Lately I've been aging myself a lot. Or perhaps I just feel it more acutely because the odometer made another turn on Monday. But with classes full of students born between 1995-1999 it's amazing the things I find myself having to explain lately, like what "cable TV" means as opposed to traditional network TV. Give it another decade and the kids raised on streaming and on-demand won't even know the basics of how TV delivers content. Sunrise, sunset.

It has really increased my interest, though, in taking advantage of more opportunities coming my way to write about things that the current under-30 generation remembers only hazily or not at all. Since I was all of four or five when it happened, there is a huge swath of Americans out there who have never heard of the latest thing I'm trying to pitch: the 1983 invasion of Grenada.

Yes, the time that the United States invaded a pitifully small country explicitly to cheer itself up. Because our fee-fees were hurting from Vietnam. And since Reagan was president and "Woo! U-S-A #1!" passed for a policy white paper in those days, we didn't even try especially hard to make up a cover story for doing so. We settled on "They have a runway Soviet bombers could use" without mentioning that Canada and Britain built it for them, not Russia, and "There are some American students at a medical school campus there" without mentioning that they were in no danger whatsoever and, like the State Department routinely has to do, they could have simply been loaded onto a plane and evacuated if necessary.

Let's just say it wasn't a good cover story and leave it at that. The real reason was to give couch potato America something to cheer about. It was a sad spectacle. You have to squint pretty hard to look at the invasion and overthrow of a tiny island with a population the size of Joliet, IL and see a great military accomplishment. It was the equivalent of LeBron James playing one-on-one with a six year-old. But that didn't stop the Reagan administration for whooping a high-fiving like it was V-J Day or something. Nineteen Americans and around 100 Grenadian and Cuban personnel died. One military commander famously said American troops were at far greater risk of being shot by one another than by the opposition.

In hindsight it reads a bit like a preview of Trumpism. Politically the comparisons are thin; compared to the current mess, Reagan's administration looks like Churchill's war cabinet. But the core part of the electorate that so loved Reagan – the suburbanites and "Reagan Democrats" were that decade's version of "White Working Class" trope today – is the same part of our society that is responding so well to Trump. They were and are exactly the kind of people who would think starting a war to show everyone (read: mostly themselves) that America still kicks ass is a good idea. It's the kind of person to whom it would never occur that people dying (not to mention millions upon millions being spent) to provide what is essentially a national pep rally for impotent middle-aged white men who associate military power with self-esteem and virility may not be worth it. That beating up a country that didn't have an air force so that people butthurt about Vietnam could feel big and strong again was, well, pretty goddamned pathetic.

At the time it was kind of a blip. It was over almost as soon as it began. Looking back, it looks like a preview of everything that would prove to be a nightmare about 21st century American politics.

48 thoughts on “OPERATION FEELGOOD”

  • The Reagan Library is still pushing this stuff:

    "The Air Force One Discovery Center is an immersive, educational experience designed to inspire the next generation of student leaders. The Discovery Center allows students to face the responsibilities and challenges faced by the Executive Branch, military, and media in a realistic, interactive environment. The historical scenario centers on the military action taken on the island of Grenada in October of 1983. Students play real life characters who worked under President Reagan or General Vessey. Along with a combination of pre-visit curriculum and post-visit activities, students will practice and improve their critical thinking and decision-making skills in a timed simulation led by the Discovery Center Educators."

  • The Reagan era began my awakening to the fact that yes, millions of people could lie to themselves, that there was no guarantee that honesty would out in the mulligan stew that makes up the American electorate. It has since gotten immeasurably worse, what with deliberate miseducation, encouraged intellectual laziness, daily media blandishments and the unabated flogging of American exceptionalism. Only islands of sanity like MSNBC and blogs like this one added to the otherwise toxic mix might, just might, turn things around. I can cling to the idea that there are new ingredients to the recipe and evidence of history's general unpredictability to avoid total despair, anyway.

  • And Clint Eastwood of yelling at a chair fame got a movie out of that invasion.

    A good case can be made that it – any one of the horrible "its" you'd care to imagine – actually is Reagan's fault.

  • The contemporary Clint Eastwood movie Heartbreak Ridge is a particularly funny artifact of this era, as it builds to a dramatic climax of Eastwood's Marines storming Grenada and heroically reclaiming the honor of the Marine Corps by defeating a single beat-up old Russian APC. It's not a film that has aged particularly well.

