- The Tribute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race and Nation in Brazil, 1864–1945
One morning, hiking in the Itatiaia National Park, located in the mountains between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, I encountered a contingent of several hundred Brazilian soldiers who were breaking down their encampment and taping their blistered feet as they prepared for a training march through the mountains. Shortly afterward, I stepped off the trail to allow the soldiers to pass. They marched by, toting heavy packs and carrying obsolescent, perhaps First World War-vintage, rifles whose true value potentially lies less in national defense than as collectibles. The polite but weary soldiers were the fruit of Brazil’s draft policy, which all but guaranteed they came from Brazil’s poorer classes. Their weekend training in the woods had little to do with preparation for combat, something which very few Brazilian soldiers have ever witnessed. To [End Page 271] the contrary, their presence in those uniforms in that national park had much more to do with their social class, with the Brazilian military’s broad concept of national security, and with elite discourse about honor and the health of the nation.
The endurance and the historical significance of these questions of social class, honor, nation-building and race are, as its title suggests, the subject of Peter Beattie’s Tribute of Blood. This landmark study is one of the richest sources on the social history of Brazil between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, offering a rare glimpse into the vast social space between slaves and oligarchs and providing a cogent analysis of the social, institutional and political changes that the transition from slave to free labor generated for Brazil, as for other nations of the Americas. Beattie focuses on the policies of military impressment, recruitment and drafting, as well as the conflicts over discipline, resistance, morale and honor which characterized popular reactions to military obligations.
Through these features of Brazilian military history, Beattie deftly synthesizes major currents in Brazilian political and economic history with the challenges of lives lived at the margins of economic power and political protection. While this study covers nearly a century of Brazil’s most transformative political experiences (including the Paraguayan War, the end of slavery, the replacement of its monarchy with a republican government, and the emergence of an authoritarian regime that would bring Brazil to fight in the Second World War alongside the Allies), Beattie’s principal concern is with the changing social roles played by the Brazilian army. The army which at the time of the Paraguayan War (1865–70) served largely as a penal and policing institution, was transformed by the Second World War (which Brazil entered in 1942) into a tool of nation-building which promoted notions of health, eugenic fitness, honor and national unity. Ultimately, this is a study about changing values of social control, and about the relationships between the military as an institution and the popular classes that were compelled to confront it. Through this analysis of the army’s evolving social roles, Beattie illustrates one of the great enduring challenges facing Brazil—the persistence of enormous social distances and the failure of democratic dialogue and sharing of decision-making between classes.
Beattie shows us that recruitment and conscription were central areas of national political debate, and they touched principally upon the lives of poor and working class men. Tribute of Blood analyzes the relationships between elite men’s ideas about nationhood and the lives and bodies of typically unwilling non-elite men. This relationship is all the more laden with significance in Brazil because, down to the present, elite ideas have not historically been imposed upon elite bodies: “vulnerability to the draft came to mark the lower limits of middle class status.” (271). This object lesson on class difference and social power is evident to any Brazilian but has been largely neglected by historians on both ends of the hemisphere.
Beattie relies on...