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American Military Assistance Programs since 1945

Summary and Keywords

Military assistance programs have been crucial instruments of American foreign policy since World War II, valued by policymakers for combating internal subversion in the “free world,” deterring aggression, and protecting overseas interests. The 1958 Draper Committee, consisting of eight members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, concluded that economic and military assistance were interchangeable; as the committee put it, without internal security and the “feeling of confidence engendered by adequate military forces, there is little hope for economic progress.” Less explicitly, military assistance was also designed to uphold the U.S. global system of military bases established after World War II, ensure access to raw materials, and help recruit intelligence assets while keeping a light American footprint. Police and military aid was often invited and welcomed by government elites in so-called free world nations for enhancing domestic security or enabling the swift repression of political opponents. It sometimes coincided with an influx of economic aid, as under the Marshall Plan and Alliance for Progress. In cases like Vietnam, the programs contributed to stark human rights abuses owing to political circumstances and prioritizing national security over civil liberties.

Keywords: violence, weapons, human rights, advisers, repression, deterrence, war, military aid, secrecy, power

The United States military has provided military aid and advice to at least 100 different nations since the end of World War II and currently occupies 686 overseas military bases, a total that excludes secret bases in Saudi Arabia and Israel along with smaller facilities and installations.1 Scholars have continuously debated the motives underlying American assistance programs and whether or not they emerged in response to invitations or as a function of American goals in foreign nations. Many commentators have emphasized the quest for new markets and raw materials, the desire to export democracy and other aspects of an American political system assumed to be superior, and to establish a world system rooted in international law and free trade that could prevent the rekindling of nationalist rivalries and protectionism that seemingly drove the world into the Great Depression and World War II.2

In 1949, after President Harry S. Truman approved National Security Council (NSC) Memorandum 14 advocating military assistance, Congress passed the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, the first in a series of global arms bills through which the United States came to provide grants amounting to over $90 billion in military equipment and training to some 120 countries before the end of the Cold War. In 1956 alone, the United States was supervising the training of approximately 200 divisions worldwide, with 20 percent of army officers serving as advisers for foreign forces. The primary recipients were Western European countries, which received two-thirds of the $1.314 billion appropriated in the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, and Cold War trouble spots like Vietnam, which received over $16 billion from 1955 to 1975. Eighty percent of approximately 320,000 trainees between 1950 and 1970 came from Third World nations.3 Further military aid was supplied covertly through Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations like the Operation Gladio in Europe, and the 1290-d program, precursor to the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Public Safety (OPS), which trained foreign police forces in paramilitary tactics with the goal of “providing internal security in countries vulnerable to communist subversion.”4 In the late 1960s, as liberal congressional officials raised concern about the connection to right-wing dictatorships, sales began to replace grants as the principal means of providing military equipment. The United States licensed overall approximately $240 billion in arms sales to more than 100 countries, with Military Assistance Advisory Groups (MAAGs) continuously serving a “pump-priming function,” in the words of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, designed to facilitate these sales.5

Scholarly debate surrounding military assistance centers on its political function, morality, and connection to human rights abuses. Orthodox historians consider military assistance to Western Europe to have contributed to socio-economic development and democratic political stability after World War II while safeguarding the Western alliance against the Soviet “threat.”6 Revisionist historians, however, emphasize its function in helping to fortify centrist anti-communist and mafia-allied governments such as the Christian Democrats in Italy, who came to power in questionable elections and suppression of the political left. Arms supplies to West European nations were also sometimes diverted for use in brutal wars against anti-colonial insurgents and upheld authoritarian governments in Spain, Portugal, and Greece.7

A scholarly consensus holds that American military aid to the developing world was directed to oppressive governments valued for maintaining American military bases and preserving open markets and investment opportunities. Political scientist Miles Wolpin’s comparison of 105 developing nations during the height of the Cold War, for example, found a strong correlation between violent state repressiveness and a U.S. military presence, while political scientist Lars Schoultz determined that aid flowed disproportionately to Latin American governments that tortured their citizens.8

The main counter-arguments hold that if the United States did not supply arms, someone else might have, and that U.S. support for repressive governments was warranted because of tangible threats to U.S. security. Proponents of this latter view, such as John L. Gaddis and many policymakers, acknowledge, however, that “nightmares always seem real at the time—even if, in the clear light of dawn, a little ridiculous.”9 They do not typically discuss, though, the process by which alarmist depictions gained currency over sober estimates of Soviet military power or the special interests that had a vested stake in upholding the image of a Soviet monolith.10

The mainstream media has often conveyed the impression that human rights abuses committed by American-trained forces in ongoing conflicts were carried out in spite of American good intentions. A Newsweek feature on Special Forces in El Salvador in the 1980s, for example, depicted a boot camp that included sixteen-year-old child soldiers aiming to produce “tough flexible counter-insurgency units able to hit and pursue guerrillas into the hills” while also “offering lessons in humanity: how to treat civilians fairly and how to take prisoners as well as tally body counts.” The villain of the piece was history: “the Salvadoran army’s traditional brutishness which Special Forces were steadfastly fighting.”11

This supposition, repeated in articles on other conflicts, has colonialist undertones and ignores the record of brutality displayed by U.S. forces in wars like Korea and Vietnam, and the military’s adoption of harsh training regimens and dehumanization of political adversaries, practices that were in turn exported. U.S. military strategies have also promoted unsavory methods borrowed from the European colonial powers, including forced population removal and torture in interrogation, making the link to human rights abuses explicit, particularly in countries facing insurgency where national security considerations overrode a commitment to civil liberties.12

From the Philippines Constabulary to the Green Berets: An Overview

American military assistance programs date to the opening of the 20th century, when the U.S. military developed police constabularies in Cuba and the Philippines to uphold colonial or neocolonial occupations once American forces had been withdrawn. Military advisers provided weaponry and training to indigenous forces, which hunted down bandits and nationalist rebels, while developing elaborate surveillance apparatuses using the latest social control technologies such as telephone networks, photo identification, and fingerprinting.13 Roger “Tex” Hilsman, assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs under John F. Kennedy, saw the Philippines constabulary as a model for Vietnam as it had waged “one of the most successful counter-guerrilla campaigns in history” through use of “native Filipinos, men wise to jungle ways who knew the mountains and trails like their own backyard.”14

Building on this accomplishment, the Wilson administration in 1917 sent General Smedley Butler, one of the most decorated marines in American history, to organize a police gendarmerie in Haiti to crush the Caco rebels, who threatened the U.S. military occupation. Psychological warfare methods were adopted to infiltrate the camp of Caco leader Charlemagne Péralte, whose body was hung, Christ-like, for intimidation; instead, it inspired continued resistance. Constabularies were further developed in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to hunt down nationalist rebels. The chargé d’affairs in Haiti and Nicaragua, Dana Munro, explained that the old armies seemed to be “principal causes of disorder,” consuming most of the governments’ revenues chiefly in graft. The purpose of the newly created paramilitary police force (gendarmerie) was to “do away with petty local oppression.” However, in practice the gendarmerie committed human rights abuses and served as a springboard to power for pro-American dictators including Anastasio Somoza García of Nicaragua.15 Munro and his contemporaries did not foresee the danger associated with creating militarized police forces without an established judicial system or legal structure capable of reining in abuses.

American military aid performed more positive social functions during World War II, when the lend-lease program was pivotal to the defeat of fascism. The United States provided Great Britain with $27 billion worth of lend-lease aid during the war, along with $3.2 billion to France, $1.6 billion to China, and over $10 billion to Soviet Russia, including trucks, jeeps, fighter planes, light bombers, railroad equipment, rubber tires, and petroleum. Shipping costs amounted to an additional $700 million.16 The Roosevelt administration extended the lend-lease program to all nineteen Latin American countries, which received $493 million in arms. The military attaché to Central America, Colonel Joseph B. Pate, was concerned that Germany could “arrange for the overthrow of every government in Central America” at a moment’s notice, enabling it to launch a surprise air raid on the Panama Canal. Lend-lease therefore focused on building up air force capabilities in countries that were mountainous with primitive highways.17

After World War II, American leaders feared the destabilization of Western Europe due to economic crisis and political radicalism flowing from the fact that communists and other leftists had in many cases led the anti-fascist resistance.18 Richard Bissell, assistant administrator for the Marshall Plan, was typical in his view that “economic reconstruction of Europe and its related political stabilization could not be achieved if European citizens did not feel secure and protected from the ‘red scare,’” hence necessitating large-scale military aid. Believing that the United States needed greater military spending if it was to be the international champion of liberal democracy, Secretary of State Dean Acheson saw the Cold War in civilizational terms, warning that the threat to Europe was like that which Islam had posed centuries before. Truman’s council of economic advisers, led by Leon Keyserling, emphasized the benefits to the American economy of increasing defense expenditures, arguing that economic mobilization for purposes of rearmament could create a surge in the domestic economy, a position supported by weapons manufacturers and the aerospace industry, which was veering toward bankruptcy.19

In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) was established as an integrated military defense system, with America taking up responsibility for the defense of Western Europe, as it also did with Japan. That same year, Congress passed the Mutual Defense Assistance Act to consolidate U.S. military aid programs and to provide most of the arms aid to NATO countries. In return for large-scale military assistance, the United States got military bases, nuclear weapons storage facilities, listening posts, opportunities for foreign investment, and guarantee of a market for American goods, as a strong military was considered a bulwark against communist-style revolution. Recipients also agreed to adopt the U.S. dollar as the standard currency of exchange under the Marshall Plan.

