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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid and brisk account of the Dirty War
From the beginning of Juan Peron's exile to the restoration of democracy, Lewis chronicles the gruesome escalation of violence in Argentina, that reached its peak in the military kleptocracy of the late '70s. It's not hard to wonder about Lewis's agenda in this lively account. The left-leaning Monteneros and the far-left Erpistas have their crimes dwelt upon, while the...
Published 18 months ago by L. Brimmicombe-wood

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Informative but partisan
Paul Lewis has written extensively on modern Argentina. This covers the years from the rise of Peron to the crisis of the 1970s; the time of the junta and the dirty war itself [1976-1983] constitute a central section; there are chapters on the aftermath up to 2001. A conclusion reflects on other accounts of the period and asks whether the divisions in the country have...
Published 21 months ago by gerardpeter


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Informative but partisan, 10 Dec 2012
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Paul Lewis has written extensively on modern Argentina. This covers the years from the rise of Peron to the crisis of the 1970s; the time of the junta and the dirty war itself [1976-1983] constitute a central section; there are chapters on the aftermath up to 2001. A conclusion reflects on other accounts of the period and asks whether the divisions in the country have really healed. It is a political history and, as the title implies, Lewis focuses on the big personalities of the period. It is certainly readable. However, there are problems.
He has no sympathy for the "guerrillas". It is of course reasonable to question the ideology of the Montoneros and the many other groups on the left who followed the armed road to social change. However, the author is much less critical of the ideology of those who opposed them and inaugurated the dirty war. He traces their thinking to French "theorists" of modern war who fought in Algeria and Vietnam. I would have expected a somewhat more critical take on those who led these bloody, reactionary colonial wars that destroyed the 4th Republic and almost killed the 5th.
We learn that the junta set up 340 detention centres. We know at least 10,000 people died in the dirty war. However, when Mr Lewis talks abut terrorists he is only ever referring to the left. He describes at length the atrocities committed by the latter. He does not deny the cruelties of the junta, but there is much special leading. The kidnapping, rape and torture of a Swedish teenager - before she was thrown into the sea - is called "controversial". He suggests the defence lawyers of the generals at the 1985 trial should have gone a bit harder at the witnesses - hundreds of torture victims.
He writes of the rape of female victims, but "balances" it with details of three women who went on to have affairs with their captors. Not surprisingly many who were taken to those 340 centres gave up information or "names". Lewis notes that 90% of the Montoneros "spilled their guts". I find that offensive. Throughout the book there is a thinly veiled contempt for European socialists and leftists who supported the imprisoned and the families of the disappeared. Much is made of the Jewish origins of individual Montoneros and their supporters.
For Mr Lewis it is apparent that "human rights" are just a weapon that the left uses. He doesn't even mention the US-engineered overthrow of Allende, which explains why so many in Latin America advocated guerrilla tactics in this period.
Finally I felt the author had no real sympathy for Argentina or its people, no real love for the land. He reflects a depressing narowness of vision that characterises the American defence department and the CIA.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid and brisk account of the Dirty War, 12 Feb 2013
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From the beginning of Juan Peron's exile to the restoration of democracy, Lewis chronicles the gruesome escalation of violence in Argentina, that reached its peak in the military kleptocracy of the late '70s. It's not hard to wonder about Lewis's agenda in this lively account. The left-leaning Monteneros and the far-left Erpistas have their crimes dwelt upon, while the passages on the Junta's terror and the disappearances are terser, less detailed. Maybe this is because of the information available (the thing about secret terrors is their secrecy), but one suspects a cognitive bias. In Lewis's book the words 'human rights lawyer' appear to mean 'fellow traveller'. The activist left are largely painted as middle-class dilettantes and little time is spent on examining the ground in which left-leaning Peronism, Marxism or Trotskyism could flourish.

But one has to be careful of swinging the pendulum too far the other way. The Monteneros and ERP had plenty of blood on their hands and Lewis is probably correct in his portrayal of how the extreme left fell into the hands of vicious sociopaths. That said, I would have liked to have read more on how the Junta, when it arrived, lapsed into corruption. Were they boy scouts before 1976? An examination of the roots of the military's authoritarianism (the class divides between officers and enlisted and the Prussian affectations) are not forthcoming.

Of particular interest was the origin of the military's COIN doctrine. Lewis suggests that the funding may have come from the US, but that American counterterror doctrine was ignored by the Argentines, having been discredited in Vietnam. They preferred the spirit of the French COIN experts, who advised uncompromising repression, but also centralised control of of the war effort. That the Argentine military devolved control and direction of the war to local commanders is seen by Lewis as the central error of the generals. One wonders whether that might be simplifying things a bit.

At the end of the day, it was the economy that floated or sank regimes in Argentina and it's here that the generals lost the country. Would a less corrupt, more economically reformist Junta have pacified the nation? Maybe, but Lewis doesn't really offer us a view on how and why the generals went off the rails beyond noting the resistance of hardliners to neoliberal reform. He hints at an interesting line of enquiry when he notes how discombobulated the generals were by the notion that they might be unpopular. More social and historical context on the officer class might have helped us here, but unlike his acid-etched portrait of the leftist intelligencia, Lewis fails us here.

All this is to faintly damn a solid and brisk account of the war, and a great introduction to the subject.
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Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina
Guerrillas and Generals: The Dirty War in Argentina by Paul H. Lewis (Paperback - 1 Nov 2001)
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