The U.S. Army School of the Americas: mission and policy during the Cold War
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The Cuban Revolution was the watershed of U.S.-Latin American relations in the cold war and led a generation of policymakers to work assiduously to prevent its recurrence. The U.S. Army School of the Americas became a small part of a systemic effort by the United States to provide Latin America with the skills to enforce internal security and stymie Communist subversion. The United States Army in 1939 had begun a series of informal training sessions with Latin American soldiers and officers designed to promote regional cooperation in the years leading to World War II. A decade later, the U.S. Army established a formal training center at Ft. Gulick at the eastern edge of the zone and named it the U.S. Army Caribbean School. When the Kennedy administration renamed the training facility at Ft. Gulick in 1963, the U.S. Army School of the Americas had already served thousands of Latin American military for over two decades. Despite the new name, however, the school quickly returned to its subordinate position in the U.S. Army’s training and doctrine command as subsequent presidents concentrated on Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and the nuclear arms race. The unsavory legacy of U.S. policy in Central America during the 1980s led critics in the 1990s to dub the facility, now at Ft. Benning, Georgia, the “School of Assassins” and demand its closure. But the school rarely played more than a tangential role in U.S. policy. Instead, the United States preferred to use military missions and special forces teams to reinforce authoritarian rule in Latin America. And administration after administration bolstered and even installed dictatorships because they believed that only the region’s military were capable of maintaining order and protecting American interests. The literature of the period explains U.S. policy as either the result of national security concerns or the product of advancing economic imperialism. Examining the history of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, however, reveals that the focus on the security/economics dynamic has effectively obscured the legacy of American paternalism on United States foreign and military relations with Latin America.