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.

This Gorgeous Vintage Edition of Clue Sets the Perfect Mood for a Murder Mystery

WS Game Company
WS Game Company

Everyone should have a few good board games lying around the house for official game nights with family and friends and to kill some time on the occasional rainy day. But if your collection leaves a lot to be desired, you can class-up your selection with this great deal on the Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue for $40.

A brief history of Clue

'Clue' Vintage Bookshelf Edition.
WS Game Company.

Originally titled Murder!, Clue was created by a musician named Anthony Pratt in Birmingham, England, in 1943, and he filed a patent for it in 1944. He sold the game to Waddington's in the UK a few years later, and they changed the name to Cluedo in 1949 (that name was a mix between the words clue and Ludo, which was a 19th-century game.) That same year, the game was licensed to Parker Brothers in the United States, where it was published as Clue. Since then, there have been numerous special editions and spinoffs of the original game, not to mention books and a television series based on it. Most notably, though, was the cult classic 1985 film Clue, which featured Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren.

As you probably know, every game of Clue begins with the revelation of a murder. The object of the game is to be the first person to deduce who did it, with what weapon, and where. To achieve that end, each player assumes the role of one of the suspects and moves strategically around the board collecting clues.

With its emphasis on logic and critical thinking—in addition to some old-fashioned luck—Clue is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and evolved with each decade, with special versions of the game hitting shelves recently based on The Office, Rick and Morty, and Star Wars.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition

'Clue' Vintage Library Edition.
WS Game Company

The Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue is the work of the WS Game Company, a licensee of Hasbro, and all the design elements are inspired by the aesthetic of the 1949 original. The game features a vintage-looking game board, cards, wood movers, die-cast weapons, six pencils, an ivory-colored die, an envelope, and a pad of “detective notes.” And, of course, everything folds up and stores inside a beautiful cloth-bound book box that you can store right on the shelf in your living room.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition is a limited-release item, and right now you can get it for $40.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

16 Priceless Treasures We've Lost Forever

jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Steven Spielberg is known for crafting such masterpieces as Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, and Jurassic Park. With such a long and acclaimed film career, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Spielberg got his start behind the camera at just 17 years old when (with the help of his friends and his high school marching band) he directed his first feature-length film, Firelight.

What's that? You've never seen Firelight? Well, you're certainly not alone; sadly, just under four minutes of the original footage remains. After screening Firelight for around 500 people, the young director sent a few of the film reels off to a producer for review. When the budding director later went back to retrieve his film, he discovered that the producer had been fired—and his movie had vanished.

Firelight is just one example of the many priceless items that have disappeared from history. On this episode of The List Show, we're rediscovering all sort of treasures—from writing by Ernest Hemingway to natural landmarks—that have been lost to time (or circumstance). You can watch the full episode below.

For more videos like this, be sure to head here and subscribe.