In my last column, I tried to cover the main episodes in Haitian military history from Columbus's landing to Haitian Independence in 1804. And it wasn't easy to do. This is one place that generates a lot of history, per capita. You know the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times"? Well, Haiti is what you'd call an interesting place.
I'll have a damned hard time covering 1804 to the present in this sequel. Haitian history just won't stop happening. Between that last column and this one, President Aristide, who was Clinton's great black hope, was booted out and is now in a holding pattern over some African airport. By the time this issue hits the net, God only knows what new mess we'll have in Haiti.
The only comfort you can get is knowing that whatever's happening now in Haiti, whatever happens there next week, it's all happened before. Usually a dozen times before. The names and the casualty figures change, but the basic plot never does.
Here's an example-a news story on Haiti I just read. You tell me the date: "A revolt began in the provinces ...The city of Gonaives was the first to have street demonstrations and raids on food-distribution warehouses. From October to January, the protests spread to six other cities...By the end of that month, Haitians in the south had revolted ..."
If you guessed "March 2004" you lose. This story was from 1986. There are others a lot like it from other years, going back a long, long time. Whatever's happening in Haiti, it's happened before and never did any good. This is one place where things can always get worse, but never better.
Weird how nobody remembers. Not even me. I was watching TV back in 1986, paying pretty close attention to foreign military news. In fact, I wasn't doing much else. And I remember lots of big news stories from back then. But whatever they showed about Haiti, I must've just shrugged it off. And we'll all forget this latest ruckus just as fast. A few months from now, you can win any trivia contest by asking "Who was Aristide?" I guarantee, nobody'll remember his name.
Right now, the US is still pretending to care about what happens to the Haitians, talking a lot of crap about establishing "democracy." And we're doing something we've also done lots of times before: sending in the Marines.
Nobody remembers that the US Marines were the most stable, longterm government Haiti ever saw. They were in charge from 1915 to 1934. It was Woodrow Wilson, one of our all-time do-gooder presidents and a big backer of little nations, who sent them to Haiti. Things had just gotten a little too bloody for Woodie to tolerate.
The Haitians were having one of their more colorful periods. In 1912, the President of Haiti was blown up in an explosion that may or may not have been accidental. The next four contenders died or fled, leaving the presidential chair vacant just long enough for a really crazy specimen named Sam, who grabbed it in March 1915. Sam was not what you'd call a champion of democratic process. Within four months, he'd rounded up 167 personal enemies. Then he had them shot.
The people took to the streets looking for Sam's hide. He hid behind the drapes at the French embassy. The French were still trying to explain the details of international law to the mob when they broke in, dragged Sam out from behind the potted plants, and tore him limb from limb. You don't get much chance to use that phrase, "limb from limb," and really mean it. But that's what they did. They were so proud of themselves they had a parade, with Sam's arms, legs, head and torso like Rose Bowl floats.
Wilson, who was one of these sour, serious Presbyterian types, was appalled. He forgot all his talk about non-intervention and told the Marines to go down there and give the Haitians order and democracy if they had to crack every head in the country to do it.