Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

"Gunships and 'Ding-Bats': U.S. Military Operations during 'Just Cause'"

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

"Gunships and 'Ding-Bats': U.S. Military Operations during 'Just Cause'"

Article excerpt


During the 1980s the combination of world events and U.S. policy decisions by the "hawkish" administration of Ronald Reagan and the "reluctant" government of George H.W. Bush led the United States into a series of interventions designed to remind the world community that while the American military had not been able to thwart the communist unification of Vietnam, she was still one of two most formidable military powers in the world capable of imposing her will whenever and wherever necessary. The Department of Defense (DoD), led by super conservative Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, shrouded this goal in their new slogan "Global Reach, Global Power."

As it turned out, this proved to be more than a slogan. From the beginning of that decade until its bitter end, the Americans reached out all over the globe in both invasions and humanitarian missions designed to police miscreant states and feed starving people in several parts of the world. It began with the Reagan White House's criticism of the "weak-willed" efforts by the Carter Administration to rescue U.S. hostages being held in Iran and was soon followed by a disastrous intervention into Lebanon where dozens of young Americans died in the Cobar Towers suicide bombing attack. To fend off public criticism, the Reagan Administration quickly turned its attention to the tiny island nation of Grenada where, in spite of an embarrassing lack of intelligence, maps, unit coordination, and service cooperation, they crushed their Grenadian-Cuban opponents and "rescued" U.S. students from the "clutches" of the supposedly communist regime.

As if this event was not enough, U.S. support of the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua and their desperate efforts to illegally supply arms to these right wing rebels through the Iran-Contra Affair, soon led the U.S. to become deeply involved in Central America. Ultimately, it drew the U.S. into a conflict with a product of their own creation from the neo-imperialistic days of Teddy Roosevelt--Panama. Thus, this was the state of U.S. foreign policy I as the world watched the Cold War end-game play itself out with the gradual collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany.

In 1989, the new President George H.W. Bush, who had timidly continued the "John Wayne" policies of the Reagan years was confronted by a conflict with Panamanian strong man Manuel Noriega. Many in the White House feared (correctly) Noriega was running Columbian drugs to the U.S. and running a thug regime in America's own backyard.

Adding to this, by the mid-1980s, many U.S. forces, especially reservists of the 711th Special Operations Squadron (711 SOS) had become increasingly involved in Foreign Internal Defense efforts in Central and South America going so far as to deploy their fixed-wing gunships throughout the area. These Foreign Internal Defense deployments led 711 SOS personnel into the counter drug operations world in Latin America. While this was significant, it soon took a back seat to a much larger alteration of the entire structure of special operations in the United States military. At the end of the decade, the combination of these events and policies would lead to a major U.S. intervention into Panama. (1)


While the U.S. became more involved in Central America. the DoD finally began to examine the lessons they believed they needed to learn in the aftermath of the Grenada invasion and the myriad of other less than perfect rescue operations. With the progression of post-Vietnam brushfire wars in the 1980s, it soon became apparent that the U.S. needed a joint organization to deal with these contingencies more effectively. To this end, Congress examined why intelligence, maps and other specifics of the Granada operation went wrong. This eventually led to the creation of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOC).

Specifically, by late 1983, there was a growing notion in the Congress that military reforms were needed. …

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