[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]: Veeser on Tillman, 'Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican Republic'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sat Sep 24 13:32:59 MDT 2016

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Sat, Sep 24, 2016 at 2:30 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]: Veeser on Tillman, 'Dollar Diplomacy by
Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican Republic'
To: H-REVIEW at h-net.msu.edu

Ellen D. Tillman.  Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and
Resistance in the Dominican Republic.  North Carolina  University of
North Carolina Press, 2016.  288 pp.  $29.95 (paper), ISBN

Reviewed by Cyrus Veeser (Bentley University)
Published on H-Diplo (September, 2016)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

_Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the
Dominican Republic _makes a significant contribution to the study of
Dominican-American relations in the early twentieth century. Ellen D.
Tillman's greatest achievement is thoroughly integrating US and
Dominican archival sources, often providing in a single paragraph
contrary national views of the same event. The title captures that
dual perspective--that a policy which Washington declared could
stabilize weak nations without US military control became, on the
receiving end, a story of subverted sovereignty and systematic

Tillman's focus is the attempt by the US government to create a
professional, apolitical, and national military in the Dominican
Republic before and during the marine occupation of 1916 to 1924.
Covering a period previously explored by Bruce Calder, Julie Franks,
Wilfredo Lozano, Alan McPherson, Richard Turits, and Bernardo Vega,
among others, Tillman traces the evolution of an American-sponsored
military from the frontier guard instituted under the customs
receivership in 1905 to the Guardia Republicana in the chaotic years
after the assassination of Ramon Cáceres in 1911 to the Policía
Nacional Dominicana during the occupation itself. Noting that "the
story is at its core a transnational one," she grounds her study in
records from the US Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia, and the
Archivo General de la Nación in Santo Domingo (p. 3). The emphasis
on bilateral agency goes beyond the sources Tillman so thoroughly
mines: she argues that "the delicate balance of foreign imposition
and Dominican opposition opened a way for change that could only
occur once both Dominicans and U.S. officials reached a point of
compromise and negotiation" (p. 7).

Early chapters provide background on Dominican society and the first
encroachments of American power. Regionalism was a defining trait of
the Dominican Republic, "often more divisive than class in Dominican
society" (p. 15). As in other Latin American nations, poor
transportation and limited communication allowed relative autonomy to
local caudillos, and both the national government and the military
were "centralized more in name than in fact" (p. 17).

Private US investment expanded in the Caribbean republic in the late
nineteenth century, and when the nation defaulted on international
loans floated by a Wall Street firm, Theodore Roosevelt seized the
occasion to declare his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and install
a customs receivership, which undermined Dominican sovereignty by
placing control of the country's finances in the hands of US
officials. This preamble to the later occupation is crucial, since
the ongoing but ad hoc US interference nourished powerful
anti-American sentiments well before 1916.

Tillman demystifies the supposedly pacific nature of the new policy
of dollar diplomacy. As presented to the American public, dollar
diplomacy was a benign, innovative method to bring stability to the
troublesome nations of the Caribbean and Central America. In the
Dominican case, as the _New York Times_ exulted, "Uncle Sam has waved
the wand that produces National transformations, and lo! A republic
has appeared where government is of the people, peace is assured, and
prosperity is perennial."[1] In fact, even as Roosevelt proclaimed
the receivership, US naval officers like Albert Dillingham and
Charles Sigsbee used the threat of force to coerce the Dominican
government to submit to the arrangement.

With the inception of the receivership, the republic's security
became an American concern, and from its earliest days, US officials
felt frustrated by the impotence of the Dominican government. To
stifle the lucrative contraband trade with Haiti, Americans created
the frontier guard, a first step in what Tillman shows is a
twenty-year struggle to build a military body responsive to US
interests. The frontier guard offered good pay but, to the
disappointment of the occupiers, succeeded in recruiting only the
most desperately poor Dominicans. In a fascinating section, Tillman
recounts the receivership's efforts to enlist the descendants of
freed American slaves from their community on the Samaná Peninsula
in the hope that these English-speaking Protestants would prove to be
more "culturally reliable" (p. 45).

