Sunday, May 25, 2014


by Dr. Zoltan Grossman
The following is a partial list of U.S. military interventions from 1890 to 2011.
Below the list is a Briefing on the History of U.S. Military Interventions.
The list and briefing are also available as a powerpoint presentation.
This guide does not include:
  • mobilizations of the National Guard
  • offshore shows of naval strength
  • reinforcements of embassy personnel
  • the use of non-Defense Department personnel (such as the Drug Enforcement Administration)
  • military exercises
  • non-combat mobilizations (such as replacing postal strikers)
  • the permanent stationing of armed forces
  • covert actions where the U.S. did not play a command and control role
  • the use of small hostage rescue units
  • most uses of proxy troops
  • U.S. piloting of foreign warplanes
  • foreign or domestic disaster assistance
  • military training and advisory programs not involving direct combat
  • civic action programs
  • and many other military activities.
    Among sources used, beside news reports, are the Congressional Record (23 June 1969), 180 Landings by the U.S. Marine Corp History Division, Ege & Makhijani in Counterspy (July-Aug, 1982), "Instances of Use of United States Forces Abroad, 1798-1993" by Ellen C. Collier of the Library of Congress Congressional Research Service, and Ellsberg in Protest & Survive.
Versions of this list have been published on Zmag.orgNeravt.comand numerous other websites.
Translations of listSpanish French Turkish Italian Chinese Greek Russian Czech Tamil Portuguese
Quotes in Christian Science Monitor and The Independent
Turkish newspaper urges that the United States be listed in Guinness Book of World Records as the Country with the Most Foreign Interventions.
COUNTRY OR STATEDates of interventionForcesComments
SOUTH DAKOTA 1890 (-?) Troops300 Lakota Indians massacred at Wounded Knee.
ARGENTINA1890TroopsBuenos Aires interests protected.
CHILE1891TroopsMarines clash with nationalist rebels.
HAITI1891TroopsBlack revolt on Navassa defeated.
IDAHO1892TroopsArmy suppresses silver miners' strike.
HAWAII1893 (-?)Naval, troopsIndependent kingdom overthrown, annexed.
CHICAGO1894TroopsBreaking of rail strike, 34 killed.
NICARAGUA1894TroopsMonth-long occupation of Bluefields.
CHINA1894-95Naval, troopsMarines land in Sino-Japanese War
KOREA1894-96TroopsMarines kept in Seoul during war.
PANAMA1895Troops, navalMarines land in Colombian province.
NICARAGUA1896TroopsMarines land in port of Corinto.
CHINA1898-1900TroopsBoxer Rebellion fought by foreign armies.
PHILIPPINES1898-1910 (-?)Naval, troopsSeized from Spain, killed 600,000 Filipinos
CUBA1898-1902 (-?)Naval, troopsSeized from Spain, still hold Navy base.
PUERTO RICO1898 (-?)Naval, troopsSeized from Spain, occupation continues.
GUAM1898 (-?)Naval, troopsSeized from Spain, still use as base.
MINNESOTA1898 (-?)TroopsArmy battles Chippewa at Leech Lake.
NICARAGUA1898TroopsMarines land at port of San Juan del Sur.
SAMOA1899 (-?)TroopsBattle over succession to throne.
NICARAGUA1899TroopsMarines land at port of Bluefields.
IDAHO1899-1901TroopsArmy occupies Coeur d'Alene mining region.
OKLAHOMA1901TroopsArmy battles Creek Indian revolt.
PANAMA1901-14Naval, troopsBroke off from Colombia 1903, annexed Canal Zone; Opened canal 1914.
HONDURAS1903TroopsMarines intervene in revolution.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC1903-04TroopsU.S. interests protected in Revolution.
KOREA1904-05TroopsMarines land in Russo-Japanese War.
CUBA1906-09TroopsMarines land in democratic election.
NICARAGUA1907Troops"Dollar Diplomacy" protectorate set up.
HONDURAS1907TroopsMarines land during war with Nicaragua
PANAMA1908TroopsMarines intervene in election contest.
NICARAGUA1910TroopsMarines land in Bluefields and Corinto.
