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Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 22:18:57 -0600 (CST)
From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?Haiti_Progr=E8s?= <editor@haiti-progres.com>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 17:39 12/15/99
Article: 85241
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A Review of Bob Shacochis, The Immaculate Invasion; Mesmerized by Haiti... and the U.S. Special Forces

Reviewed by Stan Goff, Haiti Progrès, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 17, no. 39, 15-21 December 1999

I put off reading The Immaculate Invasion, Bob Shacochis's account of the 1994 U.S. military intervention in Haiti, for the same reasons I avoid reading books about Vietnam.I don't like stirring up past and painful emotions.

The book jacket synopsis reads: Based on eighteen months in the field in Haiti - where he bunked, ate, and dodged bullets as a non-combatant with a team of Special Forces commandos - Shacochis's book brings us the stories of the 'new military.' Here are the most highly trained and sophisticated warriors in history, deployed in a surreal war zone 'where there are no friends and no enemies, no front or rear, non victories and, likewise, no defeats, and no true endings.' With the eye of a novelist, Shacochis captures the exploits and frustrations, the inner lives, and the heroic deeds of young Americans as they struggle to bring democracy to a country ravaged by tyranny. This is what it is like to be a soldier in a military environment in which 'acceptable losses' has evolved to mean 'no losses whatsoever.'

I was one of those soldiers, the operations chief for a Special Forces (SF) team. I had an on the ground view of the immaculate invasion, but my movements were limited. Shacochis, however, was able to move around freely, in and between the moving parts of the operations. Thus, his narrative and anecdotes felt like a complement to and expansion of my own experience, and it resolved several mysteries for me about just what in the hell was going on at headquarters. I appreciated that aspect of the book.

But in other areas I was disappointed. Shacochis almost gets Haiti right. He almost gets U.S. foreign policy. And he almost gets the military. The problem - as we used to say in the Army - is that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It's what he misses or avoids, or denies, that most needs to be said. And in not saying it, he collaborates in Haiti's isolation and oppression. He collaborates in the deeply racist characterization of Haiti as deviant and incapable of self-governance. And finally he collaborates in justifying U.S. foreign policy and in perpetuating the pathological U.S. ideology of militarism.

In a country as fucked up as Haiti, he begins on the first page, you had to wrap your hands around the throat of everything - the language, the music, especially the songs and potent rhythms of the songs, because in the people's centuries-old war against the tyrants, drums were weapons, words were deadly ammunition.

At other points in the book, the reader feels that the heavies are not just Haitian tyrants, but the Haitian people themselves.The masses of Haitian townspeople and peasants become the exotic backdrop for Shacochis's adventure. What's on display is the intrepid journalist and his facility with the English language. What's not on display is the dominant U.S. role in Haitian economic, political, and social life since the turn of the century. The U.S. is absolved.

I will grant that Shacochis catches the cadence and the idiom of Creole and culture. He also took the trouble to learn something about military organization, protocol, procedure, and policy - something I have noted over the years that the vast majority of journalists get way wrong. He gives wonderful descriptions of the markets, the slums, the countryside, the roads, the music, the bourgeois bars. His scenes are detailed and amplified by his poetry to the point of being almost rococo.But in all his devoted attention to the trees, he fails to see the forest. Furthermore, by emphasizing all that is dramatic in Haiti, he obscures the more pedestrian evidence - economic and historical evidence - that renders Haiti and its people more like us, his North American readers, more comprehensible, less exotic, less the other.

In a country as fucked up as Haiti...,How the Haitians seemed to accept fucked-upness as an essential condition. The theme is repeated again and again. Haitians as exotic. Haitians as perverse. Haitians as incompetent. Let's dissect just one passage. On leaving Haiti, Shacochis writes that the nation was in a shambles, and what was there to hope for now?People were beginning to say, Maybe the price of democracy is too high. Haiti had no jobs to give its sons and daughters. In other words, Haitians don't seem ready for democracy or to feed themselves. The reality, which Shacochis misses, is that the U.S. mission was never to Restore Democracy nor bring economic development but only to stabilize existing class relations, with a co-opted Aristide to provide a nationalist-democratic facade. He never understood that the US was calling the shots before, during, and after the invasion.

The government had proved incapable of either reforming or privatizing its corrupt monopolies. First, the state monopolies are not inherently corrupt, as the first 7 months of Lavalas administration demonstrated. Secondly, it wasn't that the government was incapable of reforming or privatizing them. It was that the Haitian people have fought tooth and nail against the improvements Shacochis touts.

