The Bay of Pigs Invasion and 9 other US Military Interventions of the 20th Century

US Military Interventions in the 20th century

Major US Military Interventions in the 20th century

In the century that came after America’s stunning victor over Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, our nation got itself involved in numerous foreign military interventions. To put into perspective just how many military interventions the United States has conducted on foreign soil; between 1776 and 2019, the US carried out more than 380 military interventions abroad. And it’s been estimated that over half of all those military interventions have occurred since 1950, with the post-Cold War period alone accounting for more than 25%.

It’s safe to say that there weren’t many countries in the world that could rival the United States when it came to military interventions in the 20th century. Here are 10 of the major ones, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion that failed to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba:

The Venezuelan Affair of 1902 and the Roosevelt Corollary

The Venezuelan Affair of 1902 was a diplomatic crisis between Venezuela and several European powers, including Britain, Germany, and Italy. The crisis arose when Venezuela failed to pay its foreign debts and the European powers decided to use force to collect the debts owed to them.

In December 1902, the European powers imposed a naval blockade on Venezuela, effectively cutting off the country’s access to international trade.

The blockade was intended to force the South American nation to pay its debts, but it also had a significant impact on Venezuela’s economy and led to widespread suffering among the Venezuelan people.

The United States, under President Theodore Roosevelt, intervened in the crisis, arguing that the use of force by the European powers was a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the United States would not tolerate European intervention in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

Roosevelt pressured the European powers to end the blockade and negotiate a settlement with Venezuela. In February 1903, an agreement was reached, under which Venezuela agreed to pay its debts and the European powers agreed to lift the blockade.

The Venezuelan Affair of 1902 is significant because it marked the first time the United States asserted itself as a major player in international affairs and demonstrated its willingness to use force to protect its interests in the Western Hemisphere. It also highlighted the growing tensions between the United States and the European powers, which would eventually lead to the First World War.

Theodore Roosevelt

With Europe no longer in the picture, the United States became the dominant power in the region, securing the “right” to interfere in the affairs of Latin American countries as they pleased. Quote: Excepts from US President Theodore Roosevelt’s annual message to Congress – December 6, 1904

The United States occupation of Haiti (1915-1935)

The United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. The occupation was a response to a series of profound political and economic crises in Haiti, including a debt crisis, political instability, and violence against foreign nationals.

During the occupation, the US military established a government in Haiti and controlled many aspects of Haitian life and the levers of the economy through martial law. They built infrastructure, including roads and bridges, and introduced modern medicine and sanitation practices.

However, the occupation was also marked by political repression, human rights abuses, and economic exploitation. For example, the United States used forced labor on many of those infrastructure projects built in the country. Several hundreds of those unpaid, forced laborers perished.

The US military also disbanded the Haitian army and replaced it with a new security force known as the Garde d’Haïti. The Garde was trained and led by American officers and was used to maintain order and suppress political dissent, including two major rebellions which claimed the lives of many thousands of Hatians. There were also reports of severe human rights violations, including those perpetrated by U.S. forces and the Haitian Gendarmerie.

The occupation was widely unpopular in Haiti and led to a nationalist movement that eventually forced the U.S. military to withdraw in 1934. However, the legacy of the occupation continued to shape Haitian politics and society for decades to come.

The US Military Government in Cuba – the First and Second Occupations of Cuba

After the Spanish-American War ended in 1898, the United States emerged as the predominant power in not just the Caribbean but all of the Americas. As part of the peace treaty (i.e., the 1898 Treaty of Paris) that ended the 10-week war, the United States took possession of a number of Spanish territories, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The U.S. was also granted temporary control of Cuba.

The US then proceeded to establish a provisional military government in Cuba, first between 1899 and 1902, and second from 1906 to 1909.

On February 21, 1901, the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba was adopted, and the Caribbean nation elected Tomás Estrada Palma president in December 1901.

