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100 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2006
OVERTHROW is a remarkably interesting book. It ties together 14 different instances of U.S. "intervention" (read: regime change) by finding similarities between U.S. foreign policy in places as geographically and culturally various as Chile and Iran.

Among Kinzer's conclusions is that it is impossible for the U.S. to EVER be successful in the long term when we get caught in the temptations of implementing regime changes. This is partially due to the fact that one can't install leaders in foreign countries who are both genuinely popular with their compatriots AND who are looking out for American interests. The two are nearly always mutually exclusive.

But it's one thing to sum up one of Kinzer's primary theses, and quite another to read OVERTHROW's specific and fascinating examples. I consider myself well read and informed, yet in each chapter, I found historical material that surprised me. Stephen Kinzer's work as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times served him well for this volume: He is a master at "explaining" the interesting stories and crucial background needed to understand his case studies in this book. Brilliant work.
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96 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2006
Stephen Kinzer's latest book, "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq," is, I think, a necessary and valuable contribution to the study of American history. It's one of those few books that I begin reading and find difficult to put aside. While not exactly a "thriller" in the ordinary sense of a James Bond novel, I found myself continuing to turn page after page, reluctant to take a break, hesitant to stop reading lest I miss something important by forgetting where I left off and, all in all, curious about what was coming next. This was strange; after all, I taught American history for over ten years and have continued to study it ever since I left teaching. But not much of the "stuff" Kinzer is relating. No, the whole idea of so-called "regime change" was never a topic discussed in a history class I taught. For that matter, it was not a topic in any American history course I took in college.

Now, this does not mean that those of my generation were ignorant of the things of which Kinzer writes. I grew up and lived in the era when many of the "regime changes" discussed by the author were taking place. Neither I nor my contemporaries, however, used the term "regime change" or looked at those incidents through the conceptual lens that many of us do today. As close as I remember getting to this sort of political reality was when I spent ten days in Hawaii way back in the 1960s and was introduced to a few native Hawaiians who did not have very good things to say about the American missionaries and businessmen who stepped afoot on their island and simply took control, changing (or "destroying"?) a culture that had been around for hundreds of years and successfully so. A "regime change"? Well, I don't think any of us looked at it quite that way back then.

This book definitely reminds us of some uncomfortable incidents in American history. The United States, as Kinzer points out, has overthrown at least fourteen sovereign foreign governments. Furthermore, the United States seems to have adopted a policy of interfering in foreign governments long ago, possibly as long as a hundred years or so. So our recent invasion of Iraq, for instance, in the name of "regime change," should come as no surprise to the informed. Actually, many of the "intrusions" the United States has made into other countries -- whether by supporting friendly coups, by fomenting internal revolutions, or by just plain military invasions -- have occurred during my lifetime. These include Cuba, Iran, Viet Nam, Chile, Grenada, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, and most recently, Iraq. I might relate that I was in Central America during the time of the hostilities in Nicaragua and Guatemala and did experience firsthand some of the problems there.

There is no doubt in my mind that the United States has aggressively interfered in the internal affairs of other nations. That is a matter of record. And I submit that it is difficult to justify most of this interference since it was either promoted by or in the personal interests of American alien-residents or large corporations who simply wanted to exploit the local populace and their natural resources. Kinzer provides many examples of both cases and he does it objectively and dispassionately. Historical facts are historical facts. The United States does have many things to be ashamed of regarding its foreign policies and practices.

Let's be fair, however, and look at the excursions which are narrated by Kinzer with some historical perspective. While it is true that the United States government has involved itself in many questionable and possibly condemnable practices in foreign affairs, it has certainly not been alone. It has had no monopoly on international intrigue and exploitation. England, France, China, Holland, Spain, Japan, Germany, Turkey, Russia -- need I go on? -- are also guilty of building empires of their own, invading foreign nations, exploiting human beings, and involving themselves in, to say the least, despicable practices.

This is not an excuse for the behavior of the United States regarding its past or present international "sins," but it is necessary to place these matters in some perspective. If the United States is to be considered the "Great Satan" out there, it has lots and lots of company. Many other countries need to realize that they may be part of the "international problem" too. That being said, the United States has to do much better on the international stage. America needs to be an exemplar of democratic reform and human rights and it can't do that by trying to impose such through the force of arms. As I have said elsewhere: The United States may currently be the "big man" on the international campus, but it ought not be the "big bully" in the international school yard.

