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Review: "The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America."

"The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America."


Throughout historian Stephen G. Rabe’s work, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America, the author provides a detailed analysis of Cold War politics (and policies) in Latin America as well as the United States’ struggle to cultivate (and preserve) potential allies within this region during the 1950s.

In their attempt to stymie the expansion of Communism in Central and South America, Rabe argues that the United States often betrayed its underlying principles of “liberty” and “democracy” as the American government often sought to aid in the destabilization of countless Latin American governments that stood opposed to its policies. Through the use of the CIA and covert military operations, Rabe argues that the United States helped to overthrow and weaken these countries through the financial backing of rebel groups and repressive regimes.

Main Points

According to the author, many of the American-backed rebel groups relied heavily on terrorism, murder, assassinations, torture, and bribery to maintain power and control over their citizens. Consequently, the book makes the case that American foreign policy often resembled many of the same tactics and strategies used by the Soviet Union and its agents; thus, posing the question, what ideals were the Americans fighting against (and trying to protect or preserve) in the Cold War? More importantly, was the fight against Communism always righteous?

Concluding Thoughts

Rabe’s work relies on an impressive array of primary sources that include personal memoirs, oral-history interviews, CIA documents, letters, U.N. Commission reports, newspaper accounts (such as the New York Times), as well as reports and documents from the National Security Council and the United States Senate.

A clear strength of Rabe’s account lies in its extensive discussion of the historiography that surrounds this particular field, as well as the author’s ability to transmute the large array of primary documents that he uses into a compelling, well-written, narrative-driven format. However, one downfall of this work lies in the fact that Rabe’s conclusion feels a bit rushed. Moreover, the author often provides an uneven analysis of various subjects throughout this work as well. Despite these issues, the book is important to consider for this field of study as it highlights a negative aspect of American foreign policy that is often relegated or overlooked by scholars.

All in all, I give Rabe’s work 5/5 stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a Latin American perspective of the Cold War. You will not be disappointed. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity!

Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion

  1. What was Rabe's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the author makes in this work? Is his argument persuasive? Why or why not?
  2. What type of primary source material does Rabe rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?
  3. Does Rabe organize his work in a logical and convincing manner? Why or why not?
  4. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the author have improved the contents of this work?
  5. Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?
  6. What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?
  7. What sort of scholarship is the author building on (or challenging) with this work? Does this book add substantially to existing research and trends within the historical community? Why or why not?
  8. Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author?

Works Cited

Rabe, Stephen. The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

© 2017 Larry Slawson


Jo Miller from Tennessee on September 07, 2017:

I've been a news junkie for a long time. Without researching this topic in detail, I always thought we were not as morally superior as we liked to believe. We often supported dictators of the worst kind if they were opposed to communism. I also thought our capitalism was not as pure as we like to believe either. We raped those countries economically at times. So, I would probably like this book since I tend to like books that affirm what I already believe anyway.

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on September 03, 2017:

When we influence other countries politics it's okay but when they minipulate ours it's not okay? Sadly we got what we deserved in 2016 but it continues to sting :(