The Banana Wars Part I

The Banana Wars were a series of occupations, police actions, and interventions in Central America and the Caribbean between the Spanish American War (1898) and the inception of Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy (1934). However, to understand how the Banana Wars transpired, we have to return to an earlier time. We will have to begin with the Monroe Doctrine.

Monroe Doctrine

President Monroe 002Some scholars believe that the catalyst for the Monroe Doctrine was the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, a newly emerging United States government feared the re-imposition of European monarchies —and with good reason. France had already agreed to restore the Spanish monarchy, and Prussia, Austria, and Russia had already formed the Holy Alliance, defending monarchism, which authorized military incursions to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies—which at that time, were in the process of establishing their independence.

The 1823 doctrine stated that the United States would view as an act of aggression any effort by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America. The United Kingdom generally supported this objective for two reasons: first, the British had designs on Central American and Caribbean nations in pursuit of its own interests and did not wish to have any interference from other European powers. Second, the British knew as well as anyone that the United States did not have the military wherewithal to impose its will on anyone.

Roosevelt Corollary

Through two revolutions and a number of shifts in political power in Venezuela, European powers agreed to demand reparations for the destruction of property and persons of European origin; in some instances, the losses sustained were considerable. When President Cipriano Castro refused to pay his foreign debts, Britain, Germany, and Italy imposed a naval blockade. Castro’s stubbornness was as a result of his belief that the United States would evoke the Monroe Doctrine to protect Venezuela from these Europeans.

Roosevelt Big Stick 001At this time, Washington officials did not see the Monroe Doctrine in the same way as did Castro. The Americans regarded the Monroe Doctrine as preventing the seizure of territory, not a prohibition of military intervention. When the Europeans gave assurances that no seizure of territory would occur, Washington allowed the blockade to proceed.

The Venezuelan navy was quickly disabled, but even then, Castro refused to give in. In time, Castro did agree in principle to submit claims to a court of arbitration with Germany insisting that Venezuela pay its just debts. The Germans bristled, Theodore Roosevelt sent his large fleet to Venezuela and threatened Germany with war if it attempted to land troops in Venezuela.

In his state of the union address to congress in 1904, President Roosevelt issued his now-famous corollary: The United States of America will intervene in conflicts between European and Latin American nations to enforce legitimate claims of European powers, rather than allowing Europeans to impose their own terms directly.

The Corollary asserted Roosevelt’s contention that the United States of America has the right to exercise military force or police powers within Latin American countries in order to keep European powers out of the Western Hemisphere.

Since then, American presidents have asserted the Roosevelt Corollary as justification for American intervention in Cuba (1906-1909), Nicaragua (1909-1910, 1912-1925, and 1926-1933), Haiti (1915-1934), Honduras[1] (1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925), and the Dominican Republic (1916-1924). The US additionally involved itself in Cuba (1898), Puerto Rico (now a territory of the United States), Mexico (1910-1919), and in the creation of the state of Panama and, subsequently, construction of the Panama Canal.

To be continued



[1] William S. Porter who wrote under the pen name O. Henry first used the term “Banana Republic” to describe Honduras in 1903.

Close Air —Part I

Cunningham Alfred 001Marine Corps Aviation began with a few good men that really did want to fly air machines. One of the first of these was a first lieutenant whose name was Alfred A. Cunningham. He was not only the first Marine Corps naval aviator, he was also a visionary able to develop the concept of an expeditionary air force. He had a keen interest in the way Italian aviators used their machines against the Ottoman Turks in 1911, and it was he that urged Major General Commandant William Biddle to establish a flying program for Marines. The timing was right, for General Biddle was under a great deal of pressure to expedite the Marine Corps’ transition to an advanced naval base defense mission. Biddle regarded Cunningham’s proposal as an opportunity to move this mission forward and recommended the creation of a Marine aviation capability. The Navy accepted this as a commitment to modernization and the Marine Corps has been flying tactical aircraft ever since.