I think that Kinzer ends his book with an observation that all of us need to take to heart. He says: "The United States rose to world power more quickly than almost any nation or empire ever has. Filled with the exuberance and self-confidence of youth, it developed a sense of unlimited possibility. Many Americans came to believe that since they had been so successful in building their country, they not only duplicate that success abroad but were called by Providence to do so. Responding to this call, and to their belief that they are entitled to a large share of the world's resources, they set out to overthrow foreign governments. Most of these adventures have brought them, and the nations whose histories they sought to change, far more pain than liberation." I'll second that.

Lest readers think that Kinzer in his book or I in my review are being "unpatriotic" at this critical time, let me remind them that "patriotism" means "love of one's country," not "love of one's current government." This book is a must read for all true "patriots."
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129 of 144 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 6, 2006
It's surely true that about all Major World Powers, at least European and American, have invaded and occupied many smaller nations for economic and corporate reasons. Mr. Kinzer makes the point that most, if not all, of the USA invasions from Hawaii in 1893 to Iraq in 2003, have been the result of US corporations (oil,sugar,bananas,etc) persuading the USA Powers that local, nationalistic pressures on the bottom line should result in "Regime Change" military Operations, for the past 113 years, from Ben Harrison to GW Bush. And usually the result is negative, though sometimes these results may take a very long time to show. Case in point: Iran, where in 1954 a US-sponsored "Regime Change" due largely to corporate pressures resulted in some very unfriendly feelings in Iran towards the USA, lasting through the 1979-80 Revolution, and into today's Diplomatic Stalement. The Central American Operations are well known, along with Cuba and the Philipines during the Spanish American War of 1898, another war stated on some bogus info:ie, the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor. Though US Politicians may be convinced of their own righteousness in ordering "Regime Change", the local people are not always convinced, and can even hold very long term grudges.He is not positive on the current Iraq Mess, noting the obvious, though he does admit it's possible that the future may be better!
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119 of 141 people found the following review helpful
EDITED 27 June 2007 to add thoughts from second reading (accidental). While at the beach, ran out of books, bought this not remembering I had already read it, and found new value. Using the new link feature to insert links to the books originally listed.

This is a timely review, although the facts are well known to those who follow international affairs.

In this second (as if new) reading, the following quote stayed with me from page 317: "Most American sponsored 'regime change' operations have, in the end, weakened rather than strengthened, American security."

I list the countries covered by this book: Hawaii, Cuba, Nicarague, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Guatemala, Iran, Viet-Nam, Chile, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq.

I focus more on Hawaii, in 1893, the first of a new range of intrusive overthrows (beyond the land expansion actions the author chooses not to cover). I am struck--moved--by the duplicitious immoral actions of both the white landowners and the white US government representatives against the people of Hawaii.

The author discusses how Hawaiians were at the time bound by obligations, ritual, and a reverence for nature. I am reminded of how we and the Spanish genocided the native Americans, north and south, individuals who had decades if not centuries of refined knowledge on how to shape and nurture the Earth in harmony with their needs.

This time around, the author's emphasis on how the legal right to buy land led to the loss of local indigenous control and rights. I now firmly believe that foreign and absentee landlords should be eliminated.

This time around, I note the author's emphasis on how corporations are a form of national army, capturing wealth in different ways from an armed force.

This time around, I think of how Dick Cheney has raped the American dream, in so violent and so public a fashion, that America's "lost innocence" can not longer be denied.

This time around, I discover and reflect (being at the beach) on the superb bibliography.

For a broader and perhaps more disturbing overview of the costs to America of corporate-driven foreign policy, see
The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America's Power and Purpose
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America's Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy
Why We Fight
The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political--Citizen's Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2006
Having been educated to the PhD level I spent 23 years of my life in school and thus have read a lot of books. I am also a lover of books and still a constant reader which leads to the same conclusion: I've read a lot of books. Thus I don't say what I'm about to say lightly: this is one of the best books I've ever read in my 65 years of life. It is truly a book that every single literate American should read.

