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

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Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow provides a fast-paced narrative history of the coups, revolutions, and invasions by which the United States has toppled fourteen foreign governments -- not always to its own benefit

"Regime change" did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush, but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and continuing through the Spanish-American War and the Cold War and into our own time, the United States has not hesitated to overthrow governments that stood in the way of its political and economic goals. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the latest, though perhaps not the last, example of the dangers inherent in these operations.

In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells the stories of the audacious politicians, spies, military commanders, and business executives who took it upon themselves to depose monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers. He also shows that the U.S. government has often pursued these operations without understanding the countries involved; as a result, many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences.

In a compelling and provocative history that takes readers to fourteen countries, including Cuba, Iran, South Vietnam, Chile, and Iraq, Kinzer surveys modern American history from a new and often surprising perspective.

"Detailed, passionate and convincing . . . [with] the pace and grip of a good thriller." -- Anatol Lieven, The New York Times Book Review

Data di uscita6 feb 2007
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Stephen Kinzer

Stephen Kinzer is the author of many books, including The True Flag, The Brothers, Overthrow, and All the Shah’s Men. An award-winning foreign correspondent, he served as the New York Times bureau chief in Nicaragua, Germany, and Turkey. He is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and writes a world affairs column for the Boston Globe. He lives in Boston.

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  • Valutazione: 4 su 5 stelle
    A brisk and interesting chronicle of fourteen instances of U.S. intervention to promote "regime change" -- the ouster of an existing government in favor of one that the U.S. preferred. Well-written and interesting, though it would be nice if he ventured further into the broader implications of U.S. interventionism.
  • Valutazione: 4 su 5 stelle
    An important book for all Americans. We seem to have no memory of our own history. After 9/11, the President said the terrorists hate us for our freedom. This book suggests that there are many in the world with good reason to dislike the United States.
  • Valutazione: 3 su 5 stelle
    Started off with a flourish, ended with a hamfisted bore fest designed to put the reader to sleep. Worth reading in my opnion for the first chapter on Hawaii - which was excellent. The rest deviated onto weird incredibly boring side tangents filled with plenty of pedestal mounted preaching.
  • Valutazione: 5 su 5 stelle
    A very interesting and fascinating history on an American century of regime change--starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian Queen Liliuokami and ending with our present debacle in Iraq. Kinzer goes behind the scenes to ferret out the characters behind the coups and the more often than not hapless victims of their ambitions. For the most part these are cautionary tales of ambition, greed and deceit filtered through a more often than not blinkered and arrogant view of righteousness and 'good' intentions and more often than not come back to haunt us sometimes 20--30 even 60 years afterwards. Many of these countries are very familiar to us--Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq. Kinzer argues that what may seem politically expedient today can have awful ramifications far into the future if not thought out carefully--a secondary theme being how little Americans in general know (or are even interested for that matter) about world history and how this leaves us unprepared to objectively view the machinations of regime change when one president or another of ours gets an idea in his head.Particularly poignant are the chapters on Iran (the Mossadegh coup), Guatemala (Arbenz), Vietnam (the Diem assassination that JFK unwittingly provoked less than a month before his own assassination), Chile (Allende) and our aid to the Afghan rebels many of whom later will become soldiers for the Taliban or terrorists for Al Quaeda. American foreign policy throughout the century has a tendency to take its eye off the ball after deposing its enemies often leaving a slowly boiling population to suffer under the hands of ' friendly to american interests' military tyrants. Kinzer makes the point also that the aspirations of those people though usually in time come to fruition albeit more often than not with much resentment towards our government--seen afterwards for its cynicism and hypocrisy. Kinzer is an excellent storyteller--who writes skillfully and with much verve. He is able to pare things down without losing focus on the personalities and politics involved. He is able to tie the stories together into a coherent whole. They are easy to read--not hard to understand and give much food for thought. Very well done and very much recommended.
  • Valutazione: 4 su 5 stelle
    not a bad overview. Tends toget a little heavy handed in the last 1/3.
  • Valutazione: 4 su 5 stelle
    "Regime Change" has been on the edge of everyone's tongue for the last 5 years. Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps Iran are the countries we think of, that and the United States executing the change. But what Stephen Kinzer brilliantly illustrates is that this idea, this preemptive, hegemony is a cornerstone of American politics and is not to be exclusively associated with George W. Bush and his cronies. From Hawaii to Iraq Kinzer draws the political lines between the bourgeois and people's democracy struggling over resources, and values.
  • Valutazione: 5 su 5 stelle
    So perceptive and detailed - set against the backdrop of current world sentiments
  • Valutazione: 4 su 5 stelle
    Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the history of US foreign policy.
  • Valutazione: 5 su 5 stelle
    This book is incredibly well researched and incredibly nuanced and critical. I'm very happy and grateful I read it!
  • Valutazione: 4 su 5 stelle
    Kinzer's main thesis is that, from the end of the 19th Century through the present, the U.S. has used military power (both overtly and clandestinely) to overthrow governments seen as unfriendly to American interests. In most cases, these interests have been of an economic nature or coincident with economic benefits. In every instance, however, the manipulation of the fate of other countries and their people has been cloaked in more "elevated" rhetoric. Each chapter is devoted to a short history of one country ‘s takeover, beginning with Hawaii, then Central America, and ending with Iran and Iraq. Kinzer points to the use of patriotism and religious fervor to win over American popular opinion, backed by the big dollars and political support of corporations ”eagerly looking abroad for new markets and sources of raw materials.” Of contemporary interest, Kinzer draws parallels between George W. Bush and William McKinley, noting with sarcasm that “Neither man was troubled by his ignorance of the countries whose governments he overthrew.” Both, he observes, believed they were agents of divine inspiration, carrying out America’s “sacred mission to spread its form of government to faraway countries.”In spite of the lofty ideals professed by presidents under whose administrations regime changes were effected, the bottom line is that “Americans have believed they deserve access to markets and resources in other countries. When they are denied that access, they take what they want by force, deposing governments that stand in their way.”Kinzer tells some very interesting stories that are not the usual textbook fare: U.S. control of the banana republics by United Fruit; CIA destabilization tactics in Guatemala; the horrific determination of Nixon and Kissinger to, in Nixon’s words, “smash” that “son of a bitch Allende” in Chile; our love affair, and then change of heart, over Noriega; how the CIA worked behind the scenes to undermine Mossadegh in Iran (creating a nation full of America-hating youth, some of whom went on to take American diplomats as hostage and drive Jimmy Carter from office); and of course the piece de resistance – George W. Bush’s obsession with Iraq. “And in the end,” one would have to say with John Lennon, “the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” If we’re not much loved in the world right now, there are plenty of good reasons, and Kinzer makes a good start in delineating them.

