Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940by Mary A. Renda
The U.S. invasion of Haiti in July 1915 marked the start of a military occupation that lasted for nineteen years--and fed an American fascination with Haiti that flourished even longer. Exploring the cultural dimensions of U.S. contact with Haiti during the occupation and its aftermath, Mary Renda shows that what Americans thought and wrote about Haiti during those… See more details below
The U.S. invasion of Haiti in July 1915 marked the start of a military occupation that lasted for nineteen years--and fed an American fascination with Haiti that flourished even longer. Exploring the cultural dimensions of U.S. contact with Haiti during the occupation and its aftermath, Mary Renda shows that what Americans thought and wrote about Haiti during those years contributed in crucial and unexpected ways to an emerging culture of U.S. imperialism.
At the heart of this emerging culture, Renda argues, was American paternalism, which saw Haitians as wards of the United States. She explores the ways in which diverse Americans--including activists, intellectuals, artists, missionaries, marines, and politicians--responded to paternalist constructs, shaping new versions of American culture along the way. Her analysis draws on a rich record of U.S. discourses on Haiti, including the writings of policymakers; the diaries, letters, songs, and memoirs of marines stationed in Haiti; and literary works by such writers as Eugene O'Neill, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Pathbreaking and provocative, Taking Haiti illuminates the complex interplay between culture and acts of violence in the making of the American empire.
Renda's interpretation of Haiti as 'America's Africa' combines an empathetic analysis of the American military presence with a provocative discussion of interventionist paternalism's impact on America's identity. (Dennis E. Showalter, Colorado College)
Taking Haiti provides a superb analysis of the complex cultural meanings of the Haitian occupation as well as its aftermath on the North American mainland. (Gail Bederman, University of Notre Dame)
Renda draws from a wide variety of textsmarines' memoirs, missionary reports, pulp fiction, official documents, African American and Haitian literatureto suggest the multiple meanings of the United States occupation of Haiti. (Emily S. Rosenberg, Macalester College)
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Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940
By Mary A. Renda
University of North Carolina Press
Copyright © 2001 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
The United States invaded Haiti in July 1915 and subsequently held the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere under military occupation for nineteen years. While in Haiti, marines installed a puppet president, dissolved the legislature at gunpoint, denied freedom of speech, and forced a new constitution on the Caribbean nation one more favorable to foreign investment. With the help of the marines, U.S. officials seized the customshouses, took control of Haitian finances, and imposed their own standards of efficiency on the administration of Haitian debt. Meanwhile, marines waged war against insurgents (called Cacos) who for several years maintained an armed resistance in the countryside, and imposed a brutal system of forced labor that engendered even more fierce Haitian resistance. By official U.S. estimates, more than 3,000 Haitians were killed during this period; a more thorough accounting reveals that the death toll may have reached 11,500. The occupation also reorganized and strengthened the Haitian military. Now called the Gendarmerie, the new military organization was officered by marines and molded in the image of the Marine Corps.
An occupation is, in one sense, a temporary arm of the state created to carry out a series of specific tasks. In this case, those tasks were to bring about political stability in Haiti, to secure U.S. control over Haiti with regard to U.S. strategic interests in the Caribbean, and to integrate Haiti more effectively into the international capitalist economy. Of course, supporters of the occupation, and those responsible for it, proposed that these goals would also bring about specific gains for Haiti. They pointed, for example, to the work of the Navy Medical Corps and to the construction of roads, bridges, buildings, and telephone systems under the marines' supervision. With these changes, U.S. policy makers indeed sought to create an infrastructure to serve as the foundation for economic development and modernization. They also professed the hope that on this basis a new Haitian democracy would flourish.
On the ground, cross-cultural dynamics complicated Washington's script for the occupation. Some members of the Haitian elite initially cooperated with the U.S. military, even viewing their presence as potentially helpful, but other Haitians, long suspicious of foreign powers and of government in general, were less eager to play their parts. Many Haitians adopted a watchful stance in relation to the invading blan (or blancs, as foreigners were called), some engaging in varied forms of everyday resistance, while the Cacos, initially representing a small but significant sector of the population, mounted their armed rebellion. In time, the unabashed racism of many Marine Corps officers and enlisted men, and the outright brutality of the forced labor system implemented to carry out building projects, galvanized the population in opposition to the U.S. presence. Far from laying the groundwork for the hoped-for advent of democracy, material improvements in transportation and communication served to increase the efficiency of the occupation as a police state, with marines and gendarmes in command of every district of the country.
This extended breach of Haitian sovereignty constitutes an infamous but crucial chapter in Haitian history. In contrast, as an exercise of military power and imperial will, the occupation has earned little more than a footnote in standard accounts of U.S. history. On one level, the relative weight given to the occupation in these national historical narratives seems to reflect objective imbalances of size, power, and influence between the two nations. At first glance, it appears that the occupation had an obvious and far-reaching impact on Haiti, but little discernible effect on the United States. Whereas a relatively small number of marines fought, labored, and made themselves at home in Haiti beginning in 1915, much larger numbers of U.S. troops soon fought and died at Belleau Wood, Verdun, and Meuse-Argonne. In 1919, the year a few marines turned the tide against the Cacos by capturing and killing the rebel leader, Charlemagne Pralte, news was breaking elsewhere. Woodrow Wilson forged the League of Nations at Versailles, over 4 million U.S. workers went on strike, race riots racked the nation, and the U.S. Senate finally approved woman suffrage. In the 1920s, while in Haiti officers played polo and enlisted men baseball; stateside, business leaders pioneered the modern corporation, and mass media emerged as a new force in U.S. American culture. In short, it seems that the real stuff of U.S. history during those years was taking shape within U.S. borders and in Europe, not in a small Caribbean nation. How, then, should the first occupation of Haiti by the United States figure in the larger picture of U.S. history?
This book contends that the military occupation of Haiti that began in 1915 was no sideshow. It was one of several important arenas in which the United States was remade through overseas imperial ventures in the first third of the twentieth century. The transformations of imperialism were also effected in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Nicaragua, China, the Philippines, and dozens of other places around the globe. Foreign interventions and territorial seizures overlapped in time and personnel and built on one another to refine the techniques of imperial control and influence. Taken together, they formed a solid overseas foundation for new cultural departures in the United States. Each intervention also had its own particular character and thus contributed uniquely to the remaking of U.S. America. Like others who were the focus of U.S. imperial efforts, Haitians interacted with U.S. citizens and institutions in a manner that grew out of their own indigenous history and culture, thus contributing in unexpected ways to the matrix of an emerging U.S. imperial culture.
My opening sketch of the occupation presents a stripped-down version of events in Haiti between 1915 and 1934. In its brevity, it inevitably distorts a much more complex historical record. The picture of gunboat diplomacy drawn in those first few paragraphs conveys little, for example, about how U.S. marines and sailors understood their role in Haiti and says nothing about how their involvement in the occupation changed them. Neither does it tell about the train of U.S. Americans congressmen, businessmen, bankers, bureaucrats, diplomats, journalists, artists, activists, anthropologists, and missionaries who traipsed through Haiti during and just after the occupation, for good and ill. When we begin to look at who went to Haiti, how they interacted with Haitians, and how they wrote and talked about what they saw and heard, a new picture of the occupation, and of American culture, comes into view.