President Truman convinced Congress of the necessity of supporting NATO by telling it that “the cost of supplying equipment [through our aid programs] is only a fraction of the cost of raising a comparable force ourselves.” Opposition was limited to a few old isolationists and progressives as well as former president Herbert Hoover, who claimed that Europe would “become the graveyard of American boys and would end in the exhaustion of this Gibraltar of Western civilization.”20 Asia First advocates, led by Midwestern senators Kenneth Wherry (R-Nebraska) and Robert Taft (R-Ohio), opposed the Europhilia of the eastern establishment embodied by Acheson, and pushed to expand military aid to salvage the beleaguered Chinese Guomindang regime of Jiang Jieshi and support Syngman Rhee in the Republic of Korea.21

The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 boosted arguments in favor of preparedness, with the United States shipping 570,000 tons of equipment to the Asia Pacific and Middle East and 930,000 tons to Western Europe, including naval vessels, bazookas and rifles, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Military missions were established to teach foreign troops to use the equipment as far afield as Saudi Arabia. During the war, the United States appropriated $15.9 billion for foreign military assistance, more than the $12 billion spent under the Marshall Plan.22 In 1953, Congress approved $5 billion in military assistance to NATO nations, having provided 7,310 tanks, 28,795 transport vehicles, and 10,888 artillery pieces by that point. A Military Advisory Assistance Group (MAAG) helped to revive the German military under the command of Lieutenant General Adolf Heusinger, former chief of operations for the World War II Wehrmacht, and Lieutenant General Hans Speidel, Erwin Rommel’s chief of staff in France.23

Orthodox historians like John L. Gaddis have echoed policymakers such as Henry Kissinger in arguing that the outcome of the Cold War validates the wisdom of U.S. policy and the effectiveness of large-scale military assistance as a deterrent against Soviet expansion.24 However, international relations scholars such as Steven Chan disagree, noting that Moscow never had any intention of launching an attack in either Western Europe or Asia owing to its “economic weakness [and] dissension among its leaders.”25 Soviet historians like Vladimir Zubok further emphasize the ravaging effects of World War II and cautious nature of Soviet foreign policy outside the seeking of a security buffer in Central and Eastern Europe.26 George F. Kennan, the architect of the containment doctrine, noted that “central to the Soviet view of how socialism was to triumph on a world scale has always been the operation of social and political forces within the capitalist countries … it has never regarded action by its own forces as the main agency for the spread of world revolution.”27

Orthodox historians consider military aid not only important as a deterrent to Soviet expansionism but also as vital to Europe’s revitalization and to the stabilization of democratic governments that adopted welfare programs. They point to the liberal character of NATO countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Great Britain, and France, which were major recipients of military assistance along with West Germany, and compare their parliamentary systems with more oppressive counterparts within the Eastern bloc. Covert manipulation of elections was in the view of a number of orthodox historians non-consequential as the parties the CIA was supporting were popular anyway, although some of these historians also deplore U.S. overseas political manipulation while placing it in the context of American fears in the late 1940s.28

Orthodox scholars emphasize the relatively reasonable conduct of American soldiers compared to Soviet counterparts, who engaged in large-scale rape in East Germany.29 They stress that local governments invited American military forces and wanted to learn from American methods.30 Relations were mostly respectful, though some studies acknowledge certain problems. Historian Andrew Birtle, for example, quotes from the chief of the U.S. Army Quartermaster team that a dearth of language training and orientation toward “military hardware” over policy issues coupled with the pride of local officers resulted in “our assistance and advice not being sought as we would like.”31 The insinuation is that countries accepted military aid mainly out of expediency.

Revisionist scholars such as Gabriel Kolko, William Blum, and Carolyn Eisenberg emphasize the U.S. commitment to upholding aspects of the old economic order in Western Europe and the adoption of propaganda campaigns, the fixing of elections on behalf of Italy’s Christian Democrats backed by special weapons shipments, and the splintering of the labor movement and repression of strikes through alliances with the mafia, which weakened prospects for democracy.32 Historian Frank Kofsky has argued that the Truman administration manufactured a war scare in order to justify expanded military budgets in collusion with airline industry executives. Defense Secretary James Forrestal feared that if the aircraft industry collapsed, it would be vulnerable to nationalization, and believed that it was “up to private industry” to avert a “Marxist takeover.”33 Revisionists have also emphasized that arms were diverted for use against anti-colonial insurgencies in violation of a congressional stipulation that they were to be used strictly for national defense. A key reason was that Europe’s economic restoration required access to raw materials in Third World countries, which the United States also needed in order to sustain its military supremacy.34

International relations scholar Daniele Ganser’s path-breaking study on Operation Gladio gives strength to the revisionist argument in showing how CIA advisers attached to military missions organized stay-behind anti-communist armies equipped with machine guns, plastic explosives, and high-tech communications equipment hidden in arms caches in forests, meadows, and underground bunkers. Trained in advanced paramilitary and psychological warfare techniques, Gladio soldiers included ex-Gestapo agents and were molded in the image of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), which parachuted into enemy-held territory and fought a secret war behind enemy lines during World War II. They were activated in Italy, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, and Greece, where they carried out black-flag terrorist operations that were blamed on the left as part of a strategy of tension designed to engender public support for heightened security measures.35

Even orthodox historians acknowledge that the military assistance program in Greece contributed to the defeat of leftist guerrillas who were indigenously supported rather than serving as Soviet proxies.36 The Truman administration established a 600-man military advisory group that worked with Greek military officials on “strategic and tactical planning,” supervised the flow of military and naval equipment including napalm, rocket launchers, fighter planes, and gunboats, and gave operational advice on tactics down to the divisional level. Journalist Arthur Sulzberger wrote in his notebooks that the Americans appeared to “be in charge of operations and there is not much disguising this fact although everyone pretends it isn’t so.” U.S. officers accompanied Greek troops into battle, with at least three Americans dying in combat.37 Believing that “in guerrilla war the government which is being undermined should be under no obligation to protect the rights of persons suspected of aiding the enemy” and that the “only good communist was a dead one,” the advisory group’s leader, General James Van Fleet, told an interviewer that “our initial $3,000,000 investment has paid off magnificently … Greece was saved for little more than the cost of a single American division.”38

The Greek formula was applied in many other countries, including in the Philippines, the anchor for a defensive perimeter along the Pacific Rim running from Japan to Australia, where a Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) was set up as part of an agreement granting the United States sixteen military bases in a ninety-nine-year lease.39 In June 1950, JUSMAG brought in CIA psychological warfare expert Edward Lansdale to assist in counter-guerrilla operations through a mix of civic action, dissemination of black propaganda, and the exploitation of native superstitions, contributing to the defeat of the leftist Huks, who promoted wealth redistribution and agrarian reform.40

In Indonesia, a country rich in mineral resources and vital to communication between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, military and police aid laid the groundwork for a 1965 coup that brought to power anti-communist General Mohammed Haji Suharto, who opened the economy to Western investment while destroying the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) through a campaign that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Ironically, in the late 1950s, the Pentagon had financed Indonesia’s military, then loyal to socialist Ahmed Sukarno, while the CIA was fomenting a separatist rebellion against Sukarno in oil- and rubber-rich Sumatra. (The CIA station chief, Val Goodell, happened to be a rubber-industry magnate).41

Prominent social scientists supportive of the Indonesian coup, such as MIT professor Walt W. Rostow, the national security adviser under Lyndon B. Johnson, argued that economic growth in Third World countries could best be achieved by military regimes that integrated their economies in the world capitalist economy and successfully kept their nations’ communist threats at bay.42 Soft-power methods encompassing economic aid, cultural suasion, and covert operations were the preferred methods for combating left-wing movements, though more violent solutions, including military training, were supported when those prescriptions failed.43

The Kennedy administration was particularly infatuated with counterinsurgency and established the Green Berets, whom Newsweek described in 1961 as “hard muscled wielders of knife and garrote teaching their back alley arts to fighters for freedom in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the savannas of Central Africa, wherever revolt and terror encroach.”44 In opposing leftist-socialists and “wars of national liberation,” the Green Berets tended, however, to bolster conservative military regimes that came to power in CIA-supported coups such as those in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Brazil. General Robert Porter of the U.S. Southern Command characterized military assistance and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) public-safety projects as an “insurance policy protecting our vast private investment in an area of tremendous trade and strategic value to our country.”45

In Africa, where advisory reports lamented the “careless and shameful treatment of fine new American equipment” by native officials considered backward because of a lack of technological sophistication, the highest recipients of military aid were Ethiopia under Emperor Haillie Selassie, which received $286.1 million between 1946 and 1976, and Congo under tyrant Joseph Mobutu, which received more than $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training.46 These regimes and others like them were valued for providing military bases and access to precious resources like uranium, and for creating a favorable investment climate through maintenance of cheap labor standards and low tax rates, which resulted from the repression of trade union activists and leftists promoting the nationalization of industry and resources.47

Local forces sometimes had little interest in learning U.S. military doctrines but were eager to obtain high-tech military equipment that could enable them to gain political advantage. Albert Riedel, a police adviser in Kabul, Afghanistan, wrote to his superiors in fall 1957 that he was not even allowed to tag along with Afghan police officers on their patrols, noting that the prime minister would “take any free donations of equipment but they would use it the way they wanted.”48 In other cases where there were large bodies of U.S. troops and local forces openly carried out policies in the American interest, recipients could come to resemble occupied countries. Economist Peter Bell wrote that in Thailand during the 1960s “there were U.S. advisers everywhere; they occupied choice residences in the best districts of Bangkok (usually with four or five servants), sat in high positions in Thai government ministries … [and] were seen at the best golf and country clubs.”49 His comments point to an underlying motive or side benefit of the programs, which was to cultivate contacts in the military and police being groomed for high office and penetrate government ministries and the internal security apparatus as a pathway to greater political influence and power.50 Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara stated explicitly that the United States provided military aid because “military officers were the coming leaders of their nations [and] it is beyond price to the United States to make friends with such men.”51

