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Journalist Allman's scattered account of American Third World involvements, pegged to the murder of four American church women in El Salvador, is meant to be a meditation on the oppressive character of American power: ""It was as though America had converged in that forest clearing, looking for some explanation of itself."" With chapters that flit between El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Monroe Doctrine, intervention in Mexico, and the invasion of Cambodia (among other stops), there's a good bit of muddle. At one point, reporting on his own excursions, Allman denies the general view of Latin America as a political monolith--citing democratic Costa Rica, bordered by leftist Nicaragua and rightist Guatemala; but at other times, turning the domino theory around, he characterizes the region as an undifferentiated ocean supporting a wave of Washington-backed coups and repressive regimes. Similarly, though Allman has a penchant for scenes of American self-questioning, he paints American world policy in stark terms of brute power wielded on behalf of black-and-white interests. He makes much, for instance, of US embassy personnel scurrying around, after the 1972 Managua earthquake, to get Howard Hughes out of the country, meanwhile ignoring the thousands of dying Nicaraguans; and he thinks that the Sandinistas got an initial boost from Somozan and American disregard for civilians. But Allman contents himself with observing that Somoza's men pocketed relief goods, without looking into the actions of American relief agencies or of government figures in general (by contrast with William Shawcross' recent The Quality of Mercy). In sum, Allman goes over a lot of familiar ground, with a lot of rhetorical technique, but little substance. (See instead James Chace's clear, concise Endless War, below.)

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1984
Publisher: Dial/Doubleday