My account of the occupation will center, then, on the marines who implemented U.S. policy. The intervention that began in 1915 was a coordinated attempt to transform Haiti, and marines were a crucial part of the machinery established to carry out this task. Yet, unlike Gatling guns and heavy artillery, marines themselves were men who brought with them their own ideas, desires, fears, and ambitions. They could not simply be placed in Haiti; they had to be conscripted into the project of carrying out U.S. rule. To be sure, the fundamental military value of obedience to the chain of command necessary for the creation of efficient fighting forces also helped to keep enlisted men and junior officers in line. Still, the exigencies of operating in a foreign land required marines, at various ranks, to exercise judgment as well as to follow orders. How, then, did the occupation position U.S. American men in Haiti, and how did they, in turn, negotiate their relationship to the nation they were sent to occupy? How did they respond to the forces that attempted to fix them in a particular relation to Haiti?
Paternalist discourse was one of the primary cultural mechanisms by which the occupation conscripted men into the project of carrying out U.S. rule. The traces of paternalism can be found in evidence left by marines of varied ranks and experiences. Private Paul Woyshner expressed its importance in a cartoon for the Marines Magazine, in which a marine wags his finger at a recalcitrant Haiti, admonishing "Listen, Son!" (Figure 1). Sergeant Faustin Wirkus emphasized it in his detailed memoir of Haiti, in which he described the strain of "being father and big brother to . . . our Haitian friends." Yet, the role of paternalism in the cultural conscription of marines in Haiti is perhaps most vividly illustrated by the testimony of General Smedley Butler before a special Senate committee investigating the occupation in 1921 and 1922. A key player in the opening years of the occupation, Butler claimed, "We were all embued [sic] with the fact that we were the trustees of a huge estate that belonged to minors. That was the viewpoint I personally took, that the Haitians were our wards and that we were endeavoring to make for them a rich and productive property, to be turned over to them at such a time as our government saw fit." These examples show some of the ways that paternalist discourse infused marines' accounts of their work in Haiti. They also suggest the possibility that paternalism helped to shape their understanding and experience of the occupation they were sent to carry out.
Yet what conclusions may be drawn from the prevalence of paternalist images in marines' self-representations? Surely, the Marine Corps as an institution and marines as individuals would have wanted to show themselves in the best light. Can we take such self-representations seriously as a basis for historical analysis? U.S. historians have generally answered this question in one of several ways. One tradition has seen interventionist paternalism as a genuine reality. Historians writing in this tradition point to the social and material improvements marines attempted to bring to Haiti: hospitals, roads, bridges, public buildings, telecommunications, and so forth. Violence was part of the picture, they readily admit, but should not dominate our perception of what was intended to be a constructive enterprise, undertaken by U.S. Americans who were, in one historian's words, "determined to implant a sense of community in the tropics." Another tradition has emphasized the violence of U.S. rule and has pointed to economic or strategic motives. In this version, paternalism was little more than a transparent veneer of rhetoric. Historians must see through such rhetoric, it is supposed, to get at the truth of violence and imperialism in U.S.-occupied Haiti. At least one historian has taken a middle course, identifying paternalism as a mitigating factor in a largely coercive and racist intervention.
Treating paternalism as an obvious good, a mitigating factor, or a transparent veneer to be "seen through," historians have failed to notice its importance and complexity as an element of U.S. foreign policy. Paternalism was not merely a justification laid on after the fact in order to pretty up American wrongdoing. It was, instead, a whole constellation of meanings, images, ideas, and values that helped to shape and direct U.S. relations with former European colonial possessions. Paternalism was an assertion of authority, superiority, and control expressed in the metaphor of a father's relationship with his children. It was a form of domination, a relation of power, masked as benevolent by its reference to paternal care and guidance, but structured equally by norms of paternal authority and discipline. In this sense, paternalism should not be seen in opposition to violence, but rather as one among several cultural vehicles for it.
The implementation of U.S. foreign policy in Haiti depended on such cultural vehicles as thoroughly as it depended on the USS Washington and Tennessee. Paternalism, we might say, was the cultural flagship of the United States in Haiti. It served practical military purposes, including, but not limited to, announcing the identity of the invading force. As such, it must be understood as thoroughly as any military technology. To that end, we must turn our attention to the cultural terms and categories out of which paternalism was constructed and through which it functioned.
Most obviously, age, class, and race provided the building blocks of paternalism. From the eighteenth century to the early twentieth, the valence of these terms shifted as the discourse of paternalism developed in relation to changing family structures, emerging class formations, and novel racial ideologies. The institutional origins of paternalism in the United States included, for example, the master craftsman's workshop, in which an established artisan apprenticed boys and younger men to the ways of his trade. Yet the slave plantation and the Indian reservation were perhaps its most significant institutional crucibles. In those contexts, age came to function as a metaphor and mechanism for racial subordination. Later, white, native-born men in business and government figured themselves as fathers to a racialized immigrant work force. Finally, as paternalism moved overseas its racial and class codes were further elaborated.
In crucial but perhaps less obvious ways, paternalism was also structured by gender and sexuality. Just as the father was (and remains) a gendered figure, so paternalism invoked gendered meanings associated with men, women, and families to naturalize and normalize the authority it asserted. It constructed male and female bodies and positioned men and women in particular ways. Moreover, paternalism constructed a given social space in terms of racialized (and class-specific) codes of masculinity and femininity. U.S. American workingmen, for example, rejected turn-of-the-century industrial paternalism as a patronizing denial of manhood. Paternalism invoked sexual discourses on various levels as well. In relation to Haiti, it mobilized a variant we might call the discourse of paternity, which explicitly linked legitimacy, heritage, and identity to norms of female sexuality.
Smedley Butler's characterization of Haitians as wards of the United States provides one among many possible entry points into the complex web of meanings embedded in U.S. paternalism toward Haiti. Butler's use of the term "wards" called on a Progressive Era social narrative of children orphaned by parental death, abandonment, or neglect who must be taken under the formal guardianship of the state. Butler's phrasing was not new, nor was he the last to characterize Haiti as an orphan nation. Indeed, over the course of the occupation paternalist discourse constructed Haiti as a nation orphaned by parental neglect, sometimes figuring France as the father who abandoned Haiti and Africa as the single mother incapable of raising her illegitimate child alone. Wilhelm F. Jordan, an evangelical missionary who labored in Haiti in the early 1920s, extended Butler's progressive social narrative along these lines, figuring Haiti as a wayward girl. Jordan invoked norms of female sexuality to emphasize the absence of proper discipline and the importance of the U.S. presence in Haiti. He wrote, "after the withdrawal of the French, left entirely to herself, Haiti started on the road to ruin, resting only occasionally from a mad orgy of civil wars, revolutionary uprisings, assassinations, and murders, until recently stopped by the occupation of the country by Uncle Sam's marines." For Jordan, Haiti's history was a story of demise, inevitable for young girls "on the road to ruin" due to the absence of proper domestic influences. Casting social and political upheaval as "a mad orgy of civil wars," Jordan conflated political unrest with sexual impropriety, encoding both in a vague but suggestive image of illegitimacy.
