One of the most important things I learned in four years of seminary was this . . .
“History as a living fact consists not so much in what actually happened as in what people believe to have happened.”
That has helped me understand theology, church history, world history and contemporary politics. Naming the US Invasion of Panama “Operation Just Cause” was a clever propaganda strategy to convince Americans that the US Invasion of Panama in 1989 was justified.
Former US President George H W Bush and former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega are now both old men, in and out of hospital, ailing and failing. Since they are sick, old men it is easy to forget their achievements and crimes.
As the oldest living former US President Bush Sr. continues to be admired by many. Manuel Noriega is in prison along side the Panama Canal. Both were partners in some of the darkest moments of US and Panamanian history.
Everett Ellis Briggs US Ambassador to Panama from 1982 to 1986, said, “Almost everyone in government, however, shares some of the blame.”
Now I know there are differing opinions about the Invasion, even to this day. On one ship where I gave a lecture about US and Panama history, there was a gentleman sitting on this side, a US Army career officer, graduate of West Point, taught at the US War College, who had one VERY definite opinion. Sitting on the other side was another US Army offer, Bird Colonel whose West Point classmate and buddy was a General in the US Army Southern Command in Panama at the time of the invasion that resigned over his disagreement with the White House on the Invasion. Needless to say, he had another opinion.. Both very definite opinions . . . And I managed to keep the two guys from bumping into each other for the entire cruise. But there is no one right opinion. We just need to look at history, and learn from it. And if you compare the aftermath of the US Invasion of Panama with the Invasion of Iraq . . . You will see that in many cases we are slow learners. Both cases, invading a country without a plan of what happens afterward.
While Noriega was in prison in Florida a journalist named Peter Eisner who had covered Panama for Newsweek during the period, worked with Noriega to produce a book of memoirs. What surprised me about this book was that it was not the ramblings of some crazy dictator, but a calm, rational justification . . . A book just like any president, secretary of state, or world leader cranks out justifying their actions. About 2/3 of the book is Noriega’s memoirs, and about 1/3 is Eisner’s analysis. Eisner writes, “The shambles of US actions and responsibility in Panama were the result of the actions of rigid and ruthless ideologues; Noriega was the target, but the responsibility lies with a country whose citizens should not be so complacent as to fall for the rhetoric.”