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.

10 Dramatic Downton Abbey Fan Theories

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Despite its exhaustively polished veneer, Downton Abbey was always a soap opera. Julian Fellowes's historical drama about a family of aristocrats and their many servants could never resist a good shocker, and it deployed plenty of them over the course of six seasons. The valet was suspected of murder (twice). One of the Crawley sisters got knocked up by her older married boyfriend, who promptly went missing. And another sister’s first sexual encounter ended in death. Considering all this, it should come as no surprise that fans have developed similarly wacky theories about the show. These fan theories include secret parentage, undercover spies, and, of course, poison.

Brush up on the best of them before the Downton Abbey movie hits theaters—just in case the whole miscarriage curse comes up.

1. Mr. Carson is Lady Mary’s father.

This theory all comes down to eyes. As you may recall from science class, certain genes are dominant and others are recessive. This is perhaps most easily understood through eye color, where brown eye color, a dominant gene, is expressed as BB and blue eye color, a recessive gene, is expressed as bb. A parent with brown eyes might carry the recessive blue eye gene (i.e. Bb), but if you plot out genetic probabilities on a basic Punnett square, two blue-eyed parents with double bbs have seemingly no shot at producing a Bb baby. Now, what does any of this have to do with Downton Abbey? Both Lord and Lady Grantham have blue eyes, but their eldest daughter, Mary, has brown eyes. This has led some fans to speculate that Lady Mary is actually the daughter of Carson, the family’s beloved butler who has always acted as as sort of second father to Mary. As debunkers have noted, two blue-eyed people can have a brown-eyed child, because recessive genes aren’t that simple. But isn’t it wild to think of Carson and Cora having an affair?

2. Thomas Barrow poisoned Kemal Pamuk.

One of the soapiest subplots of Downton Abbey's first season involved “poor Mr. Pamuk,” the dashing Turkish diplomat who makes a fateful visit to the Abbey. After enjoying a day of fox hunting and an evening of sparkling conversation, Kemal Pamuk drops dead ... right in Lady Mary’s bed. The cause, it is later revealed, was a heart attack, but many viewers suspected something more sinister. Earlier in the episode, the Crawleys’ closeted footman, Thomas Barrow, made a pass at Pamuk, which the diplomat rejected quite forcefully—so much so that he threatened to get Thomas fired. That placed the footman in a tricky situation, but it was nothing a little poison couldn't fix, and that’s exactly why some fans believe Thomas slipped something into Mr. Pamuk’s dinner.

3. Lady Grantham’s miscarriage started a curse.

In the Season 1 finale, tragedy strikes. The newly pregnant Lady Grantham slips on a bar of soap, falling onto the bathroom tiles and inducing a miscarriage. It’s a sad moment, but it’s also, Reddit claims, the source of the house’s future misfortune. According to this theory, the miscarriage kicks off a curse of deadly pregnancies: Lady Sybil dies in childbirth; Matthew Crawley dies in a car accident soon after the birth of his son; and when the maid Ethel Parks becomes pregnant with Major Bryant’s child, he dies, too.

4. Mr. Bates is actually a bad guy.

Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt in Downton Abbey (2019).
Focus Features

Downton Abbey invests a lot of time and effort in convincing us that John Bates, Lord Grantham's trusty, is a great guy—despite his checkered past and multiple murder allegations. But what if everyone’s assumptions about Bates are exactly right? Some Redditors believe Bates is just a remorseless serial killer, pointing to his intense hatred of his first wife and “creepy vibes” as evidence. Anna had better watch out.

5. Michael Gregson is a spy.

Lady Edith’s boss and lover Michael Gregson is the publisher of a London magazine, The Sketch. Thanks to his job, he knows tons of important people, travels all over the world, and speaks multiple languages. He eventually disappears inside Germany in season 4, and later dispatches to the Crawley family imply that he was a victim of Adolf Hitler’s “thugs.” (The show timeline places Gregson in Munich right around the time of the Beer Hall Putsch.) Or at least, that’s the official story. Another one suggests that Gregson was a British spy gathering intel on the insurgent Nazis—and he might not have died at all. His superiors simply needed to feed Edith a lie that would discourage her from poking around, so they made up a cover story that someone who follows the news would believe.

6. Lady Rosamund Painswick is Lady Edith’s mother.

When Lady Edith becomes pregnant with Michael Gregson’s child, she finds a strong support system in her aunt, Lady Rosamund Painswick. Upon learning Edith’s secret, Rosamund travels to Downton Abbey to help her niece through her pregnancy, and suggests adoption options as the due date draws near. Some fans have interpreted this empathy as a clue that Rosamund, not Lady Grantham, is Edith’s true mother. It could also explain why Edith looks (and behaves) so different from her sisters. Or it could just be a sign that Rosamund cares about her niece.

7. Lady Mary’s “operation” was IVF.

In season 3, Lady Mary claims to have undergone a “small operation” that will help her start a family with Matthew. It’s maddeningly unclear what this operation entails, but one wild guess is that she had an early version of IVF. The complete crackpot theory is that this was a cover for Matthew’s infertility, which the doctors wouldn’t disclose to him, presumably to preserve his 1920s masculinity.

8. Lady Mary’s son George becomes a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II.

Lady Mary’s son George is only five years old in the series finale of Downton Abbey. But that means he would theoretically be 18 in the fall of 1939, which is exactly when World War II broke out in Europe. He would almost certainly enlist, as show creator Julian Fellowes himself has suggested. But Decider has more specifically theorized that George would join the Royal Air Force (RAF), “with a desire to rebel against his emotionally distant mother and find purpose in a greater cause.” Sounds like George would be taking part in some dangerous missions, putting the entire family’s future at risk.

9. Public tours keep the estate alive.

The Crawleys spend much of Downton Abbey fretting about the future management of their estate—partially because Lord Grantham is kind of bad at it. But Lady Mary has taken over when the series ends, and Fellowes believes she’d find savvy ways to keep her family’s home in their hands. “She would probably have opened the house to the public in the 1960s, as so many of them did,” Fellowes told Deadline. “And she’d have retreated to a wing, and maybe only occupied the whole house during the winters. My own belief is that the Crawleys would still be there.”

10. The Dowager Countess keeps Denker and Spratt around for the drama.

Gladys Denker is a maid to the Dowager Countess. Septimus Spratt is her butler. These two do not like each other, and they’re quite public about it. Denker and Spratt’s unprofessional squabbles would’ve gotten plenty of other servants fired, but fans believe the Dowager Countess keeps them employed for her own amusement.

You Can Rent This Wizard of Oz-Themed Cottage in North Carolina

Airbnb
Airbnb

This year marks the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, the classic 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book. In addition to watching the film, you can opt for a more immersive way to celebrate the occasion. As Travel + Leisure reports, a cottage in West Jefferson, North Carolina offered on Airbnb is perfect for any traveling Oz fan—and it’s only $35 a night.

The studio cottage is considered a glamping destination and is slim on amenities—it has a breakfast nook, porch, sofa bed, and a Porta John—but the Oz-themed details more than make up for the lack of luxurious perks.

A pair of stockinged feet are visible under the home, hinting at a witch’s untimely demise; a character mural of Dorothy and her three escorts, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, appears on the side of the cabin; inside, various other decorations pay homage to Baum's books, including a pair of ruby slippers and a few stuffed Totos.

A cottage with a 'Wizard of Oz' theme in West Jefferson, North Carolina is pictured
Airbnb

If you go, you’ll have to act quickly. The cottage is open only in the spring, summer, and fall, as it has no heat.

The Airbnb listing has a perfect score across 16 reviews. You can book it here.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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