Review: Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

cvr_overthrow-americas-century-of-regime-change-from-hawaii-to-iraq-by-stephen-kinzerOverthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Stephen Kinzer’s ” Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” sought to illustrate a trended pattern of regime changes driven by the United States government on foreign land. He detailed specific situations and defined the categories of coups, coupled with commonalities of the countries in which the USA initiated overthrows of key politicians.

Blatant coups took place in countries with rich, natural resources that fell under foreign (namely, American) control; or in scenarios where nationalization of those resources were attempted, America stepped in to protect its corporate interests. Covert coups, typically of the Cold War Era, seemed to be conducted differently because they were based on an assumption that Communism need to be stopped. “Far easier was to categorize nationalism simply as a disguised form of Communist aggression and seek to crush it wherever it reared its ugly head” (pp. 215-216).

“What distinguishes Americans from citizens of past empires is their eagerness to persuade themselves that they are acting out of humanitarian motives. For most of the “regime change” era, the United States did little or nothing to promote democracy in the countries whose governments it deposed” (pg. 316). The consistent, immediate effects of US-driven coups led to “larcenous frenzy” (pg. 306), and insufficient troop support to stop fires, looting, and other crimes of opportunity.

Kinzer’s research revealed that US has mistakenly believed that in making a foreign country turn democratic that it can be equated with the political position of being pro-American. More often than not, the converse has revealed itself to be true. Coups/Overthrows tend to “bind the United States” to the subject matter countries. It was this form of attachment that chiseled our almost inescapable legacy.

Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq became the fourth book I read by Stephen Kinzer; and, it was my least favorite of the bunch. It was typical for there to be a lack of transition between the chapters (typically representing a separate country), and when he tried to make the chapters connect toward the end of the book, his paragraphs seemed to jump around. The book lacked structural cohesion and seemed to be a rush-to-production piece that took his research from previous books and slammed it/them together to call the compendium a defined work. The fact that I had already become a Kinzer fan was what pushed me to read this book to completion.

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Review: A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It

cvr_a-thousand-hills_rwandas-rebirth-and-the-man-who-dreamed-it-by-stephen-kinzerA Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It by Stephen Kinzer

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

RELATED MOVIE(S): Hotel Rwanda (2004)

REVIEW: The central figure in Rwanda’s rebirth, Paul Kagame, emerged during the first decade of the twenty-first century as one of the most intriguing figures in Africa (pg. 3). “He preaches a doctrine of security, guided reconciliation, honest governance, and, above all, self-reliance” (pg. 3). Three distinct parts comprise Stephen Kinzer’s book, “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It:” colonial rule, genocide, and reconciliation. Rwanda’s current status rests in that of reconciliation. The genocides have been dated as far back as 1959, and colonial rule has been officially established as early as 1884. This time-frame may be equated with the creation of the foundation for this country’s genocide.

The “Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 had awarded Germany control over the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, which today forms the ‘twin’ nations of Rwanda and Burundi” (pg. 24). During World War I, Germany lost Rwanda to Belgium. Belgians took over and created an official, twisted classification system of segmenting Rwandans already existing tribes (Tutsi, Hutu and a minute group of Twa) into racism-based categories.

Laws passed that required Rwandans to always carry their race identification cards. Belgians placed Tutsi into power positions and the Hutu majority into, essentially, servitude and poverty. As the world social climate changed, Belgian alignment with the non-majority Tutsi did not bode well with outsiders. Belgium reduced its presence in Rwanda, placed the majority Hutu in power, and broke its alliance with the Tutsi. The Hutu utilized this situation as a time for payback; and, “the racial designation on the cards, called ubokwo, would later consign hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to death” (pg. 26).

As a child, Paul Kagame’s life was spared due to royal interference at just the right time; ultimately his family had to flee to Uganda to preserve its safety. Paul developed a close relationship with Fred Rwigyema while in a Ugandan refugee camp. At one point, Fred had disappeared to conduct a string of rebel activity for the sole purpose of overthrowing Uganda’s Idi Amin. Once this action was completed, Fred returned, reunited with Paul and shared the rebel knowledge with Rwandan exiles. This knowledge helped them envision an independent Rwanda; thus the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed.

“Most RPF leaders…grew up in Uganda, spoke English, and felt no connection to France” (pg. 95); this was opposite of Rwanda’s Hutu regime. Kinzer described how the RPF gained strength and credibility over time and that Uganda supported this group as allies. Prior to the mass genocide of 1994, Kagame negotiated a “Demilitarized Zone” created by the Arusha accords; they also mandated withdrawals of French troops coupled with United Nations neutrality, the latter two points were ones of consternation for the RPF leader. Regardless of the accords, plans continued to develop under Hutu extremists for increased killing of Tutsi. The Hutu hardliners began developing militias and a vocabulary to start carrying out the genocides; “death squads in Kigali could slaughter one thousand people in twenty minutes, kill Belgian peacekeepers (so the rest would withdrawal)…” (pg. 125). One could assert that they created a genocidal culture; it was supported by France and other countries, including the Middle East. The United Nations had no idea as to the haste and extent of the genocidal campaign. Regardless, UN troops withdrew “except for 270 whose main job was to watch the slaughter” (pg. 156).

Stephen Kinzer was thorough in interviewing an array of people familiar with the holocaust and having them define what reconciliation meant to them. It proved to be a word with much more meaning than that found in the dictionary. The word evoked an expectation of all Rwandans and perhaps the outside world as well. The author delivered well on his promise. He provided an in-depth set of lessons all rolled up into a neat package. He took readers on a visitor’s tour in between interviews and casual conversations. Quotes were well-utilized and did not detract from the intensity of neither the story of Rwanda nor the accomplishments of Paul Kagame. “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It” encompassed all of this and so much more…easily earning it a well-deserved five-star rating and a place on my “Favorites” list.