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Guantánamo: An American History by…

Guantánamo: An American History

by Jonathan M. Hansen

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I completed this year's literary tour of U.S. territories with Guantánamo: An American History. I hadn't heard of the U.S. base there until it became a detention center for enemy combatants and suspected terrorists after 9/11. However, that's only the latest news in the bay's long history.

Starting with Columbus, Hansen tells of the discovery of the bay and how it changed hands through its history, ending up with its permanent lease to the U.S. for use as a military base. Cuba is strategically located at the meeting point of the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Guantánamo Bay is near the southeastern point of the island, a part of the island that was historically underpopulated, making it vulnerable to invasion. It became a destination for groups fleeing other island nations in the region, particularly African slaves and French Haitians.

The U.S. acquired its base at Guantánamo following the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century. Hansen then follows its history as a base, from the prohibition era, where military personnel could enjoy the alcohol that was unavailable to them in the U.S., to the rise of Castro, when access was cut off to the rest of Cuba.

I found the first two thirds of the book much more interesting than the last third of the book. The last two chapters cover the period in which the base was used to house and process Haitian refugees in the late 1980s/early 1990s and its current use as a detention center for enemy combatants and suspected terrorists in the War on Terror. The book lost its focus on Guantánamo at this point and became a political commentary. The author's bias is evident in this section of the book. He explains one side of the controversy very well. Readers wanting to delve into both sides of these complex issues will need to look elsewhere for a balanced approach. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Dec 17, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809053411, Hardcover)

An on-the-ground history of American empire
Say the word “Guantánamo” and orange jumpsuits, chain-link fences, torture, and indefinite detention come to mind. To critics the world over, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is a striking symbol of American hypocrisy. But the prison isn’t the whole story. For more than two centuries, Guantánamo has been at the center of American imperial ambition, first as an object of desire then as a convenient staging ground.
In Guantánamo: An American History, Jonathan M. Hansen presents the first complete account of this fascinating place. The U.S. presence at Guantánamo predates even the nation itself, as the bay figured centrally in the imperial expansion plans of colonist and British sailor Lawrence Washington—half brother of the future president George. As the young United States rose in power, Thomas Jefferson and his followers envisioned a vast “empire of liberty,” which hinged on U.S. control of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Politically and geographically, Guantánamo Bay was the key to this strategy. So when Cubans took up arms against their Spanish rulers in 1898, America swooped in to ensure that Guantánamo would end up firmly in its control.
Over the next century, the American navy turned the bay into an idyllic modern Mayberry—complete with bungalows, cul-de-sacs, and country clubs—which base residents still enjoy. In many ways, Guantánamo remains more quintessentially American than America itself: a distillation of the idealism and arrogance that has characterized U.S. national identity and foreign policy from the very beginning.
Despite the Obama administration’s repeated efforts to shutter the notorious prison, the naval base is in no danger of closing anytime soon. Places like Guantánamo, which fall between the clear borders of law and sovereignty, continue to serve a purpose regardless of which leaders—left, right, or center—hold the reins of power.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:31 -0400)

Chronicles the history of Guantanamo Bay, from the Founding Fathers' desire to possess it to the controversial base it hosts today and the uber-patriotic American soldiers, civilians and their families that call the piece of land home.

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