In the film Heartbreak Ridge (1985), Clint Eastwood’s grizzled Marine, a bloodied veteran of Korea and Vietnam, laments that the America’s scorecard has the former a “tie,” the latter “a loss.” He is determined to make the next one a “victory.” And he is soon provided the opportunity to fulfill this promise when his unit goes into Grenada and liberates the captive Americans there.
Conservatives at the time celebrated the invasion, carried out thirty-three years ago this week, but eschewed any views that a victory was the rationale. But this was the standard liberal line. A good example was the New York Times, which editorialized that this action resulted in America losing “the moral high ground” (but many liberals had proclaimed it already lost by Vietnam). In their terms, Grenada was “a reverberating demonstration to the world that America has no more respect for laws and borders, for the codes of civilization, than the Soviet Union.”
But more was involved than just winning the Cold War sweepstakes. Today evidence has confirmed the real rationale for then-President Ronald Reagan sending in American troops: that Grenada had become a launching pad for possible Soviet surface-to-air missiles. The Soviets’ intention was to obtain the same results as those of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, in which then-President JFK traded Jupiter missiles protecting Turkey and promised the Soviets he would not invade Cuba in exchange for the removal of Soviet missiles on the island.
Moreover, the Soviets and Castro were busy transforming the island into one more Communist satellite in the Caribbean. After the Communist coup in 1979, which overthrew the democratically-elected government, the Soviet-financed Cuban “military advisors” were busy building airfields, despite the fact that Grenada had no air force. Documents seized by American forces revealed Grenada was indeed being transformed into another “Cuba.” The government was planning the transformation of schools into indoctrination centers, complete censorship, and creating the same kind of informant system to flush out dissidents as Castro. More ominous was the discovery of a stockpile of arms sufficient to supply a ten-thousand-man force. Further proof that the Soviets and Cubans intended to make the island a communist satellite was validated when among those captured by American forces were forty-nine Soviets, ten East Germans, fifteen North Koreans, seventeen Libyans and almost 800 Cubans. More embarrassing to American leftists was the discovery among seized intelligence documents of friendly communique between the Grenada government and Castro sympathizer and California Congressman Ron Dellums, who used his office and staff to garner public support for the regime.
At first glance, the invasion had the potential to be another Bay of Pigs fiasco. A Seal team drowned at sea; radios between units failed (one commander had to use a public phone to get fire support from another unit); it was not known where the students were held captive, and this “small-scale” invasion resulted in nineteen American soldiers dead and 115 wounded.
But Reagan was no JFK, who refused air cover for the Cuban brigade during the disastrous Bay of Pigs (to be fair, though, Kennedy did so because he feared that if the invasion had American fingerprints on it, the Soviets would move on Berlin). For the ground troops, Reagan authorized considerable firepower from the air. Because of this, soldiers were able to free the medical students and gain control of the airstrip. Two days later, the entire island was subdued.
Reagan had been warned even by Republicans such as GOP Senate leader Howard Baker that the invasion “was bad politics.” But like so much else, Reagan had his finger on the pulse much better than liberals. He predicted that when the evacuated students landed, their joy at coming home would destroy any Democratic influence on the public. He was proven right when the first students out of the plane kissed the ground. The standard liberal line was that the students had not been in any danger. The students said otherwise, with several becoming converts to Reagan’s politics. One, Jeff Geller told reporters that “Prior to this experience, I held liberal political views which were not always sympathetic with the position of the American military.” His captivity disabused him of such views: “Well, let me say I learned a lot from this experience. To you, President Reagan, thank you for bringing us back to the United States.”
With poll numbers showing public support for the invasion, liberals tried to ride the wave. House Majority leader Tip O’Neil, who had opposed the invasion, now called it “justified.” True to form,however, Jesse Jackson and the National Conference of Black Lawyers called it “a criminal act.”
Today, Democrats like to claim that they too helped end the Cold War. But what the opposition to the Grenada action showed (with the notable exception of liberal anticommunist Morton Kondracke who criticized liberals for “obeying rules” rather than “gaining geopolitical advantage”) was that on this matter they were hostage to the “Vietnam syndrome.”