar happenings elsewhere. But it’s hard to miss the proceedings of the recent Iraq war. So, when I came across the book “Overthrow” by Stephen Kinzer, which is about the saga of regime change brought by America in foreign nations, I was instantly drawn to it owing to the raise in my curiosity level.

From the book, I came to know in a period of little over a century, America has played indirect and often direct role in overthrowing the governments in 14 nations, starting with Hawaii in 1893 to Iraq in 2003. The author honestly exposes the psychology and motivations of American leaders as well as a nation on the whole. In almost all of these operations, economic and business advantage/benefits played the decisive role. Access to natural resources and markets has been the main motive. Fighting against communism or spread of communism was also claimed as a driving force. Of course the sense of being on top, of being powerful is another significant factor. Other less selfish reasons propagated by America are:

  • America has a genuine duty to help the citizens of an nation under dictatorship towards achieving freedom
  • America as an advanced nation has a duty to bring less civilized or uncivilized nations into light aka development/civilization
  • America is fighting for the good – of the world at large, against communism and terrorism

Some of the leaders really believed these Good-Samaritan proclamations and so are most of the citizens of America. But if you inspect closely, all these are just a cover to the underlying real motives.

A striking observation made by the author is that almost all of these regime changes eventually caused more damage, both to USA and also the concerned nations. If America hadn’t acted in certain way, hadn’t taken certain decisions at certain times, things would have been lot better. (You’ve got to read the book to learn about them.) And this is because, Stephen opines, that America doesn’t know what to do after it wins a war. He says that the psychology of America isn’t cut for ruling other nations. Unlike the British or French, it typically refuses to take responsibility for the nation it uprooted and bring peace among chaos, to set the path for development, stabilize the nation, and bestow freedom as per its claimed motives. But America is only concerned with the commercial benefits involved and is just content to put in place a pro-American regime. This inappropriateness on part of America has resulted in greater instability, violence and anti-Americanness around the world.

Overthrow gives an astounding description of the events preceding and succeeding these regime change operations, coupled with observations and analyses of notable historians and of course his own conclusions. At some points, I couldn’t help twitch at the aggressiveness, conceitedness of America. Also there is scheming, dishonesty, arrogance and manipulation. It’s a fast paced book with narrations involving spies, intelligent agents, business people, monarchs, military officers, white-house leaders and lot more. A definite five star book.

Here is the list of those 14 nations whose governments America has overthrown in three eras:

Imperial Era:

  • Hawaii
  • Cuba
  • Puerto Rico
  • Philippines
  • Nicaragua
  • Honduras

Cold War Era:

  • Iran
  • Guatemala
  • South Vietnam
  • Chile

Invasion Era:

  • Grenada
  • Panama
  • Afghanistan