  • As Kevin above said, it was more to divert attention away from the disaster in Lebanon…of course most Americans swallowed it whole then.

  • Well, I guess I'm about 30 years older than you and the political context of Grenada was pretty important for the Reaganites at the time. It occurred 1 year after the British/Argentine Malvinas/Falklands war and Thatcher could brag about defeating the Argentine junta. It also occurred the same year as the embarrassing Lebanon American and French Marine barracks that killed hundreds of soldiers. So Reagan decided to invade Grenada to show that the USA was awesome. It was pathetic and seen so at the time except for the usual Republican suspects.

  • @ mainmata:

    x 1,000.

    Perhaps it's because the Mayaguez was fresh in my mind and perhaps because I knew that Reagan was a complete shitheel, I never bought the whole "Domino Calypso Mambo"

  • It was in direct reaction to Reagan getting a bunch of marines blown up in Lebanon, followed by…running the hell our of Lebanon with his tail between his legs.

    Like a bullied kid finding a smaller kid to bully, Ray-gun found Grenada.

    We spent the next few years trying to make sure the dumb sonofabitch didn't start a war in El Salvador or some such as well.


  • No direct line from Reverend Ronnie to Dangerous Donnie, more like a holographic carousel with calliope music run wild in the background.
    Granada means pomegranate, for what it's worth.

  • @mainmata: Yep. The UK was the former colonial power in Grenada, nominal guarantor of security, provider of aid and builder of runways, and led at the time by Reagan's BFF Maggie Thatcher… but not even consulted before Reagan instigated his splendid little war.

  • It's worse in China. I had to explain to a 20-something Chinese friend who Zhao Ziyang was, in spite of the fact that he was at one time Deng Xiaoping's hand-picked successor for supreme leader. My young friend thought he was a pop star!

    In the US, i've had to explain what a "party line" was, with four parties on the same telephone line. Like cashiers actually figuring out the change on your purchase, party lines are long gone.

  • Ed, I was in college myself at the time of the glorious liberation of Grenada. Most of my friends were very much "AMERICA FUCK YEAH!!" which was my first real exposure to that kind of "my country right or wrong" bullshit.

    "In hindsight it reads a bit like a preview of Trumpism." I'd say it was a preview of Reagan's let's whack the fuck out of Central America and massacre a lot of native peoples in the name of "fighting Communism" foreign policy. Which in addition to the hundreds of thousands of dead, led to an honest to god Constitutional crisis back in here in the USA (Iran-Contra, natch), which was promptly swept under the rug with a couple of pardons and a general refusal all around to go after the kindly, early-stage Alzheimer's Reagan.

    (Insert standard Trump hate disclaimer here.) Trump's junta has not yet (to our knowledge) invaded any (more) countries. During the campaign, Trump called the 2003 invasion of Iraq a mistake. I'm sure Kelly and McMaster would like to go after Iran, but until they DO, the Trump admin. has a lot less blood on its hands than any of its post WWII predecessors. So far.

  • Weren't those U.S. medical students down there because the AMA limits med school slots in the U.S.A., to keep the number of doctors down and their wages up? I seem to remember reading something about that, but all I could find in the 30 seconds of Googling I was willing to invest were articles about them limiting residency slots.

  • Another writer already made the link between Grenada and the Beirut barracks bombing, but it's worth adding that they were just two days apart. The Grenada operation was so hastily improvised that the Airborne units sent to the island didn't even have proper maps and had to use tourist maps from local off-base bookstores.

    From HistoryNet:

    Early on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, a truck bomb detonated beside the U.S. Marine barracks at Lebanon’s Beirut International Airport, killing 241 American servicemen. That evening President Ronald Reagan gave his final approval for Operation Urgent Fury— the American invasion not of Lebanon but of Grenada. Two battalions of elite U.S. Army Rangers had received a warning order days before and were already preparing to assault the Caribbean island. But at Fort Bragg, N.C., the 82nd Airborne Division, which would supply most of the invasion force, was caught by surprise.

    So soon after the attack on the Marine barracks most of the division’s senior leaders assumed they would be heading to the Middle East, as part of what they were sure would be an overwhelming reaction to the Beirut tragedy. In a scene repeated many times that night, one battalion commander returned to find his briefing room walls papered in maps. When asked what the maps were for, a young staff officer replied, “They are of Lebanon and Beirut sir.”

    “Tear all that s _ _ _ down,” the commander replied. “We’re heading for Grenada.”

    Perplexed, the staff officer asked, “Why are we invading Spain?”