The Platt Amendment, which was signed into law by President William McKinley on March 1, 1901, stipulated a number of conditions for the withdrawal of U.S. Marines from Cuba. Cuba also accepted that its relations with the U.S. be an unequal one that would see the U.S. exert dominance over the island nation.

For example, the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations of 1903 stated that the US had the right to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of Cuba. The U.S. also secured long-term land leases meant to set up naval bases on the island. It was also stated categorically in the Platt Amendment that Cuba was forbidden from signing any treaty that would allow foreign nations to establish any military bases on the island, including Guantanamo Bay.

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt issued Executive Order 518 to establish a U.S. military government in Cuba. This virtually made the Caribbean nation a protectorate of the United States. Image: Charles Edward Magoon – Second Provisional Governor of Cuba

About three years later, on September 29, 1906, then-U.S. Secretary of War William Howard Taft used those treaties signed with Cuba as a justification to establish a provisional government of Cuba. The United States had raised concerns over the break down of law and order in Cuba was affecting U.S. economic interests.

Taft was given the green by then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, to appoint himself Provisional Governor of Cuba. Taft, who had already served as the Governor-General of the Philippines from 1901 to 1903, would stay in the job for less than one month before he was replaced by American diplomat and lawyer Charles Edward Magoon.

The U.S. would only begin to withdraw its troops after it was completely satisfied with the outcome of the 1908 Cuban elections which saw revolutionary fighter and pro-U.S. politician José Miguel Gómez elected as president.

United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924)

It was one of the many interventions in Latin America undertaken by the military forces of the United States in the 20th century. After landing in the Dominican Republic, it took U.S. Marines about two months to establish effective control of the country. Image: US Marines in the Dominican Republic (1916-1924)

The United States occupied the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924, following a period of political instability and violence in the country. The military intervention came after Desiderio Arias, the Secretary of War of Dominican Republic, removed President Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra from power.

The occupation was carried out by U.S. Marines, who were sent to the Dominican Republic to protect American economic interests and to ensure political stability in the region.

During the occupation, the U.S. military took control of the government and established a new constitution and electoral system. They also built infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals, and introduced modern sanitation and healthcare practices.

US Marines in the Dominican Republic (1916-1924)

US Marines in the Dominican Republic (1916-1924)

However, the occupation was also marked by violence, repression, and economic exploitation. The U.S. military used force to suppress political dissent, and American businesses benefited greatly from the economic policies put in place by the U.S.-backed government. Similar to Haiti, a significant portion of the financial levers of the Dominican Republic were placed in the hands of the National City Bank of New York.

Combined with the occupation of Haiti (1915-1935), the occupation of the Dominican Republic meant that the United States was in effect in control of the entire of Hispaniola.

The occupation was widely criticized, both in the Dominican Republic and internationally, for its violation of Dominican sovereignty and human rights. The occupation also led to anti-American sentiment in the country, which persisted for many years after the U.S. military withdrew.

The China Relief Expedition during the Boxer Rebellion

The China Relief Expedition was a multinational military intervention in China during the Boxer Rebellion from 1900 to 1901. The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) was a violent anti-foreign and anti-Christian movement that arose in China, and the intervention was aimed at protecting foreign nationals and interests in the major cities of the country.

The intervention was led by the Eight-Nation Alliance, which included forces from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The forces were initially sent to Beijing to relieve the siege of the foreign legations in the city and to defeat the Boxers.

The Eight-Nation Alliance during the Boxer Rebellion

The US was part of the Eight-Nation Alliance that crushed the Boxer Rebellion

After the relief of the legations, the intervention continued, and the forces carried out a campaign of retribution against the Boxers and their supporters. The intervention was marked by widespread violence and human rights abuses, including the looting and destruction of Chinese property and the killing of Chinese civilians.

The invasion was considered a big success, as U.S. forces and their Western allies effectively crushed the rebellion. Subsequently, the Boxer Protocol was signed between the Eight-Nation Alliance and the Qing Empire of China on September 7, 1901.

