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Nicaragua and Henry Carlisle: The battle of Ocotal



Probably most WAISers had never heard of the battle of Ocotal, but now it seems to loom as large as Waterloo or Gettysburg. Tim Brown gives a Marine's version of it. I would like to have a Nicaraguan version. I personally plead ignorance. Tim says: "I've heard of most of those named, especially the Marines, have studied the Sandino war, am a former Marine myself, know the terrain around Ocotal personally having visited the town several times, and have reviewed the Marine Corps' archives on the event. Mr. Carlisle is on solid ground as long as objective balance is not required. I have recorded interviews with an eye witness/participant who described to me what today we call "collateral damage" that was inflicted during the battle at Ocotal by Marines. The trouble is that he also described "collateral damage" inflicted by Sandino's forces, not just the Marines, and certainly not just by Marine airplanes. As far as I can remember there has been at least some "collateral damage" in every battle in the history fought anywhere near an inhabited place, and many of that were not, even in the days of foot, sword, horse, and sail, much less during more recent battles involving artillery and air power. There has also never been, to my knowledge, a battle in which only one side fought without a foe fighting back. In fact I think that's the very definition of a battle, two sides fighting, not one. Nor has there ever been a battle in which both sides fired their weapons but the "good guys" used miraculous "immaculate warfare" bullets and bombs that could tell the difference between civilian ammunition runners and formally enrolled soldiers running ammunition. Since the battle at Ocotal was an urban seige in an inhabited town that had not been evacuated between a Marine/Guardia garrison surrounded in the center of a town in a civilian house trying to hold off Sandino's forces that were using nearby private homes for cover and concealment, it would be amazing were there no collateral damage when Marine airplanes dropped bombs in their support. So, Mr. Carlisle need not fear being wrong. Properly defined, he will be right by definition.

He is also correct in his view that the Marines had a great deal to do with Anastacio "Tacho" Somoza Garcia's taking power. Pages 157, 206, and 249 n.15 and 250 n.30 in my "The Real Contra War" discuss "Tacho". While there is no "smoking gun" I have little doubt that the Marines, possibly even at variance with official US policy, helped him to power. In my work, I also discuss more extensively "Tacho's" two sons, Luis and "Tachito" who, together with "Tacho" formed the Somoza dynasty of dictators. I also discuss "Tacho's" rarely mentioned great uncle Bernabe, a famous populist General on horseback during the 19th century, whose anti-elite adventures set the stage for the reaction of Nicaragua's traditional oligarchy both to the three Somozas and to the Sandinistas".

Ronald Hilton - 4/6/02


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