Excerpt: Eyewitness to Chaos


The following is an excerpt from Eyewitness to Chaos: Personal Accounts of the Intervention in Haiti, 1994 (Potomac Books, December 2016). Kretchik is professor emeritus of history at Western Illinois University. He is the author of U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror.

From the Introduction

From September 19, 1994, to March 31, 1995, the U.S. government intervened militarily in Haiti. Conducted under UN Security Coun­cil Resolution 940 and Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Operation Uphold Democracy was the most convoluted military invasion in American history. Due to former president Jimmy Carter’s suc­cessful last-minute negotiations with an illegal junta, President William J. Clinton turned around about one hundred aircraft and airborne troops twenty minutes before hostilities were set to com­mence. Commanders and their units then prepared to enter the country peacefully, scrambling to switch from a war mentality to a peacekeeping mind-set overnight. Operational disorder ensued for weeks even as thousands of multinational forces and numerous agencies entered the country to advise and support Haiti’s fledg­ling democratic government. With mission handover to the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) on March 31, 1995, many U.S. troops departed while others donned blue berets to serve under UN command. For fifteen months, UNMIH troops, 40 percent of them from the United States, assisted Haitians and their government in furthering democracy before mission transfer to yet another UN force, the United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH).

The 1994 U.S.-led military intervention also allowed the U.S. Army major and Haitian American Anthony “Tony” Ladouceur to return to his native country. In 1967 Ladouceur left Haiti to spend his teenage years with relatives in New York City while his businessman father remained in Port-au-Prince. American citi­zenship and an army enlistment led to a commission through offi­cer candidate school. As a cultural advisor and translator for the military intervention’s commander, Lt. Gen. Henry H. “Hugh” Shelton, the Haiti-born major was able to visit his father’s moun­tainside home overlooking Port-au-Prince. “I will show you a pic­ture of it,” he said. “He has a fifty-foot wall around it. He enters through three doors: a wooden door, a reinforced metal door, and then another metal door, both in the front and the back. All the windows have metal bars on them. He has a loaded shotgun and a strategic location in his house where he goes if something starts to happen. One of his neighbors was robbed and they killed his son in the house. He was hiding when they shot his son but then he came at them with a machete. They had Uzi submachine guns and they just wasted him.”1

Three weeks later Capt. Doni Colon, U.S. Army, arrived. His participation in the military intervention began with debarka­tion at Port-au-Prince International Airport in October 1994. It was also his first exposure to the Western Hemisphere’s poor­est country. While being transported to his headquarters, Colon witnessed an airport terminal controlled by heavily armed U.S. combat troops, throngs of Haitian pedestrians and street vendors conducting their affairs along dirt streets, and American infan­trymen on foot patrol circumventing heaps of human waste and rotting garbage. While nearly vomiting from the stench, Colon observed Haitians “washing themselves by throwing a bucket into the sewer and bringing water out and also cleaning their clothes and stuff in that.” A subsequent safety briefing on AIDS increased Colon’s growing consternation about Haiti. “I was told that Hai­tians do not believe that AIDS is really a disease. They believe it is done by someone to you. You can’t get it if protected by a par­ticular voodoo [vodun] religious spell. They might make a little charm or do a saying at home to protect them and it is the same with many diseases here. They just do not understand the science, the reality of it. To them, it is magic and superstition.” After less than twenty-four hours in country, Colon grimly stated, “This place is in trouble.”2

This book is about Ladouceur, Colon, and others like them who served during Operation Uphold Democracy and UNMIH from 1994 to 1996. It is an oral history of the two military interventions, as told by the men and women who personally experienced them. Because it is concerned with military incursions from a personal viewpoint, this study asks a straightforward but important ques­tion: What happens to the military men and women who plan and execute military interventions and the civilians who observe them firsthand?

In a contemporary sense, military intervention as a form of pre­ventive diplomacy began on June 17, 1992, six months after the Cold War ended, when UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali submitted his Security Council report entitled An Agenda for Peace: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking, and Peacekeeping.” In it he articulated his vision for the UN in resolving post–Cold War conflicts peacefully. To the secretary-general, the ideologi­cal struggle between the West and the East had terminated but various population groups now threatened international peace through “new claims of nationalism and sovereignty.” To “remove sources of danger before violence resulted,” he reiterated that the UN Charter’s Chapter VI allowed for peaceful intervention in inter­national disputes. In the absence of a nonviolent solution, how­ever, Chapter VII and Article 42 permitted a UN armed force to maintain international peace and security. Through preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, or postconflict peace­building, the UN members’ judicious application of the charter’s authority and appropriate use of military force would “address the deepest causes of conflict: economic despair, social injustice, and political oppression.”3

In the early 1990s Haiti certainly met the criteria for a UN mil­itary intervention under Chapter VI or Chapter VII. But the use of armed troops to intervene in places such as the island of Hispan­iola has generated considerable debate. Historically, intervention to end human suffering is traceable to St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Christian theories of “just war.” More recently, Andrea Kathryn Talentino’s Military Intervention after the Cold War: The Evolution of Theory and Practice (2005) represents those who doubt its usefulness. In the case of Haiti, Talentino concludes that armed intervention accomplished little because the effort was far too limited in scope and reflected a “one and done” attitude of get in and get out. In truth, Maj. Robert B. Geddis, U.S. Army, verified her point by remarking, “I kind of took to Haiti that it is a problem that they got to work out. We are here to help; let’s do our job and then leave.” Richard N. Haass, in Intervention: The Use of Ameri­can Military Force in the Post–Cold War World (1999) also questions the value of military interventions to alleviate human suffering. His book offers recommendations for decision makers to consider when determining whether to intervene. Glenn J. Antizzo’s U.S. Military Intervention in the Post–Cold War Era: How to Win Amer­ica’s Wars in the Twenty-First Century (2013) advocates for mili­tary interventions as long as objectives are clearly defined, public support is secured, and decision makers have the will to use force when necessary.4

These important studies take an argumentative stance to weigh the merits and drawbacks of intervening or offer an advisory per­spective intended to sway policy makers. Noticeably absent from the existing literature is an attentive examination of military inter­ventions from the standpoint of those who actually plan and exe­cute them “on the ground.”

To address that deficiency, this book uses oral histories to dis­close the personal experiences of general officers, commanders, staff officers, noncommissioned officers, and others involved in Operation Uphold Democracy and UNMIH. Their insights speak to strategic, operational, and tactical planning considerations, intelligence gathering, multinational force interaction, mission execution conundrums, communications and language concerns, ethnic and cultural factors, and other topics. Collectively, they shed valuable light on what it actually means to intervene mili­tarily in the affairs of others.



  1. Ladouceur, interview.
  2. Colon, interview.
  3. Boutros-Ghali, Agenda for Peace.
  4. Corey, Just War Tradition; Talentino, Military Intervention, 151–57; Haass, Intervention; Antizzo, U.S. Military Intervention; Geddis, interview.

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