The China Relief Expedition was seen by many as an example of Western imperialism and a violation of China’s sovereignty. The intervention contributed to anti-foreign sentiment in China and helped to fuel nationalist movements in the country in the few decades that followed.

Bay of Pigs Invasion – a U.S. military intervention to topple Cuban leader Fidel Castro

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a failed military operation carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Cuban exiles in 1961. The operation was aimed at overthrowing the government of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who had seized power in 1958 by toppling the corrupt and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista.

Initially very popular among Americans, Castro and his government quickly incurred the wrath of the United States when many American business interests were nationalized. The revolutionary was bent on making Cuba communist country. To the U.S. a communist nation so close to its door step was completely unacceptable. Therefore, the John F. Kennedy administration decided to act fast.

The plan involved the use of approximately 1,500 Cuban exiles who had been trained by the CIA in Guatemala. They were to launch an amphibious invasion of Cuba and establish a beachhead at the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of the island.

The operation was launched on April 17, 1961, but quickly ran into trouble. The Cuban military, which had been tipped off about the invasion, was well-prepared and quickly overwhelmed the invaders. Within three days, the operation had been decisively defeated, with over 100 exiles killed and the rest taken as prisoners.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a significant embarrassment for the United States and had far-reaching consequences for U.S.-Cuban relations. The incident helped to cement Castro’s grip on power and led to a strengthening of ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union, which would eventually lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

In 1961, the United States covertly provided military and financial backing to Cuban exiles to overthrow the regime of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The military landing operation planned to make their way from the southwestern coast of the Caribbean nation and then culminate in the toppling of the communist government of Castro. Image: Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces near Playa Girón, 19 April 1961

United States occupation of Nicaragua (1912-1933)

The United States occupied Nicaragua multiple times in the early 20th century, with the longest and most significant period of occupation lasting from 1912 to 1933. The U.S. intervention was driven by the interests of American businesses, which were invested in the country’s natural resources, including its minerals and agricultural products.

More specifically, the United States’ goal was to prevent any nation except the U.S. from constructing a Nicaraguan Canal. This was in keeping with its foreign policy of the Dollar Diplomacy. It was aimed at undermining European financial strength in the region.

Relations between the U.S. and Nicaragua soured also because of the execution of two Americans – Lee Roy Cannon and Leonard Groce – by Nicaraguan president José Santos Zelaya. The Americans were accused of participating in activities of rebels, who were led by Juan José Estrada, who was the governor of Bluefields.

During the occupation, the U.S. military established a puppet government and carried out extensive infrastructure development, including building roads, ports, and other facilities. Nicaragua thus became somewhat of a quasi-protectorate of the United States.

However, the occupation was also characterized by violence, human rights abuses, and economic exploitation.

The U.S.-backed government implemented policies that favored American businesses, leading to the dispossession of land from local farmers and the exploitation of workers. Additionally, the U.S. military was involved in suppressing political dissent and quelling popular uprisings.

The occupation was widely criticized, both within Nicaragua and internationally, as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and human rights

The U.S. withdrawal from Nicaragua in took place in 1933 under the leadership of President Hebert Hoover.

The U.S. withdrawal from Nicaragua in 1933 marked the end of a long period of political and economic instability in the country, but the legacy of the occupation continued to shape Nicaraguan politics and society for many years to come. Image: United States Marines in Nicaragua with a captured enemy flag in 1932

Operation Gothic Serpent and Black Hawk Down

Operation Gothic Serpent was a military operation carried out by the United States Special Operations Forces and other coalition partners in Somalia in 1993. The operation was intended to capture key leaders of the Somali National Alliance and to destabilize the militia’s grip on the country.

