Linda Alexander Rodriguez, ed. Rank and Privilege: The Military and Society in Latin America. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1994. xxii + 239 pp. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8420-2432-7.
Reviewed by Hans Vogel (Leiden University)
Published on H-LatAm (July, 1995)
The present volume brings together ten previously published articles and book chapters on various aspects of the Latin American military since the late eighteenth century. The build-up is chronological with a good geographical spread, ranging from Mexico to Argentina and Chile, and from Ecuador and Peru to Brazil. The Caribbean largely remains out of focus, except for the contribution by Jorge I. Dominguez ('International War and Government Modernization: The Milita-ry--A Case Study').
The competent introduction, written by Linda Alexander Rodriguez goes far toward explaining the state of affairs in studies on the military in Latin America. She makes it quite clear that military history of the kind described below, does not form part of mainstream historical research on Latin America. Indeed, most of the articles included in the volume deal with institutional matters in peacetime. Some contribu-tors, however, do discuss 'real' military historical topics, for example Jorge Dominguez, Christon I. Archer ('La Causa Buena': The Counterinsurgency Army of New Spain and the Ten Years' War') and to some extent, William F. Sater ('The war of the Pacific').
Some of the other contributions are well-known to the specialist: sections of Frederick Nunn's book on European influences on the Latin American military ('The South American Military Tradition: Preprofessional Armies in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Brazil'), and Stanley Hilton's work on the Brazilian military as promoters of industrialization ('The Armed Forces and Industrialists in Modern Brazil: The Drive for Military Autonomy, 1889-1945').
The emphasis is clearly on the military as a political institution (witness the other contributions: by Daniel M. Masterson, 'Caudillismo and Institutional Change: Manuel Odria and the Peruvian Armed Forces, 1948-1956;' Peter and Susan Calvert, 'The Military and development,' Gabriel Marcella, 'The Latin American Military, Low Intensity Conflict, and Democracy,' and William S. Ackroyd, 'Military Professionalism and Nonintervention in Mexico.'). As such, the volume is certainly valuable. It seems very well suited as an introduc-tion to the topic, both for students and for Latin America-nists coming from other subfields. The book may also be useful as a supporting "reader" for a college course on the Latin American military. In fact, I presume that the volume was intended for this role. It reminds one very much of the splen-did Borzoi series on Latin America from the 1960s.
This collection of articles and book chapters is quite useful in once again focusing attention on the Latin American military. However, it does so by reverting to the kind of topic fashionable some decades ago. Back in the 1950s and 60s, there was hardly a lack of scholarly interest in the Latin American military. There may be two broad explanations for this interest. Firstly, many WWII and Korea veterans had pursued graduate studies on Latin American themes, and the military experiences of many of them had drawn their attention to related subjects in Latin America. Secondly, to the US government, which was waging the cold war all-out, the Latin American military seemed ideally suited to preside over the rapid modernization of Latin America, preserving order and keeping the communists at bay. John J. Johnson clearly stated that the armed forces were the best-organized and best-educa-ted corporate groups in Latin America, and thus the natural leaders in the 'take-off' phase of national development. Interest in military topics was further stimulated by the innovative work of Morris Janowitz and other military sociolo-gists. The overall emphasis of most scholarly work was on the military as an institution in times of peace. To call this military history would be wrong in my opinion. Military histo-ry, to paraphrase John Keegan, founder of the 'new military history', should deal with the army at the time when it does what it was meant to do: fight. However, this approach does not include 'histoire-bataille' the traditional single-minded concentration on individual battles and the general staff decisions influencing their outcome. That sort of military history is largely--in Latin America as elsewhere--the domain of historians working for the General Staff. Other practitio-ners of this genre are to often be found among retired army officers.
Another way of doing military history is to analyze the dynamic relationship between society and armed forces in wartime--roughly the approach pioneered by George Clark at Cambridge and by Philippe Contamine and Andre Corvisier in France. With a mere handful of exceptions (e.g. Alvaro Jara in the 1950s), military history from these perspectives has not been carried out for Latin America.
For all the competence for which the authors in the present volume are deservedly known, I detect a lack of inside knowledge when they deal with military matters in detail. For example, Sater (p. 58) states that on the eve of the 'Guerra del Salitre' the Chilean reserve artillery 'possessed field-pieces, but these were almost useless, because they were made of bronze.' Bronze guns were the best heavy weapons available till the middle of the nineteenth century, and still in use with many armies all over the world by the 1870s and even later. They were certainly not 'almost useless.' The cast iron guns that began replacing these weapons were still in full development and not always necessarily better. The Comblain guns of which Sater also speaks, are not French but Belgian. Belgium has traditionally been a major supplier of small arms to Latin America. I make these remarks because I think Latin Americanist historians should be as accurate as any other historian. It seems to me that accuracy often leaves much to be desired whenever Latin Americanist historians touch upon non-Latin American topics. In the same vein, one detects a lack of knowledge among some of the authors represented here, of specialized literature on military subjects, outside the field of their immediate concern. This is unfortunate, since it may limit the usefulness of their scholarly work.
I wonder why all the authors brought together here are US-connected. They are either North Americans or acclimatized Latins. This seems odd, since there are many highly competent Latin American and European historians working on the Latin American military. Certainly Juan Marchena Fernandez, to name just one of them, should figure in any survey on the Latin American military as an institution since the 18th century! Other names that spring to mind include Gerardo Suarez with impressive work on colonial military legislation and practice, Alain Rouquie and Nelson Werneck Sodre, who has written a superb military history of Brazil.
If more volumes are planned in this series, I firmly believe the publishers ought to consider widening the scope of contributors, thus reflecting the truly international charac-ter of present-day Latin American studies.
The present volume nonetheless is quite welcome and useful in emphasizing the urgent need to reconsider the histo-ry of the Latin American military, and in providing a selecti-on of important articles on the subject. This commendable effort deserves our sincere appreciation.
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Hans Vogel. Review of Rodriguez, Linda Alexander, ed., Rank and Privilege: The Military and Society in Latin America.
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