A relentlessly critical history of America’s oldest naval base and the only one in a hostile country.
Hansen (Social Studies/Harvard Univ.; The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Debating American Identity, 1890–1920, 2003) reminds us that Cuban rebels had been holding their own for three years before Americans arrived in 1898, ostensibly to save them from Spanish tyranny. After an easy victory, American forces excluded rebels from surrender ceremonies and peace talks and demanded that their new constitution include the right to intervene in Cuban affairs, plus a lease on Guantánamo. As a result, ambitious leaders routinely declared that opponents were endangering American lives, and Marines from Guantánamo obligingly came to their aid. Under Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. government stopped intervening but continued to support leaders who promised order and, after 1945, anticommunism. Even before Fidel Castro’s arrival in 1959, Guantánamo was no longer an important base; since the ’60s, it has served mostly as a holding area for refugees and prisoners. Hansen devotes an angry chapter to American treatment of Haitian arrivals (almost all returned) compared to Cubans (almost all admitted to the United States), and a final, equally angry chapter covers events after 9/11. The Bush administration sent suspected terrorists to Guantánamo because it seemed beyond the reach of journalists and, according to advisors, American legal protections. Officials proclaimed that such fanatics were immune to traditional interrogation, but enhanced techniques would reveal information vital to save American lives. The only result has been a persistent public-relations disaster.
Strategically irrelevant and expensive, Guantánamo has become a political icon, so suggestions that U.S. officials leave—common during past administrations—are no longer heard, but Hansen’s distressing history may revive the idea.