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An American History

Author: Jonathan M. Hansen




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An on-the-ground history of American empire

Say the word "Guantánamo" and orange jumpsuits, chain-link fences, torture, and indefinite detention come to mind. To critics...

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Book Details

An on-the-ground history of American empire

Say the word "Guantánamo" and orange jumpsuits, chain-link fences, torture, and indefinite detention come to mind. To critics the world over, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is a striking symbol of American hypocrisy. But the prison isn't the whole story. For more than two centuries, Guantánamo has been at the center of American imperial ambition, first as an object of desire then as a convenient staging ground.

In Guantánamo: An American History, Jonathan M. Hansen presents the first complete account of this fascinating place. The U.S. presence at Guantánamo predates even the nation itself, as the bay figured centrally in the imperial expansion plans of colonist and British sailor Lawrence Washington—half brother of the future president George. As the young United States rose in power, Thomas Jefferson and his followers envisioned a vast "empire of liberty," which hinged on U.S. control of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Politically and geographically, Guantánamo Bay was the key to this strategy. So when Cubans took up arms against their Spanish rulers in 1898, America swooped in to ensure that Guantánamo would end up firmly in its control.

Over the next century, the American navy turned the bay into an idyllic modern Mayberry—complete with bungalows, cul-de-sacs, and country clubs—which base residents still enjoy. In many ways, Guantánamo remains more quintessentially American than America itself: a distillation of the idealism and arrogance that has characterized U.S. national identity and foreign policy from the very beginning.

Despite the Obama administration's repeated efforts to shutter the notorious prison, the naval base is in no danger of closing anytime soon. Places like Guantánamo, which fall between the clear borders of law and sovereignty, continue to serve a purpose regardless of which leaders—left, right, or center—hold the reins of power.

Imprint Publisher

Hill and Wang



In The News

“Jonathan M. Hansen has dug beneath all the self-serving American myths about the history of Guantánamo Bay to expose a fascinating--and enduring--colonial enterprise. It makes a great story, which Hansen carries through to its latest twist--the use of Guantánamo as a prison for suspected terrorists, some of whom were subjected to torture. Hansen shines a bright new light on Bush administration lawlessness.” —Anthony Lewis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“In this brilliant blend of social and political history, Jonathan M. Hansen puts a small but critically important corner of the American empire under the microscope. What he reveals may not be pretty, but it's powerfully instructive and endlessly fascinating.” —Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War

“Most accounts of the United States in Cuba paint heroes and villains in black and white according to the author's political perspective. With exquisite craftsmanship, Jonathan M. Hansen paints in all the subtle shades of gray required to illuminate the tangled history of this highly charged symbol of American power. This fascinating book is the one to read if you want to understand what lies beneath the current controversies surrounding Guantánamo.” —James T. Kloppenberg, Chair of the History Department and Charles Warren Professor of American History, Harvard University

“With wit and verve, Jonathan M. Hansen illuminates the long, strange, compelling, and troubling story of Guantánamo. A vivid and thoughtful writer, Hansen employs Guantánamo as a prism to reveal the tangled construction of an overseas American empire.” —Alan Taylor, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“As former commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Guantánamo. And then I read Jonathan M. Hansen's book. This is essential reading for all who are curious about how America got into its current predicament--and about America's global aspirations reaching back before the United States was even a country.” —General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA (Ret)

“As we confront the future of Guantanamo, we need to know the long and complex pre- 9/11 history of this unique place. Jonathan M. Hansen's important and deeply researched book delivers that fascinating and often disturbing history.” —Thomas Bender, author of A Nation among Nations

“Like a rough tear in the fabric of our national identity, the United States' presence at Guantánamo Bay betrays the paradox that has shaped our history: the U.S. has been, since its inception, both a bastion of independence and an imperial nation. In this enthralling and meticulously researched narrative, the historian Jonathan M. Hansen lays bare the uncomfortable truths that precipitated our occupation of a small and fiercely independent neighbor. Guantánamo has been a stronghold of American influence over an independent Cuba, a holding pen for Haitian refugees living with HIV, and, more recently, the site of human rights atrocities at its notorious prison camp. Here, Hansen offers a clear-eyed and fearless examination of the place that remains a global theatre for the consequences of America's pursuit of power.” —Paul Farmer, United Nations Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti

“This well-researched and well-written book will appeal to all readers.” —Library Journal

“In this well-written and lively account of a place most Americans find thoroughly mysterious, Jonathan M. Hansen, a historian at Harvard University, offers a carefully crafted history of one of America's most paradoxical possessions, viewed in connection to United States national interest.” —Charles R. Gallagher, America: The Catholic Weekly

“Hansen's book is the best, and certainly the most comprehensive, I've read on Guantanamo.” —Dr. Wayne S. Smith, Senior Fellow and director of the Cuba program at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.

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