Haiti popped into the news again, and I decided it was time to tell the whole military history of the place. It's got to be the most amazing, bloodsoaked, heroic, messed-up story in the Western Hemisphere: slave armies defeating Napoleon's troops, huge castles built in the middle of the jungle, endless three-cornered war between whites, blacks and mulattos...it's just incredible. In fact, it's so wild and complex I'm going to have to divide it into two columns. This one will cover Haiti up to independence in 1803. Next issue I'll bring it from there to the present.
Haiti is like the big slaughterhouse across the tracks: you kind of know what goes on in there, but you'd rather not think about it.
Every now and then there's a bad stench when the wind's blowing the wrong way, or the drainage ditch runs red with blood for a week -- the kind of thing nice people can't ignore any more. That's when the do-gooders send a commission to investigate, or even send in the Marines to clean the place up. They stick around a while, till the blood starts slopping around their ankles, then pack up and head home. And nobody worries about Haiti for another few years.
You might remember we had Haiti all fixed up back in the Clinton days. Our boy was Aristide, a "slum priest" who went around sharing lice with the po' folks and generally out-holying Mother Theresa. Except Mother Theresa didn't live in Haiti. If she did, she'd be more like the lady that started the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda -- she'd tell her followers to go out there and spread the word with Kalashnikovs and pangas.
That's what happened to Clinton's tame saint, this Aristide. He won the elections, then the local thugs dumped him...and instead of letting Haiti do things the good old Haitian way, Clinton sent in US troops in '94, to put Aristide back in charge.
Well, it's ten years later, and Haiti's still Haiti. Just last week there was a classic story: some gang calling itself a "Resistance Army" took over Gonvaives, which the story billed as "the fourth-largest city in Haiti." Whoa, there's a slogan to bring the tourists running: "fourth-largest city in Haiti."
This "Army" said it was fighting against Aristide's government, which it accused of incompetence, brutality and corruption. In other words, acting like every other Haitian government in history.
Then it came out that the heroic Resistance Army just went through a little PR makeover of its own. Yup, it seems they used to call themselves "the Cannibal Army." That was probably the perfect name for stage one of a Haitian revolution: scare the Hell out of everybody. By getting their name changed to "the Resistance Army," they were just doing what comes naturally: trying to put a shine on the ol' machetes, make the struggle look noble.
In a way, the only sad thing about Haiti is the way we keep trying to make it into Ohio. Because it never will be, and only looks ridiculous trying, giving the local killers fancy democratic names. If we just let Haiti be Haiti -- a crazy, gory voodoo kingdom -- people might learn to respect the place. I have, after reading up on it. Haiti's history isn't just a lot of killing, either. A lot of Haitian leaders were brilliant guys who weren't afraid of anybody -- not Napoleon, not Jesus, not nobody. These guys were self-made black Roman Emperors. They came up the hard way, out of slavery in the cane fields, and beat the European armies that tried to take the place back. All comers--French, British, Spanish -- the Haitians took them all on and put the fear into them. The only people they can't beat is themselves, and that's nothing for soldiers to be ashamed of.
We've made them ashamed, by telling them the only way to be worth anything in this world is by working in offices, wearing dress-shirts and watching TV. My life, and God damn does it suck. If I had a little more of a tan, Haiti and a job in the Cannibal Army would look like a pretty good career option.