Honduran soldiers, first troops of Inter-American peace force, arrive to assume peace-keeping duties and to render emergency aid in the Dominican Republic, 1965.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons and the National Archives and Records Administration.
“We know of no more important problems anywhere, any time, than the problems of our neighbors. We want to see our relations with them be the very best.”
When Lyndon B. Johnson made this statement of general goodwill toward America’s neighbors in the Western hemisphere, he was still only a month into his presidency. Only two years later, a crisis in the Dominican Republic would force Johnson to choose between his commitment to anti-communism and his desire to maintain positive relationships with Latin American nations.
In this lesson, students will look at the history of the United States’s relationship with Latin America, and they will then evaluate the competing priorities which shaped the American intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965. They will hear President Johnson discuss the intervention with his top advisors, and compare this to his presentation of the issue to the public.
LBJ served as President during a turbulent period in the Cold War. He took over an administration that had been pushed to the brink of nuclear war by Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. While he spoke publicly of friendship, he knew that a top priority that would dominate his foreign policy would be the aggressive containment of communism.
The focus of this lesson is the American decision-making that resulted in sending troops to the Dominican Republic. The most important point to take from the summary below, and a focus of each of the primary documents in the lesson, is the degree of chaos and confusion in the Dominican Republic which prompted Johnson to send in troops.
When assassins murdered dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961, it destabilized the Dominican Republic. Over the next four years, free elections would be followed by two military coups. In 1962 elections, Dominicans elected reformer Juan Bosch to the presidency with 60% of the vote. But in 1963, a military coup ousted Bosch, installing Donald Reid Cabral as president.
Only two years later, in April 1965, Cabral found out that a plot existed among a few military officers to bring Bosch back and to install him again as president. Cabral tried to fire these military officers, but they announced that they were overthrowing him. The military then split between those who wanted to keep Cabral in office and those who wanted to bring Bosch back to power.
The CIA warned the president and his advisors that communists in the Dominican Republic, though surprised by the sudden coup, were rallying to take advantage of the chaos. Furthermore, it was possible that American lives were at risk. On April 28, U.S. Ambassador Bennett reported that American tourists and the American embassy were in danger as the air force had begun to bomb the presidential palace, which had been captured by rebels. That afternoon Bennett requested that Johnson send in the marines.
After consultation with his advisors, Johnson immediately ordered 500 troops on nearby ships to land in the Dominican Republic. The fear that leftists would come to power and turn the Dominican Republic into another Cuba led Johnson to decide that instead of merely evacuating Americans with this small number of marines, a heightened U.S. military presence was necessary to ensure that the new Dominican government was acceptable to the Johnson administration. Before the operation ended, the U.S. troop presence in the Dominican Republic had grown from 500 to 22,000 soldiers.
The Library of Congress provides background and analysis of the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic. Country Studies: the Dominican Republic provides clear, textbook-style information, divided into several chapters. Useful chapters for teachers of this lesson include, “Government and Politics,” “The Post-Trujillo era,” “Civil War and United States Intervention, 1965,” and “Occupation by the United States, 1916–1924.”
The National Archives holds the State Department’s published overview of the crisis from 1965, a forty-page pamphlet called The Dominican Crisis ... The Hemisphere Acts. It provides more background on how the Johnson administration saw the intervention and sought to explain it to the public.
Each page appears as a separate image and can be enlarged for viewing. These include many quotations from U.S. officials, as well as photographs and information on the role of the Organization of American States.
If teachers are interested in knowing how Johnson initially presented the Dominican conflict to the public, they may wish to look at the following speeches, provided by the American Presidency Project:
Finally, teachers who are using the Johnson tapes as audio files for the first time may wish to know the background on how these tapes were made. The EDSITEment-reviewed American President website offers the Johnson tapes, and this page has a useful essay with their “Provenance and Description.”
Teachers can make the decision on how to implement this lesson based on the amount of time they have available. Teachers without significant time constraints can implement all the activities as a mini-unit and case study of the Cold War, which provides a different view from the often-taught Cuban Missile Crisis or even the Vietnam War. Teachers may wish to use only one or two of the activities below if their time is more limited. The choice is the teacher’s; the activities both stand alone and work as a unit.
Teachers should review the following sites and bookmark them:
For Activity Three:
For Activity Four, from the American Presidency Project:
Have students visit CNN’s interactive on-line map, showing America’s involvement in the Caribbean during the Cold War.
In this activity, students listen to LBJ address the nation on the Dominican Republic crisis; they will take notes on different aspects of the speech, and analyze Johnson’s stated priorities.
The class should then listen to or watch the video clip of Johnson delivering the speech, following along on their printed transcript. The short video clip of the speech can be found at “Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Situation in the Dominican Republic (May 1965).”
You may wish to play the video of the speech twice, or simply give students extra time to read over the transcript and note down their answers.
In this activity, the teacher splits the class into two groups, each of which listens to a different LBJ conversation. Students then compare their own suggestions of how the U.S. should act in the Dominican Republic with those given to President Johnson by his advisors.
To obtain the audio files to analyze, follow the instructions below:
Group A: This conversation is between LBJ and his Latin American advisor Thomas Mann on April 26, 1965: lbj_wh6504_05_7362_mann.mp3.
A transcript of this conversation can be found at the State Department’s
“Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana.” You will need to scroll down; it is listed as Document “22. Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mann) and President Johnson.” The text in blue has been added by editors to clarify the conversation.
Group B: This conversation is between LBJ and his Latin American advisor Thomas Mann on April 27, 1965: lbj_wh6504_06_7367_mann.mp3.
A transcript of this conversation can be found at the State Department’s
“Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana.” You will need to scroll down; it is listed as Document “23. Telephone Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mann) and President Johnson”
5. As they listen to the conversations for the first time, ask students to note down the main issues Johnson and Mann discuss. Then, listening a second time, ask students to refine their notes on these issues. If students have questions about specific names from the conversations, you have two choices: you can go over each name and clarify the person’s role, or you can tell students that the main points from the conversation can be understood without knowing the full details on each person mentioned.
For the whole class:
For Group A:
For Group B:
The entire class should then review two additional pieces of evidence, a telegram from the American Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and the transcript of a phone conversation with the President and important foreign policy advisors. This evidence is available from “Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana.” The telegram is document 29, and the telephone meeting is document 31.
When reading this evidence, students should again note the role of anticommunism in Johnson’s decision-making.
As a class, students should discuss the factors the President and his advisors mentioned.
In this activity, students listen to the rest of President Johnson’s address, transcript in hand.
Have students continue their list of names and timelines.
Students can research U.S. involvement in Latin America on the web, comparing different policies by filling out a chart. This can be done as homework, or in the class in groups.
Roosevelt Corollary: information is available in the articles on the Monroe Doctrine listed above.
The Panama Canal: “Make the Dirt Fly” an EDSITEment-reviewed website
The Spanish-American War: both links below are from America’s Story from America’s Library:
Cuban Missile Crisis: EDSITEment’s “The Missiles of October”: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Creation of the Organization of American States: OAS History at a Glance is available from the Organization of American States, linked to the EDSITEment-reviewed Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC)
3 class periods