In This Review

“Our Hemisphere”? The United States in Latin America, From 1776 to the Twenty-first Century
“Our Hemisphere”? The United States in Latin America, From 1776 to the Twenty-first Century
By Britta H. Crandall and Russell C. Crandall
Yale University Press, 2021, 504 pp.

Crandall and Crandall briskly sketch 42 episodes of U.S. policy toward Latin America, ranging from the diverse reactions to the Haitian Revolution and the uprisings in South America led by Simón Bolívar in the early nineteenth century to contemporary efforts to bolster the region’s democratic reformers. The authors assiduously refuse to impose a formal theoretical framework or to accept simple explanations for U.S. actions. Rather, they find that a complex mixture of altruism, realpolitik, and the spillover of domestic politics lay behind Washington’s conduct, which was also shaped by the differing agendas and ambitions of individual presidents and diplomats. Far from being an all-powerful heg-emon, the United States repeatedly fell well short of its goals. Some apparently successful U.S. interventions (such as in Guatemala in 1954) backfired over time, but the authors do find enduring success stories. “The general commitment to the republican, democratic principles that first fired the wave of independence movements in the hemisphere has persisted through times of abeyance,” they claim optimistically. Responding to facile criticisms of U.S. policies, the authors reasonably question whether there were ever better, more workable alternatives. Still, the authors’ preference for balanced, nuanced assessments will frustrate some readers who might want more definitive judgments.