Naval Historical Center home
page Colloquium on Contemporary History Project
Dr. Dean C. Allard
Director, Naval Historical Center
Thank you, Dr. Marolda, for organizing this Colloquium session and thank all of you for coming out on this day of uncertain weather. I would like to make two points with regard to today's discussion. First, I think it's good to have a joint enterprise in this day of jointness. indeed, we can all learn from this operation from varied perspectives. I think there is a naval perspective here, even though the naval representative is now with the Army's history office. But, we have a Navy perspective, a Marine perspective, and an Army perspective. I apologize to our Air Force friends, if there are any in the audience, I assure there is that perspective as well. Military operations are complex and thus many modern operations can only be understood from a joint perspective and that is exactly what we are going to do today.
Secondly, I'd like to refer to contemporary history a bit. As you know, Ed Marolda heads our contemporary History Branch. We didn't do contemporary history until about three years ago, when the Secretary of the Navy became interested in that subject and directed that we do contemporary history- By contemporary history we mean post-1945 history. I'm delighted that we are involved in that enterprise; in something that's useful to our clients, that is to say, the Navy. But, I'm also continually impressed by the controversial nature of doing contemporary history. Which is to say, I'm impressed by the truth that we all know, which is that history is, after all, opinion. History is hopefully opinion based upon good evidence; informed opinion. But, it is in fact opinion and one is reminded of that when one does contemporary study when there are other people around who can say, "no, that's not the way it was." And history, I think, never really is the way it was. History is, as we all know, an interpretation of the events and it cannot really be 100 percent real because there is too much out there and also there's a requirement to interpret these data. And so, I am going to be interested in the informed opinion that we hear today. Welcome one and all.
The subject for today's discussion, the Dominican Republic intervention of 1965, could not have been more timely. During the last few weeks, headlining the news has been the U.S. operation to secure Panama from the depredations of General Manuel Noriega and his "dignity battalions." General Maxwell Thurman, Commander in Chief of the Southern Command and the overall commander of the Panama evolution, recently noted a relationship between the Dominican intervention and current American activities in Panama. There are a number of similarities between the recent operation, "Just Cause," and the 1965 action, including the involvement of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet Marine and naval forces and the Army's 82d Airborne Division. The casualty figures for the earlier operation of 27 men killed in action and 172 wounded approximate current losses in Panama. More important than these surface similarities, however, is the similarity in the nature of the mission assigned American military forces. in both operations, political concerns were paramount. Restoration of political and economic order and the reestablishment of friendly ties between the U.S. government and the governments of the Dominican Republic and of Panama were key objectives. Further, both operations involved coordinated or joint action by the U.S. armed forces. Consequently, our discussion of the Dominican Republic intervention promises to shed some light not only on Panama, but the Libya air strike, Grenada, and other recent joint operations.
As today, in the late 1950s and early 1960s the American national security establishment was especially concerned about Caribbean developments. The administrations of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson feared the encroachment in the region of Communist military power and political influence. They were especially troubled that as Fidel Castro consolidated the hold of his 26 July movement on Cuba he would export Communist revolution to the economically and politically vulnerable nations of the Caribbean basin.
This region, of course, was of great strategic importance to the United States. Control of the sea and the canal through the Isthmus of Panama ensured the expeditious wartime deployment of American military forces between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This control also ensured the ready access of international shipping to the East, West, and Gulf coasts of the United States and to the ports of Latin America. Further, the United States had substantial economic interests in the islands of the Caribbean and along its shores. In the realm of international politics, the United States benefited significantly from the support of the traditionally conservative Caribbean governments.
An American military response to threats in the Caribbean has a long history. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, U.S. military forces frequently intervened in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and other nations of the region. Moreover, resort to force figured prominently on the American menu of crisis options during the era under study. With the adoption of a "flexible response" strategy to counter the range of Communist threats, including "wars of national liberation," the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were inclined to use the increasingly powerful conventional forces at their disposal. In keeping-with this strategic concept, during October 1962 President Kennedy positioned strong U.S. naval forces in the Caribbean to moderate Soviet and Cuban behavior. That same year, he ordered the deployment of Army and Marine forces to Thailand, in another troubled region of the globe. In following years, U.S. Pacific naval, air, and ground forces frequently were employed to influence politico-military developments in Southeast Asia. In March 1965, one month before the Dominican intervention, U.S. Seventh Fleet ships landed the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Danang, South Vietnam. The initial purpose of this deployment vas not to engage U.S. forces in combat, but to deter the Communists from actions against the pro-U.S. governments of Southeast Asia. Force was used as a political instrument. In this context, it will be instructive to learn of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of U.S. military force in achieving the political objectives of the Dominican Republic operation.
24 February 2003