On July 28, 1915, U.S. Marines and bluejackets from the armored cruiser Washington were landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for the purpose of “preventing further rioting and for the protection of foreigners’ lives and property.” Thus began a military occupation of nearly 20 years.
U.S. Marines and Navy supply officers ran virtually everything during the occupation. Arguably they gave Haiti the only reasonably honest, orderly and efficient government it had ever known. Their role was controversial from the very start in both Haiti and the United States. Civil rights organizations, missionaries, foreign and domestic investors out to make a killing and, of course, politicians of all stripes and colors made the job of nation building in the Black Republic difficult in the extreme. Idealists were everywhere, seeking to remake Haiti in their own vision as a progressive and orderly state.
“I wrote the Haitian Constitution myself, and if I do say it, I think it’s a pretty good constitution,” Franklin D. Roosevelt, a young assistant secretary of the navy, declared on August 18, 1920.
“We were all imbued with the fact that we were trustees of a huge estate that belonged to minors…. What we wanted were clean little towns, with tidy thatch-roofed dwellings. That is what the country can afford and what it ought to have,” said one of the U. S. Marine Corps’ iconic figures, BrigGen (and two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor) Smedley D. Butler, October 27, 1921.
“In this country it is almost impossible to do good. Our most distinguished men, for the most part, have apparently sworn to spend their lives lying, deceiving and leading into error the thousands of illiterates purposely kept in that degrading condition for a century….
“Let the whites withdraw tomorrow and the day after tomorrow the country will be put to fire and sword. In spite of the lessons of fully 14 years are we able to put our hands on fifty Haitian Statesmen?” Editorial in the Port-au-Prince newspaper L’Essor, April 5, 1929.
Intervention! begins with a broad overview of Haitian history leading to President Woodrow Wilson’s order to land U.S. forces and occupy the Western Hemisphere’s second-oldest republic. It tells the fascinating story of a long, frustrating and politically divisive exercise in nation building (one of many yet to come) that ended in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Commander Richard L. Schreadley, U.S. Navy (Ret.) enlisted in the Navy in 1949. He was commissioned through the ranks and is a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. His naval assignments included three commands at sea and a year “in country” during the Vietnam War.
He has a bachelors degree in liberal arts from Dickinson College, and two masters and a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
After retirement from the Navy, he worked as a reporter for Charleston, South Carolina newspapers, where he advanced to become editor of the Charleston Evening Post, and executive editor of that paper and its sister publication The News and Courier. He retired from the papers in 1989 to pursue other interests as a writer.
In addition to Intervention! he is the author of two other books: From the Rivers to the Sea, The U.S. Navy in Vietnam, and Valor and Virtue, the Washington Light Infantry in Peace and in War. His columns and articles have been published in the Naval Institute’s Proceedings and in its annual Naval Review issue. He still writes regularly for The Post and Courier in Charleston.