Military Advisers and the Vietnam War

Military advisers became known to the public mostly through Hollywood movies like The Green Berets and Apocalypse Now, which are loosely based on their experience in the Vietnam War. The United States first established a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Vietnam in September 1950 under the command of Brigadier General Francis G. Brink, the former chief of the advisory staff in China, and later General Thomas J. Trapnell, who had put down a North Korean prisoner revolt. From 1950 to 1954, some sixty-five officers were involved in the distribution of $2 billion in military equipment, which included armored river patrol boats, 8,000 vehicles, 500 aircraft, antipersonnel munitions, and thousands of projectiles packed in 500-pound cluster bombs. French general Jean de Lattre de Tassigny complained frequently that there were too many Americans in Vietnam, though he credited the part played by American equipment, especially “napalm bombs” that arrived “in the nick of time” in French victories at Vinh Yen and Mao Khe.52

Following the victory of the Viet Minh forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, Vietnam was divided under the Geneva Accords with the promise of nationwide elections within two years. Recognizing that revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh would receive 80 percent of the vote, the Eisenhower administration never signed the accords and set about building a client regime under Ngo Dinh Diem, who replaced French puppet emperor Bao Dai.53

A 342-man MAAG, commanded by John W. O’Daniel and then “Hanging” Sam Williams, was given instructions to develop the American-financed Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVN) for internal security purposes and to fight perceived external “aggression” from the North.54 Training camps were established, and promising officers were sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, or to jungle-warfare schools in the Philippines and Malaya, with a naval advisory group also established. Relations between the Americans and Vietnamese were strained by the superior living standards of the American advisers, who had good housing, food, and recreation privileges lacking among the ARVN. The Americans also did not take the same risks to their lives and typically served eleven-month tours of duty that precluded any long-term attachment to the country or knowledge of its intricacies. The Americans often viewed their Vietnamese counterparts as primitive and uneducated, with the U.S. Army staff college attributing deficiencies in the ARVN to “the long-standing nature of the Vietnamese people: passive, submissive, fatalistic, accustomed to being led,” a view that left Viet Minh tenacity unexplained.55

Most of the American advisers believed in what historian Tom Engelhardt defined as the post-war victory culture that stressed the seemingly exceptional virtues of American society and a mission to export them abroad.56 Advisers who went “native,” so to speak, were the ones who integrated into the culture and forged strong bonds with their counterparts, hunting the “Vietcong” in an efficient and often ruthless manner. One adviser, David Donovan, likened himself to a warrior-king, who at twenty-three had unprecedented power in his ability to imprison people in his district, direct development funds, and even order executions, commanding a mix of reverence and fear.57 His story appears something out of a Joseph Conrad novel, with sexual conquest serving to affirm broader civilizational dominance akin to that of colonial officials in the British Empire.58

The Saigon military mission, a CIA unit, was headed during the 1950s by Edward Lansdale, whose country team sent agents into the north to sabotage industrial facilities and the transportation system and created a fake resistance movement.59 Alongside more violent methods borrowed from the Philippines, Lansdale and associates like Rufus Phillips and John Paul Vann also pushed for “civic action” programs. Lansdale defined these as “the brotherly behavior of troops along lines taught by Mao and Giap to their troops,” but as Lansdale acknowledged, the “Americans never succeeded in teaching this to the Vietnamese army. Up to the very end of the Vietnam War, the army was still stealing from the population.”60

Some scholars of the Vietnam War dispute this latter view, arguing that Diem pushed civic action teams under the advice of a former Viet Minh agent, though their reach was limited.61 In May 1955, after Diem had won a plebiscite with 98.2 percent of the vote, the State Department contracted the Michigan State University School of Police Administration at a budget of $25 million to train a paramilitary civil guard that was built up in violation of the Geneva agreements limiting the armed forces to 150,000. The Michigan State group also built up the Vietnamese Bureau of Investigation (VBI or Cong An), an offshoot of the French Sûreté, which had functioned principally as a “political repression organization.”62 Thousands died in the anti-communist campaign, which, according to Paul Harwood, head of covert action in the CIA’s Saigon station, was infused with a “totalitarian spirit.”63

To avoid a further deterioration of security in South Vietnam, President John F. Kennedy escalated the number of U.S. military advisers to 16,000 and provided helicopters, light aviation and transport equipment, as well as personnel “for aerial reconnaissance, instruction in and execution of air-ground support and special intelligence.” “Operation Farm Gate” created a South Vietnamese air force, which flew missions that involved spraying chemical defoliants [Agent Orange] and dropping napalm bombs that “put the fear of God into the ‘Vietcong,’” according to General Paul Harkins.64

The weakness of the ARVN was apparent at the battle of Ap Bac on January 2, 1963, where 350 lightly armed guerrillas routed a larger force of 2,000 ARVN soldiers equipped with high-velocity AR-15 rifles and backed by fixed-wing aircraft and armored vehicles retrofitted to handle jungle trails. John Paul Vann and others privately criticized the ARVN, which suffered from one of the highest desertion rates in the history of modern warfare and an “institutional unwillingness to fight.”65 Besides poor leadership and patronage (most ARVN officers previously served the French), a key reason for its ineffectiveness stemmed from the fact that roughly 65 percent of ARVN soldiers were forcibly conscripted, creating hardship for their families, who needed their labor on their farms.66

Green Beret Donald Duncan was the first American GI to dissent against the Vietnam War on principled grounds after witnessing the ARVN administer water-cure treatment on Vietcong suspects. He was sickened by the ARVN’s cynicism and Americans who paid little heed to the Geneva Convention.67 As the war was Americanized following the November 1963 coup that ousted Diem, the ARVN continued to perform key military functions, sustaining five times the number of casualties as Americans.68 American Special Forces and their Vietnamese counterparts ran the Operation Phoenix, which aimed to destroy the revolutionary underground through use of sophisticated computer technology and coordinated military sweeps and ambushes, though it devolved into a program of assassination that seriously undermined the credibility of the South Vietnamese government.69

The Vietnam War’s excesses, duration, and lack of progress drove many young Americans to reject “empire as a way of life” and provoked dissension within the armed forces, leading the Nixon administration to “Vietnamize” the conflict and abolish the draft.70 The secret war in Laos became a subsequent model for later military interventions. The United States had built up a proxy army in Laos and then shifted to training Hmong militias to fight against the communist Pathet Lao, using the Hmong as “live bait” for bombing attacks over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Plain of Jars.71 This strategy was considered cost effective and never aroused the protests that were compromising the American war in Vietnam, making it politically viable in an age of growing distrust for government.72

Human Rights Policy and Its Limits

Beginning in the 1960s, liberal Congressional officials such as George S. McGovern (D-South Dakota) and Frank Church (D-Idaho) increasingly raised concern about American military aid to right-wing dictators, including the junta in Greece, which held thousands of political prisoners. In an exchange with General Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Wayne Hays (D-Ohio) said the “experience in Cuba with Batista should have taught you that you can’t build an armed force on a base of quicksand. It was the same in Korea where you built a monster and a thirty-two-year-old captain proclaimed himself a lieutenant general and took over the Government.”73

The Nixon administration viewed congressional opposition as a threat to U.S. security. Nixon increased military assistance to a total of nearly $4.9 billion under the Nixon Doctrine, which aimed to shore up strategic allies through arms transfers and military training while drawing back direct military involvement. With a shift from grant aid to arms sales, nations like Iran became valuable additionally as rich customers for advanced weapons systems for which they paid in cash.74

Between 1973 and 1976, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements, headed by Donald Fraser (D-Minnesota), held at least fifty-five hearings on human rights and American policy in eighteen nations. The result was legislation tying economic assistance to recipients’ respect for human rights and the addition of Section 502B to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, mandating reduction or termination of security assistance to any government engaging in a pattern of gross human rights violations and for the secretary of state to submit an annual report to Congress on human rights conditions in countries receiving military assistance.75 The Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 included restrictions on military aid to Chile and abolished the Office of Public Safety (OPS) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which James Abourezk (D-North Dakota), one of the bill’s foremost champions, said “taught the dictators how to torture.”76 Police assistance for counter-narcotics subsequently increased from $2 to $12.5 million, however, and many ex-OPS officers found employment with the newly established Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which targeted left-wing “narco-guerrillas” primarily over right-wing cartel leaders allied with U.S.-backed governments.77

Policymakers supporting military assistance to oppressive governments had long warned that cutbacks would jeopardize U.S. access to raw materials and military bases and “paralyze the conduct of all foreign relations,” as Milton Eisenhower reported to his brother following a 1958 tour of Latin America. In 1975, Army Chief of Staff Fred W. Weyand rationalized that if the United States “didn’t sell it to them, someone else would.” However, General Howard Fish, former director of the Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA), testified before Congress that countries from Latin America that were turned down were “reluctant to go into the embrace of the Soviet bear” and cut purchases significantly, a view reinforced by the deputy secretary of state for inter-American affairs.78

