Eyewitness to Chaos
Personal Accounts of the Intervention in Haiti, 1994
Walter E. Kretchik
Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2016, 240 pages
Book Review published on: June 9, 2017
There are times where it seems that every conceivable subject or area has been addressed in detail by military history authors. However, as new volumes are published, you discover there are many gaps still existing in the overall body of knowledge. One author who has filled several of these holes in the past is Walter Kretchik. In Kretchik’s first book U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror (2011), he provided readers with a comprehensive history and study of U.S. Army doctrine. It was a volume unique in its subject area and has proven since its release to be an exceptionally valuable asset to many.
Kretchik has once again seized upon an opportunity to fill a void in his latest book. Eyewitness to Chaos focuses on Operation Uphold Democracy conducted in Haiti from 1994-1995. It is an operation that has unquestionably been understudied during the past two decades. Yet, as readers will quickly discover within Kretchik’s volume, there is much to be learned from the operations in Haiti.
Before discussing the volume in earnest, it is important to highlight the author’s credentials as they pertain to his subject. From 1994-1999, Kretchik, then a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, led a research team assigned by the chief of staff of the Army to produce a history of Operation Uphold Democracy. One of the key products of this research was the outstanding Army publication Invasion, Intervention, Invasion: A Concise History of the U.S. Army in Operation Uphold Democracy, in which Kretchik was one of the principle writers along with Robert Baumann and John Fishel.
Within Eyewitness to Chaos, Kretchik makes superb use of his work on the research team in two significant ways. First, the aforementioned publication was a tremendous asset for the author in obtaining comprehensive background information. Second, during the conduct of research, the team garnered numerous oral histories from many of the participants of the operation. These oral histories are the key component of Kretchik’s volume and will be discussed later in the review.
Eyewitness to Chaos provides readers with a systematic review and analysis of the operations in Haiti. He sets the conditions by offering a concise history of the country focusing on its culture and the use of military power within its borders. Kretchik then lays out the events that led to the operations in Haiti. With the conditions set, the author addresses the planning, preparation, execution, and aftermath of the operation. He has unquestionably crafted a concise but thorough examination of the operation.
Within this treatment, Kretchik has intertwined the real strength of the volume—the oral histories of the participants. He has utilized the personal accounts of thirty-seven interviewees inside the pages of Eyewitness to Chaos (and I assume they played a large part in the naming of the volume’s title). The author addresses the importance of their thoughts in his introduction. He states, “Their insights speak to strategic, operational, and tactical planning considerations, intelligence gathering, multinational force interaction, mission execution conundrums, communications and language concerns, ethnic and cultural factors, and other topics. Collectively, they shed valuable light on what it actually means to intervene militarily in the affairs of others.”
There is a wealth of important lessons learned to be gleaned from Haiti. Fortunately, Kretchik has consolidated many of them within Eyewitness to Chaos. They are captured in two distinct forms. First, he offers his own perspective based on his substantial study of the interventions in Haiti. Second, the personal insights of the interviewees is extremely powerful. In total, they combine to produce a book that makes a valuable contribution. Once again, Walter Kretchik has filled an important gap in the body of knowledge.
Book Review written by: Frederick A. Baillergeon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas