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Published:January 11th, 2013 18:51 EST
The Twisted Road of Grenada, Definitely a Road Less Traveled

The Twisted Road of Grenada, Definitely a Road Less Traveled

By Vincent Gonzalez

Nearing the end of the Cold War who would have suspected that a tiny Caribbean island would have captured the attention of the international community? Grenada, a small island nation in the eastern region of the Caribbean Sea would soon set the stage for the use of military force in the long uphill battle of political thought. At times, it seems that the U.S. is so blinded by its lust to legitimately maintain its hegemony in world affairs that it appears the U.S. would take any measures necessary to serve their end. It seems beyond belief that the world`s greatest power would invade an island just roughly 133 square miles in size, with about 110, 000 inhabitants, whose best known export was nutmeg.


Just like the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus in the underworld, the invasion of Grenada descended the world to a relatively unknown new region of political action of which we know practically nothing about. The invasion of Grenada constitutes one of the most pivotal episodes of modern Caribbean history. Ever since colonialism, the Caribbean states, for good or bad have always been on the front line of struggles between other outside forces, both as participants and victims. These struggles not only affected the psychological state of mind for the residents of this region, but other deep, far-reaching, and traumatic consequences that are still be seeing today.

In no other region of the world do you find a culture that was at one point deliberately stripped of all cultural identity, giving rise to a deep-rooted sense of psychological dependency that served to provide nothing more but misled ideological attachments and all that that went with them. It seems that the people of the Commonwealth Caribbean share an attitude derived from a long stained history of suffering at the hands of imperialism. As best said by one critic, "For decades, even centuries, the legacy of this past generated a powerful sense of inadequacy which rendered the Commonwealth Caribbean seemingly the most colonized of all the colonial regions." (Pg. II, Payne)

Once the struggle of colonialism came to an end, Caribbean states where expected to follow conventional pro-Western polices, which function in producing satisfactory rates of economic growth but is usually less impressive in its success to improve social development. In much of the early years of independence, Westminster system of representative democracy seemed to be accepted throughout most of the states of the Commonwealth Caribbean without substantial modification. Though not all countries where willing to embrace this style of governing, some holdouts became increasingly critical of colonial and neo-colonial values and opted instead to rather search around for new strategies of political organization and economic development. Though none of these holdouts serve to reflect a strong sense of commitment to radical politics it did serve as an indicator that a process of change in the region was occurring.

From a geopolitical point of view, it`s an undeniable truth that the Caribbean states are unavoidably located in the American sphere of influence. When these Caribbean states emerged from British colonialism, it was assumed that practically all these states would automatically fall in with the traditional model of US hegemony over the whole Caribbean area. Thus Grenada`s attempt to escape from dependency after 1979 was a direct challenge to the power of the United States.  Like falling dominoes, Grenada was part of an alarming sequence of events that threatened to imperil US control of its own backyard.

Predicting the behavior of any country is a task in and of itself. Not only do you have to examine the motives for their actions but also the intentions for those motives. Maybe one explanation for the real politics that lay behind the US reasoning to invade Grenada was to achieve at least one victory in its anti-communist crusade. Especially since the US was still bruising from its Vietnam military episode. Worldwide, the US seems to be actively engaged in destabilizing exercises of revolutions it either doesn`t agree with or can`t control.

Of the many factors surrounding the lead up to the Grenada invasion the military factor is important because it shows how imperialism moves qualitatively into militarism. It allows the arms industry to justify its role in national security and also enables the military to test their weapons in real combat. This factor out of all others transcends purely to political or economic consideration, really influencing the policymaking process. The military factor also expanded into the psychological realm in how it fed on the minds of individuals, enabling them to support or commit nonrational acts.

Just simply looking at the military factor would require us to overlook a number of other factors that led up to the conflict. The pieces of this jigsaw puzzle must thus be painstakingly put together, examining all available evidence as it comes in. In the United States, the American public was persuaded quite aggressively by a U.S. administration that championed the invasion as just another step towards ridding the world of communism. As best said by a former US senator, "the American people were not prepared by their national experience for the role of either ideological crusader or practitioner of the old style 19th-century Realpolitik. We came to believe that we could set a democratic example to the world by the way we governed our own society, and we came to believe after each of the two world wars that it was worthwhile to try to build something new under the sun . . . to try to move forward in international relations from the rule of force toward the rule of law, from the unreliable balance-of-power to a world security community." (Senator Frank Church)

It seems that at the end of the day, the majority of the American people, either by their own choice or because they have been persuaded by the vast propaganda machine of the mass media, have decided that the imperialist path is the correct one. Reagan`s 1984 landslide reelection victory reflected the mood. It appears that the arguments for the legality of the invasion rests firmly in the US rationing that served nothing but to appeal to the public even though conflicting evidence proved otherwise. This appeal has done nothing to clarify the basis for the invasion, but rather submits to providing us gilded tokens in a gambit to safeguard public support rather than public inspection.

