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Dr. John McNeill is a professor in the School of Foreign Service and History Department at Georgetown where he teaches courses in World History, Environmental History, and International History. His publications include Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1640-1914, The Human Web: A Bird’s-eye View of World History, and Something New Under the Sun: A Environmental History of the 20th-Century World.

"To borrow a phrase from Talleyrand, the interventions were worse than crimes, they were blunders..."
"Rabe presents Castro as a deep obsession of John F. Kennedy’s..."
''Rabe is right that U.S. policy in Latin America was often morally indefensible..."

Stephen G. Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 247 pp. $19.95.

Stephen Rabe is an academic historian with an ax to grind, and he grinds it well. He begins this book by explaining that he is under no illusions about the character of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He visited former KGB prisons in Latvia, befriended Czechs persecuted for showing insufficient enthusiasm for the Red Army invasion of Prague in 1968, and educated himself about the many nefarious aspects of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. But his point here is to draw attention to the nasty Cold War conduct of the United States in its own backyard, Latin America.

Rabe finds American Cold War triumphalism objectionable in general and specifically because it overlooks the election-rigging, coups d’état, and massacres to which the U.S. government contributed in Latin America. He does not claim that these deeds were equally as evil as those perpetrated by the Kremlin. But he vigorously argues that they were unnecessary in every sense and did nothing to advance the American cause in the Cold War. He maintains that U.S. Cold War policy in Latin America “helped perpetuate and spread violence, poverty, and despair within the region.”

The many U.S. interventions – to use a gentle term – in Cold War Latin America were first presented [within the bureaucratic and political organs of the U.S. government] as helpful or even necessary measures to secure the American hemisphere from communist or Soviet power. When they were not kept secret, the interventions were then marketed to the American public with the same Cold War raison d’état. Rabe argues that these efforts at justification were at best based on ignorance and at worst on calculated dishonesty. U.S. officials consistently overestimated, and sometimes deliberately exaggerated, Soviet activities in Latin America, which were modest indeed compared to Soviet engagements in other world regions. Moreover, the ill-advised U.S. interventions alienated Latin American populations and contributed to anti-American popular and political sentiment throughout the region. To borrow a phrase from Talleyrand, the interventions were worse than crimes, they were blunders... (purchase article...)