The landing of U.S. troops in Grenada yesterday recalls the era of "Big Stick" diplomacy in the early part of this century as well as more recent military interventions in the Caribbean basin.

President Reagan presented the action as an attempt to protect the lives of U.S. citizens and to bring order and democracy to the troubled island, reasons similar to those given for military actions in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Mexico since 1898.

Yesterday's action is the first direct U.S. military intervention in the region during the Reagan administration, but was foreshadowed by the large increase in military aid to anticommunist governments in Central America and the widely publicized covert effort against the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Eighteen years ago, Washington sent 400 marines to Santo Domingo when civil war erupted there to ward off what it feared would be a victory by leftists. Within a month, 23,000 U.S. troops were stationed in the Caribbean state of 4 million people. Eventually U.S. troops occupied the entire country, just as they had from 1916 to 1924.

President Lyndon Johnson justified the invasion as "an effort to protect the lives of Americans and the nationals of other countries in the face of increasing violence and disorder," although no U.S. citizen was hurt until the U.S. troops arrived. Citing a threat to "the principles of the inter-American system," Johnson was anxious to expand what began as a unilateral U.S. action, and some members of the Organization of American States later sent units to an Inter-American Peace Force that stayed until September 1966.

"The United States," Johnson said in announcing the first U.S. landing, "will give its full support to the work of the OAS and will never depart from its commitment to the preservation of the right of all of the free people of this hemisphere to choose their own course without falling prey to international conspiracy from any quarter."

Although Johnson later explained the presence of U.S. troops in the Dominican Republic as necessary to prevent a communist takeover, many histories of the intervention--some written by U.S. officials who participated in the intervention--have concluded that no credible communist threat existed.

The first extensive U.S. military action in the Caribbean, which long has been considered a strategic region, was the war against Spain in 1898 in which U.S. forces took over Cuba, Puerto Rico and Spain's Pacific possession, the Philippines. Following the victory over Spain, which made the United States a world power for the first time, U.S. intervention in the the Caribbean area intensified.

President Theodore Roosevelt's slogan, "Speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far," seemed an apt one for this period of U.S. foreign policy. The adventure-loving president also announced the Roosevelt Corollary in 1902, stating that the Monroe Doctrine "may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of . . . wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power."

During his administration and that of his successors, the United States freely exercised police power in the Caribbean Basin, sending gunboats to Venezuela in 1902, encouraging the secession of Panama from Colombia in 1903, taking over the customs houses of Haiti and the Dominican Republic--and eventually occupying the two countries--and keeping contingents of marines in Nicaragua from 1927 to 1933.

In 1914, despite president Woodrow Wilson's pledges not to intervene in the affairs of other countries, the need to protect U.S. lives was invoked as U.S. forces took the Mexican city of Vera Cruz in an action that led to the resignation of president Victoriano Huerta.

The era of U.S. intervention appeared to come to an end with a change of policy by president Herbert Hoover and the declaration of a "Good Neighbor Policy" toward Latin America by president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Agreements were negotiated in the early 1930s to remove U.S. troops from the countries they were occupying, although the United States continued to exercise considerable political and economic influence in the region.

The Good Neighbor Policy, however, failed to erase the resentment felt by many Latin Americans toward what they saw as an arrogant and warlike policy of the United States. In 1948 the Organization of American States was founded to protect the principles of nonintervention and self-determination.

In 1954, the Central Intelligence Agency covertly supported a successful coup against Jacobo Arbenz, the leftist president of Guatemala. Seven years later, a similar attempt was made to overthrow the Marxist government of Fidel Castro in Cuba, but it failed when Castro's forces repelled a landing of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs.