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  • Essays on Latin American Security: The Collected Writings of a Scholar-Implementer
  • Lawrence A. Clayton
Essays on Latin American Security: The Collected Writings of a Scholar-Implementer. By Russell W. Ramsey . Bloomington, IN: 1stBooks, 2003. Tables. Notes. xvi, 351 pp. Cloth, $20.50. Paper, $13.50

This book brings together essays, book reviews, conference papers, journal articles, and newspaper editorials produced by the author from the early 1960 s to 2003. Ramsey is best know today as the academic director of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), the successor to the immensely controversial School of the Americas (SOA), through whose portals passed several generations of Latin American military officers.

The old SOA, located first in Panama and then subsequently transferred to Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 1984 , was alleged to have trained Latin American officers to suppress their populations through terror, torture, and other indefensible and nondemocratic practices. Even today, protesters (including celebs such as Susan Sarandon and Ed Asner) gather annually outside the gates of WHINSEC to observe the rituals of publicly excoriating the school for all its sins. Never mind that inside the students are listening to the heartbreaking description of how a young lawyer, Pedro Matta, was tortured at Villa Grimaldi, on the outskirts of Santiago, in the 1970 s. Matta brings to his presentation a mockup of the torture prison to illustrate graphically the torture process early in general Augusto Pinochet's rule. In a matter-of-fact, conversational tone, Matta describes the torture, the breaking down of the will, the pain, the isolation, the deliberate humiliation and degradation of a man.

I watched this presentation in 2001. I watched as young and not-so-young Latin American military and naval officers followed Matta around the exhibit, listened closely and, with me, in some instances simply had to turn away. How could [End Page 566] men do this to other men, no matter how violently they disagreed or hated each other? Outside the gates of the school, protesters continue to march, throwing vials of fake blood on the gates, continue the mantra which brought them there—out of touch with what is really happening and being taught inside the old School of the Americas (aka, School of Assassins). I was astounded by the disconnect between the facts and the public discourse being leveled at the school. Inside I heard human rights being taught, unexpurgated by any censorship. Outside there seemed to be a people caught in a time warp, as if I had transported myself back to the 1960 s and picked up where I'd left off in my campaign for "Clean" Gene McCarthy and an end to the war in Vietnam.

At the heart of the reconstructed School of the Americas has been the author of this book; if you are interested in the mind of the military as it intersects with the scholarly world, this will be a most valuable documentary source. Ramsey is not easy to typecast. The son of a general and a West Point graduate, the young lieutenant was assigned to Panama in 1960 to help teach a course on jungle warfare in the then-being-organized School of the Americas. In Panama he worked with a young captain named Omar Torrijos. He served with the 101 st Airborne Division with distinction in Vietnam before acquiring a Ph.D. in Latin American history at the University of Florida.

The contents of the book are basically divided into five parts, reflecting the author's interests. All can be mined for insight into the various structures and phases of U.S. interaction with the Latin American military over the span of the cold war. The last section, on the growing emphasis on human rights, is a must read for students of the WHINSEC/SOA. The 2001 essay "Human Rights Instruction at the U. S. Army School of the Americas," for example, provides an excellent survey of human rights across history and places the U.S. commitment to these human rights and democracy within the context of Latin American policy over half a century.

So, after all that is good has been said, what about the bad? These essays cry...


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pp. 566-567
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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