Many of us will be made uncomfortable by what this book has to say but our alternative is to continue to hide our heads in the sand. Since at least 1893 this country has engineered the overthrow of governments in many countries of the world and this has not happened without consequences. When we wonder why "they" hate us we simply must become aware of what American governments and American corporations have done to "them" over the years and this will help us to understand why they hate us. If Americans refuse to educate themselves about this and deny this reality we will go the way of previous empires that were eventually toppled in part by the hatred their prior actions had engendered.

Most of the evidence seems to me to support the conclusion that we will go the way of prior empires but reading this book could help reverse this process. Unfortunately the demise of the American empire could well be far worse and more destructive than any before because now there is the spread of nuclear weapons. Who can doubt, if those who hate us could set off a nuclear device in one of our population centers, that they would do this. There is also a lot of sabre-rattling coming from some in the Bush administration, like Sec. Rumsfeld, toward China. If an American administration gets us into a war with China, a nuclear power, the results could be the holocaust that so many feared more consciously in the 1950s and 60s.

Read "Overthrow", you owe it to yourself and your children and grandchildren.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2006
Dear, "Left out a lot of overthrows",

First, you might want to actually read this book before you review it. Second, ALL history books are 'selective' for reasons of practicality. you can't re-write the history of the world every time you set out to write a book about a specific period in history. The author of this book clearly states his intent in the opening pages of the book and tells the reader exactly what regime changes he is concentrating on and why. Your fear, I can only imagine, is that "Here's yet another ant-patriot trying to bring down the glorious nation who won WWII!"

Why do some of us continue to delude ourselves that since we won the "big one" we are exempt, forever afterward, from any critisism? I think understanding the mind set of the people who brought us the second Iraq war truly needs to be understood. Sure there is a slim chance that this administration may have done the correct thing and we just need fifty years before we can see the positive end result. But that probably won't happen. So we can bury our collective heads in the sand and continue to evoke the memories of WWII (which the gov. had to draft people to fight just like WWI) or we can face up to the reality that we are NOT infact the never erring country we wish we were and start brainstorming about how we can make ourselves better. This book is an attempt at that. The truth ain't always pretty but rational adults should be able to accept that.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2006
Overthrow documents the U.S. propensity to further business interests by replacing foreign governments, even at the expense of the native people. There is a reason people are wary of the U.S. government. For those who don't understand Iran's stance, this book might help understand the deep hatred against the U.S. which turned the people to support a religious regime. The consequences of the government's actions are also documented well. This is a good counterpoint to the Bush administration's reasoning for the war in Iraq. It also documents that Bush's use of military force is not rare. In some ways he is more transparent.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2007
Even though Saddam Hussein distinguished himself as one of history's most ruthless dictators, many Americans expressed surprise that the United States preemptively invaded a sovereign nation to depose a head of state. I know that I did. But there was nothing unusual about American regime change, according to Stephen Kinzer. Only historical ignorance, amnesia, or patriotic naivete could allow someone like me to enjoy such a pleasant myth. Kinzer has reported from more than fifty countries as a foreign correspondent, and in this book he examines the fourteen times in the last century that the United States has toppled foreign governments:

* Hawaii (1893)

* Cuba (1898)

* Puerto Rico (1898)

* Philippines (1902)

* Nicaragua (1910)

* Honduras (1911)

* Iran (1953)

* Guatemala (1954)

* Vietnam (1963)

* Chile (1973)

* Grenada (1983)

* Panama (1989)

* Afghanistan (2001)

* Iraq (2003)

Specialists will debate the complex nuances of outright coups, covert activities, mixed motives, and historical consequences, but by giving us the "big picture" Kinzer reminds us that America's geopolitics is hardly benign or altruistic. "No nation in modern history," he writes, "has done this so often, in so many places so far from its own shores."