The operation involved a large number of troops, including U.S. Army Rangers, Delta Force soldiers, and other coalition forces. The operation began on October 3, 1993, and quickly ran into trouble when a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down over Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

The operation then turned into a prolonged urban battle that lasted over 18 hours and resulted in the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somali civilians and militia members.

The incident was a significant setback for the U.S. military and led to a reassessment of U.S. policy towards Somalia. The U.S. forces withdrew from Somalia in 1994, and the country remained in a state of chaos for many years.

Major US Military Intervention in the 20th century

US troops in Somalia 1993

Did you know?

The operation was the basis for the book and subsequent film, “Black Hawk Down,” which documented the events of the operation and the experiences of the soldiers who participated in it.

Operation Infinite Reach

The United States launched a military operation called Operation Infinite Reach on August 20, 1998. The operation was part of the United States’ response to the heinous 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, i.e., Kenya and Tanzania. Those attacks caused the deaths of a dozen Americans as well as hundreds of Africans.

Given the greenlight by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.S. Navy carried out cruise missile attacks on a number of terrorist training camps and installations in Khost Province, Afghanistan and Khartoum, Sudan. The latter country was believed to be hosting al-Qaeda chemical weapons manufacturing plants.

Operation Infinite Reach was the first time the U.S. government publicly acknowledged carrying out preemptive strike against a violent non-state actor.

Operation Uphold Democracy – the US military intervention in Haiti (1994-1995)

Operation Uphold Democracy – the US military intervention in Haiti (1994-1995)

US forces securing Port-au-Prince Airport on the first day of Operation Uphold Democracy.

Almost six decades after the first occupation of Haiti, the United States intervened militarily in 1994. The decision was taken by Washington, D.C. after the 1991 Haitian coup d’état that saw the removal of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Termed Operation Uphold Democracy, the invasion came after the coup leaders, led by General Joseph Raoul Cedras, refused to step down and hand power back to elected officials on the island nation.

The operation involved the deployment of 20,000 U.S. troops and was supported by a multinational force led by the United Nations. The objective of the intervention was to remove the military junta that had taken power in Haiti and to restore Aristide to power.

The U.S. ultimately wrested control of Haiti from the dictator. The deposed president Aristide made a triumphant return to Haiti in October 1994.

The U.S. military quickly secured control of the country, and Aristide was able to return to Haiti and resume his position as president. The operation was considered a success, as it restored democracy to Haiti and helped to stabilize the country.

However, the intervention was also controversial, as it was seen by some as an example of American imperialism and a violation of Haiti’s sovereignty. Additionally, some criticized the U.S. for only intervening in Haiti when it was in its strategic interest, while ignoring other countries in the region that were experiencing political and economic crises.

Operation Allied Force – a US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia

NATO conducted a 78-day air campaign against FRY, which included bombing military and infrastructure targets in Kosovo and Serbia. The campaign was controversial, with critics arguing that it violated international law and caused civilian casualties.

In 1999, the United States and its NATO allies carried out a military operation against Yugoslavia in order to end the genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against Albanians by nationalists in Kosovo.

Between late March and early June 1999, NATO, a Western military alliance, engaged in aerial bombing campaign. Those aerial bombings compelled Yugoslav armed forces to sign the Kumanovo Agreement on June 9, 1999 and thereafter pull out from Kosovo. Subsequently, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo was established to keep the peace in the country.

Nicknamed Operation Allied Force by NATO, the 3-month military intervention was termed Operation Noble Anvil by the United States. As China and Russia, both permanent UN Security Council members, threatened to oppose any authorization submitted by NATO for military intervention, the U.S.-led military alliance conducted those aerial bombings without the UN’s approval.

Questions & Answers

Why did the US intervene in the Boxer Rebellion?

In the latter years of the Boxer Rebellion, the U.S. deployed forces to China to protect both American and European nations’ interest in the country. The U.S. forces worked with forces from other seven European nations, which made up the Eight-Nation Alliance, to crush the rebellion in 1902. The combined total of forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance was in the region of 46,000.