The early problems with recruitment foreshadowed what was to come.
Dominicans and Haitians along the frontier were united in their
opposition to the new force and the regulation it sought to impose.
Upper-class Dominicans despised the frontier guard, both for its
social composition and for its role as auxiliary to a foreign power.
Yet this was the receivership's honeymoon period, and the security
situation would get much worse before it got better. Near anarchy
followed the assassination of Cáceres, and from 1912 to 1916, "the
receivership and the frontier guard began to enter heavily into the
politics of the civil war" (p. 53). The power struggle forced the
Dominican government to spend money on defense well beyond what its
budget allowed, providing the financial pretext for the military
intervention of 1916.

Over those years, US agents came to believe that external military
and financial control was the only solution to Dominican political
and economic stability. Americans did not grasp the paradox that "any
political leader who accepted and used U.S. help ... was branded by
many as a traitor; but without U.S. support no regime could last
long" (p. 50). With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Washington
saw disorder in the Dominican Republic as an invitation to Germany,
above all with the opening of the Panama Canal. US marines landed in
mid-1916, and the military occupation was made official in November
of that year.

The heart of Tillman's book is what she calls "the story of the
constabulary within the U.S. occupation" (p.  204). The creation of
the constabulary--a professional army that was unshakably loyal to
the central government--was foremost in the occupation's priorities.
Creating a new military that Dominicans would embrace as their own
would not be easy. Arriving in Santo Domingo to negotiate a treaty
giving legal cover to the US occupation, Rear Admiral William B.
Caperton found no takers among Dominican political leaders. "I have
never seen such hatred displayed by one people for another.... We
positively have not a friend in the land" (p. 72). The fact that
Dominican politicians refused to cooperate with the occupiers,
however, made military-to-military contacts all the more decisive.

The occupiers soon found themselves beset by the same centripetal
force that fragmented the Dominican state. With Washington focused on
the European war, US officials had "unprecedented and unequaled
command of internal occupation decisions" (p. 1). Tillman argues that
the military men assumed "that a centralized state could be
militarily imposed and ... that such a structure would resolve the
major complications of Dominican government" (pp. 104-105). Yet over
time, "marine constabulary commanders often replaced central orders
with local compromise and negotiations" (p. 104). Thus the occupation
adapted to the contours of regionalism that had given rise to
caudillos since the country's independence.

The constabulary that US officials grafted onto existing Dominican
military traditions was "anomalous"--was it meant to be an army or a
national police? As one marine colonel put it, the constabulary was
"never large enough to discharge the military functions incumbent on
the national army and was too military to devote itself ... to its
police duties" (p. 84). The American occupiers first called it the
Guardia Nacional Dominicana and intended it to serve as a police
force, yet the Guardia was not authorized to make arrests for
violations of local laws. Tillman traces the oscillation between
military and police missions through 1930. It is worth noting that
the anomaly lasted nearly a century. Until about a decade ago, the
chief of the Policía Nacional Dominicana was routinely a general in
the armed forces who retained a military rank. Even today Dominicans
often refer to members of the police as _guardia_, echoing their
title from a century ago.

Later chapters of the book document the repeated failure of the
occupiers to draw any but the most disadvantaged of Dominicans into
the constabulary. Officers arriving from the States tried to upgrade
the status of the force, to no avail. After ridding itself of
undesirables, the now-undermanned constabulary launched recruitment
drives that "brought back not only similar men, but sometimes the
very same men who had been discharged in earlier purges" (p. 126).
Recruitment into the force was a problem never solved by the
invaders. Serving as a grunt for foreign occupiers was low-prestige
work, and good families wanted their sons to have nothing to do with
the semi-mercenary force.

One problem was the refusal by Americans to promote Dominican
officers above the rank of second lieutenant, belying the promise of
social mobility. The policy sent a racist message that was lost on no
one. As Tillman explains, US officials were hypersensitive to putting
nonwhite Dominicans in positions of power "because of fears about
what it would do to the racial order at home" (p. 98). Given press
coverage of the Dominican occupation by African American newspapers
like the _Chicago Defender_, those fears had some basis.