America has deposed foreign governments for many reasons. We have claimed to civilize others, Christianize them, protect them, and liberate them. We have also ousted presidents and prime ministers to guard economic interests (including those of corporations like United Fruit and ITT), control another country's natural resources (especially when they had the audacity to try to nationalize them for their own citizens), maintain and spread our power, and combat enemy ideologies. We have employed Machiavellian means to accomplish regime change, including bold lies, doing the exact opposite of what we promised, ignoring international law, media censorship, terror, torture, rape, funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to rebel causes, and propaganda. Some of what we have done feels good and right, like ridding Panama of Noriega. But a major theme of Kinzer's book is the law of unintended consequences. Invading other countries has almost always radicalized extreme groups, fanned the flames of nationalism, and fomented anti-Americanism that has destabilized countries rather than strengthened them. Invading others, in fact, has more often than not weakened our own country. Since no country can resist our will to power, we have thus often been the victim of our own "catastrophic success."
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2006
Over the past few years more and more books are coming out with the truth and a cohesive picture of history that finally makes sense. It seems as if the old guard is dying off, the ones that bored us for centuries with a fake account of history; of how great America has always been good and noble, with honorable christian intentions, all the while omiting the deception, greed and other human qualities making for a great historical read. by its succinct reporting and lively analysis, the author has brought these characters of the past alive. It's not a then this happened and that happened type of book. No. It tells a story with each overthrow, what led up to them, why they happened and how they happened. He allows the reader to understand history and foreign policy without telling you what to think. You can glean real lessons from this book, even about life itself, since the actors are human, very human and the consequences far reaching. It's amazing how ruthless money grabbing people become and its even worse when they get a gang behind them, in these cases, the US military! Whether it's a leader of a street gang or those slowly robbing lands of their sovereignty, resources and land, the world works the same way and kids need to know that so they can prepare for the inevitable bullies. If you know how the world really works, you can better avoid falling into a blind patriotic social construct. With good historical insight, the citizenry can keep checks and balances on a government growing to large to follow the rule of law and the constitution. This was a great read, succinct, memorable and thorough and never boring. Awesome and I highly recommend it to everyone in all age groups, over 10 or 11. I have learned more history by reading this book than by reading 10 other history books over the past 5 years. Now I see why we are where we are and I see the fallibility of man, preventing me from having an idolatrous relationship with America just because its America.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2006
As citizens of the US empire, we are often discouraged from thinking that our country may be up to no good in the world. The truth can be less flattering than we want it to be, and we are often emotionally, psychologically and/or financially tied up with our image of the nation state (not dissimilar to the manner in which we become fanatics of a sports team). Fortunately, there is a growing chorus of voices like Kinzer's who are telling the truths of our corporate-driven foreign (and domestic) policies.

Along with Chalmers Johnson, Michael Parenti, Howard Zinn and several others, Kinzer details US aggression in the world, the suffering it has caused, and how we oftentimes end up paying for our actions. As General Ulysses S. Grant said after the US invasion of Mexico, "Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions." Incidentally, Kinzer could easily write a "pre-quel" to "Overthrow" and include a chapter on the US invasion of Mexico, which General Grant called "the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation."

In "Overthrow," Kinzer sticks to more recent history, and does a fine job with it. I heard his recent interview on "Democracy Now!", a radio program which amplifies voices like Kinzer's that the establishment media marginalizes.

To those who feel there is no other way for the US to be in the world other than as a military empire, I'd suggest they look beyond the sort of attitudes that the Nazis put forth (by the way, the Russians did more to destroy Nazism than the US did. Moreover, the US hired several hundred Nazis via "Operation Paperclip;" and US policies toward Indochina, the Middle East, East Timor, Angola and Latin America indicate the spirit of Hitler lives), and support organizations that develop international solidarity like "Global Exchange" and "World Pulse" magazine. One thing that's been lacking in books by people like Kinzer are examples of the countless activities going on all over the world that cultivate cooperative and humane interactions. The US population desperately needs a progressive global vision since our current view of the world has been perverted by crisis-mongering news, books, tv dramas, video games and movies that advance the "Hobbesian" worldview that weapons contractors like to plant in the public mind (see the excellent documentary by Eugene Jarecki "Why We Fight"). There are countless ways in which we can produce true wealth and security between nations, and it begins with US citizens transforming their fearful and narcissistic attitudes. Kinzer's "Overthrow" is an important contribution to that process.

"The world is my country." -Tom Paine
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