An excellent read and an infuriating read. Worth all five stars. And like Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction and Ackerman’s Reign of Terror, you’re guaranteed to be peeved on every page.
I knew the United States had a colonizing history dating back, well really to its foundation through the US-Mexican War of the 1840s, but more specifically from the end of the 19th century onwards. I knew that we captured many islands in the Caribbean and Pacific respectively, even if I didn’t know the hows-and-whys.
Jonathan M. Katz does a great job filling in the hows and whys through the life of Smedley Butler, a well-regarded Marine commander who led many of the bloody missions.
This book functions in three specific ways and I’m amazed that Katz melded them together so well: a journey of Butler’s imperialist activities on behalf of the United States, a mini-history of each and every conquered or disrupted land, and a travelogue by the author to the present day locations of past US offenses to glean the pain they hath wrought.
The result is a readable, digestible, enlightening and angering work of quality narrative non-fiction.
We can have our disagreements on politics and even American history to a degree. That’s all well and good. What cannot be argued is the atrocities our country committed in the name of racial supremacy and financial dominance. Katz extracts the economics of every invasion: what banks and companies stood to benefit from every war, how Butler realized even from a young age that he was being used (but still continued to fight) and how even in interventions like the 1920s one in China, how he was there for no other reason than to protect US interests (the Marines literally defended the Standard Oil fields).
Butler later took a publicly repentant tone, whose cries for peace and pacifism were poorly timed to be just before WWII (else they may be better remembered). He is critical of Butler’s violence and racism but he doesn’t make Butler the straw man, rather the through line. If it wasn’t Butler, it’d have been someone else. That doesn’t exculpate Butler but it also doesn’t make him the sole driving force.
This is an important story, well-told and should be read by every resident of the United States.