HONDURAS1911TroopsU.S. interests protected in civil war.
CHINA1911-41Naval, troopsContinuous occupation with flare-ups.
CUBA1912TroopsU.S. interests protected in civil war.
PANAMA1912TroopsMarines land during heated election.
HONDURAS1912TroopsMarines protect U.S. economic interests.
NICARAGUA1912-33Troops, bombing10-year occupation, fought guerillas
MEXICO1913NavalAmericans evacuated during revolution.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC1914NavalFight with rebels over Santo Domingo.
COLORADO1914TroopsBreaking of miners' strike by Army.
MEXICO1914-18Naval, troopsSeries of interventions against nationalists.
HAITI1914-34Troops, bombing19-year occupation after revolts.
TEXAS1915TroopsFederal soldiers crush "Plan of San Diego" Mexican-American rebellion
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC1916-24Troops8-year Marine occupation.
CUBA1917-33TroopsMilitary occupation, economic protectorate.
WORLD WAR I1917-18Naval, troopsShips sunk, fought Germany for 1 1/2 years.
RUSSIA1918-22Naval, troopsFive landings to fight Bolsheviks
PANAMA1918-20Troops"Police duty" during unrest after elections.
HONDURAS1919TroopsMarines land during election campaign.
YUGOSLAVIA1919Troops/Marinesintervene for Italy against Serbs in Dalmatia.
GUATEMALA1920Troops2-week intervention against unionists.
WEST VIRGINIA1920-21Troops, bombingArmy intervenes against mineworkers.
TURKEY1922TroopsFought nationalists in Smyrna.
CHINA1922-27Naval, troopsDeployment during nationalist revolt.
Airpower defends Calles from rebellion
Landed twice during election strife.
PANAMA1925TroopsMarines suppress general strike.
CHINA1927-34TroopsMarines stationed throughout the country.
EL SALVADOR1932NavalWarships send during Marti revolt.
WASHINGTON DC1932TroopsArmy stops WWI vet bonus protest.
WORLD WAR II1941-45Naval, troops, bombing, nuclearHawaii bombed, fought Japan, Italy and Germay for 3 years; first nuclear war.
DETROIT1943TroopsArmy put down Black rebellion.
IRAN1946Nuclear threatSoviet troops told to leave north.
YUGOSLAVIA1946Nuclear threat, navalResponse to shoot-down of US plane.
URUGUAY1947Nuclear threatBombers deployed as show of strength.
GREECE1947-49Command operationU.S. directs extreme-right in civil war.
GERMANY1948Nuclear ThreatAtomic-capable bombers guard Berlin Airlift.
CHINA1948-49Troops/Marinesevacuate Americans before Communist victory.
PHILIPPINES1948-54Command operationCIA directs war against Huk Rebellion.
PUERTO RICO1950Command operationIndependence rebellion crushed in Ponce.
KOREA1951-53 (-?)Troops, naval, bombing , nuclear threatsU.S./So. Korea fights China/No. Korea to stalemate; A-bomb threat in 1950, and against China in 1953. Still have bases.
IRAN1953Command OperationCIA overthrows democracy, installs Shah.
VIETNAM1954Nuclear threatFrench offered bombs to use against seige.
GUATEMALA1954Command operation, bombing, nuclear threatCIA directs exile invasion after new gov't nationalized U.S. company lands; bombers based in Nicaragua.
EGYPT1956Nuclear threat, troopsSoviets told to keep out of Suez crisis; Marines evacuate foreigners.
LEBANONl958Troops, navalArmy & Marine occupation against rebels.
IRAQ1958Nuclear threatIraq warned against invading Kuwait.
CHINAl958Nuclear threatChina told not to move on Taiwan isles.
PANAMA1958TroopsFlag protests erupt into confrontation.
VIETNAMl960-75Troops, naval, bombing, nuclear threatsFought South Vietnam revolt & North Vietnam; one million killed in longest U.S. war; atomic bomb threats in l968 and l969.
CUBAl961Command operationCIA-directed exile invasion fails.
GERMANYl961Nuclear threatAlert during Berlin Wall crisis.
