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
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
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-
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.
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.
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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