When President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Imperial Germany in April 1917, the Marines were ready with fifty pilots and mechanics of the Aviation Detachment of the Marine Advanced Base Force. The War Department was happy to accept Marine ground troops—eventually increasing to 10,000 in strength, but it was somewhat less enthusiastic about accepting Marine Corps land-based air squadrons to provide reconnaissance and artillery spotting. The Navy, however, did accept the Marine’s advanced based seaplane squadron for antisubmarine patrols in the Azores. Captain Cunningham commanded four bomber squadrons in 1918 —the 1st Marine Aviation Force— supporting the Allied naval bombing group in Northern France. At this time, the Marines were flying De Havilland DH-4 and DH-9 biplanes over German installations behind the lines.

DH-4Still, the General Board of the Navy had questions about Marine Corps aviation and it was up to Cunningham to flesh it all out. He testified in 1919, “The only excuse for aviation in any service is its usefulness in assisting the troops on the ground.” He envisioned an air arm capable of providing direct support to battlefield infantry operations. He saw expeditionary air squadrons that could deploy by ship and fly from primitive fields in support of ground units, or in support of advanced naval bases. Remember, however, the Marines were not a very large organization; if they were to develop air support doctrine, they would have to do this on the move. They did this during the so-called Banana Wars in the Caribbean and in Central America. It was a challenging period for the Marines —the only military service engaged in combat during the interwar years (1919-1941). The lessons learned by the Marines during this period would prove invaluable during World War II.

Marine Brigades returned to the United States from Nicaragua and Haiti in 1933, just as the Marine Corps underwent a significant change in its primary mission —from static defense of advanced naval bases to one more suitable for a “likely war” with Japan. (See also: Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia, Major Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, USMC, 23 July 1921.) The Navy and Marines had been developing their Amphibious Warfare doctrine since the 1920s, which conceptually involved the forcible seizure of strategic islands in a naval campaign across the Pacific. One cannot help but wonder how it was that Marine officers could see the threat developing in Japan, while no one else in our nation’s government could. Nevertheless, encouraged by the development and tactical performance of Marine Corps aviation in Nicaragua, the Marine Corps incorporated the air-ground team concept in a series of landmark doctrinal initiatives. The new Fleet Marine Force (FMF) brigades formed in 1933 at Quantico, Virginia and at San Diego, California, contained an air group and an infantry regiment. Essentially, this same organizational structure would rescue South Korea and the Eighth US Army from complete destruction in June 1950.

In 1933, however, reliable air-ground radios were almost nonexistent. In 1933, the Marines still had not determined which air frame best suited a Marine Corps mission. Should they adopt dive-bombers, fighters, or some new ground-attack variant? The question would be answered in time, once aviation planners developed a proper construct for the mission, which ultimately was what it had always been: close air support.

To be continued

Brigadier General Hanneken

Hanneken_HHThe number of colorful, legendary figures of the United States Marine Corps is amazing. One of these legends was Herman Henry Hanneken, who hailed from St. Louis, Missouri —born there on 23 June 1893. He enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1914 at the age of 21 and after serving five years attained the rank of sergeant.

The United States invaded the island of Haiti in 1915, ultimately maintaining a military presence there for 19 years. The initial invasion encountered armed resistance by rebel bandits called Cacos under the leadership of Charlemagne Masséna Péralte (1886-1919). For four years, the Marines chased Péralte from one end of Haiti to the other, but by his clever use of mountainous terrain and his popularity among local populations, Péralte was able to elude them. Péralte was much like a ghost: he was everywhere; he was nowhere. The Marines finally concluded that no progress could be made to pacify the rebels until they tracked Péralte down and killed him.

This task landed on the desk of Sergeant Herman Henry Hanneken, who was then serving as a captain of the Haitian Gendarmerie. Hanneken knew that the problem wasn’t going to be killing Péralte; the problem would be finding him. He hatched a plan to do exactly that.

Hanneken ordered black gendarmes Jean-Baptiste Conzé and Jean-Edmond François to defect and join Péralte’s forces. Hanneken fully realized that Péralte was no dummy, however, and in order to bolster the story of Conzé, Hanneken arranged a successful attack against U. S. forces, and an astounding victory. Hanneken himself appeared in public as a seriously wounded and grateful survivor of the attack —with the assistance of some quantity of red ink.

In this way, Péralte was convinced to lead an attack against an American position at Grand Rivière de Nippes on 31 October 1919; finally the door of opportunity was finally opened to locate and destroy the rebel bandit.