LAOS1962Command operationMilitary buildup during guerrilla war.
 CUBA l962 Nuclear threat, navalBlockade during missile crisis; near-war with Soviet Union.
 IRAQ1963Command operationCIA organizes coup that killed president, brings Ba'ath Party to power, and Saddam Hussein back from exile to be head of the secret service.
PANAMAl964TroopsPanamanians shot for urging canal's return.
INDONESIAl965Command operationMillion killed in CIA-assisted army coup.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC1965-66Troops, bombingArmy & Marines land during election campaign.
GUATEMALAl966-67Command operationGreen Berets intervene against rebels.
DETROITl967TroopsArmy battles African Americans, 43 killed.
UNITED STATESl968TroopsAfter King is shot; over 21,000 soldiers in cities.
CAMBODIAl969-75Bombing, troops, navalUp to 2 million killed in decade of bombing, starvation, and political chaos.
OMANl970Command operationU.S. directs Iranian marine invasion.
LAOSl971-73Command operation, bombingU.S. directs South Vietnamese invasion; "carpet-bombs" countryside.
SOUTH DAKOTAl973Command operationArmy directs Wounded Knee siege of Lakotas.
MIDEAST1973Nuclear threatWorld-wide alert during Mideast War.
CHILE1973Command operationCIA-backed coup ousts elected marxist president.
CAMBODIAl975Troops, bombingGassing of captured ship Mayagüez, 28 troops die when copter shot down.
ANGOLAl976-92Command operationCIA assists South African-backed rebels.
IRANl980Troops, nuclear threat, aborted bombingRaid to rescue Embassy hostages; 8 troops die in copter-plane crash. Soviets warned not to get involved in revolution.
LIBYAl981Naval jetsTwo Libyan jets shot down in maneuvers.
EL SALVADORl981-92Command operation, troopsAdvisors, overflights aid anti-rebel war, soldiers briefly involved in hostage clash.
NICARAGUAl981-90Command operation, navalCIA directs exile (Contra) invasions, plants harbor mines against revolution.
LEBANONl982-84Naval, bombing, troopsMarines expel PLO and back Phalangists, Navy bombs and shells Muslim positions. 241 Marines killed when Shi'a rebel bombs barracks.
GRENADAl983-84Troops, bombingInvasion four years after revolution.
HONDURASl983-89TroopsManeuvers help build bases near borders.
IRANl984JetsTwo Iranian jets shot down over Persian Gulf.
LIBYAl986Bombing, navalAir strikes to topple Qaddafi gov't.
BOLIVIA1986TroopsArmy assists raids on cocaine region.
IRANl987-88Naval, bombingUS intervenes on side of Iraq in war, defending reflagged tankers and shooting down civilian jet.
LIBYA1989Naval jetsTwo Libyan jets shot down.
VIRGIN ISLANDS1989TroopsSt. Croix Black unrest after storm.
PHILIPPINES1989JetsAir cover provided for government against coup.
PANAMA1989 (-?)Troops, bombingNationalist government ousted by 27,000 soldiers, leaders arrested, 2000+ killed.
LIBERIA1990TroopsForeigners evacuated during civil war.
SAUDI ARABIA1990-91Troops, jetsIraq countered after invading Kuwait. 540,000 troops also stationed in Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Israel.
IRAQ1990-91Bombing, troops, navalBlockade of Iraqi and Jordanian ports, air strikes; 200,000+ killed in invasion of Iraq and Kuwait; large-scale destruction of Iraqi military.
KUWAIT1991Naval, bombing, troopsKuwait royal family returned to throne.
 IRAQ1991-2003Bombing, navalNo-fly zone over Kurdish north, Shiite south; constant air strikes and naval-enforced economic sanctions
LOS ANGELES1992TroopsArmy, Marines deployed against anti-police uprising.
SOMALIA1992-94Troops, naval, bombingU.S.-led United Nations occupation during civil war; raids against one Mogadishu faction.
YUGOSLAVIA1992-94NavalNATO blockade of Serbia and Montenegro.
BOSNIA1993-?Jets, bombingNo-fly zone patrolled in civil war; downed jets, bombed Serbs.
