Sundin column: Send in the Marines |

Sundin column: Send in the Marines

As I write this, an estimated 6,000-7,000 men, women and children – mostly from Honduras – are moving north through Mexico toward the U.S. border, with the hope of crossing it legally or illegally. What is motivating these people to leave their homes and country and undertake a 1,500-2,500 mile journey, mostly on foot, fraught with hardship and danger?

In many cases it is because of grinding poverty and lack of opportunity in their country, and a desire for a better life for themselves and their families. They need to recognize that they have to follow the correct legal procedure for immigration and await their turn, even though that may take many years.

But a large number of them are refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, fleeing for their lives and the lives of their spouses and children. Uncontrolled gangs of death squads and drug traffickers give people the choice of “your money or your life,” and those who cannot come up with the money, or members of their family, will be killed. Sending refugees back to these countries is inexcusable because to do so is literally their death warrant.

In the late 1930s the United States turned away thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, fearing that some of them might be German spies and a “serious threat to national security.” Does this sound familiar? The best-known example was a luxury cruise ship in which 957 Jews fled Germany in May, 1939, headed for Cuba and eventually the U.S. They were refused entry into Cuba and also into Miami, and were left with no option but to return to Germany, and you know what that meant.

When an explosion sank the battleship “Maine” in Havana harbor in 1898, the U.S. rightly or wrongly declared war on Spain and invaded Cuba. After the defeat of Spain President Theodore Roosevelt declared the “Roosevelt Corollary” asserting the right of the United States to intervene in Spain’s former American colonies to stabilize economic and political affairs. U.S. Marines were sent to many of the new Central American countries to eradicate lawless societies, political corruption, and labor abuses.

The Marines occupied Cuba from 1898 to 1902 and sporadically between 1906 and 1924, the Dominican Republic in 1903, 1904 and 1914, and from 1916-24, Nicaragua from 1912 -24 and Haiti from 1915-34. Honduras was occupied periodically from 1903-25, in what was jokingly referred to as the “Banana War,” protecting the interests of the American Fruit Company. In 1952, we lost our way in Cuba backing the oppressive dictator, Fulgencio Batista, to protect American business interests until he was deposed by the revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, seven years later.

In 1953, we lost our way in Iran, deposing legitimately-elected Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh who had nationalized the oil industry, and replaced him with Shah Rezah Pahlavi, a bad choice who was forced to flee in 1978. Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile and established an Islamic theocracy, which took 66 Americans hostage and held them for over a year.

In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq on the premise that it was stockpiling nuclear weapons. None were ever found. We just wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and we are still stuck in Iraq at a cost of nearly 37,000 casualties (including 4,500 deaths) and nearly $1 trillion.

Vietnam was our most costly mistake. In our paranoia over Communism we used an insignificant incident in Tonkin Gulf as an excuse to come to the rescue of the hated French in 1964. The French returned to Vietnam in 1946 after the Vietminh, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, had driven out the Japanese WW II occupiers. This cost us 58,000 American lives, 153,000 wounded, and $168 billion ($1 trillion in today’s dollars).

Now it is once more time to send in the Marines to restore peace and order in those countries whose governments are either unable or unwilling to enforce the rule of law. The United States has a responsibility to step in and restore law and order because it is the U.S. drug market that makes lawlessness so profitable to the predatory gangs and individuals to whom the drug trade and extortion are easy roads to wealth.

The number of people forced to leave their homes and their country in fear of their lives would dwindle if our country has the moral will to take the necessary steps to eradicate these evils – as we did a century ago.

“As I See It” appears on the first Thursday of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at

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