Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer

Overthrow documents the US’s effort at regime change over the last 125 years.  The author, Stephen Kinzer, goes to great lengths to discuss not only the actions themselves, but the reasons behind them.  While having a slightly liberal view of what went on and why, Overthrow is an interesting read for those less initiated (like me) in all the US did to support corporations, expand its military presence and prevent the adoption of communism outside of it’s own borders.

The book often spends too much time pounding home the idea that the US screwed up most of these actions in retrospect and not enough time trying to detail the situation at the time that drove the decision.  Also, Kinzer often assumes that without America’s interference, the best-case scenario would have existed in the country affected – true democracy would have prevailed, wealth would have been better distributed, dictatorships would have been quashed.  Unlikely, of course.  It is reasonable to assume, though, that in several of the cases in which the US supported dictators, that the country might have been far better off without any US involvement.

Most of the governmental overthrow actions by the US were clearly driven by America’s efforts to support its large corporations overseas – manufacturing and exporting bananas, oil, sugar, etc.  Taft’s “dollar diplomacy” drove most of America’s international policy for many years.  I was surprised though at how much the fear of the spread of communism did to drive many of the country’s actions.  Note that it was not usually communism itself, but the fear of communism.  It was clear that during several administrations, communistic myopia was the driving force behind the initiation of many otherwise pointless coups or coup attempts.

If you’re interested a bit of the dark side of American history and can stand a little too much detail in exactly how each action took place as well as slight left slant to the story, then this book is worth a read.  Not a terrific book, in my opinion, but informative and mostly enjoyable.


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