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Overthrow - Stephen Kinzer


REGIME CHANGE DID NOT BEGIN WITH the administration of George W. Bush but has been an integral part of American foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and continuing through the entire twentieth century and into our own time, the United States has not hesitated to topple governments that stood in the way of its political and economic goals. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the latest, though perhaps not the last, example of these high-stakes operations.

In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells the stories of the audacious politicians, spies, military commanders, and business executives who took it upon themselves to depose monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers. He dramatically recounts how America’s long regimechange century began in Hawaii and gained momentum during the Spanish-American War, when Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines fell to American military and political power. Soon afterward, the United States started flexing its muscles in Central America, orchestrating coups that that brough down the presidents of Nicaragua and Honduras.

Kinzer then shows how the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union led American leaders to view all political disputes through the lens of superpower competition. During this period, they arranged covert actions that led to the murder of a South Vietnamese president and the fall of democratic governments in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile. In recent years, invasions have once again become the preferred instrument of regime change, as operations in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq attest.

The United States usually succeeds when it sets out to depose a foreign leader, but Kinzer assesses these operations in the cold light of history and concludes that many of them have actually undermined American security. Overthrow is a cautionary tale that serves as an urgent warning as the United States seeks to define its role in the modern world.


All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and

the Roots of Middle East Terror

Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds

Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua

Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (coauthor)





Times Books

Henry Holt and Company, LLC

Publishers since 1866

175 Fifth Avenue

New York, New York 10010


Henry Holt® is a registered trademark of

Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Kinzer

All rights reserved.

Distributed in Canada by H. B. Fenn and Company Ltd.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kinzer, Stephen.

Overthrow: America’s century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq / Stephen Kinzer.—1st ed.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN-13: 987-0-8050-7861-9

ISBN-10: 0-8050-7861-4

1. United States—Foreign relations—20th century. 2. Hawaii—History—Overthrow of the Monarchy, 1893. 3. Iraq War, 2003-4. Intervention (International law)—History—20th century. 5. Legitimacy of governments—History—20th century. I. Title.

E744.K49 2006

327.73009—dc22                   2005054856

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For details contact: Director, Special Markets.

First Edition 2006

Designed by Kelly S. Too

Printed in the United States of America

9 10

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past





1. A Hell of a Time Up at the Palace

2. Bound for Goo-Goo Land

3. From a Whorehouse to a White House

4. A Break in the History of the World


5. Despotism and Godless Terrorism

6. Get Rid of This Stinker

7. Not the Preferred Way to Commit Suicide

8. We’re Going to Smash Him

9. A Graveyard Smell


10. Our Days of Weakness Are Over

11. You’re No Good

12. They Will Have Flies Walking Across Their Eyeballs

13. Thunder Run

14. Catastrophic Success







Why does a strong nation strike against a weaker one? Usually because it seeks to impose its ideology, increase its power, or gain control of valuable resources. Shifting combinations of these three factors motivated the United States as it extended its global reach over the past century and more. This book examines the most direct form of American intervention, the overthrow of foreign governments.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political, and economic reasons. Like each of these operations, the regime change in Iraq seemed for a time—a very short time—to have worked. It is now clear, however, that this operation has had terrible unintended consequences. So have most of the other coups, revolutions, and invasions that the United States has mounted to depose governments it feared or mistrusted.