These examples indicate some of the complexity of paternalism as the reigning discourse of the occupation. The cultural framework that positioned U.S. American men as would-be father figures in Haiti carried diverse implications for the ongoing negotiation of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Those and other cultural categories became the threads out of which paternalist discourse wove its story of American care and guidance and of Haiti's dire need for a stern disciplinary hand. Adding further to this complexity, the discourse of paternalism was internally contradictory. To cite an example of special importance, paternalism's narrative seemed on one level to establish clear boundaries between Haiti and America (one nation in need, the other ready to answer that need), while on another level it blurred those boundaries (two nations connected by a family relation, if only an adoptive one). U.S. American men grappled variously with paternalism's sometimes troubling, sometimes convenient inconsistencies.
The relationship between the dominant discourse of paternalism and the perspectives and actions of individual marines was further complicated by the perhaps obvious fact that paternalism was not the only discourse operating in the social space of the occupation. Other forms of racism and racial awareness competed for marines' attention, as did other narratives of gender and sexuality. Other accounts of U.S. power and its goals were available to marines, as were other discourses on Haiti and the Haitian people. Indeed, coming face to face with Haitians on Haitian soil would force U.S. American men to confront countless unexpected cultural realities. Haitian historical discourses, for example, embedded in architecture and in social practices as well as in printed volumes, held out alternative interpretations of Haiti's relation to the United States. Ultimately, Haiti offered marines (and others) a rich, new set of cultural resources that became the basis for articulating new ways of understanding race, gender, and Americanness. A full account of the interaction between Haitians and U.S. Americans, Haitian culture and U.S. culture, is beyond the scope of this book, but Haiti's impact on marines' sense of their role in the occupation must complicate any simple reading of the cultural frameworks U.S. Americans brought to Haiti.
Clearly then, to say that paternalism was the reigning discourse of the occupation is not to say that it can account for the full range of U.S. marines' utterances and actions. Indeed, the process by which discourses shape human actors, a process I call cultural conscription, can be profound, but it can never be seamless. In Haiti, both the internal contradictions of the dominant discourse and the crowded discursive terrain on which it operated challenged the hold paternalism could have on individual marines. For these and other reasons, marines did not respond with one voice to its imperatives. Determining how they did respond to the discourses that attempted to conscript them, and how, in particular, they negotiated the challenges of paternalism, shaping the discourse even as it shaped them, constitutes one of the central problems of this book.
Such an analysis of the marines' experience in Haiti contributes to our understanding of the occupation in several important ways. It helps us see that the cultural dimensions of the occupation were not limited to a set of attitudes that shaped policy makers' perspectives or to a set of lies that justified violence after the fact. The operation of culture was integral to the military, political, and economic project of the occupation insofar as the success of that project depended on the successful cultural conscription of the troops sent to carry it out. An analysis of the occupation that begins with the experience of the marines, and not with the experience of Haitians, cannot pretend to offer any kind of comprehensive account of U.S. imperialism in Haiti. But understanding the ways that marines were culturally conscripted, and the ways they resisted such conscription, will help us understand what happened in Haiti between 1915 and 1934 and what U.S. American culture had to do with that.
An analysis of the way marines negotiated the cultural minefield of the occupation also helps us understand the impact of the occupation on U.S. American culture. This is so because the marines in Haiti were engaged in a conversation with the nation at large about the occupation and about the U.S. role in the world. Marines contributed in unique ways to this national conversation. In Haiti, they hosted and guided visiting journalists, travel writers, missionaries, and other visitors; back in the States, many talked and some wrote about their experiences, on occasion encouraging others to find out more about "the Black Republic." A few marines, like Faustin Wirkus, penned sensational memoirs about their Haitian tours of duty, and one, A. J. Burks, became a best-selling pulp fiction author.
Yet the marines were not the occupation's only interlocutors, and paternalism was not only directed at men in uniform. It was equally a mechanism for conscripting other U.S. Americans and, for that matter, Haitians into the project of establishing U.S. empire. Moreover, marines were not the only ones to answer the call of paternalism in their own ways. Outside the armed services, African Americans and European Americans, men and women, popular writers and missionaries, supporters and critics of U.S. foreign policy weighed in with their own interpretations of Haiti and of the U.S. presence there. Like the marines, these commentators and cultural producers accepted some aspects of paternalist discourse and rejected others, sometimes forging new versions of Americanness in the process. Their goal was not necessarily to comment on the occupation per se, but their creative contributions to U.S. American culture began with one or more of the cultural shards deposited by it.
While some of those shards were deposited by marines, others also introduced Haiti and the occupation into American culture. Writing in support of the occupation, some journalists made plain that the invasion was a necessary response to the violence of the Haitian mob that was said to have butchered President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam and paraded his head about Port-au-Prince on a staff. Adhering to the paternalist narrative, they stressed the uncivilized nature of Haitian political processes to date and portrayed the military occupation as a moral imperative. In the first five years of the occupation, few critical voices challenged their accounts; Jane Addams and the Women's Peace Party, W. E. B. Du Bois of the Crisis, and Lovett Fort-Whiteman of the Messenger were among the very few exceptions that proved the rule of acquiescence to the wisdom of paternalism.
In 1920 the occupation's critics emerged in force, and with them came new levels of attention to Haiti. That year, James Weldon Johnson, poet, novelist, and field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), visited Haiti and wrote a scathing critique of the occupation for the Nation. In "Self-Determining Haiti," Johnson also attempted to focus American attention on the dignity of the Haitian peasant, the cultural achievement of the educated Haitian, and, most of all, the grandeur of Haitian history and heritage. Johnson later boasted that, through his writings and personal contacts, he had encouraged "a new literary interest in Haiti." Indeed, his connection to Haiti contributed to the work of Eugene O'Neill, John Vandercook, William Seabrook, Langston Hughes, Mercer Cook, and others. While some writers continued to denigrate Haiti's African origins and to peddle damning lies about Haitian religion, others began to suspect that Haiti's Africanness held elements of cultural wealth lacking in their own pale industrial civilization.
Ironically, writers in both traditions created Haiti as an exotic object of desire within American culture. Between the early 1920s and the late 1930s, U.S. Americans featured Haiti in stage plays, radio dramas, short stories, songs, novels, travel books, paintings, sculpture, dance, and even on wallpaper. Popular magazines presented Haiti in stories on subjects ranging from politics to homemaking. In 1929 William Seabrook's sensational travel narrative, The Magic Island, became a Literary Guild selection and a national best seller. In the next decade and half, Ethel Merman sang "Katie Went to Haiti," Edna Taft wrote A Puritan in Voodoo Land, Orson Welles's popular radio show, The Shadow, featured Haitian characters and settings, and Hollywood served up films like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie. In 1934 a short story by Agnes Tait in the New Yorker began this way: "Suddenly I had to go to Haiti. You know how those decisions come to you: a few words heard at a party, a line or two in a book, or picture in a steamship company folder, and all at once you realize that you have to go to Haiti." Among those who "had to go to Haiti," or at least had to write about it, were a number of prominent African American artists and intellectuals. In the 1920s and 1930s, Arthur Schomburg, Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps, Katherine Dunham, Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston, and others mined the riches of Haitian culture and history for their work.