As the battle raged through the night, Hanneken and another white Marine blackened their faces with charcoal and, armed with the passwords provided to them by Conzé, infiltrated the Cacos perimeter. After a nerve-racking penetration of the enemy line, Hanneken reached Péralte’s own camp and lost no time locating Péralte and gunning him down. Miraculously, Hanneken and his accomplice made it back to their own lines undiscovered. For his role in locating and destroying Péralte, Hanneken earned a commission to 2nd Lieutenant and the Medal of Honor:

Medal of HonorFor extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in actual conflict with the enemy near GRANDE RIVIERE, Republic of Haiti, on the night of October 31st-November 1st, 1919, resulting in the death of Charlemagne Péralte, the supreme bandit chief in the Republic of Haiti, and the killing, capture, and dispersal of about 1,200 of his outlaw followers. Second Lieutenant Hanneken not only distinguished himself by his excellent judgment and leadership, but unhesitatingly exposed himself to great personal danger, and the slightest error would have forfeited not only his life but the lives of the detachments of Gendarmerie under his command. The successful termination of his mission will undoubtedly prove of untold value to the Republic of Haiti.

Six months later, Hanneken was again cited for extraordinary heroism, receiving his first (of two) Navy Cross citations:

Navy Cross MedalThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Herman Henry Hanneken, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism displayed on the night of March 31 – 1 April 1920, by advancing into the camp of Osiris Joseph, a notorious bandit leader, while serving with the First Provisional Brigade of Marines (Gendarmerie d’Haiti). With admirable disregard of danger, Lieutenant Hanneken, leading a small detail, advanced to within about fifteen feet of Osiris Joseph, who was surrounded by his followers, shot and killed him, thereby ridding the country of a bandit who had long terrorized Northern Haiti. In addition to the courage displayed, the resourcefulness shown, and the careful planning necessary to accomplish his mission are worthy of the highest praise.


The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Herman Henry Hanneken, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary achievement, zeal untiring and most successful efforts during active service in the Northern Area of the Republic of Nicaragua from 11 December 1928 until 30 June 1929. In command of a combined Marine and Nicaraguan Voluntario combat patrol First Lieutenant Hanneken had many successful contacts with the bandits during which he distinguished himself by his gallantry. His courage and ability are exceptional and his operations against bandits were of great value in the suppression of banditry in this area.

Lieutenant Hanneken continued to serve during the so-called Banana Wars through the 1920s. In the following decade, Hanneken served at various posts and stations throughout the Corps, attended grade-level professional schools, and in 1936 was advanced in grade to Major. From 1939 to 1940, he served as Commanding Officer, Marine Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Hingham, Massachusetts and was subsequently ordered to command the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Harry Lee.

Hanneken 003In June 1941, LtCol Hanneken reported to the 1st Marine Division where he served in various assignments. While commanding the 7th Marines on Guadalcanal, he received the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy. During the Peleliu campaign he received Legion of Merit, and during the Cape Gloucester operation, he received the Bronze Star Medal, with combat “V” device.

Colonel Hanneken concluded his 34 years of Marine Corps service in 1948. Having been specially decorated for heroism in combat, Colonel Hanneken was advanced to Brigadier General on the Retired List. He passed away on 23 August 1986 at the age of 93. He was accorded full military honors at his interment at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.





Growing a Marine Hero: Haiti, 1919

Haiti MapThe island of Hispaniola has a long and troubled history. Spanish colonization disposed of the native inhabitants and imported African slaves in their place. In 1697, the French took over the western one-third of the island and christened it Haiti—an area consisting of 11,000 square miles, three-quarters of which is mountainous interior, the rest being coastal plain. The primary products of Haiti were coffee, sugar, and other cash crops. By 1791, Haiti had a population of 25,000 whites, 30,000 free mulattoes, and 500,000 black slaves and their French masters did not treat them well, or wisely. The slaves rebelled, and over ten years of conflict, reduced the free inhabitants of Haiti by 70 percent —including all whites. Due to a long procession of rebellions and Coup d’état the nation never again achieved any degree of prosperity.