HAITI1994Troops, navalBlockade against military government; troops restore President Aristide to office three years after coup.
ZAIRE (CONGO)1996-97TroopsTroops at Rwandan Hutu refugee camps, in area where Congo revolution begins.
LIBERIA1997TroopsSoldiers under fire during evacuation of foreigners.
ALBANIA1997TroopsSoldiers under fire during evacuation of foreigners.
SUDAN1998MissilesAttack on pharmaceutical plant alleged to be "terrorist" nerve gas plant.
AFGHANISTAN1998MissilesAttack on former CIA training camps used by Islamic fundamentalist groups alleged to have attacked embassies.
IRAQ1998Bombing, MissilesFour days of intensive air strikes after weapons inspectors allege Iraqi obstructions.
YUGOSLAVIA1999Bombing, MissilesHeavy NATO air strikes after Serbia declines to withdraw from Kosovo. NATO occupation of Kosovo.
YEMEN2000NavalUSS Cole, docked in Aden, bombed.
MACEDONIA2001TroopsNATO forces deployed to move and disarm Albanian rebels.
UNITED STATES2001Jets, navalReaction to hijacker attacks on New York, DC
AFGHANISTAN2001-?Troops, bombing, missilesMassive U.S. mobilization to overthrow Taliban, hunt Al Qaeda fighters, install Karzai regime, and battle Taliban insurgency. More than 30,000 U.S. troops and numerous private security contractors carry our occupation.
YEMEN2002MissilesPredator drone missile attack on Al Qaeda, including a US citizen.
PHILIPPINES2002-?Troops, navalTraining mission for Philippine military fighting Abu Sayyaf rebels evolves into combat missions in Sulu Archipelago, west of Mindanao.
COLOMBIA2003-?TroopsUS special forces sent to rebel zone to back up Colombian military protecting oil pipeline.
IRAQ2003-?Troops, naval, bombing, missilesSaddam regime toppled in Baghdad. More than 250,000 U.S. personnel participate in invasion. US and UK forces occupy country and battle Sunni and Shi'ite insurgencies. More than 160,000 troops and numerous private contractors carry out occupation and build large permanent bases.
LIBERIA2003TroopsBrief involvement in peacekeeping force as rebels drove out leader.
HAITI2004-05Troops, naval  Marines & Army land after right-wing rebels oust elected President Aristide, who was advised to leave by Washington.
PAKISTAN2005-?Missiles, bombing, covert operationCIA missile and air strikes and Special Forces raids on alleged Al Qaeda and Taliban refuge villages kill multiple civilians. Drone attacks also on Pakistani Mehsud network.
SOMALIA2006-?Missiles, naval, troops, command operationSpecial Forces advise Ethiopian invasion that topples Islamist government; AC-130 strikes, Cruise missile attacks and helicopter raids against Islamist rebels; naval blockade against "pirates" and insurgents.
SYRIA2008TroopsSpecial Forces in helicopter raid 5 miles from Iraq kill 8 Syrian civilians
YEMEN2009-?Missiles, command operationCruise missile attack on Al Qaeda kills 49 civilians; Yemeni military assaults on rebels
LIBYA2011-?Bombing, missiles, command operationNATO coordinates air strikes and missile attacks against Qaddafi government during uprising by rebel army.

(Death toll estimates from 20th-century wars can be found in the Historical Atlas of the 20th Century by alphabetized places indexmap series, and major casualties .)

By Zoltán Grossman, October 2001
Published in Z magazine. Translations in Italian Polish
Since the September 11 attacks on the United States, most people in the world agree that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, without killing many thousands of civilians in the process. But unfortunately, the U.S. military has always accepted massive civilian deaths as part of the cost of war. The military is now poised to kill thousands of foreign civilians, in order to prove that killing U.S. civilians is wrong.
The media has told us repeatedly that some Middle Easterners hate the U.S. only because of our "freedom" and "prosperity." Missing from this explanation is the historical context of the U.S. role in the Middle East, and for that matter in the rest of the world. This basic primer is an attempt to brief readers who have not closely followed the history of U.S. foreign or military affairs, and are perhaps unaware of the background of U.S. military interventions abroad, but are concerned about the direction of our country toward a new war in the name of "freedom" and "protecting civilians."
