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The Americas 61.2 (2004) 322-323

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Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II. By Max Paul Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xii, 359. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. $30.00 cloth.

This fascinating book fills an important lacuna in Latin American historiography: the United States campaign against German nationals in Latin America during World War II. Friedman shows that this campaign not only resulted in the deportation of thousands of German residents of Latin American countries to camps in the United States, but also greatly increased the U.S. economic and political role in Latin America. Carried out hurriedly and without regard to due process, this operation produced grave injustices, including the deportation of several Jewish Germans who were mistaken by U.S. officials as Nazi agents. Ironically, U.S. policy treated German residents of Latin America far worse than Germans in the United States, who retained a right to fair hearings throughout the war. Only the largest countries of Latin America—Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico—refused U.S. overtures to deport Germans and put in place their own programs to control their activities.

As Friedman's study demonstrates, U.S. policy toward Latin America in World War II—long overlooked in favor of studies of German Fifth Column activities—fit [End Page 322] into the larger goals of achieving regional hegemony, eliminating European influence, and promoting U.S. trade and investment that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the War of 1898. Moreover, the author argues that U.S. policy makers fell victim to paranoia about Nazi influence in Latin America, overestimating the threat from a totalitarian society whose leaders considered Latin America at best of secondary importance for its aims of world domination. This paranoia resembled in many ways the subsequent witchhunt for Communists during the Cold War.

The book is organized into eight chapters. The first chapter analyzes the German ethnic communities in Latin America as largely unassimilated enclaves in which the Nazis encountered many adherents after their seizure of power in 1933. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the initial U.S. steps against these communities, which included intelligence operations and the blacklisting of enemy nationals and companies. Chapters 4 and 5 treat the deportation and internment of the Germans in U.S. camps, and Chapter 6 argues that internal Justice Department investigations revealed that the interned Germans had posed no threat to the United States prior to their deportation. Chapter 7 demonstrates that the expropriation of German property in Latin America greatly enhanced the U.S. role in the Latin American economies, and also led to a greater role of the Latin American states in these economies. Finally, Chapter 8 analyzes the German efforts to repatriate their nationals by means of prisoner exchange programs.

This highly innovative study follows in the best tradition of multiarchival research typical of what has become known as the "new diplomatic history." Using his knowledge of several languages to his advantage, the author combines research in European, Latin American, and U.S. archives to produce a sophisticated, multi-layered approach to the topic. Well written and well argued, this book is as suitable for the undergraduate classroom as it is for the academic specialist. It raises several important questions hopefully to be addressed in future research. While Friedman's work discusses U.S. policy in Latin America in detail, it is by necessity more sketchy on German aims and Latin American responses to German and U.S. policies. In particular, future scholars might revisit the assumption, implicit in this book and the scholarly consensus upon which it relies, that Hitler and his minion exercised close control over Nazi foreign policy. In fact, an examination may reveal contesting forces in the formulation of German policy, especially in areas far away from Europe where members of the ethnic enclaves could operate with relative autonomy. A close analysis of ethnic German communities, Nazi diplomats, and the German military in Latin America...


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