Haitian mulattoes advantaged their status under colonial rule, maintained French culture, and governed the country, but the real power brokers were the Cacos—lawless rural blacks who formed gangs and intimidated everyone with their violence. Wealthy political hacks often paid the Cacos to do their bidding. Meanwhile, mulattoes and Cacos abandoned most of Haiti’s citizens to languish in the squalor of their depressing slums.

The foregoing describes the political and economic environment into which young Private Lewis B. Puller arrived in 1919. From the vantage point of a naval vessel approaching the Haitian coast, the island was exciting to behold. There were white stucco buildings with red Spanish tile roofs, which contrasted with lush forests in the background. This favorable impression changed quickly, however, as the ship neared the coastal region, where the fresh sea breeze transformed into a revoltingly pungent odor.Haiti 002

During the period between 1908 and 1915, the Haitian government changed hands seven times. Four incumbent presidents left office in coffins and it was thus that convinced President Woodrow Wilson (D) to send a brigade of 2,000 Marines to “restore order and protect American interests.” Clever diplomats convinced the Haitian government to sign a treaty, which effectively made Haiti a protectorate of the United States. Consequently, Haitian politics stabilized.

The Marine Corps role in Haiti was to perform as a constabulary. Marine officers and NCOs provided experience and political neutrality needed to help reorganize the Haitian national police and military. To accomplish this, Marine NCOs received commissions and Gendarmerie lieutenants, while officers served in billets two or three grades higher than their American rank. Marines assigned to the Gendarmerie received a salary from the Haitian government in addition to the pay as U. S. Marines. For a corporal working as a constabulary lieutenant, the extra $720.00 per year more than doubled his Marine Corps pay.

Haiti 001Not all Marines served well in these billets. Some brought with them their prejudices toward blacks and there were language difficulties owing to the fact that most Americans did not speak French. By 1919, Marine commanders shipped out nearly a third of the Marines assigned to the constabulary due to their unsatisfactory performance in this unusual “independent” duty. There was nothing remotely similar between the normal duties of a Marine Corps officer or NCO and that of a member of the Haitian Gendarmerie. In addition to pacification duty, young Marines also exercised civil powers. They enforced the law, supervised the jails, prepared criminal cases for courts, approved all local government transactions, and paid local government employees. Young Marines also supervised education programs, directed sanitation efforts, agricultural pursuits, and all military construction projects within his area of responsibility.

Private Puller became part of the Gendarmerie not long after his arrival in Haiti. His on the job training consisted of observing the interaction between Haitian NCOs and the common constables; his captain instructed him to learn to speak and understand Creole. He learned that in order to be successful in this assignment, it would be necessary that he learn local customs and traditions. For example, one new twist to military life was that Haitian wives accompanied the men, seeing to all of their needs. The decisions that Puller would make about his men would affect their wives and children, also.

Haiti Mule TrainUpon Private Puller’s arrival in Haiti, his superiors assigned him to the Gendarmerie. His on the job training consisted of “observing” the Haitian NCOs drill their subordinates and what he saw amazed him. The black NCOs used long wooden rods to strike the head of any soldier whose drill performance was substandard—he may have wondered how it was possible to generate loyalty and devotion from subordinates when their leaders abused them. In any case, his first duty was to provide security for mule-trains transporting supplies to inland units. Within a week, Puller took charge of the supply run to Mirebalais and Las Cohobas, small towns located within Cacos infested countryside. With 25-armed escorts, Puller led his mule train out of Port Au Prince toward his objectives 40 miles distant. Without accurate maps, he had only a verbal description of the route to guide him; his troops spoke no English. He had no previous experience with mule trains, and so he set upon a quick pace of march.

Late in the afternoon, Puller’s small force surprised a column of about 100 Cacos moving in the opposite direction. Without hesitation, Puller ordered a charge into the enemy force, and even though his troops did not understand a word of English, they followed their aggressive leader. Several of the Cacos were shot and killed, and the rest scattered. This was “Chesty” Puller’s first armed confrontation with an enemy and it taught him a valuable lesson that he would take with him for the balance of his career: courage and coolness under fire, aggressive action, leading from the front of the line. Nevertheless, in spite of these attributes, Private Puller’s first mission was not an unqualified success: he would have to learn how to better manage and care for the pack mules that suffered under Puller’s grueling pace.