As with the sections on recruitment, the best parts of this study
offer finely grained, bilateral views of such key developments as the
purging of Dominican officers from the Guardia Republicana, the
attempt to remake the constabulary after February 1919, the struggle
against the messianic Olivorio movement, and the repeatedly deferred
plan to systematically train Dominican recruits. There is excellent
coverage of the constabulary's struggle to disarm the civilian
population in order to suffocate a growing rebellion in the East. The
campaign was certain to anger a rural population in any event, but
the occupiers underscored their insensitivity by attempting to
collect knives and machetes--essential tools of peasant life--as well
as firearms.

By allowing us to see events through the eyes of Dominicans and
Americans simultaneously, Tillman reminds us that the occupiers had
scant empathy for the "invaded." To the occupiers, Dominican society
was violent and disordered while the United States was a paragon of
peace and harmony. Yet, as the Dominican representative before the US
Senate pointed out in 1921, "lynchings, burnings at the stake, and
tar and featherings, now pastimes in some parts of the United States,
are unknown and never practiced" in the Dominican Republic (p. 136).

Since the Dominican Republic was not an actual American colony, the
eventual return of its sovereignty was a critical, open-ended
question. The occupation's exertions to unify the nation through
infrastructure development, education, and creation of a national
military had their ironic counterpart in the emergence of a national,
and even transnational, anti-occupation movement. By the early 1920s,
both the nationalists, who dogged Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby
on his postwar goodwill tour of Latin America, and the violent
resistance of the _gavilleros_ (armed rebels)_ _moved Washington
toward withdrawal. Tillman shows that only after an end date for the
occupation had been fixed by the Hughes-Peynado Plan in 1922 did the
status of the constabulary rise. All Dominicans appreciated that
peace was a prerequisite for US withdrawal, and Americans at last
accepted that Dominicans needed to command their own security forces.
With the prospective return of sovereignty, the constabulary lost
much of its ill repute as a mercenary corps.

Tillman highlights several final ironies as the Policía Nacional
Dominicana emerged as a legitimate and unifying force. Although the
US used financial disorder as a pretext for the occupation, the
Americans forced loans upon the Caribbean nation to cover deficits,
public works, and the cost of building the constabulary. And, of
course, the creation of more powerful and centralized armed forces
provided one of the first Dominican officers commissioned by the
occupiers, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, with a perfect instrument
to seize power and intimidate civilians during his thirty-one-year
reign of terror.

This is a useful and important volume for those interested in
military history, Caribbean history, and the history of imperialism
and US foreign policy. No monograph is perfect, of course. At times
Tillman strains under the volume of her archival sources, with
details overshadowing the line of argument. Her recognition of
complexity and multiple agency at times leads to detailed yet
inconclusive descriptions, and her chronology occasionally becomes
nonlinear. I was left with some larger questions as well. Tillman
asserts that the constabulary was the "culmination of officers'
desires to show how military force and organization could contribute
to the exportation of U.S.-style government" (p. 78). Yet in contrast
to European nations, the US armed forces played a limited role in the
politics and culture of the United States in the early twentieth
century. Policing was mostly a local matter, although federal
officials would take greater initiative during Prohibition, as Lisa
McGirr's excellent book, _The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the
Rise of the American State _(2015), shows. Finally, American military
officers hailed from a country that enshrined "states' rights" and
guarded against encroaching centralization. Tillman does not address
how American military officers tried to implant a "U.S.-style
government" when they sought to centralize and militarize the
Dominican Republic. Those questions do not subtract from the many
contributions of this welcome study.


[1]. "Uncle Sam, Banker for Unstable American Nations," _New York
Times_, November 12, 1911, SM13.

Citation: Cyrus Veeser. Review of Tillman, Ellen D., _Dollar
Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican
Republic_. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. September, 2016.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=46903

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

More information about the Marxism mailing list