The University of Wisconsin Press
History - American / Political Science / American Studies
Gunboat Diplomacy in the Wilson Era
The U.S. Navy in Haiti, 1915–1916
David Healy’s book is at once an exciting historical narrative and a thought-provoking study of U.S. diplomacy in the Caribbean during the Wilson administration, crucial years in which the U.S. Navy occupied Haiti and, in doing so, exerted profound influence on U.S. foreign policy for that area.
Healy, writing in his usual crisp style, traces the Haitian occupation fro the viewpoint of Rear Admiral William B. Caperton, the commander in charge of that controversial operation. Caperton, it is shown, was granted, and exercised vigorously, broad political decision-making powers in addition to his military functions—and in this role, Caperton serves as a model by which we can better understand Wilson’s interventionist policies in the strategic Caribbean area.
Wilson, who championed “the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak,” was actually the most interventionist U.S. president up to that time. Contrary to mythology, says Healy, Wilson acted not from a single global foreign policy, but from multiple policies based on differing assumptions for different regions. In attempting to secure the Caribbean for U.S. security purposes, Wilson plunged readily into the increasingly troubled affairs of that area. At first, the president himself attempted to direct U.S. activity, particularly during the Mexican Revolution. As events became more complex and American intervention touched more and more countries, however, Wilson had to delegate most of these tasks to his State Department and to the diplomats and commanders on the spot. The interventions, the author reveals, were far from being the simple implementation of a predetermined policy, but in fact did much to crystallize policy, while the method itself had no small impact on the results.
“Neither conventional diplomatic history nor economic analysis can fully expose this dimension of the Caribbean story,” says Healy, warning that “generalizations about the motives and methods of United States actions in the region can be made with confidence only after the military dimension has been integrated with the others.”
With his goals set out clearly, Healy follows Admiral Caperton through his entire Haitian adventure, from January of 1915, when he arrived in Cap-Haïtien in response to reports of serious unrest there, through local intrigue, bloody revolution, U.S. manipulation of the Haitian political machinery, the military intervention, eventual election of a president, and the signing and implementation of a treaty which was favorable to U.S. Caribbean interests. The tale itself is an exciting one, well-told, and the myriad of events which Healy relates help us to new insights and a fuller understanding of military/diplomatic patterns during the Wilson years. Healy’s book will be of especial interest and value to U.S. historians, Latin-Americanists, diplomatic historians, political scientists, naval historians, and all who enjoy a good, fast-moving historical narrative, well-constructed and rich in political meaning.
David Healy is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. His other books include The United States in Cuba, 1898–1902; US Expansionism: The Imperialist Urge in the 1890s; and Drive to Hegemony: The United States in the Caribbean, 1898–1917.
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LC: 75-032074 E
280 pp. 8 illus., 1 map
This title, cloth ISBN 978-0-299-06980-3, is out of print, but David Healy's US Expansionism has been reprinted.
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Updated December 14, 2011© 2011, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System