As one action of many during the Banana Wars, the Marine Corps was called to Haiti July 28, 1915, to occupy and stabilize the nation in an effort to protect American interests throughout the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America.
From 1911 to 1915, Haiti went through six presidents who were torn from office through forced exile, military coups, or assassination.
Haitian Gen. Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, was sworn into office in March of 1915 then established a dictatorship, and faced an active rebellion — as most presidents of that period did. His main opposition, Rosalvo Bobo, armed with anti-American sentiment, appeared as a significant offset to U.S. strategy and economic growth. In retaliation against those who would oppose him Sam executed 167 political prisoners, which provoked a violent mob reaction, and eventually resulted in his brutal public execution.
Concerned that the ensuing chaos may lead to another violent overthrow and perhaps a shift in the balance of power, President Woodrow Wilson ordered 340 Marines and sailors from the USS Washington to land in Port au-Prince to establish peace, order and stability in the turbulent region.
The Marines and sailors re-established an interim government, and also established law enforcement, headed by Marine non-commissioned officers’ who were granted Haitian commissions and Haitian troops. The organized group was called Gendarmerie.
The ultimate goal of the Marines and Gendarmerie was to disband the various rebel armies in the region. This period was known as the Caco Wars, which was largely aimed toward the capture of Fort Riviere in 1915.
During the entirety of the occupation, eight Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions. Dan Daly and Smedly Butler, each earned their second Medal.
The occupation helped to centralize power in Port au-prince, and improved much of the nation’s infrastructure. More than 1,500 miles of roads were repaired and reopened, 189 bridges were built, port facilities were modernized and a public health service was founded. Schools, hospitals and other public buildings were built as well.
Conflicts like Haiti and years of small-scale conflicts helped Marines innovate new fighting methods for the Corps. These efforts eventually led to the publication of the Small Wars Manual, which was originally published as Small Wars Operations in 1935. Since it analyzes international intervention, anti-insurgency, guerilla tactics and the relevance of sea-based power projection, the manual remains relevant even in the 21st century. The manual was required reading for Marines by Gen. James Mattis during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
With more than two hundred years of fighting experience and global conflict occurring in every clime and place, the expeditionary character of the Marine Corps is now a fundamental aspect of how Marines operate. The Banana Wars helped usher in the future of how wars are fought.