The impact of the occupation on the United States must be understood, then, with reference to the rich and varied cultural engagement it precipitated. U.S. Americans who presided over, visited, or read about Haiti found opportunities to reimagine their own nation and their own lives as they appeared to be reflected by and refracted through Haitian history and culture. To comprehend the occupation as an integral part of U.S. history, we must understand how it engaged these varied audiences, how it attempted to position them, and, to the extent we can discern it from the available evidence, how they negotiated the cultural landscape it helped bring into view.
To understand how the occupation engaged U.S. Americans indeed, to understand how the occupation did anything it may be useful to clarify the various senses in which we use this term. Most obviously, the occupation of 1915-34 was an event in the history of Haiti and in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Often, when we refer to "the occupation," we are referring, in a general way, to this event in all its complexity. At other times, we are referring to an action, a diplomatic and military endeavor undertaken by certain branches of the U.S. government the State Department, the armed services. In a similar vein, the term may refer to the policy of the U.S. government in Haiti. Yet again, the occupation was also an institution, a power structure. In this sense, we use the term to refer to an arm of the U.S. government, a temporary state apparatus created for specific purposes. To some contemporaries, the power of the occupation seemed to be vested in the person of a particular military officer or diplomatic official, such as High Commissioner John Russell in the early 1920s. We, too, may at times seem to conflate the occupation with an individual or a group of individuals acting in its name, but we must also remember that the occupation as a political structure was more than the sum of its participants. Finally, while the occupation was an event, an action, a policy, and a structure, it was also an encounter and a process. Its effects arose in part from the fact that it entailed the meeting of two cultures within one geographical space. In this sense, "the occupation" refers to a process that could never be controlled by any one party, by any one man or group of men, not even by the men with authority over the men with guns.
This book is primarily concerned with understanding the occupation as an event in the cultural history of the United States, broadly conceived. To untangle the threads connecting the occupation and U.S. American culture, it will be helpful to begin with a few questions about the occupation as a structure of power. We need to know, for example, how this arm of the U.S. government, operating abroad, benefited from, relied upon, and, at times, actively made use of cultural resources to mobilize personnel and to foster imperial culture more broadly within the population. How did the occupation as an institution attempt to position U.S. Americans, in and out of the armed services, in relation to Haiti? How did the state benefit from cultural processes that were set in motion by official actions, but that took shape most likely beyond official control?
The occupation that temporary arm of the state sought to engage Americans as passive participants in and supporters of U.S. empire. Through paternalist representations of its work in Haiti, the United States encouraged not only marines but others as well to see themselves as benefactors helping out a needy, if recalcitrant, child. It also encouraged U.S. citizens to see Haiti as falling within the proper circle of American concern and action. Popular narratives that sensationalized Haiti and positioned readers as voyeurs in an exotic land made that move all the more appealing. In this sense, sensational narratives reinforced official discourses and strengthened their ability to conscript ordinary citizens into the logic of empire. Together, popular and official discourses invited U.S. Americans to adopt an imperial perspective and fueled public fascination with Haiti as one means to that end.
To a great extent, moreover, the attempt to foster imperial consciousness met with success. Popular culture brought images of Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Polynesia, China, Africa, Arabia, and yet other parts of the world within the circumference of U.S. Americans' imperial imaginations. The very fact that in December 1941 most people in the United States could so readily accept the identification of Pearl Harbor as part of "America" indicates the widespread embrace of empire among citizens of the United States, whether or not they used the word "empire" to name it. As Carl Van Doren predicted in 1929, narratives about Haiti and Haitian culture took their place in the literature of empire that helped to produce that reality.
Between 1915 and 1940, Americans redefined the boundaries of their national community in part through their discussions of Haiti. Yet, if paternalist discourse succeeded in conscripting many Americans into the logic of empire, the implications of paternalism also troubled the nation and its assumption of self-consistency. For, as my discussion of Carl Van Doren's call to imperial consciousness illustrates, broadening the circle of American control and influence complicated questions of national identity. Could American culture continue to seem wholly separate from, and unaffected by, the foreign even as American empire came to encompass the foreign itself? The problem of empire would be how to ingest a territory, or another nation in the case of Haiti, without allowing it to become too obviously a part of the nation or the national culture. Exoticism provided at least one solution: incorporate the foreign into American culture, while at the same time inscribing its marginality and otherness. American exoticism toward Haiti thus contributed to an imperial culture organized, in part, around resolving the tension between nation and empire.
The implications of paternalism troubled the nation in other ways as well. Just as marines in Haiti sometimes put paternalism to their own uses, so other U.S. Americans did the same. With regard to race, the results of this cultural process were remarkably varied. Turning paternalist discourses to their own ends, African Americans would challenge the whiteness of American identity and demand rights and respect with new force. For many white Americans, popular paternalist discourses on Haiti would undercut the hostility and distancing of the more virulent forms of racism while at the same time, new types of racism would emerge and be strengthened. With regard to gender, masculinity and femininity would come to be freighted with the burden of signifying American greatness and power. In the process, hegemonic gender relations would be strengthened. At the same time, a handful of women artists, writers, and activists would challenge the status quo in part through their use of and response to paternalist discourse. With regard to sexuality, the discourse of exoticism, so essential to resolving the tension between nation and empire, contributed to the reshaping of sexual norms and representations. In short, as the discourse of paternalism called into play a whole variety of meanings and values surrounding race, gender, sexuality, and national identity, it opened up the possibility that those meanings and values could be reinvigorated, reconfigured, or, for that matter, challenged wholesale. For all its success, then, paternalist discourse yielded unexpected outcomes.
Culture and History
Of course, the U.S. occupation of Haiti was not simply a cultural event. It cannot be explained solely in terms of discourses, cultural frameworks, or the individual experiences of the men sent to carry it out. It was also a matter of strategy, politics, economics, and policy. It had to do with the institutional growth and development of the U.S. government, particularly in terms of military structures and international relations. It had to do with the strategic needs of an emerging international economy. At various turns, it was shaped by the political ambitions of U.S. policy makers. These contexts should not be forgotten as we interrogate the cultural dynamics of this foreign military intervention. The burden of my argument surrounds the cultural processes set in motion by the U.S. invasion in 1915. Yet those cultural processes were never wholly distinct from economics, politics, and military practice.
What, then, shall we mean by the word "culture"? If culture is implicated in the realms of economics, politics, and military practice, indeed in all social relationships and institutions, can it have any specificity at all? If a military campaign report is as fully "cultural" as an opera or a novel, what is the special significance of aesthetic forms, if there is any, in the realm of culture? Shall we embrace a broad and inclusive "anthropological" definition of culture that refers to the texture of daily life or, more precisely, "the 'complex whole' of any individual society's material and ideational system"?
We can complicate this older anthropological sense of the word by emphasizing the nature of culture as process. There can be no bounded "whole," no single "system," where cultural patterns of meaning are constituted and reconstituted over time. Anthropologists and cultural theorists have addressed this point by highlighting margins and borders as especially significant for the study of culture. Culture in the borderlands, argues one, provides an apt metaphor for the process of culture in general, a process involving translation and fertilization across differences of identity, experience, and understanding, either within a single community or in a geographical space where two or more communities overlap. The older concept of culture as "an autonomous internally coherent universe" minimizes the significance of such differences, renders "border zones" incomprehensible, and leaves insufficient room for the historian's concern with change over time.
