'Fighting for Freedom' -- America's Abiding Myth
By Gar Smith / The-Edge
July 27, 2006
When Democratic opponents step forth to assess Washington's invasion and chaotic, blood-drenched occupation of Iraq, they routinely leaven their criticisms with somber nods to our "brave men and women who are defending our freedom overseas."
Reports from the field generally confirm that few of the men and women who are actually caught up in the hell of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ever presume to call themselves "brave." Such rhetoric is reserved for the tongues of politicians -- most of whom have never felt the heat of battle or the chill of fear.
Observers in countries outside the US must wonder how, in a free and democratic republic, US politicians can continue to portray the Pentagon's endless foreign invasions as an exercise in "defending America's freedoms."
At best, we have sent troops to Somalia, Serbia and Haiti to defend the freedom of others. In these instances, our soldiers were sent -- frequently under United Nations auspices -- to serve as "peacekeepers" or to prevent "ethnic cleansing." But the fact remains: it's been a long time since one could make the case that US troops were sent into harm's way abroad to defend our freedoms at home.
In the case of Iraq, the Bush administration falsely claimed that Baghdad posed a threat to the residents of Billings and Biloxi. When the pretext of seizing Saddam's fearsome arsenal of WMDs evaporated quicker than you could say "mushroom cloud," the White House simply ground its gears and shifted its rationale. The mission morphed into a crusade to remove an evil dictator -- as a prelude to "freeing" the Iraqis and "installing democracy."
While this was a laudable narrative (even if it has not been born out in practice) it is far from constituting anything close to "defending freedom at home."
If the Pentagon's purpose were to overthrow dictators and install bicameral Free-Market-friendly, representative republics, there are scores of regimes that are better candidates for removal. Iraq's cosmopolitan Baathists, after all, promoted a sectarian society, offered equality to women, provided for the health and education of its people and even had a fully functioning stock market.
From the Halls of Montezuma
To the Shores of Tripoli
The New York-headquartered Global Policy Forum recently took a clear-eyed look at the history of US soldiering in a comprehensive study of "US Interventions -- 1798 to the Present." A similar survey charting "A Century of US Military Interventions: From Wounded Knee to Afghanistan" was compiled by Zoltan Grossman and published on Znet in 2001.
And in 1993, Ellen C. Collier, a Foreign Policy Specialist with the Congressional Research Service's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division assembled a list of "Instances of Use of United States Forces Abroad, 1798 - 1993." The report can be found on the homepage of the US Navy's Naval Historical Center. (www.history.navy.mil/wars/foabroad.htm)
Both the Forum and Collier surveys begin in 1798 with Marines landing in the Dominican Republic as part of an undeclared naval war against France. Collier's study ends in 1993, with President Clinton's deployment of 350 soldiers in Macedonia. The Forum study concludes with Marines landing in Haiti in 2004 to supervise the overthrow of the country's elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Collier's report lists "234 instances in which the United States has used its armed forces abroad in situations of conflict or potential conflict or for other than normal peacetime purposes." Collier added the caveat that her list "does not include covert actions or numerous instances in which US forces have been stationed abroad since World War II in occupation forces or for participation in mutual security organizations, base agreements, or routine military assistance or training operations."
The Forum's more conservative list documents 188 instances in which US troops have been sent to wave "the big stick" over foreign turf -- a record of imperial meddling unmatched in the long, bloody history of nations.
A review of these studies reveals that, in our country's 230 years of existence, there have been only 31 years in which US troops were not actively engaged in significant armed adventures on foreign shores.
The arithmetic is daunting. Over the long course of US history, fewer than 14% of America's days have been marked by peace. The defining characteristic of our nation's foreign policy for 86% of our existence would appear to be a bellicose penchant for military intervention.
As of 2006, there were 192 member states in the United Nations. Incredibly enough, over the past two centuries, the United State has attacked, invaded, policed, overthrown or occupied 62 of them.
With the exception of WW II (when US forces were otherwise engaged), the longest span the US has spent without imposing its brigades beyond its borders was a blissful five-year interregnum between the US Army's 1976 occupation of Matamoros, Mexico and the 1882 landing of US troops in British Egypt.
Many Wars on Many Fronts
Many of America's war-fighting years have been marked by simultaneous interventions.
In 1843, Marines invaded both Canton, China and the Ivory Coast. In 1856, Marines were deployed in Colombia and China while the Navy was busy seizing islands in Hawaii.
In 1858, Marines invaded both Uruguay and Fiji.
In 1867, Marines landed in Nicaragua and Formosa while the US Navy was capturing Midway Island for use as a military base.
In 1888, US troops swarmed ashore in Haiti and Samoa.
In 1896, US Marines were patrolling both Nicaragua and Korea. 1898 saw US troops brandishing their arms in Cuba, Guam, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
In 1911, US troops were on duty in both Honduras and China. The second decade of the 20th century saw US soldiers stationed in Haiti, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Yugoslavia, and Honduras.
1918 marked the beginning of America's little-known invasion of Russia, which pitted the US Army and Navy against the Bolshevik Army in a five-year campaign.
In 1922, Marines were operating inside Turkey while the Navy was beginning a five-year deployment in China. In 1946, the US had troops deployed in northern Iran while 100,000 US Army soldiers were fighting inside China.
