Academic journal article American Studies

GUANTÁNAMO: An American History

Academic journal article American Studies

GUANTÁNAMO: An American History

Article excerpt

GUANTÁNAMO: An American History. By Jonathan M. Hansen. New York: Hill and Wang. 2011.

Guantánamo might seem narrow as a topic of study, but the author places it in broader contexts, which it also serves to illuminate. Geological prehistory, personal stories of women, workers, racial minorities, political and military developments, continental diplomacy, and constitutional issues all figure in the story. The overriding theme is the tragic incompatibility of liberty, the announced aim of U.S. policy, with its true objective: imperial control.

Hansen depicts Guantánamo Bay as a stage on which America's (and before that Spain and Britain's) imperial ambitions played out. He makes frequent allusions to the wider Caribbean setting that defined Guantánamo's strategic value for American policy makers long before it came under U.S. control. Hansen recounts little-known but fascinating episodes such as the British-led occupation of the bay during the War of Jenkins' Ear, an episode in which hundreds of North American colonists partici- pated, and he provides welcome detail on familiar ones such as the tense negotiations between the U. S. government and delegates to the Cuban Constitutional Convention over the terms of Cuba's independence.

Hansen makes effective use of social history to personalize the story of imperial- ism. He notes that in its heyday, Guantánamo was touted as an idealized American town, "the ultimate gated community," but it was a town that enforced racial dis- crimination (236). Moreover it could not escape the fact that it was a military base in the tropics. Navy wives suffered from tedium when the fleet was away and from excessive male attention when it returned. …

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