The concept of discourse also opens up possibilities for a more fully historical analysis of culture as process. Historian Joan Scott has defined the term "discourse" as a historically specific "structure of statements, terms, categories, and beliefs" generated within a particular social and institutional context. This definition emphasizes the institutional relations of power that undergird processes of signification that is, the production of meaning in particular contexts. Ideas are not free-floating entities; they are produced within and in relation to specific structures of power. By focusing on institutionally grounded discourses we come to appreciate what one literary critic calls the "uneven development" of ideologies and, I would add, culture over time. The Christian missionary movement within and across particular churches, for example, developed certain versions of paternalism; in contrast, the U.S. Navy developed others. There was necessarily some overlap and some disjunction between these two powerful institutional contexts in which interventionist paternalism was elaborated. For this reason, the discourse of paternalism could not have developed in an even way across time and space.
We must, therefore, examine local relations of power to illuminate larger historical trends. The career of paternalism arose, not out of some singular, overarching plan to subjugate Haiti, but rather, in one instance, out of the professionalizing aspirations of naval officers competing for funding and recognition within a military bureaucracy, and in another, out of the particular needs and aspirations of churchgoing citizens. In a similar vein, Michel Foucault emphasized what he called "the infinitesimal mechanisms" of power that "have their own history, their own trajectory," but are then co-opted to serve the ends of the state or become embedded in a more general process of domination. Thus, to say that the process of culture involves relations of power is not to say that culture is determined in any kind of top-down manner. Historians must examine the local, the particular, the context-specific processes that contribute to the larger phenomenon we recognize as culture.
The concept of discourse must be clarified in one further respect. For too often the term has been understood to imply an erasure of the significance of the material world. Yet, it is the very materiality of discourses and their effects that must be taken into account if we are to understand the full significance of terms such as discourse and culture. The categories of meaning that constitute discourses give shape and form to human bodies, the physical environment, and the material resources and tools wielded by human actors. Military training, for example, functioned as a discursive regime that shaped the bodies of marines and sailors and invested them with particular meanings in the context of the U.S. imperial program and in the context of the world war. Uniforms and guns, in turn, bore meaning in relation to those transformed bodies and as extensions of them. As we shall see, such discourses could be deadly.
Culture may be understood, then, to refer to the processes of signification through which people consciously and unconsciously, intentionally and unintentionally structure both social relationships and the material world. Collectively, people engage in the ongoing production of meaning, and in so doing they give shape and form to social relationships, institutions, and material practice. In turn, culture shapes the individual. Indeed, as I have suggested, through discourses culture scripts and conscripts individuals.
My preliminary, working definition of culture as process thus emphasizes the fluid and dynamic quality of social meanings, and the potentially shifting contours and boundaries of any "single" culture. My premise is that cultures are continually constituted and reconstituted through relations of power, that they are neither monolithic nor static. A national culture then, and in this case the culture of the United States, may be viewed as a contested terrain on which people identifying themselves as Americans formulate, dispute, and reformulate structures of meaning and power associated with various forms of difference such as gender, class, race, and nation.
This is not to deny the tenacity of certain structures of meaning and power, but rather to emphasize the error of a dangerously misleading synecdoche: that of taking the thought of one group (or individual) as indicative of a national culture in general. For this inquiry into the dynamics of American culture on contact with Haiti, then, I juxtapose the variety of U.S. discourses on Haiti as articulated by African Americans and white Americans, by men and women, by military and nonmilitary figures, by architects of the occupation as well as by those who protested it, by scholars, popular writers, artists, and so on. Within each of these groups (and in the spaces between and beyond them), I emphasize distinctive particularities as well as the expression of common ground.
In the course of my research, I have viewed group identities not as fixed sociobiological categories, but as culturally and historically constructed phenomena, fashioned and refashioned in particular contexts. Rather than seeing various authors as fully formed "Americans" or "Haitians," "African Americans" or "white people," "men" or "women," whose identities were always stable and unproblematic, I ask how such identities were both consolidated and unsettled in the specific historical and cultural context of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, and its aftermath in Haiti and in the United States.
"Culture," according to my working definition so far, is a noun that names a process. Culture is the doing of something specifically, the making of meanings and thereby the structuring of human relationships and so forth. Yet, it will be objected that I cannot so easily dismiss the fact of culture as an object. As some voices from the culture wars have insisted, there is indeed something called "American culture," and if we don't know what it is, certainly we should. If, indeed, culture refers to an object, and not just a process, as surely it does for so many people, then what is the nature of this object, this thing? Is it one thing? Over time? To different people? Certainly not. Yet, if it changes and if it is different to different people, it still appears, doggedly, to be fixed, objectively unified, even monolithic, and this persistent appearance of fixedness must be addressed.
Here, it may help to turn back to the unevenness with which ideologies develop. In this light, we may consider culture the sum total at any given moment of a collection of overlapping but not coincident discourses and fragments of discourses. These discourses (and discursive fragments) are produced, engaged, and negotiated by a community of sorts, an overlapping but not coincident collection of groups and individuals who understand themselves to be connected to one another by their membership in the community and who use the name of that community to describe themselves. There is always some movement and flux in the sum total of these discourses, but there is also always some overlap, generally in such a manner as to overdetermine certain ideas, meanings, and images.
These overlapping discourses operate on unconscious as well as conscious levels, and from them emerge the flotsam and jetsam of our emotional lives as well as the fragments that get worked over and rearticulated through our unconscious mental processes. This definition of culture, then, necessarily encompasses the realms of the emotional, the unconscious, and the irrational as well as the realm of ideas and consciousness. This complex context gives rise to individuality, always in historically specific ways. Historian Carlo Ginsburg, in his portrait of a sixteenth-century miller named Menocchio, insists that his subject's "distinctiveness had very definite limits." He explains, "as with language, culture offers to the individual a horizon of latent possibilities a flexible and invisible cage in which he can exercise his own conditional liberty. With rare clarity and understanding, Menocchio articulated the language that history put at his disposal." Ginsburg's phrase, "the language that history put at his disposal," strikes me as an excellent way to describe culture in its relation to the individual.
If culture is the sum total of a collection of overlapping but not coincident discourses, then the sum total of the discourses available to any given individual constitutes the "language that history put[s] at his [or her] disposal," or, in other words, his or her "horizon of latent possibilities." In this sense, there is no single, fixed, monolithic body of ideas, meanings or images that can be described as the culture of a particular nation or group. But there are, within a given community, sets of ideas, meanings, and images that are overdetermined given the particular combination of overlapping discourses that seem to fix them in place, and given the weight of overlapping institutional power that supports their continued operation.
Examining the relationship between culture and the individual, between culture and consciousness, enables us to consider the process of cultural change in some detail. Cultural theorist Raymond Williams pointed in this direction with his concept of "structures of feeling," which he used to refer to "affective elements of consciousness and relationships." Anthropologists have begun to explore the implications of Williams's concept in ways that are important for our understanding of the complex reverberations of the U.S. occupation of Haiti in the United States. One explains, referring directly to Williams's work, "structures of feeling . . . are just emerging, still implicit, and not yet fully articulate . . . [they are] in transition between being experienced as private and becoming recognized as social." In a similar vein, another important anthropological study identifies "a realm of partial recognition and inchoate awareness, of ambiguous perception [and] . . . creative tension" that lies "between the conscious and the unconscious."