Supported by a budding network of non-governmental organizations and grass-roots activists, Jimmy Carter came to power in 1976 promoting a human rights foreign policy. He cut the CIA’s budget by a third and slashed military aid to allied regimes that violated human rights, lessening the number of military advisers posted to foreign militaries to less than a thousand. Most military assistance program grants were phased out and replaced by the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program granting the Pentagon authority to train Latin American military personnel in the United States, Panama, and elsewhere. The 1977 Clark amendment to the U.S. arms control export act banned military assistance to right-wing rebels in Angola.79

Carter’s human rights policy was undermined by elements within the national security bureaucracy who, as journalist Joseph Trento has detailed, established a “shadow CIA” that supported traditional client regimes and promoted American corporate interests through private contracts and off-the-books means, as well as third-country nationals who always served as a supplement to American military advisers.80 The influence of neoconservative National Security Council adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in Carter’s last years signaled a decisive shift away from a human rights agenda, which Carter generally succeeded in crafting into a “new language of power,” as historian James Peck writes, “and potent ideological weapon for extending Washington’s global reach,” largely by focusing on abuses in the Soviet Union or Soviet client states.81

The double standards in Carter’s policy were epitomized by the provision of $2.3 billion in military aid to ten nations cited by Amnesty International for systematic human rights violations, predominantly through the Foreign Military Sales program providing credit and cash to purchase U.S. military weapons.82 Between 1976 and 1979, U.S. firms acquired export licenses for the sale to Third World police forces of 126,622 pistols and revolvers, 51,906 rifles and submachine guns, 615,612 tear-gas grenades, 8,870 canisters of Chemical Mace, and 55.8 million rounds of small-arms ammunition that was often used to suppress dissent.83

In February 1978, Carter authorized the sale of 200 modern combat aircraft, M-60 tanks, and thousands of laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, Egypt,84 and Israel. Israel received over $1 billion in annual military aid while the Saudis received between $4 and $6 billion at a time they were involved in crushing an internal Marxist rebellion and promoting the military modernization of North Yemen.85 Carter also provided the Shah of Iran at least $12 billion worth of high-tech weaponry including General Dynamics F-16 combat planes, with the Bell Helicopter Company establishing an Iranian sky cavalry brigade modeled on the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division. When the Shah’s government declared martial law, Carter provided an emergency shipment of riot sticks and tear gas helmets and sent a military mission to “encourage the continued solidarity, readiness and operational effectiveness of the Iranian armed forces” and “avert the Shah’s collapse.”86

Despite expanding the defense budget in contravention of campaign pledges, Carter was still depicted by the GOP as “soft on communism” and lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration (1981–1989) ratcheted up military assistance as part of a low-intensity warfare doctrine designed to “reverse the record of American failure in waging small wars and defeat insurgency by providing training and material support without committing American troops to combat.”87 As a showcase, from 1981 to 1987 the Reagan administration provided over $1 billion and 300 advisers to El Salvador to fight the leftist Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN), which took to guerrilla warfare after the assassination of Catholic archbishop Óscar Romero, a liberation theologian who had condemned the abuses of the military oligarchy.88 American strategy was to support the centrist Christian Democrats, who provided cover for repression targeted against the FMLN and non-communist left. Overall, 93 percent of atrocities were linked to the army.89 Air superiority was secured through the provision of A-37 light fighters, AC-47 gunships, and sixty-seven helicopters. Salvadoran army officers were also equipped with complex radios, code computers, speedboats, and electronic sensors.90

Charles Clements, a former pilot in Vietnam, spent a year as the only trained physician in the rebel-controlled Guazapa region of El Salvador, where he witnessed the strafing of peasants by U.S.-supplied jets and treated bodies mutilated by torture and napalm.91 In the village of El Mozote, the elite U.S.-trained Atlacatl battalion massacred an estimated 923 civilians, the worst massacre in Latin American history. An American adviser said that because “El Mozote was controlled by the guerrillas … you’re not going to be able to work with the population up there, you’re never going to get a permanent base there. So you just decide to kill everybody. That’ll scare everyone else out of the zone.”92 These comments epitomize the violence associated with Reagan-era military assistance, which fit with a historical pattern in the Third World.

Military Assistance in Latin America and the Army School of the Americas

Latin America had for years been a key focal point for military assistance programs, costing the United States $687 million from 1952 to 1968 in addition to arms sales valued at $178 million.93 Up until 1960, a primary goal was the development of strong naval capability, military intelligence, and air power; however, when the Kennedy administration took office in 1961, the threat of armed revolution became the major concern, with the basis for military aid shifting from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security” and protection against Castro-communist guerrilla warfare. The result was a spike in human rights abuses, as numerous studies have pointed out.94

Highly controversial was the training of thousands of Latin American military officers at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, whose central purpose was to cultivate top military leaders and enhance American regional influence. Graduates of the nicknamed “school of the assassins” included eight of ten Atlacatl battalion officers who participated in the El Mozote massacre as well as dictators Manuel Noriega of Panama (in power 1981 to 1989), Hugo Banzer of Bolivia (1970–1978), General Romeo Lucas García of Guatemala (1978–1982), Policarpo Paz García of Honduras (1978–1982), and Leopoldo Galtieri, who headed the Argentine military junta during a period when 30,000 people were “disappeared.”95

Originally based in Panama, the SOA followed a curriculum centered on counterinsurgency, with courses offered in commando operations, sniper training, laying of mines, psychological operations, and interrogation, along with classes in “fallacies of communist theory” and “communist front organizations.” Defenders of the school claim that U.S. Army advisers instilled military professionalism and gave instruction in human rights. Several SOA graduates have stated, however, that torture methods were promoted, including denial of sleep, isolation, and the administration of pain. A U.S. Army doctor dressed in green fatigues taught students about nerve endings in the body. José Valle, a member of Honduras’s death squad battalion 316 during the 1980s, told Father Roy Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran who has coordinated a yearly protest, that he “saw a lot of videos which showed the type of interrogation and torture they used in Vietnam … Although many people refuse to accept it, all this was organized by the U.S. government.”96

Valle’s revelations directly counter the assertion of Robert S. McNamara that the SOA served to “acquaint military officers with democratic philosophies and ways of thinking which they in turn take back to their nations.”97 It also fit patterns of CIA and military support for torture revealed in leaked training manuals such as the KUBARAK manual employed in the Contra War in Nicaragua.98

In the 1990s, because of bad publicity, the SOA changed its name to the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation and introduced a new human rights curriculum. Anthropologist Lesley Gill, who sat in on one of the courses, concluded that this aspect of the curriculum was not taken seriously and had been introduced mainly for public relations reasons.99

Some historians have argued that American foreign policy has been responsive to perceived national security threats. Hal Brands has suggested that Cuban subversion in Latin America necessitated military aid programs and that the United States helped to empower many moderate regimes like that of liberal modernizer Rómulo Betancourt in Venezuela (1958–1964), who promoted technical assistance to industry, public housing, and moderate land reform.100 However, Betancourt’s acceptance of foreign corporations, including Standard Oil, which controlled 95 percent of Venezuela’s largest oil company, Creole Petroleum, angered young Venezuelans inspired by the Cuban revolution, and he cracked down harshly on the left. The upper-class father of a torture victim wrote to the minister of justice that “the goal of defeating communism is not obtained by applying to communists, contrary to Christian ethics, inhuman methods of violence which make us equal to beasts.”101 Many of the American-trained forces, to be sure, would have committed abuses with or without American assistance. However, U.S. military and police aid gave them new confidence and a perception of impunity, with many using the programs to acquire new weaponries to gain political advantage.

Military Assistance and the Special Relationship with Israel

Israel has long been a focal point of debate between orthodox and critical analysts, with the orthodox view heralding the U.S. contribution to the Middle East’s lone democracy, and critics lamenting support for oppression in the Palestinian occupied territory and brutal military displays like the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, which fueled blowback rather than enhancing Israeli or American security.102 Since consolidating its special relationship with the United States during the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has been a leading recipient of American military aid. The United States has always had a sentimental attachment to the country, owing to shared cultural values and history. Israel has served furthermore as a crucial outpost of Western influence in an oil-rich region and has performed valuable services, including the humiliation of Soviet-backed enemies such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, a key figure in the non-aligned movement.103 No less a figure than Edward Lansdale considered the Israelis “real experts at unconventional warfare” who could “transmit concepts of the military’s role in nation-building to the U.S,” a reason for strong bilateral cooperation.104

The Kennedy and Johnson administrations provided Israel with $161 million in arms sales, including M48 battle tanks and Skyhawk jets, Hawk missiles, Sikorsky S-58 helicopters diverted secretly from West Germany, and advanced communications and electronic equipment, all used during the Six-Day War.105 U.S. Army personnel under disguise as contract employees helped service planes between sorties and provided signals intelligence in secret missions out of the Negev desert. Operating in RF-4C planes whose insignia was painted over to obscure the American presence, they also assisted photographic mapping of Arab troop movements, provided bomb-damage assessment, and helped jam and “cook” Arab battlefield communications.106

