- The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas
The School of the Americas is less a history of this controversial military institution than a lengthy rationale for its closure and a complete overhaul of American foreign policy. According to the author, the school represents the "tip of a vast iceberg" that comprises American imperialism (p. 228). The school controls, through its courses of instruction and other more subtle means of influence, a Latin American military that is essentially an appendage of American might, or, as the author notes, given "the custodial duties of empire assigned to them by the United States" (p. 226).
Gill's first major error in The School of the Americas is her insistence that American power is the product of a monolithic construct. In terms of basic diplomatic and military history, she ignores the interagency rivalries and operational divisions that have blunted American policy throughout its history. More to the point, the author also dismisses much of recent American history in her work. From Gill's perspective Vietnam, Watergate, and the [End Page 284] various presidencies of the past fifty years are largely irrelevant. What apparently matters is an America dominated by reactionary, "neoliberal" interests (pp. 35-36). The clumsiness of this model is ironic, given the constant drumbeat of criticism Gill aims at over-generalized U.S. policy identifying communism, narcotics, and terrorism as threats to American interests.
A second significant problem is the author's willingness to discount Latin America's participation in its own history. According to Gill, the hemisphere is composed of chess pieces that the United States moves according to its own whims. What the author ignores is a record that clearly indicates Latin American sovereignty despite U.S. hegemony. Peruvian participation in the School of the Americas, for example, peaked during the seventies at the same time that it openly pursued Marxist policies at home and open relations with the Soviet Union (p. 80).
In its failure to make a distinction between U.S. complicity in human rights abuses and the control it exerts over the issue, Gill's doctrinaire study does a disservice to an important topic. Clearly, both the United States and the School of the Americas have much to answer for in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and other nations plagued by violence. The extent to which lives have been shattered by state-sponsored terror are obvious and legitimate subjects of investigation. Unfortunately, Gill's tendency to smother the United States and Latin American militaries with blame prevents her from addressing the particularities of each case in an measured, historical manner. Again, and not without some additional irony, she subverts her own effort to hold these actors accountable.
Both scholars and the interested lay person would be better served by a number of works that have more precisely focused on the issues raised in Gill's book. Older studies by James Dunkerley and Michael McClintock set a superior standard for an audience interested in the mechanisms of military power and U.S.-Latin American relations. Similarly, newer scholarship by Robert H. Holden examining state-sponsored violence in Latin America is another highly useful resource.