In 1893, Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani announced that she'd allow all citizens the right to vote, not just large property owners--and the wealthy American sugar plantation owners began plotting her overthrow. With the help of American minister John Stevens and a U.S. gunboat, they forced her to abdicate within days. As coups go, this one was relatively bloodless. But it was typical in that it had nothing to do with promoting freedom or democracy. As New York Times correspondent (and Chicago resident) Stephen Kinzer documents in Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (Times Books), American interventions in Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Honduras, Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, Chile, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq have sometimes succeeded in the short term. But over time they've engendered dictatorship, instability, radical anti-Americanism, and (in the cases of Iran and Afghanistan) Islamic fundamentalism. Many were undertaken by presidents who willfully ignored expert warnings. But even the best-laid plans can't avoid the fundamental contradiction: we claim to be promoting democracy, but an elected leader who opposes short-term U.S. interests is toast. Ask Ngo Dinh Diem, the first--and assassinated--president of Vietnam, or the current Iraqi prime minister. Kinzer lets the sordid facts speak for themselves, but his conclusions are stark. The rich and powerful take what they want; the U.S. is no different. Wed 4/19, 6 PM, Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton, 312-255-3700.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Deborah Donnelly.