The United States uses a variety of means to persuade other countries to do its bidding. In many cases it relies on time-honored tactics of diplomacy, offering rewards to governments that support American interests and threatening retaliation against those that refuse. Sometimes it defends friendly regimes against popular anger or uprisings. In more than a few places, it has quietly supported coups or revolutions organized by others. Twice, in the context of world wars, it helped to wipe away old ruling orders and impose new ones.

This book is not about any of those ways Americans have shaped the modern world. It focuses only on the most extreme set of cases: those in which the United States arranged to depose foreign leaders. No nation in modern history has done this so often, in so many places so far from its own shores.

The stories of these regime change operations are dazzlingly exciting. They tell of patriots and scoundrels, high motives and low cynicism, extreme courage and cruel betrayal. This book brings them together for the first time, but it seeks to do more than simply tell what happened. By considering these operations as a continuum rather than as a series of unrelated incidents, it seeks to find what they have in common. It poses and tries to answer two fundamental questions. First, why did the United States carry out these operations? Second, what have been their long-term consequences?

Drawing up a list of countries whose governments the United States has overthrown is not as simple as it sounds. This book treats only cases in which Americans played the decisive role in deposing a regime. Chile, for example, makes the list because, although many factors led to the 1973 coup there, the American role was decisive. Indonesia, Brazil, and the Congo do not, because American agents played only subsidiary roles in the overthrow of their governments during the 1960s. Nor do Mexico, Haiti, or the Dominican Republic, countries the United States invaded but whose leaders it did not depose.

America’s long regime change century dawned in 1893 with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. This was a tentative, awkward piece of work, a cultural tragedy staged as comic opera. It was not a military operation, but without the landing of American troops, it probably would not have succeeded. The president of the United States approved of it, but soon after it happened, a new president took office and denounced it. Americans were already divided over whether it is a good idea to depose foreign regimes.

The overthrow of Hawaii’s queen reignited a political debate that had first flared during the Mexican War half a century before. That debate, which in essence is about what role the United States should play in the world, rages to this day. It burst back onto the front pages after the invasion of Iraq.

No grand vision of American power lay behind the Hawaiian revolution of 1893. Just the opposite was true of the Spanish-American War, which broke out five years later. This was actually two wars, one in which the United States came to the aid of patriots fighting against Spanish colonialism, and then a second in which it repressed those patriots to assure that their newly liberated nations would be American protectorates rather than truly independent. A radically new idea of America, much more globally ambitious than any earlier one, emerged from these conflicts. They marked the beginning of an era in which the United States has assumed the right to intervene anywhere in the world, not simply by influencing or coercing foreign governments but also by overthrowing them.

In Hawaii and the countries that rose against Spain in 1898, American presidents tested and developed their new interventionist policy. There, however, they were reacting to circumstances created by others. The first time a president acted on his own to depose a foreign leader was in 1909, when William Howard Taft ordered the overthrow of Nicaraguan president José Santos Zelaya. Taft claimed he was acting to protect American security and promote democratic principles. His true aim was to defend the right of American companies to operate as they wished in Nicaragua. In a larger sense, he was asserting the right of the United States to impose its preferred form of stability on foreign countries.

This set a pattern. Throughout the twentieth century and into the beginning of the twenty-first, the United States repeatedly used its military power, and that of its clandestine services, to overthrow governments that refused to protect American interests. Each time, it cloaked its intervention in the rhetoric of national security and liberation. In most cases, however, it acted mainly for economic reasons—specifically, to establish, promote, and defend the right of Americans to do business around the world without interference.

Huge forces reshaped the world during the twentieth century. One of the most profound was the emergence of multinational corporations, businesses based in one country that made much of their profit overseas. These corporations and the people who ran them accumulated great wealth and political influence. Civic movements, trade unions, and political parties arose to counterbalance them, but in the United States, these were never able even to approach the power that corporations wielded. Corporations identified themselves in the public mind with the ideals of free enterprise, hard work, and individual achievement. They also maneuvered their friends and supporters into important positions in Washington.

By a quirk of history, the United States rose to great power at the same time multinational corporations were emerging as a decisive force in world affairs. These corporations came to expect government to act on their behalf abroad, even to the extreme of overthrowing uncooperative foreign leaders. Successive presidents have agreed that this is a good way to promote American interests.

Defending corporate power is hardly the only reason the United States overthrows foreign governments. Strong t