Banana Wars.

            “Yankee ingenuity… is inventive improvisation, adaptation and overcoming of shortages of materials.”[1]  Basically, opportunity-seeking and -seizing.  Lorenzo Baker (1840-1908) typified Yankee ingenuity.  Raised on pre-resort, hard-scrabble Cape Cod, by age 30 he was master of a small schooner trading between New England and the Caribbean.  In 1870, he brought back a load of bananas to see if anyone would buy.  They would, in quantity and at a 1000 percent profit.  Henry Meiggs (1811-1877), another Yankee, and his nephew Minor Keith (1848-1929) came at the banana trade from another direction.  They were building railroads in Central America, receiving vast tracts of land from the government and employing lots of laborers.  They turned their land grants into banana plantations, mostly for export.  In 1899, Dow’s company joined with Keith’s company to form the United Fruit Company.[2]  How did this lead to wars? 

            Bananas contain a lot of potassium.  “Potassium fends off a sense of existential dread.”    Hence the American interest in Central America and the Caribbean.[3]  Alternatively, for decades, American business had a lot of drag with the United States government.  In the Caribbean and Central America, the Marines supported the United Fruit Company and other businesses when troubled by local unrest.[4]  “Which will you have?” 


            1898: The Spanish-American War left Cuba under American control and Puerto Rico and the Philippines as American possessions.  The US occupied Cuba from 1898 to 1902, from 1906 to 1909, in 1912, and from 1917 to 1922. 

            1899-1902: Philippine-American War, a bloody “counter-insurgency.” 

1903: Panama “seceded” from Columbia,[5] then signed a treaty with the United States.  The treaty allowed the US to build a Panama Canal and gave the US sovereignty over the route. 

1903: US troops landed in Honduras to protect American lives and property.  They came back in 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, and 1924-1925. 

1912: US troops landed in Nicaragua to protect American lives and property. 

1914: US troops landed in the Mexican port of Vera Cruz. 

1915-1934: US troops occupied Haiti, waging small wars against anti-American forces. 

1916-1917: US troops entered northern Mexico in a fruitless[6] hunt for Pancho Villa. 

1916-1924: “disorder” in Santo Domingo led the US to occupy the country for eight years, fighting anti-American forces out in the bush for much of the time. 

1927-1932: US troops intervened in a civil war in Nicaragua in 1927, then hung around until 1932.  From 1930, President Herbert Hoover wound-down interventions. 

            “US troops” mostly meant the Marines.  Operations involved much improvisation and adaptation.  Rich experience led to the USMC’s “Small Wars Manual” (1940).  Presciently, Jim Mattis urged his officers to read it before invading Iraq. 

[1] Yankee ingenuity – Wikipedia 

[2] See: United Fruit Company – Wikipedia  Now Chiquita.  The life of Henry Meiggs offers a fascinating view of the “Well, it warn’t illegal when I done it” phase of American business history. 

[3] I borrow the syllogism from Robert Stone, A Flag for Sunrise (1981). 

[4] Lester D. Langley, The Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900–1934 (1983). 

[5] Wanna buy a bridge? 

[6] HA!  Eeez pun, yes?