In 1948, the US was waging a counterinsurgency war in Greece while the CIA was waging a secret "commando" war in the Philippines and trying to rig national elections in Italy.
In 1953, the midst of the Korean War, the CIA was tasked to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran -- installing, not democracy, but the despotic Shah of Iran.
In 1958, US troops clashed with local residents in Panama while another 14,000 marines and army soldiers were setting up shop in Lebanon.
In 1965, the US began an eight-year bombing campaign against Laos, overthrew the government of the Congo and sent 23,000 troops to pacify the Dominican Republic.
In 1973, the US invaded Laos and toppled the democratically elected government in Chile -- installing the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
In 1981, US forces directed attacks against Libya, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
In 1986, the US bombed Libya and started a covert war in Bolivia.
In 1990, the US sent 27,000 troops to Panama and deployed troops inside Liberia.
In 1993, the US had troops fighting in Somalia, Yugoslavia and Bosnia.
In 1998, US troops were on duty in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
And, today, US forces are actively engaged in fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq while 350,000 are garrisoned in more than 700 US bases situated in 130 countries around the world (not counting the 6,000 military bases located inside the US).
Washington's Imperial Reach
Here is a list of the foreign lands America has attacked -- some have been targeted more than once:
French Territory (1798).
Libya (1801-05; 1981; 1986; 1989).
Spanish Mexico (1806).
Britain (in the War of 1812).
Marquesas Island (1813).
French, British and Spanish Caribbean (1814-1825).
Algiers and Tripoli (1815).
Spanish Cuba (1822-1825).
Greece (1827; 1947-49).
Falkland/Malvinas Islands (1831).
Sumatra (1832; 1838).
Argentina (1833; 1890).
Mexico (1836; 1846-48; 1859; 1876; 1913' 1914; 1915-16).
Fiji (1840-41; 1858).
Samoa (1841; 1885; 1888; 1889; 1899).
China (1843; 1859; 1866; 1894-1895; 1900; 1911-1941; 1927-1927; 1927-1934; 1934; 1940-34; 1934; 1946-49).
Ivory Coast (1843).
Ottoman Empire/Turkey (1849).
Nicaragua (1854; 1867; 1894; 1896; 1898; 1899; 1907; 1910; 1912-1933).
Japan (1854; 1863; 1864; 1868; 1981-1990).
Uruguay (1855; 1868).
Columbia (1856; 1860; 1865; 1866; 1870; 1873; 1885; 1895; 1901; 1902; 1903).
Hawaii (1856; 1874; 1887; 1893).
Portuguese West Africa (1860).
Formosa Island/Taiwan (1867).
Midway Island (1867).
Korea (1871; 1894-1896; 1904-05; 1950-53).
British Egypt (1882).
Haiti (1888; 1891; 1914-1934; 1959; 1991; 1994-96; 2004).
Chile (1891; 1973).
Guam (1898; 1903).
Cuba (1898; 1906-09; 1912; 1917-1933; 1933; 1961; 1962).
Puerto Rico (1898).
Philippines (1898; 1899; 1948-54; 1989).
Panama (1901; 1902; 1903; 1908; 1912; 1918-1920; 1925; 1958; 1964; 1989-1990)
Honduras (1903; 1907; 1911; 1912; 1919; 1924-25; 1983-89).
Dominican Republic (1903; 1914; 1916-1924; 1965).
Guatemala (1920; 1954; 1966-67).
El Salvador (1932; 1981-1992).
Iran (1946; 1953; 1980; 1984; 1987-1988).
Vietnam (1954; 1960-64; 1965-1975).
Lebanon (1958; 1982-1984).
Congo (1960; 1965).
Laos (1962; 1965-73; 1971-73).
Cambodia (1969-75; 1975).
Liberia (1990; 1997).
Iraq (1990-91; 1991-2003; 1998; 2003-6).
Yugoslavia (1992-94; 1999)
Afghanistan (1998; 2001-06).
And How Many of These Nations
Are Now Thriving 'Democracies'?
This lamentable list should put to eternal rest the argument that US troops are put at risk to "defend our freedoms at home."
This leaves the myth of "spreading democracy."
If it were true that Washington employs the Pentagon's awesome power to promote democracy abroad, then it would stand to reason that every country the US has invaded has consequently come to know the joys of freedom and democracy.
Once again, the pages of history document a legacy of bloodletting that, almost without exception, has left most target nations in the grips of a shattered economy and in the hands of friendly dictatorships and compliant oligarchies.
The rare exceptions include Japan, which emerged from US military occupation with an imposed Constitution that enshrined democratic procedures and mandated a demilitarized society.
If there were any truth to the myth that the US uses its military might to promote democracy around the world, the most democratic countries on Earth would be the countries the US has spent the most time invading.
By this reasoning, the most democratic nations on Earth would be
Honduras (7 interventions),
Any rational mind confronting the historical record must be compelled to abandon forever the conceit that the US makes a practice of spending its treasure and expending the lives of its young in the pursuit of freedom -- either at home or abroad.
The record is clear. The rest is a myth.
For an annotated list of US interventions, see:
For more information contact: