On Oct. 25, 1983, President Ronald Reagan ordered troops to invade and occupy the tiny island country of Grenada after a communist coup took over the government of the island. The American troops were gone within a week, the former democratically-elected government restored, and suspected communists rounded up and imprisoned. The left wing of the Democratic Party was livid. The mainstream press screamed bloody murder about “imperialism” and “fascism.” The United Nations General Assembly even proclaimed, once the Americans had left the island, that the Americans had “flagrantly violated international law.” Reagan, for his part, claimed victory for freedom in yet another Cold War battle.
Grenada is a small island in the Caribbean about 100 miles to the north of Venezuela. The island gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1974 and held elections that year. In 1979, communists violently overthrew the democratically elected government of Grenada and installed a dictatorship. By 1983, infighting between communist factions produced yet another coup, and the leader of the first coup was murdered and replaced by a more hardline Marxist faction (the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation, or New JEWEL, movement). Pleas from democrats inside Grenada were heard by Reagan and he ordered the invasion of Grenada, which was bolstered by troops from most of Grenada’s neighbors. Today, Oct. 25 is celebrated in Grenada as Thanksgiving Day, in honor of the United States coming to the defense of Grenada’s fledgling democracy.
(Margaret Thatcher, by the way, is said to have privately opposed the invasion because Grenada was still in the U.K.’s imperial orbit, but publicly stood by the Reagan administration.)
The hostility of the left to Reagan’s invasion, coupled with the gratitude of the Grenadian people, reminds me of when my older brother came to visit me in Austin a little over a year ago. We were at a bar with two others: an old friend from our small town in California, and one of my brother’s graduate school friends. My older brother is a socialist with a PhD in literature (from a good school, I might add). After a few rounds of locally made craft beers, the graduate school friend and my older brother began to mock Ronald Reagan bitterly.
My friend from the small California town and myself were made uncomfortable by this strange outburst. The socialists were in their late twenties or early thirties, and could have only been small children when Reagan was president. Denouncing a public figure like Reagan, in a loud bar, in 2017, was too weird, even for a couple of residents of Austin. It was almost as if the two men were engaging in a rite of some sort.
The costs and benefits of sovereignty are tough to weigh. Sovereignty itself is an ambiguous concept, to be used when and where power brokers deem fit, and the Reagan administration’s decision to invade Grenada and protect a legitimate democratic government from communist oppression is not as black and white as partisans make it out to be.
There is a temptation in today’s political climate to blindly support one side of a debate simply because it stands against something. “Polarization” is what pundits and analysts have been calling this mode of thinking lately. Using history as a tool, though, it becomes clear that today’s polarization might not be a current circumstance at all, but rather a bug in the democratic system itself. (This bug is why the framers of the American federation put checks and balances into place.)
If the American experiment in self-governance is to continue apace, U.S. citizens must remain vigilant to the symptoms of this bug. My socialist brother and his friends in the literati are infected; they would sacrifice their liberty if it meant crushing their enemies. Ours is a system of self-governance, and not of governance over others. The invasion of Grenada in 1983 hammers home this point beautifully.