The Boxer militia were known for their anti-colonial and anti-Christian stance, as well as their desire to completely end Western imperialism in China. They came to be known as the “Boxers” because of their love for Chinese martial arts.

The legacy of the intervention continued to shape Chinese politics and society for many years to come.

What caused the US occupation of Haiti between 1915 and 1935?

On July 28, 1915, then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sanctioned the deployment of over 300 U.S. Marines to the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The U.S. president’s decision to intervene militarily in Haiti was based on the opinions of some big U.S. banks, including the National City Bank of New York. The goal of U.S. occupation of Haiti was to take control of financial and political interests of the country.

The U.S. bankers purposely refused to grant any funds to Haiti. Prior to that the turmoil in Haiti had reached meteoric heights following the lynching of President of Haiti Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. U.S. bankers also bankrolled a number of rebel groups in the Caribbean nation so as to turn the nation into somewhat of a failed state. This then induced the United States government to intervene.

What is the difference between the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary?

The Monroe Doctrine

Political cartoon depicting US President Theodore Roosevelt’s application of the Monroe Doctrine

In 1901, U.S. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the presidential oath of office following the tragic assassination of President William McKinley. Known as “Teddy” Roosevelt, the commander-in-chief, who was veteran and hero of the Spanish-American War, was determined to make the United States the guarantor of security in the Western Hemisphere. With a foreign policy slogan of “Speak softly, and carry a big stick” (i.e. the Big Stick Diplomacy), Roosevelt did everything in his power – politically and militarily – to halt Europe’s interference in the region as part of the Monroe Doctrine.

The Monroe Doctrine, which had been declared by President James Monroe in 1823, stated that the United States would not tolerate European intervention in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

Deduced from the famous Monroe Doctrine (i.e., a US foreign position developed by President James Monroe), the Roosevelt Corollary asserted that the United States had the right to intervene in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations in order to prevent European nations from doing so.

The Roosevelt Corollary was based on the idea that the stability and prosperity of Latin America were in the national interest of the United States. Roosevelt argued that the United States had a responsibility to intervene in Latin America to ensure that countries in the region were able to pay their debts and maintain political stability. He believed that if the United States did not intervene, European powers would step in and use force to collect debts owed to them, which could lead to the re-colonization of Latin America.

The Roosevelt Corollary was used to justify a number of U.S. interventions in Latin America in the years that followed, including the U.S. occupation of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was also cited as a justification for U.S. involvement in the Panama Canal Zone and for U.S. support of various dictators in the region.

Emboldened by the successes of the Spanish-American War and the Boxer Rebellion, the United States began to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it was a military force not to be trifled with.

How many people died during the US military interventions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic?

The total number of casualties suffered by American forces during the military interventions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic was 290. However, more than 3200 people died in those Caribbean nations, with about 2900 alone in Haiti.

Why did the Bay of Pigs Invasion fail?

The Bay of Pigs Invasion is considered a seminal event in the history of U.S. covert operations and is often cited as an example of the perils of trying to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries.

The failure of the invasion has been attributed to a number of reasons, including the last-minute withdrawal of air support by the U.S. government. Also, the US hoped that the invasion would trigger a massive uprising by Cubans against Castro’s regime. Unfortunately that did not happen.

What was the primary goal of Operation Noble Anvil?

The primary objective of the operation was to stop the violence and repression against the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo and to force the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1199, which demanded a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo.


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Atkins, G. Pope & Larman Curtis Wilson. The Dominican Republic and the United States: from imperialism to transnationalism. Athens, Ga.: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1998

Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995

Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Joos, Vincent. The struggle of non-sovereign Caribbean territories: neoliberalism since the French Antillean Uprisings of 2009. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2021.

Joos, Vincent. The struggle of non-sovereign Caribbean territories: neoliberalism since the French Antillean Uprisings of 2009. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2021.

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