Lavalas has divided like an amoeba, each cell at the other's throat. A colorful metaphor, but hardly enlightening about a complex political struggle. It equates the antagonists and suggests Haitians are innately divisive.

And then there is Shacochis, the agnostic. [A]n epidemic of assassinations had been orchestrated by - depending on who was raking through the evidence - Aristide, the oligarchic families on the mountaintop, or the CIA. You see, Shacochis is really not sure who is the aggressor and who is the victim. He shrugs when asked to decide who is behind Haiti's current insecurity: Aristide or the CIA. This is how he cleverly defends the U.S. low intensity war against Haiti. While posturing as a critic, in reality he defends the empire.

Shacochis was taken in by a Special Forces (SF) detachment, literally and figuratively.He was saved from the angry masses (when he was unwisely hanging out inside a hated FAdH caserne with de facto criminals) by ODA 311 (the SF team), so he repaid them-and all of SF-by papering over their ugly side and accentuating their perceived professionalism and courage.

ODA 311 allowed him to encamp with them at the Limbé caserne.They obviously sensed his profound paranoia about Haitian crowds and his inexperience with combat.They fed his paranoia with dramatics I could spot even in a second- hand account. They were both playing with him and doing the Special Forces macho-narcissistic strut. He bought it, and the book became an apology for SF. This latent Tom Clancy tendency contaminates the entire read. It becomes an awful nod to militarism and chauvinism, the flip side of his irrational fear of and contempt for the Haitians, for whom he simultaneously declares his compassion.

His portrait of ODA 311 is not without value. His humanization of the team members is important.People who oppose the military, for whatever reason, tend to stereotype military life and service members, and this polemical bent hurts their credibility and their ability to understand how things actually work.

Shacochis also gives a true picture of the fundamental incompetence of General David Meade, the conventional commander who was placed at our head to torment us during Operation Uphold Democracy; of the ersatz brilliance and idiosyncratic millenarianism of Colonel Mark Boyatt, the Special Forces commander; and of the collective personality of an A-Detachment.But he never asks the question, why SF?

Special Forces are designed for deployment into politically sensitive environments. They are older than regular troops. They hold higher security clearances.They are accustomed to working in concert with agencies like the State Department and their CIA-controlled political sections. You can put them at the end of a rope, then jerk the rope around, and they keep to themselves. They don't freak out and shoot people as readily as young soldiers, so they are less apt to create incidents.

His love for the men of Special Forces and his apologetic tendency on their behalf lead Shacochis to conclusions that are spookily reminiscent of right-wing critiques of the Vietnam invasion. The military, he seems to say, was being hobbled on a righteous mission by the in-fighting and maneuvering of politicians.Historical myopia, I suppose. The people in the military need their rationalizations, too. It's the only way they can continue to do what they do - which has never in U.S. history had anything to do with guaranteeing democracy or human rights, and has always had to do with the business of defending business interests. The uniform that I wore and that Shacochis's friends wore is given an outrageous and unearned prestige to keep people in it. Sometimes we are asked to murder. Sometimes we are asked to die. But the role of the military as an institution is to enforce the will of the dominant class in the U.S. and to continue bankrolling the bloated trade in military hardware.

He ascribes the apparent stasis of the operation to competing tensions, to the unrelenting impasse of competitive politics, civil and military.But the truth is, the operation went exactly as it was supposed to. It was a tightrope walk to re-install a co-opted, defanged Aristide. We were pawns, and our mission - the one truly consistent mission - was not democracy, but stability.

To his credit, Shacochis did recognize the hypocrisy of the U.S. mission with regard to FRAPH, and he did make the connections.He was rightly enraged by Task Force Commander Admiral Miller's minimizing the FRAPH attack on a crowd of pro-Aristide demonstrators, September 30, in Port-au-Prince. Shacochis spotted the dissembling of the U.S. Embassy.He was bowled over by the official military policy - which was handed down to me and with which I never complied, leading to my expulsion - that FRAPH was to be treated as the legitimate political opposition.

Shacochis can't see that this directive made perfect sense. The mission was never to restore popular power.It was to put Aristide's face on a neoliberal fraud.Lavalas was a movement with real potential to be mobilized, and the U.S. could not provide the counter-balance even with its monstrous military forces. Bad publicity. Huge political minefield. But by rehabilitating the FRAPH and giving them a little slack in their leash, the U.S. could blunt the power of Lavalas... and eventually split it.