The United States military has been intervening in other countries for a long time. In 1898, it seized the PhilippinesCuba, and Puerto Rico from Spain, and in 1917-18 became embroiled in World War I in Europe. In the first half of the 20th century it repeatedly sent Marines to "protectorates" such as NicaraguaHondurasPanamaHaiti, and the Dominican Republic. All these interventions directly served corporate interests, and many resulted in massive losses of civilians, rebels, and soldiers. Many of the uses of U.S. combat forces are documented in A History of U.S. Military Interventions since 1890:
U.S. involvement in World War II (1941-45) was sparked by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and fear of an Axis invasion of North America. Allied bombers attacked fascist military targets, but also fire-bombed German and Japanese cities such as Dresden and Tokyo, party under the assumption that destroying civilian neighborhoods would weaken the resolve of the survivors and turn them against their regimes. Many historians agree that fire- bombing's effect was precisely the opposite--increasing Axis civilian support for homeland defense, and discouraging potential coup attempts. The atomic bombing of Japan at the end of the war was carried out without any kind of advance demonstration or warning that may have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
The war in Korea (1950-53) was marked by widespread atrocities, both by North Korean/Chinese forces, and South Korean/U.S. forces. U.S. troops fired on civilian refugees headed into South Korea, apparently fearing they were northern infiltrators. Bombers attacked North Korean cities, and the U.S. twice threatened to use nuclear weapons. North Korea is under the same Communist government today as when the war began.
During the Middle East crisis of 1958, Marines were deployed to quell a rebellion in Lebanon, and Iraq was threatened with nuclear attack if it invaded Kuwait. This little-known crisis helped set U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with Arab nationalists, often in support of the region's monarchies.
In the early 1960s, the U.S. returned to its pre-World War II interventionary role in the Caribbean, directing the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs exile invasion of Cuba, and the 1965 bombing and Marine invasion of the Dominican Republic during an election campaign. The CIA trained and harbored Cuban exile groups in Miami, which launched terrorist attacks on Cuba, including the 1976 downing of a Cuban civilian jetliner near Barbados. During the Cold War, the CIA would also help to support or install pro-U.S. dictatorships in IranChileGuatemalaIndonesia, and many other countries around the world.
The U.S. war in Indochina (1960-75) pit U.S. forces against North Vietnam, and Communist rebels fighting to overthrow pro-U.S. dictatorships in South VietnamLaos, and Cambodia. U.S. war planners made little or no distinction between attacking civilians and guerrillas in rebel-held zones, and U.S. "carpet-bombing" of the countryside and cities swelled the ranks of the ultimately victorious revolutionaries. Over two million people were killed in the war, including 55,000 U.S. troops. Less than a dozen U.S. citizens were killed on U.S. soil, in National Guard shootings or antiwar bombings. In Cambodia, the bombings drove the Khmer Rouge rebels toward fanatical leaders, who launched a murderous rampage when they took power in 1975.
Echoes of Vietnam reverberated in Central America during the 1980s, when the Reagan administration strongly backed the pro-U.S. regime in El Salvador, and right-wing exile forces fighting the new leftist Sandinista government inNicaragua. Rightist death squads slaughtered Salvadoran civilians who questioned the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands. CIA-trained Nicaraguan Contra rebels launched terrorist attacks against civilian clinics and schools run by the Sandinista government, and mined Nicaraguan harbors. U.S. troops also invaded the island nation of Grenada in 1983, to oust a new military regime, attacking Cuban civilian workers (even though Cuba had backed the leftist government deposed in the coup), and accidentally bombing a hospital.
