U.S. Occupies Haiti

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 195th installment in the series. 

July 28, 1915: U.S. Occupies Haiti 

When the First World War began there was already a long history of American interference in the internal affairs of Latin American and Caribbean countries, including the Spanish-American War, which brought the U.S. control of Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1898, as well as numerous minor interventions characterized as “gunboat diplomacy” or “dollar diplomacy,” like the occupation of Nicaragua from 1912-1933. These actions were generally intended to protect American lives and property, prop up pro-U.S. regimes, and prevent European powers from gaining a foothold in the New World by taking control of bankrupt states that defaulted on European loans. 

The outbreak of hostilities in Europe did nothing to change this pattern, and may even have encouraged a more muscular foreign policy in “America’s backyard,” prompted by fears that the continental struggle might spill over into the Western Hemisphere. These concerns weren’t unfounded: in 1917 U.S. public opinion was enraged by the Zimmerman Telegram incident, in which Germany tried to distract the U.S. by stirring up war with Mexico (poisoning an already troubled relationship). A bit less plausibly, in 1917 the U.S. also bought the western Virgin Islands from Denmark – giving the Danes little choice in the matter – in part because of fears they could serve as a German U-boat base. 

Germany also had a large historical presence in Haiti, where German merchants and landowners controlled the majority of the island republic’s foreign trade and much of its agricultural production. After the country descended into chaos in 1908, the small but powerful group of German settlers funded rural rebel groups (cacos), leading to a succession of short-lived dictatorships from 1908-1915. Fearing Germany might use the disorder as a pretext to establish a military presence on the island, in March 1915 the U.S. helped install a new dictator, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, to limit German influence and protect U.S. interests in Haiti. 

However Sam was a bad choice of strongman, completely lacking political sense not to mention any sort of conscience. On July 27, 1915 he ordered the summary execution of 167 political prisoners without even a pretense of a trial, then tried to take refuge from the enraged public in the French Embassy. To no avail: disregarding diplomatic protocol, the next day an angry mob stormed the building, beat him unconscious, and then tore his body apart in the street. 

Once again citing the threat of German invasion, as well as Haiti’s strategic position on the approach to the Panama Canal, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson responded swiftly by sending several hundred U.S. Marines from U.S. Navy ships in Port-au-Prince harbor to restore order that same day. The Marines met with virtually no resistance in the capital, but would soon be given responsibility for crushing the cacos concentrated in Haiti’s mountainous, rural north, where they ultimately killed anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 rebels. Over the course of the occupation about 20,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Haiti at various times (top, U.S. Marines fight Haitian rebels; below, more Marines embark on the USS Connecticut in Philadelphia, bound for Haiti).

Most ordinary Haitians resented the U.S. occupation and agreed with Dantes Bellegarde, a nationalist politician, who argued it was “in violation of the right of the people and in contempt of Haiti’s sovereignty.” Unfortunately for them this was just the beginning of a long-term engagement, as America ended up maintaining a presence in Haiti for 19 years. 

In the weeks following the landings U.S. officials took control of most of the government’s basic functions, including public works and customs administration, and soon disbanded the army, which was replaced with a U.S.-trained police force known as the Garde D’Haiti.  On August 12, under the watchful gaze of U.S. Marines, Haitian parliamentarians elected a U.S.-backed politician, Phillipe Sudre Dartiguenave, as the new president. The U.S. Marine commander, Smedley Butler, reported: “His Excellency Phillipe Sudre Dartiguenave was put in office in September. I won’t say we put him in. The State department might object. Anyway, he was put in.” In November 1915 Dartiguenave signed a comprehensive treaty that affirmed American control of Haiti, administered through a High Commissioner and Financial Advisor, as well as U.S. aid obligations. 

At the Americans’ behest Dartiguenave dissolved the Haitian Senate in April 1916, ending any pretense of self-rule – a bitter pill for a country established by a successful slave rebellion against French rule in 1804. Indeed, in an age of endemic racism there was little doubt that white American administrators viewed black Haitians as unfit for self-rule, and the mixed-race Creole elite as a questionable quantity at best. Press censorship and the use of forced labor to build roads, with white overseers directing black laborers, further reinforced Haitians’ resentment of the American occupation.

Adding insult to injury, in 1917 Haiti’s puppet government approved a new Constitution that opened the economy up to foreign investors, raising the prospect of Haiti becoming another “banana republic.” The constitution was written by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Navy, an ambitious Democratic politician named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ironically almost two decades later FDR, now president, would also be responsible for withdrawing the U.S. occupation force. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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