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Nixon administration agreed to an Israeli request for small arms and tanks to replace destroyed war material, telling the Pentagon to “send everything that will fly.” With Israeli Defense Force (IDF) officers setting up a command post in the Pentagon, U.S. Air Force C-5As and C-130s ferried 11,000 tons of military hardware valued at close to $2 billion, including electronic devices to counter Egyptian surface-to-air missiles, flechette-filled “beehive” projectiles and rocket warheads, Walleye glide and cluster bombs, and laser-guided Hughes AGM-65A Maverick anti-tank missiles, which could penetrate thirty inches of steel. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir stated that the airlift “meant life to our people,” and the Walleye and Maverick destroyed more than 150 Arab tanks in one week.107 However, not all the weaponry was beneficial. A top IDF commander reported that 300 Israeli tank crewmen were burned to death by the flammable hydraulic fluid in their U.S.-built M-60 tanks, a design flaw that prompted the Israelis to develop the Merkava tank to eliminate casualties from ammunition fires and explosions.108 The Americans got something in return from the airlift in the form of a captured Russian super-weapon, the ZSU-23-4 radar-directed, computer-controlled anti-aircraft cannon known as the Shilka, an episode that reveals the mutual advantages of the U.S.-Israeli alliance.109

Over the last decade and a half, the U.S. government has provided an estimated $3.1 billion (expanded to $3.8 million in 2016) in annual military assistance to Israel, including General Dynamics F-16 fighter jets and Hughes Apache helicopters, and another $504 million to develop the Iron Dome missile defense system. The United States furthermore engages in intelligence sharing and joint-military and police training exercises, while training the security of forces of Hamas’s rival, Fatah, in the occupied West Bank as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy and program to fight extremism.110 In 2006, the Bush administration closely involved itself in planning Israeli retaliatory attacks against Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, with the underlying goal of crippling its underground missile and command-and-control complexes. Besides ostensibly easing Israel’s security concerns, an underlying goal for the operation was to prepare groundwork for a potential American pre-emptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which were also buried deep underground.111

Military Assistance, Privatization, and the War on Terror

Military assistance has generally remained a feature of American foreign policy in the new millennium, with similar underlying motives and consequences as before. In 2009, the U.S. forces trained an estimated 100,000 soldiers in 180 countries, many of which were run by authoritarian leaders.112 Unlike earlier efforts, however, much of the training had been subcontracted to private security contractors (PMCs) such as Vinnell, Blackwater, and DynCorp, all of which received major contracts for training the Iraqi and Afghan armies and national police. After the Vietnam War ended, American strategic planners had set out to keep a “light footprint” in overseas interventions, with military assistance as well as private interests connected to the national security establishment making up for the manpower gap. The “Global War on Terror” became the PMC “Super Bowl,” with the private security contractors making more than $100 billion in Iraq alone by 2008. Legal impunity and a lack of proper recruitment standards have encouraged human rights abuses, epitomized by the infamous Nisour Square massacre in Iraq that killed seventeen civilians.113 The literature in this respect has been almost entirely critical.114

Some commentators have linked the breakdown of social relations between military advisers and their protégés to PMCs lacking even rudimentary language or cultural knowledge. In 2012 in Afghanistan, there were forty-eight so-called green-on-blue incidents in which Afghan officers turned their guns on their trainers, resulting in the deaths of sixty-four soldiers, with thirty-three U.S. and NATO soldiers having been killed in attacks the previous year. A marine adviser who survived one such shooting in Southern Afghanistan told a reporter that “the Afghans didn’t really give a shit. We’re supposed to be helping them and it’s hard for us to understand that these guys really do not want our help … I didn’t ever feel safe; it was ‘be aware, never trust them, always have your weapon on you.’”115 These comments point to mistrust among Afghans, a feeling reminiscent of past interventions perceived to have colonialist underpinnings.

Military assistance programs have long been an integral dimension of an informal empire that the United States developed after World War II, replete with hundreds of overseas military bases. Depending on the country one is in, public memory of military assistance is primarily positive in Europe, where many consider the great alliance to have saved the West from communism. In Latin America and other parts of the Third World, however, U.S. military aid long has been associated with support for repressive governments and human rights abuses. After the fiascos in Afghanistan and Iraq, the wars of the future will likely rely even more heavily on covert intervention and the subcontracting of counterinsurgency operations, requiring ever more military assistance. Recent history, however, should inspire caution about the efficacy and morality of this latter approach, and alternatives to militarization should be pursued in an era of deepening social inequality and “blowback.”116

Discussion of the Literature

The topic of American military assistance since World War II is incredibly broad; details can be found in hundreds of different works, many of which are cited in my notes. Scholars beginning research on this topic should consult Michael McClintock’s book, Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerrilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency and Counter-terrorism, 1940–1990 (1992), which remains indispensable in its analysis of American military doctrine in the post-war era. McClintock’s books on Guatemala and El Salvador (The American Connection: Vol. I: State Terror and Popular Resistance in El Salvador, Vol. II: State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala) also contain crucial details on U.S. military assistance programs from the 1960s through the 1980s in those countries. Chester Pach’s Arming the Free World: The Origins of the U.S. Military Assistance Program, 1945–1950 (1991) is limited in its analysis and scope, though does contain important information on the Truman era. An older study that is also informative is Harold A. Hovey’s United States Military Assistance: A Study of Policies and Practices (1965), as is Miles D. Wolpin’s Military Aid and Counterrevolution in the Third World (1972). William H. Mott IV’s U.S. Military Assistance: An Empirical Perspective (2002) has good statistics and data. Lawrence Wittner’s book The American Intervention in Greece, 1943–1949 (1982), discusses military assistance programs during the Greek civil war. On the arms buildup under Truman and congressional debate, see Raymond P. Ojserkis, Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race: The Truman Administration and the U.S. Arms Build Up (2003); and on the origins of the Cold War, see Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (1993).

On U.S. assistance to Western Europe, see Lawrence S. Kaplan, A Community of Interests: NATO and the Military Assistance Program, 1948–1951 (1980); Donald A. Carter, Forging the Shield: The U.S. Army in Europe, 1951–1962 (2015); and Andrew J. Birtle, Rearming the Phoenix: U.S. Military Assistance to the Federal Republic of Germany, 1950–1960 (1991). Daniele Ganser’s NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (2005) is a well-researched study with explosive findings.

In Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (2012), Jeremy Kuzmarov analyzes the history of police training programs and their connection to military assistance and political repression dating to the occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century. Another important book on police is Martha K. Huggins’s Political Policing: The United States and Latin America (1999), which focuses on Brazil. Kirsten Weld’s Paper Cadavres: The Archives of Dictatorship (2014) centers on Guatemala. Michael T. Klare’s War Without End: American Planning for the Next Vietnams (1972) and American Arms Supermarket (1984), and Klare and Cynthia Arnson’s Supplying Repression (1981) provide detailed research on American military and police assistance and arms sales from the Kennedy era through the Reagan era.

Miles D. Wolpin’s America Insecure: Arms Transfers, Global Interventionism, and the Erosion of National Security (1991) and Lars Schoultz’s Human Rights and United States Policy Towards Latin America (1981) are also valuable, the latter dealing with human rights and congressional debate over military assistance in the 1970s. Alfred W. McCoy’s book Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State (2009) is outstanding on the period of the U.S. colonial occupation of the Philippines, yet to be matched by any study in the post–World War II era as far as its depth of research and analysis. McCoy’s A Question of Torture (2006) is also illuminating in discussing the dissemination of torture practices through military and police assistance programs.

Ana Simons, “The Military Advisor as Warrior-King and Other ‘Going Native’ Temptations,” in Anthropology and the U.S. Military: Coming of Age in the 21st Century, edited by Pamela R. Frese and Margaret C. Harrell (2003) is insightful on the phenomenon of military advisers from an anthropological perspective. For regional or country-specific studies, Ronald Spector’s Advice and Support: The Early Years of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, 1941–1960 (1985), is highly informative on Vietnam, along with Robert Brigham’s ARVN: Life and Death in the South Vietnamese Army (2006), based on Vietnamese-language sources, and Douglas Valentine’s The Phoenix Program (1991), which is based on many interviews with CIA and military advisers. Bryan R. Gibby published a study of American military advisers in Korea, The Will to Win: American Military Advisors in Korea, 1946–1953 (2012), which is based primarily on U.S. government documents. Bruce Cumings also sheds light on the programs with better overarching analysis in his two-volume Origins of the Korean War (1981, 1988). On Laos, consult Fred Branfman, Voices From the Plain of Jars (2013); Alfred W. McCoy and Nina Adams ed. Laos: War and Revolution (1970); and Roger Warner, Backfire: The CIA’s Secret War in Laos and Its Link to the Vietnam War (1995). Operation Water Pump (training of a Lao Air Force) is discussed in Colonel Michael E. Haas’s Apollo’s Warriors: U.S. Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War (1997), along with Operation Farm Gate. James S. Corum and Wray R. Johnson’s Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists (2003) has additional information on airpower advisory missions.

The best biography of a military adviser is Neil Sheehan’s masterpiece, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1986). Jonathan Nashel’s book, Edward Lansdale’s Cold War (2006) is also excellent. Stephen G. Craft, American Justice in Taiwan: The 1957 Riots and Cold War Foreign Policy (2016) details the story of a military adviser accused of murdering a local Taiwanese whose acquittal sparked riots across Taiwan. On the School of the Americas, Lesley Gill, The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas (2004) and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, School of the Assassins (1997) should be consulted. Bradley Lynn Coleman, Colombia and the United States: The Making of an Inter-American Alliance, 1939–1960 (2008) is a well- researched study on an earlier period for Colombia and is based on multi-archival research.