At the time, the US appeared to guise its true motive for invading Grenada by explaining to the American public the situation on the ground in Grenada with respect to the leadership instability and the potential for a socialism system to be established on this small island nation. Supporting this argument was a bloody military coup on the island that took place in the spring of 1979 which ousted the revolutionary government established after independence. After its 1979 revolution, Grenada`s government was thrown into an unstable condition, flung headlong into a world where the main actors on the stage directed the flow of wealth. Soon, the Grenada government became increasingly aware that as a small community, they were regularly alone and vulnerable in an often hostile world. The architects of the 1979 Grenadian revolution sought to protect, more than anything else, the political and cultural sovereignty of the Caribbean region. 

 This element of nationalism was important if the revolution was to survive, it definitely serves as a good example about the relationship between nationalism and socialism. There is every reason to suspect that Grenada might just have been a victim in a larger game being played at the time; a meticulous Cold War battle of which Grenada served to be nothing more than a pawn in. As best said by one critic, "In the sphere of super-power relations the Grenada crisis illustrated how the paranoias of one side nourish those of the other." (Pg. 225, O`Shaughnessy) It`s also worth mentioning that just days before the Grenada invasion took place, the US was still reeling from an awful blow that occurred during the country of Lebanon civil war, in the capital city of Beirut. During that episode, the US suffered one of the worst single day death tolls for US troops since Vietnam. The conflict that the invasion of Grenada provided was timely, and some might suspect convenient in how if successful, the Grenada campaign would prove helpful in eliminating the pain of that setback.  

The culmination of the events leading up to the Grenada invasion really began to fester when in early 1983 another bloody coup occurred on the island. The severity of the violence, coupled with the hard-line Marxism of the islands` new leader caused deep concern in the area, in particular its super-power neighbor. Adding fuel to the flame was also the fact that there were US medical students on the island and their safety could be potentially threatened. The US, under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan and his administration viewed the turmoil developing in the Caribbean with deep concern. Another cause for concern was the fact that Grenada`s government approved the construction of a military grade airport on the island with Cuban support, thereby allowing Cuba to gain undue influence in Grenada.

Cuba was thus propel into the conflict as well, providing support for the government of Grenada, thus engaged in actively defying the US control in its own backyard.  During the initial assault it`s also worth mentioning that this was the first "war" between the US and Cuba. Though some would say that the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 could fall in that category, it`s not the same in the sense that the US wasn`t involved in the "official" shooting during that military conflict. During the invasion of Grenada, the US forces were met with pretty stiff resistance from both the Grenadian and Cuban forces on the island. For all its military prowess, the US took about a little over a week and half to successfully defeat the Grenadian and Cuban forces on the island to gain control. This victory provided the US also with its first military victory since well before the Vietnam War.

Although it appears that most Grenadians probably agree that they are better off as a result of the American invasion, most tend to see the storming of their tropical shores not as a rescue mission to evacuate students from the U.S. medical school on the island, like the Pentagon claimed, but as an aggressive strike to thwart the spread of communism in the Caribbean. There are many critics on both sides of the spectrum who speculate about the merit of this military intervention, a rife between those who believe that the invasion was necessary and those who believe that Grenada was just another casualty on the Cold War battlefield. As best said by one critic, "All too frequent are the cases when the stronger, by use of military force, intervene in the affairs of the weaker, imposing their will in order to enforce their so-called vital interests and to strengthen their hand in bloc rivalry." (Golob)   

What conclusions can be drawn from this military action are vary and long-reaching, definitely hinting at a deepening and a widening of US hegemony in the Caribbean basin. Signs of new vulnerability in the US relations with Caribbean states began to show, and while not immediately destroying, these signs in short have the potential to weaken the collective control the US has over the region. Though the US was successful in its campaign, it didn`t come without a price. Not only did Grenadian and Cuban forces get killed and wounded, the US also suffered some casualties as well. Of what can be said about the spirit of the average Grenadian during this invasion, not much is clear. What is clear at least is the fact that the people of Grenada stood strong while in the shadow of a giant, forging their own destiny in an increasingly hostile world. As a former leader of Grenada once put it, "Small as we are, and poor as we are, as a people and as a country we insist on the fundamental principles of legal equality, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-interference in our internal affairs, and the right to build our own process free from outside interference, free from intimidation, free from bullying, free from the use or threat of force. We say this is our right as a country and as a people and we will fight and die for that right." (Maurice Bishop)   

