U.S. Invasion: Grenada Disappeared

September 25, 2007

One of the lingering mysteries of the U.S. invasion of Grenada is how the Reagan Administration gener- ated such wide support for its belli- cose action. For a people nurtured on the righteousness of Davids conquering Goliaths, one would have imagined a degree of embar- rassment at the thought of a power- ful nation of 220 million people squashing a country whose entire population could be seated com- fortably in the Los Angeles Memor- ial Coliseum. As many have pointed out, the public was looking for a "victory," some potion which quickly and without side effects would erase the humiliations of Vietnam and Iran. Still, this national longing can- not explain how eagerly the public accepted the massive deployment of force against a country which had neither Air Force nor Navy, and whose defense force, as news photos later showed, often lacked shoes and shirts. A critical examination of U.S. media coverage of events in Gre- nada from the advent of the New Jewel government in 1979 to the in- vasion shows that while the Reagan Administration prepared the Gre- nadian dish for public consump- tion, the nation's print and elec- tronic media set the table. Conspicuously absent from press accounts of the U.S. invasion is Grenada itself. The Washington Post, characteristic of most of the nation's press, bannered its inva- sion story, "Marines Invade Grena- da, Fight Cubans." The New York Post, with its more florid imagina- tion, headlined its November 2 edi- tion, "U.S. Battled Soviet Troops in Grenada." Administration officials lectured Jan/Feb 1984 the public on, and the press duly re- ported, not a U.S. invasion against Grenada, but a U.S. confrontation with Cuba and the Soviet Union. Grenada had disappeared. How much easier to win support for a battle against the Soviet Union- picking on someone "our own size"-than little Grenada. The Administration's unusual decision to bar reporters from the island for the first two days of the invasion, and then only to permit guided, limited tours for an addi- tional two days, encouraged such displacement. Where were the Grenadians, one wondered? What happened to the nation's militia? Did the followers of the murdered prime minister, Maurice Bishop, ac- tively oppose the invasion? Were the supporters of the New Jewel Movement in hiding? None of these questions required reporters to abandon objectivity or take sides, yet none was asked by a press which only had eyes for Cuban re- sistance, Cuban stockpiles, Cuban prisoners and Cuban airports. The Wall Street Journal's lead article on the invasion barely con- ceded the island's existence: "U.S. Invades Grenada in Warning to Russia and Cuba about Expansion in the Caribbean." In a similar vein, an October 25 commentary by ABC news correspondent Jack Smith saw Grenada only as a battlefield for other forces: "With Fidel Castro now firmly established as an ally of Nicaragua's leftist regime and with the guerrilla war now being fought in El Salvador, the last thing the U.S. or its Caribbean allies wanted was another Soviet or Cuban base .. . " In the days and weeks following the intervention, the media has be- gun to defend its coverage of Gre- nada, blaming some of its initial en- thusiastic endorsement of Adminis- tration stories-many of which 45update . update . update . update have since been proven false-on its inability to get on the island in the early days of the fighting. Yet media coverage of Grenada during and after the invasion parallels the way the press framed its story before the Marines even hit the sparkling beaches. In the four-and-a-half years dur- ing which Bishop's New Jewel Movement governed Grenada, the U.S. consistently reported the is- land as a toy of other forces, not a sovereign nation with its own aspir- ations, strengths and shortcom- ings. When the New Jewel Move- ment ousted the corrupt and brutal government of Prime Minister Eric Gairy, Bishop quickly pledged to work together with the United States and its own neighbors in the east- ern Caribbean, "with whom we seek only cooperation and friend- ship." Headlines in major U.S. dailies, however, showed an inability to view Grenada through other than an East-West prism. A month after the Bishop coup, The Washington Post saw only "U.S. vs. Cuba on Caribbean Isle of Grenada." The Journal of Commerce wrote that the "Little Island Causes Big Head- aches for U.S.," and The Wall Street Journal followed with a report that "Cuba's Drive to Help Grenada, Other Isles, Worries U.S. Officials." Characteristically, the media tended to ignore events on Grenada for most of the next four years. Only when President Reagan charged in March 1983 that the island nation was a serious security threat to the United States did reporters again take out their maps to find Grenada. Still, coverage continued to be spotty-there were only a dozen major stories about Grenada in the U.S. print media between March and October 1983-and framed by Administration concerns. 46 Coverage of the famous airport runway overshadowed articles on economic, social or political devel- opments on the island. Desmond Campbell, a hotel manager on Gre- nada, noted that "Americans must be asking themselves, 'Is Grenada that island with an airport, or is it the airport with an island?' " Little room was left for the con- cerns of Grenada's leaders. When Bishop's government raised seri- ous questions about a threat of in- vasion from the United States, the press gently chided Grenada for its "paranoia," much as one would speak to a child who sees a mon- ster instead of a chair in his dark- ened room. Administration sources, on the other hand, were allowed to be more forceful. "Ridiculous," charged State Department spokes- man Alan Romberg. J. William Mid- dendorf II, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), called the charges "bull feathers" and "hysterical." Such coverage prepared the U.S. public to see Grenada through the Administration's eyes, accept- ing as logical what common sense would challenge when the invasion finally came. Even as U.S. AC-130 gunships strafed Grenadian beach- es, antiaircraft guns were pre- sented to the press as evidence of Soviet-Cuban intention to use Gre- nada as a revolutionary platform in the Caribbean. In the final analysis, there could be no legitimate self- defense for Grenada, for it didn't exist. Grenada ceased to exist when the Administration and the media chose to see it only as a pawn of other forces. The Administration's decision to ban the press from coverage of events on Grenada during the inva- sion will undoubtedly be debated for many months. But the fourth es- tate's meek acceptance of the Ad- ministration's view that nations in our "backyard" have no legal legiti- macy, no individual personality, has already had serious consequences. As long as the media can substitute the "Soviet Union" for "Grenada" or "Nicaragua" or "Chile," we can expect that the U.S. public will line up behind the bully as he kicks sand in the face of the 95-pound weak- ling. And this complacent attitude can only please the Administration as it bites into meatier problems in Central America. This article first appeared in the December 9, 1983 issue of National Catholic Reporter.

Tags: Grenada, US invasion, red scare, media, propaganda

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