The Battle of Grenada

Just to be clear, it is Gra-nAY-da, not Gra-nAH-da.  When you’re there next, I don’t want the locals thinking you’re a rube.  And I, of course, will not admit to having made this egregious mistake during my stay here.

The island country of Grenada – self-monikered “the spice isle,” nutmeg specifically – seemed a cut above the other Caribbean islands we’ve visited so far, but is still a long, long ways from a place I would put on my top ten list. Part of my problem is that while driving around with our taxi/tour driver, I kept thinking of the virtually inexplicable action of the Reagan administration, when he ordered the 82nd Airborne and others into full scale attack mode.  In Grenada.  In October 1983, we attacked this small Caribbean island, population 91,000 with the full force and fury of the United States Armed Forces and approximately 8,000 of our finest because…well, there’s the problem. The because was really hard to figure out then, and it’s virtually impossible today.

I’m not going to spend your valuable time recounting all of the facts and circumstances leading up to our “invasion.”  Suffice it to say that after parsing through it all, I conclude that it was another instance of terrible decision making rooted in our irrational fear of the dreaded “commies”… particularly those commies that were fellow travelers of that most-notorious-of-all-western-hemisphere-commies, Fidel Castro.

Just a few facts to set the context. In the months before our invasion, a far right wing hard nose, whose name is not important, led a coup to depose and then execute the somewhat left wing leader of the country. His name was Maurice Bishop. I only mention it because the airport still bears his name. In any case, for some reason, the local nabobs thought this would threaten the stability of the area, and besought our man Reagan to intercede. Granted, Fidel had inserted a few of his own military types to watch after his interest on site. If you can figure this out you’re a far better master of intrigue than I. But certainly it was not enough to create a threat. Let’s see. We’re afraid of the commies, a few of Fidel’s best show up, a left leaning, semi-dictator is overthrown by a right winger, instability ensues, a ruckus is raised, and we attack. That’s about it as far as I can figure.

Oh, I forgot the medical students. Yep, someone in the propaganda office of the White House figured we needed a good story for the peeps on main street, and decided that the safety of our citizens who had repaired to the somewhat shady medical school in Grenada to get their Caduceus was just the thing. There were 600 or so of them who evidently had whiffed the medical school tests in the US of A and figured studying in the warm climes in the shade of the palm trees was a better deal. Now, who knows if the right wing nut case who had taken over the Grenadian government was actually a threat to those 600 striving for the right to be compensated for life by the health insurance companies, but, seen from this perspective some thirty years later, it seems a little flimsy. What do you think?

Actually this story is a bit of a precursor to our later invasion of another small country in our neck of the woods. I gave you my view on our invasion of Panama in my post of June 7, 2013, “Panama: The Middlings.”  No, I don’t expect you to reread that piece. I’ll just remind you that we had an equally hard time coming up with solid justification for that action as well.

In the case of Panama, at least, we were able to throw Noriega in the slammer, and then create the conditions for Panama to become a major money laundering center for the region.  It only cost a few bucks, and, oh, I almost forgot.  Operation Just Cause (the invasion of Panama) resulted in 25 US soldiers losing their lives and several hundred wounded. Accounting of Panamanians who lost their lives is a little shaky, but the range is from 500 to 1000. One punter, even more cynical than I, opined that the real reason for Operation Just Cause was that it was a test bed for much of the US high tech arsenal that hadn’t yet been used in combat conditions.  A silver lining, the whole thing was over and done with in a couple of weeks.

In Grenada, it took longer… 25 October to 15 December, 1983… about seven weeks.  But we only suffered 19 killed in action and just over 100 wounded. We also managed, in addition to the few Cubans we routed, to kill 45 Grenadian soldiers as well as 24 civilians, including 18 in a mental hospital that we bombed “by mistake.”  This action was labeled Operation Urgent Fury. There is no mention of why it was urgent or why we were furious.  Just as the cynic cited above in the case of Panama, I have my own theory why we needed to invade Grenada.  In the aftermath of the invasion, the US military establishment saw fit to award medals for valor to 5000 of the 8000 we sent to fight the good fight. We were just short on cases for which we could award medals and needed to create one, I guess. Okay, I know that’s a little far-fetched, but both cases go to show that we should never underestimate the capacity of the military to make themselves invaluable to our politicians.  BTW, George H. W. Bush was at the helm for this particular military adventure.

I don’t know if these two aforementioned actions are now studied at the Army War College, or wherever we teach military strategy, but it does clearly underscore the need for our political and military leaders to fully appreciate the value of and the responsibility for the extraordinary asset we have in our military forces and to use them wisely. I’m not at all sure we did in Grenada.