For Iraq and Afghanistan, insider accounts and first-person memoirs can be valuable alongside journalistic exposés such as Ann Jones’s “Meet the Afghan Army: Is It a Figment of Washington’s Imagination,” in The Case for Withdrawal From Afghanistan, edited by Nick Turse (2010) and Matthieu Aikins’s “Portrait of an Afghan Assassin,” (2013), which details one of many green-on-blue incidents. The pitfalls associated with privatization are discussed in Jeremy Kuzmarov’s “Distancing Acts: Private Mercenaries and the War on Terror in the Bush Administration” (2014), in James Risen’s Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War (2014), and in Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater (2007). For the example of a military adviser who went native in Afghanistan, see Ann Scott Tyson’s American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant (2014).

Books dealing with human rights and U.S. foreign policy and the connection to military assistance on a worldwide scale include David Schmitz’s Thank God They’re On Our Side: The United States and Right Wing Dictatorship, 1921–1965 (1999); Gabriel Kolko’s Confronting the Third World (1989); and Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s The Political Economy of Human Rights 1: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (2015). A humanist perspective on counterinsurgency is provided in Hearts and Minds: A People’s History of Counterinsurgency, edited by Hannah Gurman (2013). Sarah Snyder’s “The Rise of Human Rights During the Johnson Years,” in Beyond the Cold War: Lyndon Johnson and the New Global Challenges of the 1960s, edited by Francis J. Gavin and Mark Atwood Lawrence (2014), deals with congressional activism on human rights, while James Peck’s Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights (2010) is the best book critically assessing Carter’s human rights policy.

American military assistance to Israel is a sensitive though important topic covered mainly in accounts by journalists or ex-policymakers, including Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Cockburn in Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the Covert-U.S. Israeli Relationship (1992); George W. Ball and Douglas B. Ball, The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel, 1947 to the Present (1992); and Stephen Green, Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations with a Militant Israel (1984). David Schoenbaum, The United States and the State of Israel (1993); Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The U.S. and the Middle East Since 1945 (2002); David Rodman, Arms Transfers to Israel: The Strategic Logic Behind American Military Assistance (2007); Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (1983); and Ali Abuminah, The Struggle for Justice in Palestine (2014) can also be consulted.

There is ample opportunity generally for enterprising scholars to undertake country or regional studies that would ideally make use of both American and international sources to show the imperatives underlying the policy and experience of American advisers as well as the impact of the programs in the host country. Synthetic histories of U.S. foreign relations in the post-war era should also better discuss military assistance programs and their centrality to American grand strategy, along with their consequences for local populations.

Primary Sources

The best primary sources can often be the memoirs of military and CIA advisers, including David Donovan’s book Once a Warrior-King: Memories of an Officer in Vietnam (1985); Edward Lansdale, In the Midst of Wars: An American’s Mission to Southeast Asia, with foreword by William Colby (1972); Ralph McGehee, Deadly Deceits: My Twenty-Five Years in the CIA (1983); and Alan Cornett, Gone Native: An NCO’s Story (2000) for Vietnam, and Donald Nichols, How Many Times Can I Die?(1991) for Korea. Philip Agee’s book Inside the Company (1975) is also illuminating. The National Archives has detailed records of Military Advisory Assistance Groups for specific countries, many of which are in Record Group (RG) 334. The records of the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Public Safety—which provided police training to foreign police forces and was sometimes a cover for the CIA—are based in RG 59 and RG 286 of the State Department. The Office of the Historian’s Foreign Relations of the United States series has details about military assistance programs interspersed often in specific country studies. Volume III, 1951, “European Security and the German Question,” has particular documents related to the Mutual Defense Assistance Act and Germany. James Hausman’s papers are based in the Harvard-Yenching Library Archives. Richard Robinson’s memoirs are also located in Harvard libraries (Robinson was a military adviser in Korea who exposed police torture and then was harassed by the FBI). Congressional hearings including exposés of the Phoenix program in the 1970s, and official military publications are another good primary source. The National Security Archives has posted online two notorious army/CIA manuals that advocated for torture and other extralegal methods including assassination. RAND Corporation and internal army studies such as Alfred R. Hausrath’s “The KMAG Advisor: Role and Problems of the Military Advisor in Developing an Indigenous Army for Combat Operations in Korea” (1957) should also be consulted. First-hand journalistic reporting is additionally invaluable, including books like Margaret Bourke-White’s Portrait of Myself (1963) for Korea, and Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam’s reporting on Vietnam. The documentary film, Sir! No Sir! The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the Vietnam War (David Zeiger, 2005) includes a telling interview with military adviser Donald Duncan, who also penned several of his own articles in the now-defunct Ramparts Magazine. The late A. J. Langgutth’s book Hidden Terrors: The Truth about U.S. Police Operations in Latin America (1979) provides excellent first-hand reporting on police training and the connection to torture in South America.


The author thanks Mark A. Lawrence and the anonymous external reviewer for their assistance.


(1.) See David Vine, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005); and William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1998).

(2.) For a classic critical analysis, see William A. Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (New York: Norton, 2009).

(3.) USAID, U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants and Assistance from International Organizations, July 1, 1945–September 30, 1990, 85; Melvyn Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993); and Miles D. Wolpin, Military Aid and Counterrevolution in the Third World (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1972), 9.

(4.) Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).

(5.) Chester Pach, Arming the Free World: The Origins of the U.S. Military Assistance Program, 1945–1950 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991); William H. Mott IV, U.S. Military Assistance: An Empirical Perspective (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 20; and Andrew J. Birtle, Rearming the Phoenix: U.S. Military Assistance to the Federal Republic of Germany, 1950–1960 (New York: Garland, 1991), 12, 346.

(6.) See, for example, Leffler, Preponderance of Power; John L. Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972); Lawrence S. Kaplan, A Community of Interests: NATO and the Military Assistance Program, 1948–1951 (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense Historical Office, 1980); and Birtle, Rearming the Phoenix.

(7.) Daniele Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (London: Frank Cass, 2005); Gabriel Kolko and Joyce Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945–1954 (New York: Harper & Row, 1972); Richard Cottrell, Gladio, NATO’s Dagger at the Heart of Europe: The Pentagon-Nazi-Mafia Terror Axis (San Diego, CA: Progressive Press, 2015); and Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drugs Trade (New York: Lawrence Hill, 1991).

(8.) Miles D. Wolpin, America Insecure: Arms Transfers, Global Interventionism, and the Erosion of National Security (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991), 106; Miles D. Wolpin, Militarism, Internal Repression and Social Welfare in the Third World (Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1983); and Lars Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy Towards Latin America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), 155, 161–163. Linguist Noam Chomsky and economist Edward S. Herman found in another study published in 1979 that military aid was “positively related to investment climate for U.S. multinational corporations and inversely (negatively) related to the maintenance of democratic order and human rights” (Chomsky and Herman, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism I: The Political Economy of Human Rights, Vol. 1 [Boston: South End Press, 1979]).

(9.) John L. Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 188. Charles Bohlen, a career U.S. Foreign Service officer specializing in Soviet affairs, admitted to an “over-interpretation of communism’s goals.” Quoted in Raymond P. Ojserkis, Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race: The Truman Administration and the U.S. Arms Build Up (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), 1.

(10.) See Frank Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948: A Successful Campaign to Deceive the Nation (New York: Macmillan, 1995). On the politicization of intelligence during the Vietnam War, see George W. Allen, None So Blind: A Personal Account of Intelligence Failure I Vietnam (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), and for parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, see Gabriel Kolko, “Familiar Foreign Policy and Familiar Wars: Vietnam and Iraq,” in Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or How Not to Lear From the Past, eds. Lloyd C. Gardner and Marilyn B. Young (New York: New Press, 2007), 162–174.

(11.) Steve Strasser and James LeMoyne, “Teaching the ABCs of War,” Newsweek, March 28, 1983, 24; Michael McClintock, Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerrilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency and Counter-terrorism, 1940–1990 (New York: Pantheon, 1992), 353. For a larger critique of media coverage of U.S. foreign policy, see Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 1989).

(12.) See Walter Hixson, American Settler Colonialism: A History (New York: Macmillan, 2013); McClintock, Instruments of Statecraft, 78; Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005); Aaron B. O’Connell, Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 192; and Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam, 1963–1975 (New York: Doubleday, 1984), 354–355; Winter Soldier (Newsreel, 1971). At the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit, Vietnam veterans testified about being given a rabbit to care for in boot camp and that the drill sergeant would snap its neck on the last day in order to harden their emotions before going to war. Military commentators today have noted a growing divide between army careerists trained in the authoritarian environment and the U.S. civilian population, which has increasingly adopted liberal values. Robert L. Goldich, “American Military Culture: From Colony to Empire,” in The Modern American Military, ed. David Kennedy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

(13.) Alfred W. McCoy, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009); and Louis A. Perez Jr., “The Pursuit of Pacification: Banditry and the U.S. Occupation of Cuba, 1899–1902,” Journal of Latin American Studies 18.2 (November 1986): 313–332.

(14.) Roger Hilsman, “Internal War: The New Communist Tactic,” in The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him, ed. Lieutenant T.N. Greene (New York: Praeger, 1965), 26, 27.

(15.) Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression.

(16.) Robert Hohn Jones, The Road to Russia: U.S. Lend Lease to the Soviet Union (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969); and Alan P. Dobson, U.S. Wartime Aid to Britain, 1940–1946 (New York: St. Martin’s, 1986).

(17.) Robert H. Holden, Armies Without Nations: Public Violence and State Formation in Central America, 1821–1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 120–121.

(18.) See Kolko and Kolko, The Limits of Power; Leffler, A Preponderance of Power.

(19.) Simone Selva, “The Economic Implications of Early Military Assistance to Western Europe under the Truman Administration, 1949–1951,” Business and Economic History, 2006; Ojserkis, Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race, 50; and Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and War Scare of 1948.

