It is difficult to think of this little spice island as a threat to the United States. Its population would barely fill the Rose Bowl and its chief exports are sugar, bananas, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. But after local leftists seized power in 1979, four years after independence from Great Britain, the U.S. government resolved to throw them out. The regime of Maurice Bishop had great ambitions for cooperative business ventures, education, and social welfare but committed the unpardonable sin of aligning itself with Castro’s Cuba. Bishop even endorsed the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Reagan administration was not amused. It ordered our secret government to destabilize Grenada and plan an invasion.
Reagan’s excuse came October 19, 1983, when Bishop was deposed by a murderous band of rival Marxists. Six days later, “Operation Urgent Fury” was unleashed upon the island. U.S. paratroopers dropped from the skies, along with thousands of comic books prepared by CIA propagandists. You can read an especially silly one at www.ep.tc/grenada. Americans soldiers gave their lives so that Grenada could again become a banana republic.
Congress was not consulted about this invasion, President Reagan said, because time was of the essence. U.S. medical students in the island’s north end urgently needed to be rescued. That was false, as school officials later explained.
The attack was also needed, U.S. officials said, to prevent Communist Cubans from building an airport that Soviet bombers could use to strike at the Panama Canal. This, too, was bogus; Soviet planes could just as easily attack the Canal from Cuba. Cubans were part of the airport’s workforce, alongside Canadians and Finns, but the company that employed them was from Great Britain. Contrary to what Reagan claimed, the airport was never designed to be a military facility, e.g. with hardened bunkers, and after the invasion the United States finished the project, to accommodate tourists like us.
The President also claimed that a coalition of neighboring islands had requested the invasion, but their so-called request was drafted in Washington.
The invasion diverted attention from President Reagan’s decision to cut and run from Lebanon after 242 marines were killed by a suicide truck bomb. Some critics said diversion was the invasion’s chief purpose. What they did not know was that the invasion had been practiced by marines two years earlier on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
The attack violated the U.S. Constitution, the UN Charter, and international law, but was applauded by two-thirds of the American public. In Connecticut Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, criticized Lowell Weiker, a Republican, for raising constitutional objections to the Grenadian invasion, and won the election. In Washington, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney saw how easily inattentive voters could be lied into supporting unconstitutional wars to depose foreign regimes.
After the invasion, Bishop’s agricultural cooperatives were shut down. Labor unions were reorganized, and a new right-of-center government welcomed American investors. St. George’s, with less than half the population of South Hadley, became home to 118 off-shore banks and a haven launderers, tax evaders, and swindlers.
Most Grenadians don’t like to talk about this invasion, known locally as “the intervention.” Most Americans little know or long remember what happened here, three years before most of our sailors were born. But the graffiti on local bridges urging “Americans go home” remains a fading reminder that the Caribbean is, militarily speaking, still an American lake. We are mere tourists, learning how to sail, but all around us are memories of recent military operations, including Panama to the west and Cuba and Haiti to the north. Remnants of covert operations surround us, too, in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Colombia. If “Kick ‘Em Jenny” lurks below the sea, “Kick ‘Em Sam” is just over the horizon.