5-1: Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic

Vacation Haven

Today the Dominican Republic is another one of those places that used to house communists and we had to stay away from them. Boy, things do change.

In the Army I served in a light infantry brigade. In short that means the outfit’s missions would be short term–hit and keep moving–as opposed to hit and occupy. Unlike soldiers drafted into the normal routine of spending eight weeks in basic training and then moving on to some sort of specialty, i.e., advanced individual training, e.g., medic, military police, communications, or even infantry, we trained together through every stage. Thus, my platoon leader and company commander in all stages of training were my leaders overseas.

My squad mates and I trained together at every level: rifle team, squad, platoon, company, battalion, and brigade. We were trained and certified with pistols, rifles, hand grenades, grenade launchers, machine guns, bayonets, and bazookas. There was a war going on in Vietnam and we were convinced that there is where we were going. Heck, we even “attacked” a Vietcong village in the snows of Camp Drum, New York.

Are We Going to Nam or Some Other Commie Outpost?

During the spring of 1965 there was political unrest in Santo Domingo. Claiming to be afraid that they would become another Cuba, i.e., a communist satellite of the Soviet Union, President Lyndon Johnson sent in the Marines. This did not sit well with Latin America in general because most of those nations resented ubiquitous US military presence in their part of the world.

About a year later violence broke out again in Santo Domingo. We, the light infantry, had pretty much completed our unit training and were immediately turned into riot police. After nearly a year of jungle training–much of it in the snow–and having convinced ourselves that we were going to Southeast Asia, now we were just as convinced that we were going to Santo Domingo.

A&E and The History Channel report that

“President Johnson declared that he had taken action (in 1965) to forestall the establishment of a “communist dictatorship” in the Dominican Republic. As evidence, he provided American reporters with lists of suspected communists in that nation. Even cursory reviews of the list revealed that the evidence was extremely flimsy–some of the people on the list were dead …

Was Johnson lying, was he lied to, did we simply have faulty intelligence? http://history.com continues,

“… In the United States, politicians and citizens who were already skeptical of Johnson’s policy in Vietnam heaped scorn on Johnson’s statements about the ‘communist danger’ in the Dominican Republic. Such criticism would become more and more familiar to the Johnson administration as the U.S. became more deeply involved in the war in Vietnam.

My concern here, trying to be objective, is that soldiers can be sent anywhere the Pentagon wants to send them, despite their training and Military Occupational Specialty. The 196th Light Infantry Brigade ended up in Vietnam as combat infantry soldiers. But we might just as easily have done a tour in Santo Domingo as riot police.

And so I am left with questions that can never be answered. Even so, they are not rhetorical to me. What were we defending in Vietnam–and Cambodia for that matter–why were we in Santo Domingo, how would the soldiering experiences differ in these places, what’s the difference between walking into a riot and being ambushed, what would happen if rioting in Santo Domingo escalated into more militaristic situations? And finally, would my current feelings and beliefs about war be any different if they had sent me to Santo Domingo? I wonder if my presence there would have helped to promote peace.

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