(20.) Ojserkis, Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race, 118, 119, and 124. Defense Secretary Louis Johnson was more in favor of a nuclear arms buildup than conventional military spending, worrying about the latter’s economic effects, though his influence in the administration was superseded by that of Dean Acheson.

(21.) Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. II: The Roaring of the Cataract (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990), 143.

(22.) Ojserkis, Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race, 124, 125.

(23.) Donald A. Carter, Forging the Shield: The U.S. Army in Europe, 1951–1962 (U.S. Army: Center for Military History, 2015), 191; and Birtle, Rearming the Phoenix.

(24.) Gaddis, We Now Know; and his The Cold War: A New History (New York: Penguin, 2010).

(25.) Chan quoted in Vine, Base Nation, 325. The Soviets even had withdrawn troops from northern Iran, the large Danish Island off Bornholm, Norwegian Spitzbergen, and Finland before the Marshall Plan was enacted. Wolpin, Military Aid and Counterrevolution in the Third World, 2.

(26.) Vladislav Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War From Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

(27.) Quoted in Howard Zinn, Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (New York: 1967).

(28.) William I. Hitchcock dismisses the importance of CIA intervention, for example, in “The Marshall Plan and the Creation of the West,” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Vol. 1, eds. Melvyn Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 162.

(29.) A key study detailing the rape is Norman Naimark and Leonid Gibianskiieds, The Establishment of Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe, 1944–1949 (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997), and it is discussed in Gaddis, We Now Know. However, Gaddis ignores wide-scale rapes committed by U.S. troops in Korea and Vietnam, which puts a wrench into his theory of Western moral superiority.

(30.) For a classic account, see Geir Lundestad, The United States and Western Europe Since 1945: From “Empire” By Invitation to Transatlantic Drift (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

(31.) Birtle, Rearming the Phoenix, 262, 263.

(32.) Kolko and Kolko, The Limits of Power; Blum, Killing Hope; Carolyn Eisenberg, Drawing the Line: The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944–1949 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); and Philip Agee and Louis Wolf, Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe (Seacaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1978).

(33.) Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948.

(34.) Leffler, A Preponderance of Power; Kolko and Kolko, The Limits of Power. Portuguese bombs that struck a refugee camp in Zambia targeting Mozambique Liberation Front liberation fighters for example were found to have American markings. “U.S. Arms Policy,” Visit of Under-Secretary to Lisbon, August 29–30, 1963, RG 59, Central Africa Files RG 59, State Department Records on Africa, NA, College Park, Maryland.

(35.) Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies. From 1953 to 1961, the Eisenhower administration had provided over $500 million dollars in military assistance to Spain, with a 1969–1970 Senate investigation discovering that annual U.S.-Spanish military exercises at Moron Air base were designed to prepare a military response to an anti-Franco uprising and keep his regime in power despite his domestic repression.

(36.) For a well-researched account emphasizing the nationalism and idealism underlying the movement based on extensive interviews with female guerrillas, see Janet Hart, New Voices in the Nation: Women and the Greek Resistance, 1941–1964 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).

(37.) Lawrence Wittner, American Intervention in Greece, 1943–1949 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 242, 245, and 253.

(38.) Robert M. Mages, “Without the Need of a Single American Rifleman: James Van Fleet and His Lessons Learned as Commander of the Joint United States Military Advisory and Planning Group During the Greek Civil War, 1948–1949,” in The U.S. Army and Irregular Warfare, 1775–2007, ed. Richard G. Davis (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 2007), 211; Kevin Dougherty, The United States Military in Limited War: Case Studies in Success and Failure, 1945–1949 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2012), 21; and Paul F. Braim, The Will to Win: The Life of General James A. Van Fleet (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001), 202.

(39.) McCoy, Policing America’s Empire, 376.

(40.) See Edward Lansdale, In the Midst of Wars: An American’s Mission to Southeast Asia (New York: Harper & Row, 1972); McCoy, Policing America’s Empire.

(41.) See Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and US-Indonesian Relations, 1960–1968 (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008); and Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007).

(42.) Michael Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011).

(43.) See Blum, Killing Hope.

(44.) “Jungle Faculty,” Newsweek, March 6, 1961, 33; and Michael D. Gambone, Small Wars: Low-Intensity Threats and the American Response Since Vietnam (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2012), 27.

(45.) Wolpin, Military Aid and Counterrevolution in the Third World, 23; and Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy Towards Latin America, 155, 161–163.

(46.) Mobutu was himself trained in parachute jumping by Israeli advisers subcontracted by the United States. The latter numbers are derived from William D. Hartung and Bridget Moix, Deadly Legacy: U.S. Arms to Africa and the Congo War, World Policy Institute, January 2000. See also Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, 175; and Sean Kelly, America’s Tyrant: The CIA and Mobutu of Zaire, how the United States put Mobutu in power, protected him from his enemies, helped him become one of the richest men in the world, and lived to regret it (Washington, DC: American University Press, 1993). An estimated $1.5 billion in military aid was provided to Africa overall in the Cold War.

(47.) See David F. Schmitz, Thank God They’re On Our Side: The United States Support for Right-Wing Dictatorship, 1935–1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Chomsky and Herman, The Political Economy of Human Rights; and Kolko, Confronting the Third World.

(48.) Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, 202.

(49.) Quoted in Katherine Bowie, Rituals of National Loyalty: An Anthropology of the State and the Village Scout Movement in Thailand (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 66; and Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, 114.

(50.) Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary (London: Penguin Books, 1975); and Wolpin, Military Aid and Counterrevolution in the Third World, 8.

(51.) Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy Towards Latin America, 221. McNamara opposed cuts to human rights violating regimes because military advisers were crucial in “extending U.S. influence.”

(52.) Ronald H. Spector, Advice and Support: The Early Years of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, 1941–1960 (New York: Free Press, 1985), 116, 120; Robert F. Futrell, The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia: The Advisory Years to 1865 (Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1981), 10, 24; and Edward J. Marolda and G. Wesley Price III, A Short History of the U.S. Navy and the Southeast Asian Conflict (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1984).

(53.) See Seth Jacobs, Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America’s War in Vietnam, 1950–1963 (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006); and George McT. Kahin, Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Books, 1987).

(54.) Spector, Advice and Support, 228.

(55.) Spector, Advice and Support, 286.

(56.) Tom Engelhardt, The End of Victory Culture: Postwar America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007).

(57.) David Donovan, Once a Warrior-King: Memories of an Officer in Vietnam (New York: McGraw Hill, 1985); Alan Cornett, Gone Native: An NCOs Story (New York: Ballantine, 2000); Ana Simons, “The Military Advisor as Warrior-King and Other ‘Going Native’ Temptations,” in Anthropology and the U.S. Military: Coming of Age in the 21st Century, eds. Pamela R. Frese and Margaret C. Harrell (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2003), 113–135.

(58.) Sex with exotic local women was always a perk of empire. For the British parallel, see Brett L. Shadle, The Souls of White Folk: White Settlers in Kenya, 1900s–1920s (Manchester, U.K.: University of Manchester Press, 2014). Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1988) provides a brilliant profile of John Paul Vann, the most famous of the advisers, who had many mistresses.

(59.) Jonathan Nashel, Edward Lansdale’s Cold War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005); and Richard H. Schultz, The Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam (New York: Harper Collins, 1999).

(60.) Lansdale quoted in Spector, Advice and Support, 243.

(61.) See Geoffrey C. Stewart, “Hearts, Minds and CôngDânVụ: The Special Commissariat for Civic Action and Nation-Building in Diệm’s Vietnam, 1955–1957,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 6.3 (Fall 2011), 44–100.

(62.) Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression.

(63.) Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression.

(64.) Noam Chomsky, Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture (Boston: South End Press, 1992), 50, 51; and Col. Michael E. Haas, Apollo’s Warriors: U.S. Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press, 1997).

(65.) Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, 90; and Robert K. Brigham, “Dreaming Different Dreams: The United States and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam,” in A Companion to the Vietnam War, eds. Marilyn B. Young and Robert Buzzanco (Chichester, U.K.: Blackwell, 2004), 146–148.

(66.) Robert K. Brigham, ARVN: Life and Death in the South Vietnamese Army (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006), 7, 12.

(67.) See Donald Duncan, “The Whole Thing Was a Lie,” in A Vietnam Primer Published by the Editors of Ramparts Magazine (San Francisco: Ramparts, 1966), 76–96; Sir! No Sir! The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the Vietnam War, directed by David Zeiger (Displaced Films, 2005).

(68.) Brigham, ARVN.

(69.) Frank Armbruster, A Military and Police Security Program for South Vietnam (Hudson, NY: Hudson Institute, August 10, 1967), HI-881-RR, DOD; and Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (New York: Morrow, 1991).

(70.) William A. Williams, Empire as a Way of Life: An Essay on the Causes and Character of America’s Present Predicament Along with a Few Thoughts About an Alternative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980); and David T. Cortright, Soldiers in Revolt (Chicago: Haymarket, 2005).

(71.) Fred Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013).

(72.) See McCoy, “Foreword,” in Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars, xv.

(73.) Sarah Snyder, “The Rise of Human Rights During the Johnson Years,” in Beyond the Cold War: Lyndon Johnson and the New Global Challenges of the 1960s, eds. Francis J. Gavin and Mark Atwood Lawrence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 238, 239. Hays quoted in John M. Swomley Jr., The Military Establishment (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 146. This edition features a foreword by Senator George S. McGovern.

