ENDLESS WAR: How We Got Involved in Central America--And What Can Be Done by James Chace
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ENDLESS WAR: How We Got Involved in Central America--And What Can Be Done

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The pattern of US actions toward Central America has been fixed for a century and a half, and it centers on an exaggerated fear of European involvement in the Western Hemisphere. That's the crux of this tidy rÉsumÉ by New York Times Book Review senior editor Chace (former managing editor of Foreign Affairs). When the Spanish empire started to come undone in 1823 due to a republican revolt against the Spanish crown, Washington inflated the possibility that one or more nations of the Holy Alliance--Austria, Russia, and France--would rush to secure the Spanish colonies. France did intervene in Spain, but was not inclined to risk its economy on Spain's New World possessions, and the others did not have the capacity to do so. The US, with the backing of the British fleet, seized the moment to assert its own hegemony over the hemisphere through the Monroe Doctrine, and in the name of democracy. But democracy meant American democracy to the young republic, and from the start Washington turned a deaf ear to Central American republicans: neither the institutional structure nor the moral fiber of the Latins was suitable for self-rule, at least not yet. And so began the pattern of intervention in the name of democracy to suppress democratic aspirations, against the backdrop of fear of foreign exploitation of Central American fractionalism. Political and diplomatic reasoning, rather than economic, carries the burden of explanation in Chace's view, though he is not oblivious to the nefarious role played by United Fruit and other US concerns in Central American history. (Chace reasons that economic interests could have been well served by support of democratic reform.) The Reagan Administration's Cold War approach to Central America is thus an old story, also continuing 20th-century faith in a professionalized military as Central America's hope for a reformed future. Chace calls for a demilitarization of the region and a series of steps to secure Mexico's economy (including some forgiveness of debt and restructuring of the rest), in the interest of stabilizing the region. The prescriptions are as sensible as the diagnosis.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House