    In the end there were no maps of Grenada to be had anywhere at Fort Bragg. In an inspired moment a division staff officer headed for downtown Fayetteville, where he procured tourist maps of the island. Planners superimposed a military grid atop the map and distributed copies to the invading troops before they boarded their air craft. Interestingly, many senior leaders were relying on articles copied out of The Economist for the most up-to-date intelligence on the island.

  • It's also just about the only one of these such adventures that worked out well, possibly because the country was invaded by an army of nearly the same size as the whole population.

  • And then of course there was the Sonic Assault, "Rockin' the Papal Nuncio's Crib" in Panama when Manuel "The Pineapple" Noriega decided that he was REALLY the boss down there and started fucking with the canal'n'shit.

    And the downside of that was that we had to invade fucking Iraq so that B$1 could "one-up it".

    "until they DO, the Trump admin. has a lot less blood on its hands than any of its post WWII predecessors. So far."

    I think Donniethinskin is practicing on the U.S. population with his punitive (denial of)healthcare initiative.

  • @ Safety Man!

    Bright, young eyes and a cold, dead soul would be good. As is, I have to wear specs–but I got the "cold, dead soul" part down–well, actually, I don't have a "soul" in the sense that most christians seem to believe but, yaknowudimean.

  • I remember Grenada and remember being pretty flabbergasted that Reagan was being allowed to get away with that bullshit. But then again, I spent all of the Ronnie Raygun years flabbergasted and pissed off. When I wasn't stoned, that is.

  • Yeah, I'm with Mothra. I wasn't even politically-minded back then and yet I could tell Reagan wasn't all there and his administration was a crazyhouse. And Grenada? Seriously?!?! Makes sense he was trying to make up for Beirut.

  • Will you guys give up on that Lebanon nonsense?
    Reagan's adventure in Lebanon is our Tiananmin Square: it didn't happen, if it happened it was different than you say, USA! USA! USA!

    Besides, they were marines. If army or airforce are killed it's a tragedy and Carter's fault, but marines all die heroes. Yay Reagan.

    Will we get to repeat the scenario where we can't prosecute some government officials because their friends in government claim that the evidence against them is a national secret? Good times.

  • Grenada was part of the joke in one of the Die Hard movies, I think the second one. The bad guys are riding somewhere and reminiscing about the glory days in Grenada. The youngest guy remarks that he wishes that he had been with them. One of the older guys says something along the lines of "we wish you had been there too" and then kills him. Only the real insiders, the guys who had been through the hell of Grenada, were getting in on this caper. The whole theater laughed. It was an obvious parody of more serious movies, like those World War II tontine movies, except with Grenada. (Yes, I know, someone getting casually murdered shouldn't be funny, but in the context of a tongue in cheek Die Hard movie it was hilarious. Grenada alone would have worked as a punchline.)

  • All of which underscores the insanity of electing someone to office just because of name recognition and who they play on the big screen or tv. Americans: they dumb.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    And Clint Eastwood – loyal Republican that he was, is, and evermore shall be – directed a movie about the invasion, called "Heartbreak Ridge."
    Don't bother seeing it.

    Hey, someone had to glorify that exercise in making all of the white dudes who dodged or otherwise missed Vietnam feel like America could still kick ass!
    USA! USA!! USA!!!

    And Ed, while I like the LeBron analogy was good, I feel it didn't do justice to how lopsided this "war" really was.
    It was more like some 8th Grade bully beating up a quiet kid in Kindergarten – and not for the kid's lunch money, but just because he was mad, and the kid was an easy target.

    Basically, we did it 'cause we could!

  • I was there! Well, in a submarine nearby providing support services [*]. We were returning from local ops when we got the word to turn left and head to Grenada.

    Our biggest problem was that the smokers on board had mostly only brought enough cigarettes for the usual short local run. Being unexpectedly extended to support the "invasion" was a source of great consternation. Nasty, stinky old cigarette butts being re-rolled in copy paper and such like. Fun times!

    [*] The fact that we had boats there is UNCLAS and was part of the press release at the time.

  • I remember watching the Frontline episode about the Grenada invasion. They found some bitter military historian who observed that the NYPD could have successfully invaded Grenada.

  • "Looking back, it looks like a preview of everything that would prove to be a nightmare about 21st century American politics."

    Most recently like Hillary championing the Libya bombing and Syrian civil war and the destruction of those beleaguered nations because she wanted to show what a "tough girl" she is. "We came, we saw, he died" (cackle). That is now the epitaph of her horrible political career.

