Prussianizing Latin American Armies

The latest issue of Journal of World History (on Project MUSE) contains an enlightening (to me) review by Andrew Kirkendall of a book with too broad a title, Neorealism, States, and the Modern Mass Army by João Resende-Santos (Cambridge U. Press, 2007).

The book is narrowly focused on the attempts by the Argentines, Brazilians, and Chileans to imitate German military practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…. The author is certainly correct to argue that it was success on the battlefield in 1870 and 1871 against the hitherto much admired French that generated the urge to emulate the Prussian army (these countries had already adopted British naval practices)….

The author’s main achievement is that he makes clear how much their actions were motivated by perceived security threats from the other two countries. He shrewdly notes that it was their own successes (Chile in its wars with Bolivia and Peru, and Brazil and Argentina in their war against Paraguay) that revealed to them how much their militaries needed reforming. Chile took the lead even before the War of the Pacific (1879–1884) was over amidst fears that war with Argentina was imminent. The author makes clear how territorial gains resulting from these wars made these countries less secure, in large part because they increased their neighbors’ hostility. Argentina’s unprecedented prosperity at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries made it possible to follow Chile’s example, though many Argentines distrusted Germany by this point because of its strong ties to Chile. Argentina’s wealth helped make it the major military power on the continent by the outbreak of World War I. Brazil was the slowest to reform. This failure seems ironic considering the fact that the first two presidents following the establishment of the republic in 1889 were military men who were all too aware of how inadequate the armed forces were. Long-standing civilian distrust of the military and the weakness of the national government during the Old Republic made it possible for state governments, when given a chance, to make it impossible, for example, to institute obligatory military service. (Decades later, Brazil’s alliance with the United States in World War II, combined with pro-Axis sympathies in Argentina, transformed the balance of power on the continent.) It should be noted that one long-term result of changes introduced by civilian governments was the weakening of civilian authority over the military.

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Filed under Germany, Latin America, military, U.S., war

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