(74.) Guy J. Pauker et al. In Search of Self-Reliance: U.S. Security Assistance to the Third World Under the Nixon Doctrine, A Report Prepared for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, June 1973), 2, 3; Michael T. Klare, American Arms Supermarket (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984), 40, 41, 108, and 116; and Wolpin, Military Aid and Counterrevolution in the Third World, 1. These expenditures financed the training of more than 320,000 foreign military men from seventy nations. The Shah of Iran, who possessed among the worst human rights records in the world, was allowed to purchase Maverick missiles and a $500 million IBEX electronic surveillance system as part of what one analyst termed “the most rapid build-up of military power under peacetime conditions of any nation in the history of the world.”

(75.) See Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 206–208; and Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy Towards Latin America, 252, 253.

(76.) James Abourezk, interviewed by Jeremy Kuzmarov, Fall 2008; and Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression.

(77.) Report to the Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States, “Stopping U.S. Assistance to Foreign Police and Prisons” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976); Jonathan Marshall, Drug Wars: Corruption, Counter-Insurgency and Covert Operations in the Third World (San Francisco: Cohan and Cohan, 1991); and Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

(78.) Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy Towards Latin America, 247, 248, 249, and 250.

(79.) Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy Towards Latin America, 216.

(80.) See Joseph Trento, Prelude to Terror: The Rogue CIA, The Legacy of America’s Private Intelligence Network and the Compromising of American Intelligence (London: Carroll & Graf, 2005). Trento’s important work is sadly ignored by diplomatic historians like Daniel Sargent of UC Berkeley in a supposedly comprehensive history of U.S. foreign policy in the 1970s and others focused on the issue of human rights.

(81.) James Peck, Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010).

(82.) Michael T. Klare and Cynthia Arnson, Supplying Repression: U.S. Support for Authoritarian Regimes Abroad (Washington, DC: Institute for Policy Studies, 1981), 4, 15, and 54.

(83.) Michael T. Klare, American Arms Supermarket.

(84.) Egypt was ruled by Anwar Sadat, who received several million dollars in CIA payoffs after shifting the country to the West, and subsequently Hosni Mubarak.

(85.) “Defense Spending: The Trend Is Upward,” in U.S. Defense Policy: Weapons, Strategy and Commitments, 2nd ed. Congressional Quarterly (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1981), 5.

(86.) Klare and Arnson, Supplying Repression; Klare, American Arms Supermarket, 124; “The Huyser Mission in Iran, January 4–February 4, 1979,” Jimmy Carter Presidential Papers, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Materials, Box 34, Iran, Jimmy Carter presidential Library, Atlanta, Georgia.

(87.) Theodore Shackley, The Third Option: An American View of Counterinsurgency Operations (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1981).

(88.) Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: The U.S., Latin America and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 100; and Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).

(89.) Ronald W. Cox, Power and Profit: U.S. Policy in Central America (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1994), 86; Michael McClintock, The American Connection: State Terror and Popular Resistance in El Salvador, Vol. I (London: Zed Books, 1985); and LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions.

(90.) Chris H. Gray, Postmodern War: The New Politics of Conflict (New York: Guilford, 1997), 18; and James S. Corum and Wray R. Johnson, Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003).

(91.) Charles Clements, Witness to War (New York: Bantam Books, 1984); and Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: The U.S. and Latin America (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1986), 5, 6.

(92.) Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (New York: Vintage, 1994), 52.

(93.) U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Military Assistance Facts (Washington, DC: 1969), 16–17.

(94.) Edwin Lieuwin, “The Latin American Military,” in U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on American Republics Affairs, Survey of the Alliance for Progress, Compilation of Studies and Hearings (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969), 11; Mike Klare, “U.S. Military Operations in Latin America,” NACLA Newsletter, March 1970; and Michael T. Klare, War Without End: American Planning for the Next Vietnams (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 278–281. See also Charles Maechling Jr., “Counterinsurgency: The First Ordeal by Fire,” in Low-Intensity Warfare: Counterinsurgency, Proinsurgency and Antiterrorism in the Eighties, eds. Michael T. Klare and Peter Kornbluh (New York: Pantheon, 1988); and Chomsky, Turning the Tide. An informative study focused on the immediate post–World War II period is Bradley Lynn Coleman, Colombia and the United States: The Making of an Inter-American Alliance, 1939–1960 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2008).

(95.) Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, School of the Assassins (New York: Orbis Books, 1997), 8; and Lesley Gill, School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004). Hector Gramajo, a key architect of Guatemala’s counterinsurgency war convicted in civil court of overseeing the torture of a U.S. nun, was also trained there, along with Luis Alonso Discua, founder of death battalion 316 in Honduras. Representative Martin Meehan noted that if “the SOA held an alumni meeting, it would bring together some of the most unsavory thugs in the hemisphere” (School of the Assassins, p. 8).

(96.) Nelson-Pallmeyer, School of the Assassins, 32; and Wolpin, Military Aid and Counterrevolution, 78.

(97.) Robert S. McNamara quoted in William Michael Schmidli, The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere: Human Rights and U.S. Cold War Policy Towards Argentina (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 24.

(98.) See McCoy, A Question of Torture; and Alfred W. McCoy, Torture and Impunity: The CIAs Coercive Interrogation Doctrine (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012).

(99.) Gill, The School of the Americas.

(100.) Hal Brands, Latin America’s Cold War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). See the appropriately withering review of Brands’s book by distinguished scholar Stephen Rabe in Diplomatic History (“Human Rights, Latin America and the Cold War,” Diplomatic History 36.1 [January 2012]: 231). Rabe suggests Brands should have met with the Mothers of the Disappeared rather than visiting the archives for one day and finding one veiled reference to Cuban or foreign subterfuge in a document that he insinuates justifies supporting torture and murder. See also Stephen G. Rabe, The Killing Zone: Latin America’s Cold War (New York: Oxford, 2010).

(101.) James D. Cockcroft, Latin America: History, Politics and U.S. Policy, 2d ed. (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1996), 389.

(102.) The left-wing critique is presented most formidably by Noam Chomsky in Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1983).

(103.) Peter Grose, Israel in the Mind of America (New York: Schocken Books, 1983); and David Schoenbaum, The United States and the State of Israel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Chomsky, Fateful Triangle.

(104.) Laleh Khalili, “The Location of Palestine in Global Counterinsurgency,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42.3 (2010), 426.

(105.) Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The U.S. and the Middle East Since 1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 94; David Rodman, Arms Transfers to Israel: The Strategic Logic Behind American Military Assistance (Brighton, U.K.: Sussex Academic Press, 2007), 14; “Helicopters Diverted to Israel,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, July 31, 1967, 223; “The Middle East: U.S. Policy, Israel, Oil and the Arabs,” Congressional Quarterly, April 1974 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1974), 3.

(106.) Stephen Green, Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations with a Militant Israel (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1984), 201, 208. In an example of the imperial presidency, Rostow and LBJ were apparently aware of the painted-over RF-4CS in the Negev though Congress, and the American public were not. A good general history of the 6-Day War is Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984).

(107.) Chris J. Krisinger, “Operation Nickel Grass: Airlift in Support of National Policy,” Airpower Journal 3.1 (Spring 1989): 16–28; Eric Proksch, The Technology of Killing: A Military and Political History of Antipersonnel Weapons (London, U.K.: Zed Books, 1995), 178; Stewart Reiser, The Israeli Arms Industry: Foreign Policy, Arms Transfers and Military Doctrine of a Small State (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989); and Stephen Green, Living by the Sword: America and Israel in the Middle East (Brattleboro, VT: Amana Books, 1988), 96–97. General Creighton Abrams shipped items clandestinely stripped from U.S. Army Seventh Army units in Germany without the consent of the West German government. Weapon drops into El Arish, Egypt, in Occupied Sinai were considered by the Egyptians a direct form of U.S. military intervention in the conflict.

(108.) Dina Rasor, ed., More Bucks, Less Bang: How the Pentagon Buys Ineffective Weapons (Washington, DC: Fund for Constitutional Government Project on Military Procurement, 1983), 276; and James G. Burton, The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1993), 128.

(109.) Rasor, More Bucks, Less Bang, 276.

(110.) Ken Klippenstein and Paul Gottinger, “U.S. Provides Israel the Weapons Used on Gaza,” truthout, July 23, 2013; Juan R.I. Cole, “Top 5 Ways the U.S. Is Israel’s Accomplice in War Crimes in Gaza,” Informed Comment, August 4, 2014; and Ali Winston, “U.S. Police Get Antiterror Training in Israel on Privately Funded Trips,” Reveal, September 16, 2014; Ali Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), 26.

(111.) Seymour M. Hersh, “Watching Lebanon: Washington’s Interests in Israel’s War,” The New Yorker, August 21, 2006. The Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran precludes the possibility of invasion for now.

(112.) Catherine Lutz, ed., The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 5. On Africa, where training missions have been extended to dozens of countries, see Nick Turse, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015).

(113.) Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007); “The Blackwater Verdict: Finally, Some Accountability for a Massacre in Iraq,” The Nation, November 17, 2014, 4. In a rare exception, one of the main culprits of the Nisour massacre was convicted on murder charges in a U.S. court.

(114.) For a review see Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Distancing Acts: Private Mercenaries and the War on Terror in the Bush Administration,” Asia-Pacific Journal, December 2014.

(115.) Matthieu Aikins, “Portrait of an Afghan Assassin,” Mother Jones, October 7, 2013.

(116.) Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of the American Empire (New York: Owl Books, 2000).