  • @ geoff:

    My immediate thought on going to the link was:


    My second thought was:

    "WTF–Brazille knew this BEFORE the election AND told Bernie and neither of them felt the need to tell the rest of us?"

    My third thought was:

    "Politics NEVER fucking change."

    And, lastly:

    "The BernJilGarbroz will be out in force on this.".

    @ Major Kong:

    That's gotta be the Taj Molehill of fallout shelters–or as we used to call them back in the Kennedy years–the cellar. {;>0.

    @ Karl KoldKKKut:

    Do all of us a favor (yourself included) get some vigorous exercise–at least a half hour per day–eat wisely, avoid stimulants like FuckTheNew'sCorpse and CANCEL your internet service! Kthxbye.

  • Ten Bears – Other uses for bible paper…

    My grandfather told a story of how he had come to read the bible multiple times. They only had an outhouse and he related that "No matter how cold it was I always tried to finish the page before I tore it out and used it."

  • Dropped out of college that Spring, just finished travel agent school and a couple of days before I got my first agent job. Tropical island nation being invaded not great news for a newbie travel agent.

    I wrote a paper (HS polisci class, 1980) on what ended up being the short lived Lebanon peace settlement of the late 70's. Was disappointed to see my conclusion that it would be short lived come true and than Raygun's ham footed policy that led to the barracks bombing. O, the early 80's.

  • After the Japanese' trans-Pacific paper ballon bombs torched off a significant chunk of forestland not too far south of here my grandfather went into the business of building bombshelters. Did quite well. Call 'em root cellars these days. Got one downstairs.

    Those days Saint Ronald of Ray Gun had me living in a school bus on the High Cascade with The 'Ol Lady and a couple of kids, a couple of goats, a Doberman Pincer, and a three year supply of guns, dried goods and ammo

  • @mainmata; I also remember the particularly-stupid war over "Las Islas Malvinas", where the UK felt the need to invade a handful of sheepherders who drank British tea and weren't bothering anyone in their isolation. It was to prove "Woot! Britain #1!"

    Before Teh Internetz, we had Doonesbury and Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County, mostly) to fill us in on the idiocies of the gov't we were living under. In the late 1980s, comedians like Robin Williams spoke out about the insanity we were seeing (like James Watts insisting trees caused pollution or St. Ronnie idiotic phrases….which now that I come to think of it, were often more coherent than what we are getting from our current resident.

    Before the Grenada war, if you recall, St. Ronnie was shot in a botched asssassination attempt. I remember it very clearly because General Hospital was preempted (and all the shows following it) by breathless reporters telling us absolutely nothing new (he was shot, he's at the hospital)…for hours and hours and hours.

  • @ Katydid:

    Since you mention it.

    Every so often some idiot says that it is glorious that we live in a democracy which sees a "peaceful transition" from one administration to the next–every 4-8 years.

    Sure it does. Well, except for the 4 sitting presidents we KNOW were assassinated and 2 that might have been (Taylor, Harding)*. There are also another 14 who were the targets of plots that were in some stage of planning/execution when discovered and stopped/aborted. So, counting the current P.O.S.otUS, 40% of U.S. presidents have been, at some level, the targets of violent individuals/groups. And those are just the ones that have been documented/verified.

    Peaceful transitions, indeed.

    * All from Wiki, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_presidential_assassination_attempts_and_plots

  • @Demo; maybe that's why the right-wing are convinced any sitting Democratic president in the past 20 years is going to declare martial law and remain in power. After all, that's what they hope their president would do.

  • ..And six-years later (Dec. of '89) G.H.W. Bush invaded central American powerhouse threat to "our way of life" – Panama!

    Bush had been in office only for a few months but things were going against him. He had stimulated the U.S. economy but failed to increase tax revenues, spending cuts, the national debt still growing. Japan became a huge economic threat. Gas prices and unemployment were up. And – he suffered from "the wimp factor".

    In late spring, a few months after his inauguration, the comedy group, "The Capitol Steps" did a parody paired to the music of "We Need a Little Christmas" called "We Need a Little Isthmus" with lyrics:

    "George, you need a Little Isthmus
    Right this very moment…
    Give Manuel the business
    If you now begin it
    We could be home by Christmas
    We might even win it!!

    The U.S. invaded Panama that December.

    Audio clip: http://www.capsteps.com/sounds/bush-isthmus.mp3

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