Individuals positioned differently within a given social formation will experience discourses and ideologies and indeed culture in their own ways. In turn, the creative tensions and emerging structures of feeling to which their differing experiences give rise necessarily lead to novel and divergent articulations of an only partially shared "culture." A complex event, like the first U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, will necessarily engage national cultures on multiple levels, through the diverse articulations of differently positioned participants and interlocutors. Those diverse articulations will manifest themselves variously in quotidian cultural forms, such as bank ledgers and military field reports, as well as in aesthetic texts, such as paintings and plays.
This framework for understanding cultural change thus helps us see the relationship between the anthropological and the aesthetic senses of the word "culture." It also suggests a methodology that brings together diverse objects of historical analysis that have generally been treated as distinct and unrelated. The everyday traces of subjective experience and the notable achievements of artistic production may take their places, side by side, in an analysis of the cultural dimensions of a military occupation.
This study therefore considers sources that promise to shed light on the various aspects of culture in play during and after the occupation of Haiti for U.S. Americans in Haiti and in the United States. Diaries, letters, photographs, memoirs, poems, songs, short stories, and essays, but also congressional testimony, reports, and memoranda, all help us understand the texture of daily life and subjective perception for marines and other Americans who participated in and/or observed the occupation. Field campaign reports, intelligence reports, official correspondence, military recruitment and training materials, and other official sources also serve as crucial cultural texts offering insight into the always intertwined institutional structures and cultural processes that shaped both the marines and the occupation. Taken together, these diverse sources reveal not only the dominant, multiply articulated discourses and ideologies that U.S. Americans recognized consciously at the time, but also structures of feeling that were only just emerging, about which marines and others may have had only an "inchoate awareness."
If we turn to the cultural aftermath of the occupation in the United States that second crop of effects, not always recognized as such, that military action reaps at home other sorts of sources provide a wealth of evidence. Often untapped by historians, fiction, drama, painting, film, travel writing, and ethnology, as well as self-consciously political writing, all serve to illuminate the ways that diverse members of the U.S. national community responded to the occupation and to the discourse of paternalism mobilized on its behalf. As U.S. Americans reckoned with the implications of the occupation, they brought forth consciously and unconsciously a new discursive terrain, which would, in turn, make possible new iterations of Americanness and new configurations of race, class, gender, and sexuality. As with the experiences of the marines themselves, so with the artists, writers, and activists who engaged discourses about Haiti during and after the occupation, structures of feeling and forms of inchoate awareness come to light through close textual readings. These readings may seem to take us far from the usual concerns of U.S. foreign policy and foreign relations. Yet such explorations of the complex cultural responses called forth by U.S. imperialism are crucial for understanding the full range of effects wrought by the occupation. They help us grasp the horizon of latent possibilities that would be available to the next generation of self-described Americans who would continue to shape and respond to U.S. foreign policies and U.S. relations with Haiti.
This approach to culture, and to the history of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, thus reveals a story not usually told by diplomatic historians. Through the dominant discourse of paternalism, the U.S. occupation of Haiti attempted to conscript U.S. Americans and Haitians in the service of U.S. imperialism. The unevenness of its success in this endeavor was attributable to the internal contradictions of that dominant discourse, the complexity of the discursive terrain in which the occupation attempted to operate, and the creative agency of those targeted for conscription, both in Haiti and in the United States. Even as it attempted to write Haitians and U.S. Americans, whites and blacks, men and women into a paternalist master narrative, the occupation itself created openings for those who would resist such conscription. The creative processes of conscription and resistance that emerged in and through the occupation gave rise to new subjective formations and, as such, enabled both the extension of U.S. imperialism and challenges to domestic relations of power, including racism. Through this complex set of (subjective and discursive) processes that is, through culture national, racial, gender, and sexual meanings and identities were unsettled and consolidated in new ways.
A Brief Narrative of U.S. Intervention and Occupation in Haiti
U.S. involvement with Haiti began long before the marines landed in July 1915. Attempts to influence Haiti may even be dated back to the revolutionary period. The United States remained officially neutral toward Toussaint L'Ouverture's revolutionary government (1800-1802), but American merchants contributed to the success of the Haitian Revolution by supplying arms to the rebels. U.S. president Thomas Jefferson may have supported this arms trade; certainly he welcomed the defeat of Napoleon's army in Haiti. But the threat to slavery in the U.S. South represented by a thriving, independent nation of former slaves, combined with the exigencies of U.S. relations with France, led him, in 1806, to approve the prohibition of trade between the United States and Haiti. Although trade resumed, the perception of Haiti as a threat to the well-being of the slave South continued, and as a result the United States withheld formal recognition from the new republic until the South seceded.
Meanwhile Haiti loomed large in the imagination of U.S. Americans on both sides of the debate over slavery: proof that people of African heritage could govern themselves, on one side; proof that they could not, on the other. And whereas slavery's defenders kept their nation at a formal distance from the nation that was their nightmare, African Americans forged links with Haiti, sometimes aided by Port-au-Prince and even Washington. In the 1820s thousands of African Americans emigrated to Haiti, answering invitations tendered by Haiti's leaders to avail themselves of land and political liberty in a black republic. In 1859 Haiti again sought to augment its population by attracting immigration from the north; that year, Haitian president Fabre Geffrard engaged James Redpath, an American citizen, as an agent to bring people of African heritage to Haiti from Canada and the United States. A few years later, President Lincoln supported the profit-making colonization scheme of a private citizen named Bernard Kock. Also during the 1860s the African American missionary Theodore Holly promoted emigration to Haiti.
In 1862, with southern voices absent from Congress, the United States extended formal recognition to Haiti for the first time. U.S. secretary of state Henry Seward then began to pursue the expansion of U.S. influence and control in Haiti. He initiated, for example, talks over the possibility of U.S. use of a Haitian deepwater port at Mole St. Nicholas. By 1869 the United States was represented by an African American minister to Haiti, Ebenezer Bassett, who would be followed by others, including John Mercer Langston and, in 1889, the distinguished Frederick Douglass. Meanwhile, in the late nineteenth century, U.S. investors began to extend their activities to Haiti in a significant way, and the U.S. government moved toward more serious attempts to broker protection for them in the midst of increasing Haitian political instability.
By the turn of the century, U.S. marines had landed on Haitian soil eight times "to protect American lives and property." In 1901 the U.S. Navy stepped up its presence in the Caribbean, designating an entire squadron within its North Atlantic Fleet for that specific purpose. On numerous occasions in the next fourteen years, U.S. gunboats the Topeka, the Chester, the Machias, the Montana, and many others would find themselves in Haitian waters precisely at the moment when U.S. influence could be brought to bear on Haitian affairs. As U.S. capitalists made important inroads in Haiti, most notably through railroads and banking, instances of "gunboat diplomacy" would become more and more frequent. By 1910 the United States had achieved a position of dominance over other great powers in Haitian affairs, although German interests still constituted another important presence. By 1913 President Wilson and his advisers were searching for a way to translate that position into definitive control. Attributing the instability of the Haitian government to political immaturity on the part of Haitians, Wilson attempted to secure that control at various points during 1914 and 1915, culminating in the decision to land marines and sailors on July 28, 1915.