The events of this invasion show just another episode in which the Caribbean as a whole was being sucked into a super-power confrontation which it had, until then, successfully avoided.  The cost that some of these countries had to pay for this intervention is still being felt today. Whether this intervention will constitute a negative effect on the region is still being assessed. Increased embitterment and resentment in politics for this region bode ill for the future in terms of relations with the US. You can`t help but speculate, say, the period between when the conflict took place and into the new century, whether if any of the forces involved in the Grenada story will change their basic character, or have they just simply remained the same? It seems that the answer, of course, depends upon whether they have the capacity to learn and change. It just seems that once the US is determined, the necessity of their objectives creates a plausible case in their defense interests. Long has necessity created interest, interest creating policy. According to one analyst, "Historical forces rarely act simply in response to motives, whether good or bad. They act, rather, in response to concrete interests, whether of social class, military power, or economic structure." (Pg. 194, Lewis)

At the end of the day, events will acquire a pattern of their own. Looking at the invasion from a larger perspective you can`t help but to wonder did this conflict constitute a turning-point for the US hegemonic role in the world or rather was this just a sequence of events that was already set in motion; trends in history which the rise and demise of revolutions are all too common. This new fledging revolutionary government of Grenada didn`t spend a whole lifetime in the revolutionary struggle like other revolutions to really acquire the wisdom about human nature that younger people have yet to learn. That kind of wisdom was absent in the Grenadian situation. It appears that one lesson we can draw from this conflict is that there is a world of difference between the professional revolutionary and the amateur revolutionary. It appears that the collapse of the Grenada process must have a link with the failures of past revolutions to resolve fundamental strategic, tactical and organizational questions. At the end of the day it looks like, experience, and the wisdom that accrues from it, is what counts. The only remaining last hope, then, is that the Caribbean left will learn from the mistakes of Grenada.

You can`t help but not find much to be optimistic about at this point. The traits that combine to create the character of the US, culminating with the invasion of Grenada, cannot be seen as abnormalities but rather as a repeating behavioral pattern. It seems that as much as the US tried not to be too dogmatic about the methods by which the local communist can be dealt with, the US actions reflect a super-power bent on exploiting the weaknesses of its enemy. Whether by covert or overt destabilizations practices the US is still continuously engaged in the action of dispensing with regimes or movements it sees as a potential threat, asserting its power as the supreme arbiter of world affairs. For the US at least, the Grenada victory was a success primarily for its reactionary elements. The invasion sent a clear message to potential aggressors that you can only go so far in exploiting revolutions in both the Caribbean and Central America without provoking an American military response. President Reagan of the United States proved willing to use force to combat hostile governments in the area.  

The importance of the Grenada invasion must thus be then a conspicuous milestone, etched deeply and firmly in the Caribbean history as to mark the distance covered and the distance yet to go. This endeavor will remain with the people of the Caribbean, with both present and future generations referring to it as a measure of progress. Hopefully this realization will give added urgency for the search of unity and a regional identity for this region. As best said by one critic, "If any hopes have been generated by the Grenadian experience they are that the debacle of October 1983 will inspire West Indians eventually to seek out for themselves a fairer and more humane form of society than that which has been offered to them in the past by British colonialists, US imperialists or the small gang of ideological zealots for Leninism who killed their leader in Fort Rupert one afternoon in October." (Pg. 228, O`Shaughnessy) In some bizarre chance, in Grenada, a spark seems to have been ignited, enabling a whole population to engage in rebuilding their identity. Grenada is a prime example of Third World not waiting for the First to define and make a revolution, but rather forging its own path. The story of Grenada, in truth then is a story that does not refer to the outside for support, for whom their "lessons," if any, are almost irrelevant. It refers to rather to a Grenada itself, its triumph to overcome and preserver. It`s an achievement that not even age nor time can diminish.


Work Cited

Ignac Golob. Yugoslav delegate, UN Security Council, 27, October 1983.

Maurice Bishop, St. George`s, Grenada 13 March 1980.

Senator Frank Church, Thoughts on the Limits to American Power,
New York Times, April 15, 1984, p. E-19. Newspaper article.

L Lewis, Gordon K. Grenada: The Jewel Despoiled. Baltimore And London: The Johns

Hopkins University Press, 1987. Print.

O`Shaughnessy, Hugh. GRENADA: An Eyewitness Account of the U.S. Invasion and the Caribbean History That Provoked It. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1984.

Payne, Anthony, Paul Sutton, and Tony Thorndike. GRENADA: Revolution and Invasion.

New York: St. Martin`s Press, 1984. Print.