Confronting the American Dream

Nicaragua under U.S. Imperial Rule

Confronting the American Dream

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 26 illus., 3 tables, 5 maps Published: December 2005

Author: Michel Gobat

History > Latin American History, U.S. History, Latin American Studies > Central America

Michel Gobat deftly interweaves political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic history to analyze the reactions of Nicaraguans to U.S. intervention in their country from the heyday of Manifest Destiny in the mid–nineteenth century through the U.S. occupation of 1912–33. Drawing on extensive research in Nicaraguan and U.S. archives, Gobat accounts for two seeming paradoxes that have long eluded historians of Latin America: that Nicaraguans so strongly embraced U.S. political, economic, and cultural forms to defend their own nationality against U.S. imposition and that the country’s wealthiest and most Americanized elites were transformed from leading supporters of U.S. imperial rule into some of its greatest opponents.

Gobat focuses primarily on the reactions of the elites to Americanization, because the power and identity of these Nicaraguans were the most significantly affected by U.S. imperial rule. He describes their adoption of aspects of “the American way of life” in the mid–nineteenth century as strategic rather than wholesale. Chronicling the U.S. occupation of 1912–33, he argues that the anti-American turn of Nicaragua’s most Americanized oligarchs stemmed largely from the efforts of U.S. bankers, marines, and missionaries to spread their own version of the American dream. In part, the oligarchs’ reversal reflected their anguish over the 1920s rise of Protestantism, the “modern woman,” and other “vices of modernity” emanating from the United States. But it also responded to the unintended ways that U.S. modernization efforts enabled peasants to weaken landlord power. Gobat demonstrates that the U.S. occupation so profoundly affected Nicaragua that it helped engender the Sandino Rebellion of 1927–33, the Somoza dictatorship of 1936–79, and the Sandinista Revolution of 1979–90.


Confronting the American Dream is a splendidly written book that manages to cover over a century of Nicaraguan history, while honing in on the period of U.S. intervention, 1912-1933.” — Jeffrey L. Gould, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“[A] cautionary tale for current enthusiasts of U.S. empire…. As Gobat demonstrates, the more successful the U.S. occupation in achieving its own goals, the more instability it brought….” — Max Paul Friedman, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“[G]obat’s central point is valid and important.” — Nancy Mitchell, International History Review

“[T]his book represents an original, thoughtful, and serious analysis of Nicaragua’s engagement with United States imperialism.” — Paul J. Dosal, Journal of American History

“[T]his splendid account of Nicaraguan history breaks new ground in the study of the dominant León elite and the relationships among contesting power groups in Nicaragua over the past two centuries. This is the best narrative in English of the internecine conflicts among regional elites and among political factions in the face of U.S. imperialism. . . . This is indeed a nuanced study of the impact of imperialism on Nicaraguan culture and society, and how that culture helps to shape the context of the imperialist experience.” — Joseph S. Tulchin, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Although U.S. intervention in Nicaragua has been the subject of numerous studies, few offer the insight of Confronting the American Dream. This superb book examines not only the goals of American policy but also the complex Nicaraguan responses to U.S. imperial rule.” — Jason M. Colby, Journal of Military History

“Gobat’s account makes indisputably clear that the American presence in Nicaragua was a major force that, in combination with autochthonous developments, had tragic unintended anti-democratic consequences.” — Frank Ninkovich, Atlantic Studies

“Gobat’s work is emblematic of a new, important, robust, and multidisciplinary approach to questions of yesterday and today.” — Louis Segal, A Contracorriente

“I believe the book provides essential knowledge for historians of Latin American and US foreign involvement. . . .[T]his book can give broader viewpoints to sociologists and anthropologists interested in social change. Even practitioners of political science will find this book useful...” — Nathan G. Johnson, The Latin Americanist

“In Confronting the American Dream, Michael Gobat combines political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic aspects of Nicaragua’s history into a compelling analysis of the effects of the interventions that took place between 1912 and 1933.” — Ralph Lee Woodward Jr., Business History Review

“The well-argued and cleverly conceived study of United States-Nicaraguan relations will mark Gobat’s career in Latin American studies.” — Thomas Schoonover, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“This book is well documented, informative, and easy to read.” — Edward S. Kaplan, The Historian

“This is perhaps one of the finest works produced by the new generation of Latin American historians.” — Alejandro de la Fuente, American Historical Review

“This rich and masterful study explores the complicated and often contradictory history of US intervention in Nicaragua, from the era of Manifest Destiny through the period of dollar diplomacy and military occupation. . . . The book’s engaging narrative and incisive argument recommend it to readers ranging from advanced undergraduates to specialists.” — Justin Wolfe, Journal of Latin American Studies

“This superbly crafted study represents a landmark reinterpretation of Nicaraguan history in the age of U.S. empire-building in the Caribbean and Central America. Indispensible for Nicaraguanists, it is also a model of historical scholarship from which students of imperial muscle-flexing around the world, from Asia to the Middle East to Latin America, could greatly profit.” — Michael J. Schroeder, The Americas

[A]n impressively researched and skillfully written analysis of Nicaragua's political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic history during the US interventions from the mid-19th century to 1933. . . .Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — J. B. Kirkwood, Choice

“Extraordinarily engaging, Confronting the American Dream is far and away the best work ever written on the convoluted path of elite/Conservative disenchantment with the U. S. imperial project in Nicaragua. Its relevance to broader historical and contemporary phenomena throughout Latin America and well beyond is really quite remarkable.” — Lowell Gudmundson, coauthor of Central America, 1821–1871: Liberalism before Liberal Reform

“This is a beautifully argued and researched book—one of the most important and revealing case studies we have in U.S.–Latin American relations. But it goes far beyond that. Without ever significantly moving past the 1930s, Michel Gobat has provided an indictment of the early-twenty-first-century embrace of ‘American empire’ and, in a model of scholarship, provided stunning insights into the ironies—and tragedies—of the misuse of U.S. power.” — Walter LaFeber, author of America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945–2002


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michel Gobat is Associate Professor of History at the University of Iowa.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Tables x

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Part I: Manifest Destinies, 1849–1910 19

1. Americanization through Violence: Nicaragua under Walker 21

2. Americanization from Within: Forging a Cosmopolitan Nationality 42

Part II: Restoration, 1910–1912 73

3. Challenging Imperial Exclusions: Nicaragua under the Dawson Pact 75

4. Bourgeois Revolution Denied: U.S. Military Intervention in the Civil War of 1912 100

Part III: Dollar Diplomacy, 1912–1927 123

5. Economic Nationalism: Resisting Wall Street’s “Feudal” Regime 125

6. Anxious Landlords, Resilient Peasants: Dollar Diplomacy’s Socioeconomic Impact 150

7. Cultural Anit-Americanism: The Caballeros Catolicos’ Crusade against U.S. Missionaries, the “Modern Woman,” and the “Bourgeois Spirit” 175

Part IV: Revolution, 1927–1933 203

8. Militarization via Democratization: The U.S. Attack on Caudillismo and the Rise of Authoritarian Corporatism 205

9. Revolutionary Nationalism: Elite Conservatives, Sandino, and the Struggle for a De-Americanized Nicaragua 232

Epilogue: Imperial Legacies: Dictatorship and Revolution 267

Notes 281

Selected Bibliography 325

Index 351
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3647-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3634-1
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