During the first nine months of the occupation, through April 1916, Admiral William B. Caperton oversaw the early stages of the U.S. assertion of control over Haitian government functions. Caperton's forces immediately set about disarming Port-au-Prince and arresting Caco revolutionaries, while Caperton and his immediate assistants, notably Captain Edward Beach, set about finding a cooperative client president to be duly "elected" as soon as possible. Caperton and Beach dismissed the heir apparent to the presidency, Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, and settled on Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave who, Caperton observed, "realizes that Haiti must agree to any terms laid down by the United States." The admiral succeeded in preventing the Haitian Congress from electing Bobo and reported to his naval superiors that he believed he could control that body. The revolutionary committee in Port-au-Prince, which had heretofore been attempting to cooperate with Caperton, apparently perceived the same situation, to their dismay. To still his hand, on August 11 the committee moved to dissolve the Congress to prevent the election of a client president, but Caperton held all the cards. "I have dissolved the revolutionary committee and informed them that they have no further authority in Port-au-Prince and would be considered public enemies of the United States if they attempted to give any further orders or to menace U.S. policies," he reported directly to President Wilson.
The next day, the Haitian Congress elected Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave president of the Republic of Haiti (Figure 2). Fresh from his inauguration, Dartiguenave was presented with an American-authored treaty, ready for his signature. As Caperton began to press for ratification, Robert Lansing, the new U.S. secretary of state, reflected on the situation in a letter to Wilson, "I confess that this method of negotiations, with our Marines policing the Haitian capital, is high handed. It does not meet my sense of a nation's sovereign rights and is more or less an exercise of force and an invasion of Haitian independence. From a practical standpoint, however, I cannot but feel that it is the only thing to do if we intend to cure the anarchy and disorder which prevails in that Republic." Prior to securing Dartiguenave's signature on the treaty, Caperton moved forward with the occupation. He took control of the customshouses, detailed a regiment of marines, under newly arrived Colonel Littleton W. T. Waller, to fight a war against the Cacos in the North, and, on September 3, 1915, consolidated his own authority by declaring martial law. With the application of considerable pressure, Dartiguenave signed the treaty on September 16, the Haitian Congress approved it on November 11, and the formal ratification came in May, 1916. In December 1915 Smedley Butler was detailed to establish the Gendarmerie. Despite Washington's decision to grant formal recognition to Dartiguenave's government once the new president had approved and signed the treaty, Admiral Caperton's martial law continued alongside Dartiguenave's nominally constitutional government. Caperton departed in April 1916 with relative quiet in the countryside and U.S. military control reasonably well established in the capital.
From the time of Caperton's departure through the assassination of Charlemagne Pralte and the adoption of a new Haitian Constitution in late 1918, the occupation went through a period of consolidation. Caperton left Waller in command of the occupation and Butler in charge of the Gendarmerie. With Waller's marines providing protection for the new government in Port-au-Prince, U.S. treaty officials pressed for a new constitution, one that would be consistent with American goals for the occupation. Overturning Haiti's constitutional prohibition on foreign land ownership was both a primary goal of the United States and one of the most notable obstacles treaty officials faced.
Meanwhile, Butler built his fledgling military force with an officer corps made up of U.S. marines. Gendarmerie units, posted to each district and subdistrict around the country, sought to ensure the stability necessary for a resumption of economic productivity across the republic. Yet, the process of establishing control ignited the opposition. In 1917 Butler turned to forced labor to carry out a massive road-building project intended to link disparate communities and thus facilitate military and police operations. The Gendarmerie oversaw the establishment of this forced labor system, based nominally on a long-defunct corve law requiring peasants to work on the roads or pay a road-building tax. The Cacos' war against the occupation, ground down by the superior force of the marines while Caperton was still in command, now found new sources of strength in a population inflamed by the insults and the assaults sustained through the corve. Under the leadership of Charlemagne Pralte and Benoit Batraville, and fueled by the impact of the corve, the Cacos gained momentum and forced the marines to wage war for control of the population they had come to "assist."
With the assassination of Charlemagne Pralte in November 1918, the Marines turned a corner in the war against the Cacos. Yet, by this time, the occupation was under assault on a different front. A series of investigations, culminating in a full-scale U.S. Senate inquiry, put the oc cupation under the political microscope and threatened to bring down the occupying state apparatus that Caperton, Waller, and Butler had worked so hard to build. This period, from late 1918 to early 1922, can be characterized as the phase during which the U.S. regime faltered but did not fall. The Cacos pressed on in the countryside under Batraville, nationalist editors flouted occupation censorship in various Haitian newspapers, and others organized against the occupation with the help of African American allies in the NAACP. Most troubling to the international reputation of the United States, representatives of the organized opposition turned up at Versailles in 1919 to press the issue with Wilson while he was championing the rights of small nations in that context. Bad press for the occupation began in the United States when African American missionaries returned with stories of atrocities, but Haiti really caught the public's attention when it became an issue in the 1920 presidential election. There were official attempts to tone down the violence of the war against the Cacos at various points during this phase of the occupation, but the worst abuses continued under a particularly intransigent group of American officers in the North of Haiti. A series of investigations led to nothing. Once elected, Harding continued the occupation. The Senate established a select committee to undertake a formal investigation of the occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. But once the stir surrounding the 1920 election had died down, the occupation was reorganized under a high commissioner, in effect consolidating U.S. colonial rule.
A period of relative tranquillity followed, from 1922 to 1929, with the occupying state apparatus consolidated under High Commissioner John Russell. Louis Borno replaced Dartiguenave as client president in 1922 and was reelected for another four years in 1926. Borno's reelection sparked protests, but dissent remained largely below the surface during this phase of Pax Americana. The military resistance of the Cacos had been broken, and press censorship became the rule, so that Haitians who continued to protest the occupation landed in jail for their trouble.
But in the fall of 1929 a phase of renewed protests began. Economic troubles linked to a depressed coffee market, combined with the occupation's imposition of harsher tax policies, brought antioccupation sentiments to a head. A decision to change the scholarship policy for students at the agricultural college run by the Service Technique, the technical assistance arm of the occupation, provided the spark for a series of student strikes. In response to the threat of a general strike which seemed poised to include, not only students, workers, politicians, and businessmen, but also possibly the Gendarmerie itself Borno announced that he would not seek another term as president of the republic. This pleased the occupation's critics but did not still them; customs employees in Port-au-Prince were the first to join the students in what quickly became the nationwide general strike. Relatively small detachments of Marines faced thousands of Haitians demonstrating against the occupation and its client government in cities and towns around the country. On December 6, 1929, in one such confrontation, in Aux Cayes on the southern coast of Haiti, marines opened fire on a crowd of 1,500, killing 12 and wounding 23.