The U.S. returned in force to the Middle East in 1980, after the Shi'ite Muslim revolution in Iran against Shah Pahlevi's pro-U.S. dictatorship. A troop and bombing raid to free U.S. Embassy hostages held in downtown Tehran had to be aborted in the Iranian desert. After the 1982 Israeli occupation of Lebanon, U.S. Marines were deployed in a neutral "peacekeeping" operation. They instead took the side of Lebanon's pro-Israel Christian government against Muslim rebels, and U.S. Navy ships rained enormous shells on Muslim civilian villages. Embittered Shi'ite Muslim rebels responded with a suicide bomb attack on Marine barracks, and for years seized U.S. hostages in the country. In retaliation, the CIA set off car bombs to assassinate Shi'ite Muslim leaders. Syria and the Muslim rebels emerged victorious in Lebanon.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the U.S. launched a 1986 bombing raid on Libya, which it accused of sponsoring a terrorist bombing later tied to Syria. The bombing raid killed civilians, and may have led to the later revenge bombing of a U.S. jet over Scotland. Libya's Arab nationalist leader Muammar Qaddafi remained in power. The U.S. Navy also intervened against Iran during its war against Iraq in 1987-88, sinking Iranian ships and "accidentally" shooting down an Iranian civilian jetliner.
U.S. forces invaded Panama in 1989 to oust the nationalist regime of Manuel Noriega. The U.S. accused its former ally of allowing drug-running in the country, though the drug trade actually increased after his capture. U.S. bombing raids on Panama City ignited a conflagration in a civilian neighborhood, fed by stove gas tanks. Over 2,000 Panamanians were killed in the invasion to capture one leader.
The following year, the U.S. deployed forces in the Persian Gulf after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which turned Washington against its former Iraqi ally Saddam Hussein. U.S. supported the Kuwaiti monarchy and the Muslim fundamentalist monarchy in neighboring Saudi Arabia against the secular nationalist Iraq regime. In January 1991, the U.S..and its allies unleashed a massive bombing assault against Iraqi government and military targets, in an intensity beyond the raids of World War II and Vietnam. Up to 200,000 Iraqis were killed in the war and its imemdiate aftermath of rebellion and disease, including many civilians who died in their villages, neighborhoods, and bomb shelters. The U.S. continued economic sanctions that denied health and energy to Iraqi civilians, who died by the hundreds of thousands, according to United Nations agencies. The U.S. also instituted "no-fly zones" and virtually continuous bombing raids, yet Saddam was politically bolstered as he was militarily weakened.
In the 1990s, the U.S. military led a series of what it termed "humanitarian interventions" it claimed would safeguard civilians. Foremost among them was the 1992 deployment in the African nation of Somalia, torn by famine and a civil war between clan warlords. Instead of remaining neutral, U.S. forces took the side of one faction against another faction, and bombed a Mogadishu neighborhood. Enraged crowds, backed by foreign Arab mercenaries, killed 18 U.S. soldiers, forcing a withdrawal from the country.
Other so-called "humanitarian interventions" were centered in the Balkan region of Europe, after the 1992 breakup of the multiethnic federation of Yugoslavia. The U.S. watched for three years as Serb forces killed Muslim civilians in Bosnia, before its launched decisive bombing raids in 1995. Even then, it never intervened to stop atrocities by Croatian forces against Muslim and Serb civilians, because those forces were aided by the U.S. In 1999, the U.S. bombed Serbia to force President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw forces from the ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo, which was torn a brutal ethnic war. The bombing intensified Serbian expulsions and killings of Albanian civilians from Kosovo, and caused the deaths of thousands of Serbian civilians, even in cities that had voted strongly against Milosevic. When a NATO occupation force enabled Albanians to move back, U.S. forces did little or nothing to prevent similar atrocities against Serb and other non-Albanian civilians. The U.S. was viewed as a biased player, even by the Serbian democratic opposition that overthrew Milosevic the following year.
Even when the U.S. military had apparently defensive motives, it ended up attacking the wrong targets. After the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, the U.S. "retaliated" not only against Osama Bin Laden's training camps inAfghanistan, but a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that was mistakenly said to be a chemical warfare installation. Bin Laden retaliated by attacking a U.S. Navy ship docked in Yemen in 2000. After the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, the U.S. military is poised to again bomb Afghanistan, and possibly move against other states it accuses of promoting anti-U.S. "terrorism," such as Iraq and Sudan. Such a campaign will certainly ratchet up the cycle of violence, in an escalating series of retaliations that is the hallmark of Middle East conflicts. Afghanistan, like Yugoslavia, is a multiethnic state that could easily break apart in a new catastrophic regional war. Almost certainly more civilians would lose their lives in this tit-for-tat war on "terrorism" than the 3,000 civilians who died on September 11.