The author seemed surprised when he learned that the directive to define FRAPH as a political party came to Special Forces directly from Clinton's staff at an embassy briefing. If he'd have drifted past Fort Liberté for a chat, I would have told him that straight up. My own men protested when I began telling Haitians in our sector that this was clearly a ploy by the U.S. government and that it stank of CIA.But I had worked out of embassies before -in Guatemala in '83 and El Salvador in '85 - and this was not some new maneuver. My own warnings to the Haitians were characterized during the investigation the Army launched against me as seditious.

The teams were in on it, too. Bob Shacochis fell so in love with his team that he began omitting and ignoring things about them that would portray them as less heroic. I have seen copies of letters from team sergeants, contacting the local FRAPH, soliciting and offering assistance in identifying and rooting out the Lavalas communists. Here were some team sergeants and team leaders who really understood their mission, who had read between the lines.

The description of ODA 311 dumping a mentally ill man in the country just to be rid of him in town is harrowing. Shacochis inadvertently exposes his heroes here. Did he realize the team would not have done the same thing to a white man?The essential colonial cruelty of several SF members comes through starkly, but Shacochis whitewashes it with pro-American pathos.

His own presence and the fairly unusual presence of an African-American team member served to drive the racism of the white team members underground. But it's there. Racism is SF's dirty little secret. SF members often see themselves as the last bastion of white male supremacy.He de- racialized the SF contempt for Haitians as a group, just as - sadly, I think - he does with his own contempt for Haitians. He actually repeats the epithet boukie, in his narrative, never understanding that this is how it begins. We have to dehumanize them.It was gooks in Korea and Vietnam.It was ragheads in Iraq.It was the skinnies in Somalia.

After reviewing an incident when I'd gone off on one of my team members for using the term nigger-rigged, Army's investigators looking into my activity in Haiti asked if I really thought SF was a racist organization. I did. I still do. My own experience leads me to believe that two-thirds of the organization's members harbor clearly white supremacist beliefs. The major who was interrogating me asked if I thought it was racist when soldiers referred to the Haitians not as niggers but as the fucking Haitians.He was looking for an out for himself and a hook for me.

What do you think, sir? I responded.He answered at length, with paragraph after paragraph of adjustment and explanation, that of course it wasn't racist.For a moment, at least, I was the skilled interrogator.

But Shacochis seems oblivious. He gives a very sympathetic account of ODA 344, Master Sergeant Frank Norbury's team. I knew Norbury and his team. Our team rooms at Fort Bragg were 25 feet apart. We were both Military Free Fall parachute teams, and we jumped together. Back in Bragg, ODA 344 had its own T-shirts. The 344 was written with the two 4's as SS lightening bolts.Shacochis probably never saw the T- shirts, but if he went to the team house in St. Marc, as he said he did, then he couldn't help but notice the same Nazi 344 carved prominently in the wooden support column at the front of the house. Given Shacochis's keen eye for detail, his failure to mention this in his narrative is very curious. Was it an oversight, or did this fascist graffiti not fit into his portrait?

I was back in Haiti in December 1995, on leave, and dropped by 344's team house in St. Marc. Frank had taken to entertaining himself by shooting neighbors' cats, dogs, and chickens with a pellet pistol. Their team had been the first to train Haiti's new Palace Guard, and they all agreed proudly that their boys would be in charge of the next coup. But I guess they talk and act differently toward one of their own than they do with a reporter. My own expulsion had been buried, and the word wasn't out yet that I had become politically unreliable.

Fuckin' boukies! I'd hear time and again from 344. Again, they were stripping the Haitians of their humanity.The population had to be redefined as the other. But Shacochis may understand, because in my opinion, he erected the same barrier, albeit with a compassionate facade.

The author took an emotional nose dive when ODA 311, at the behest of commanders, eagerly initiated an operation that rousted the entire population of Limbé as retribution for the murder of a FAdH lieutenant. His dismay, combined with his blind allegiance to the standard lines - about democracy, about SF, and about Haiti - threw him into a funk. His liberal, moral universe broke down. Sometimes reconciliation and justice just can't co-exist. Sometimes the only solution left to people is revolutionary violence. And revolutionary solutions cannot be attained within the convenient and fundamentally anti-revolutionary boundaries of existing orders.

This is the fundamental point Shacochis never gets. Our mission in Haiti was to stop a revolution, not a coup d'état. The Immaculate Invasion obscures this, and that is my main problem with the book. We were deployed to Haiti not to protect or restore democracy, but to protect class privilege and to prevent the inevitable popular uprising that would have come in the invasion's stead. Bill Clinton and the technocratic global economic elite he represents wanted to fold Haiti into the New Economic World Order. So far they have failed, not due to Haitian exoticism, fucked- upness, ignorance of democracy, emotionalism, nor government incompetence. It is due to popular resistance...democratic resistance.