The Cayes massacre led to international condemnation of the occupation, thus forcing the U.S. president to act. Hoover appointed a commission headed by W. Cameron Forbes to review the general situation in Haiti, and another, headed by Robert Russa Moton of Tuskegee Institute, to review the education system. Members of the Forbes Commission could not fail to notice "the intense feeling" that existed "practically everywhere against the American occupation." As one member noted, "the state of the public mind is such that unless measures are taken to meet their demands for a legislature that can elect a president in the near future, . . . grave public disorder will arise." Within a few months, Haiti did have a new president. Stenio Vincent was elected in November 1930 in legislative elections, after a brief provisional government under Eugene Roy (May-November 1930). The Forbes Commission, moreover, recommended the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the long process of negotiating the terms of that withdrawal began. Four years later, on August 15, 1934, the long-awaited dsoccupation came to pass, as the last U.S. marines departed. Direct U.S. supervision of Haiti's economy continued through 1942.
The remainder of this account of the relationship between military intervention in Haiti and cultural change in the United States is divided into two parts and six chapters. Part I, entitled "Occupation," addresses the cultural dimensions of the nineteen-year U.S. military presence in Haiti; Part II, entitled "Aftermath," considers the impact of that military presence on the transformation of U.S. American culture between 1920 and 1940. Thus, the two parts are not consecutive, but overlapping. U.S. Americans articulated race, gender, and national identity in new ways, in the wake of U.S. intervention in Haiti, well before the last marines withdrew in 1934. Those articulations, in turn, shaped the course of events in Haiti in various ways.
My examination of the occupation itself is divided into three chapters. Chapter 2 introduces the reader to the marines and to the nation they invaded. What factors shaped the marines' consciousness as they arrived in Haiti in 1915 and after? How did marines perceive Haiti, and how did their subjective experience inform their conduct there? What histories, in turn, shaped the land they patrolled and inspired the men and women they sought to subdue? Chapter 3 examines the ideological machinery of the occupation. Specifically, it considers the precise nature of U.S. paternalism toward Haiti, in its various iterations, and shows how that paternalism facilitated the establishment of the occupying state formation. Chapter 4 explores the connections between paternalism and violence in the war against the Cacos and in the routine conduct of the occupation. My argument is that paternalism did not mitigate against violence but rather reinforced and extended it. The legends passed down by marines who served in Haiti and the stories they told one another provide important clues for our understanding of paternalism and violence in marines' negotiations of national, racial, and gender identity in Haiti.
If Part I assesses the uses of U.S. American culture in Haiti, Part II is concerned with the uses of Haiti in U.S. American culture. Thus, the second part of the book turns our attention to the discourses that emerged out of the occupation, that is, the national conversation initiated by the U.S. military presence in Haiti. In the aftermath of occupation, U.S. Americans set about "taking Haiti" in important new ways. Chapter 5 considers the appeal of Haiti in the United States as politics and popular culture turned their attention to "the black nation" in new ways beginning in 1920. It explores the tensions between political critique and cultural commodification in James Weldon Johnson's essays and Eugene O'Neill's play, The Emperor Jones, as well as in popular U.S. discourses on Haiti in the 1920s and 1930s. Chapter 6 examines the cultivation of imperial consciousness through travel literature and pulp fiction in the 1920s and 1930s. It focuses on the role of sexuality in travel accounts and traces the cultural construction of psychological interiority through such discourses. African American writers' and artists' interventions into racial politics in the United States through the vehicle of cultural production related to Haiti and the Haitian Revolution form the basis of Chapter 7, culminating in a discussion of Zora Neale Hurston's creative response to paternalist discourses in Tell My Horse.
The U.S. encounter with Haiti between 1915 and 1940 altered both Haiti and the United States. In more profound and immediate respects, this encounter transformed Haiti, though not necessarily in the ways intended by U.S. policy makers. By crushing Haitian peasant rebellion and by creating the mechanisms for strongly centralized government control in Port-au-Prince, the occupation eliminated the very safeguards against entrenched despotism that Haiti, for all its problems, had always successfully maintained. In doing so, U.S. Americans helped to lay the groundwork for two Duvalier dictatorships and a series of post-Duvalier military regimes.
The impact of the occupation of Haiti on the United States, the subject of the present study, was less complete but nonetheless profoundly significant. This impact must be understood in the larger context of U.S. imperialist actions around the globe. The occupation of Haiti was one instance of this extraordinary transformation of the U.S. role in the world, and in U.S. Americans' beliefs about themselves as Americans.
At the same time, the 1915-34 occupation of Haiti facilitated the domestic renegotiation of racial and gender issues in ways that other interventions did not. Haiti's proximity to the United States may have had something to do with this, as well as the fact that the occupation lasted a long nineteen years. Yet, the major distinction seems to have been the U.S. American perception of Haiti as a distinctly black nation. This difference, this perception of Haiti as an "American Africa" just off the southern coast of the United States, positioned the Caribbean nation as a significant figure in contestations over U.S. American national identity between 1915 and 1940.
Excerpted from Taking Haiti by Mary A. Renda. Copyright © 2001 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
What People are saying about this
[A] significant and exciting contribution to this growing interdisciplinary field. . . . Prodigiously researched and persuasively argued. . . . Without doubt, the research, analysis, and conclusions presented in this work will shape, enrich, and inspire scholarship in these and related fields for time to come.--Caribbean Studies
This is a unique synergy of the historical and the mythic aspects of the quarter-century U.S. occupation of Haiti. Renda's interpretation of Haiti as 'America's Africa' combines an empathetic analysis of the American military presence with a provocative discussion of interventionist paternalism's impact on America's identity. The occupation simultaneously made U.S. imperialism more resilient and led to the destabilizing of central cultural forms, especially in the contexts of race and gender.--Dennis E. Showalter, Colorado College
[A] provocative and insightful interpretation of twentieth-century United States imperialism.--History
Renda uses a wide collection of materials from diaries, memoirs, letters, books, plays, and the arts to produce an excellent cultural study of the development of American imperialism. Recommended for all libraries.--Library Journal
Renda draws from a wide variety of texts--marines' memoirs, missionary reports, pulp fiction, official documents, African American and Haitian literature--to suggest the multiple meanings of the United States occupation of Haiti. She integrates cultural analysis related to gender, race, class, and nation into international history, producing a sophisticated and highly readable book suitable both for classrooms and for specialists.--Emily S. Rosenberg, Macalester College
Renda makes a sterling contribution to this growing literature [on the U.S. occupation of Haiti] with a bold and provocative look at the interplay of race, gender, culture, and national identity in U.S.-Haitian relations.--Florida Historical Quarterly
[Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism] does an excellent job of establishing a cultural and historical context for Haiti and the United States before the intervention.--Eurospan
A study of the cultural characteristics and consequences of the intervention rather than as a complete narrative of events. This innovative work is less about Haiti than about the United States. That focus allows Renda to provide new insights on the occupation. . . . One of the most important accomplishments of Taking Haiti is Renda's persuasive argument that the Haitian intervention occupies a pivotal place in the formation of twentieth-century American culture. A historical episode often treated as an oddity is inscribed here as central to an emerging national conversation about race, gender, and power.--Journal of American History
Taking Haiti provides a superb analysis of the complex cultural meanings of the Haitian occupation as well as its aftermath on the North American mainland. Renda paints a nuanced panorama of gendered imperialism, from policymakers and enforcers in Haiti, to confused Marines, to writers, playwrights, and other intellectuals invoking Haiti as they threaded their ways through the maze of American gender, racial, and national identities. Renda delineates the complexities and ironies of these stories with great sensitivity and lucidity.--Gail Bederman, University of Notre Dame
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