Some common themes can be seen in many of these U.S. military interventions.
First, they were explained to the U.S. public as defending the lives and rights of civilian populations. Yet the military tactics employed often left behind massive civilian "collateral damage." War planners made little distinction between rebels and the civilians who lived in rebel zones of control, or between military assets and civilian infrastructure, such as train lines, water plants, agricultural factories, medicine supplies, etc. The U.S. public always believe that in the next war, new military technologies will avoid civilian casualties on the other side. Yet when the inevitable civilian deaths occur, they are always explained away as "accidental" or "unavoidable."
Second, although nearly all the post-World War II interventions were carried out in the name of "freedom" and "democracy," nearly all of them in fact defended dictatorships controlled by pro-U.S. elites. Whether in Vietnam, Central America, or the Persian Gulf, the U.S. was not defending "freedom" but an ideological agenda (such as defending capitalism) or an economic agenda (such as protecting oil company investments). In the few cases when U.S. military forces toppled a dictatorship--such as in Grenada or Panama--they did so in a way that prevented the country's people from overthrowing their own dictator first, and installing a new democratic government more to their liking.
Third, the U.S. always attacked violence by its opponents as "terrorism," "atrocities against civilians," or "ethnic cleansing," but minimized or defended the same actions by the U.S. or its allies. If a country has the right to "end" a state that trains or harbors terrorists, would Cuba or Nicaragua have had the right to launch defensive bombing raids on U.S. targets to take out exile terrorists? Washington's double standard maintains that an U.S. ally's action by definition "defensive," but that an enemy's retaliation is by definition "offensive."
Fourth, the U.S. often portrays itself as a neutral peacekeeper, with nothing but the purest humanitarian motives. After deploying forces in a country, however, it quickly divides the country or region into "friends" and "foes," and takes one side against another. This strategy tends to enflame rather than dampen a war or civil conflict, as shown in the cases of Somalia and Bosnia, and deepens resentment of the U.S. role.
Fifth, U.S. military intervention is often counterproductive even if one accepts U.S. goals and rationales. Rather than solving the root political or economic roots of the conflict, it tends to polarize factions and further destabilize the country. The same countries tend to reappear again and again on the list of 20th century interventions.
Sixth, U.S. demonization of an enemy leader, or military action against him, tends to strengthen rather than weaken his hold on power. Take the list of current regimes most singled out for U.S. attack, and put it alongside of the list of regimes that have had the longest hold on power, and you will find they have the same names. Qaddafi, Castro, Saddam, Kim, and others may have faced greater internal criticism if they could not portray themselves as Davids standing up to the American Goliath, and (accurately) blaming many of their countries' internal problems on U.S. economic sanctions.
One of the most dangerous ideas of the 20th century was that "people like us" could not commit atrocities against civilians.
  • German and Japanese citizens believed it, but their militaries slaughtered millions of people.
  • British and French citizens believed it, but their militaries fought brutal colonial wars in Africa and Asia.
  • Russian citizens believed it, but their armies murdered civilians in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere.
  • Israeli citizens believed it, but their army mowed down Palestinians and Lebanese.
  • Arabs believed it, but suicide bombers and hijackers targeted U.S. and Israeli civilians.
  • U.S. citizens believed it, but their military killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Every country, every ethnicity, every religion, contains within it the capability for extreme violence. Every group contains a faction that is intolerant of other groups, and actively seeks to exclude or even kill them. War fever tends to encourage the intolerant faction, but the faction only succeeds in its goals if the rest of the group acquiesces or remains silent. The attacks of September 11 were not only a test for U.S. citizens attitudes' toward minority ethnic/racial groups in their own country, but a test for our relationship with the rest of the world. We must begin not by lashing out at civilians in Muslim countries, but by taking responsibility for our own history and our own actions, and how they have fed the cycle of violence.