- The Paraguayan War. Vol. 1. Causes and Early Conduct
Thomas Whigham discusses the causes of the war between Paraguay and the allies of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay and the results of the military conflicts through 1865. In a well-written traditional history based on extensive research in the archives of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, the author argues that the causes of the Paraguayan war are found in the political ambitions and nationalism of the main actors. Although the policies of Bartolomé Mitre of Argentina, the internal political conflicts of Uruguay, and the actions of Dom Pedro II of Brazil are all part of the explanation of the causes in the war, Whigham places most of the blame on Francisco Solano López and his efforts to create a nation state. Whigham's insight into the actions and personality of Solano López and the description of his conduct of the war are the strength of the monograph. The author's suggestion that timing of Solano López's actions led to military and diplomatic failures is perceptive.
This work is divided into five parts. Part I describes the colonial background and nineteenth-century political development of Paraguay. Part II explores the issue of Paraguay's borders with the neighboring countries of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay and Paraguay's effort to situate itself within the region. Part III recounts Solano López's preparation for war and the Mato Grosso campaign while testing the neutrality of both Argentina and Brazil. Part IV examines the military campaigns of 1865 including the battle of Riachuelo and the march south. This volume concludes with the retreat of Paraguay's military forces to within its own borders.
Although there is no question that there is a need for a new history of the Paraguayan war and that Whigham, who has spent his professional life since his undergraduate days focused on Paraguay, is uniquely qualified to write it, this is a disappointing book. The monograph is too long; it is primarily a descriptive political/military history of Paraguay, and it has little new to say about the war. Part I and [End Page 291] most of Part II, which provide a superficial political summary of Paraguayan history, could have been cut; they provide little to help one's understanding of the causes of the war. Making the argument that the conflict was about the creation of new nations never quite works. Whigham's conclusion discusses Solano López's actions yet fails to relate these actions to issues of state building. While Whigham's description of the environment and military campaigns makes the events come alive, particularly the description of the Mato Grosso campaign, at the same time, one wishes for more analysis. The maps provide some understanding of the military campaigns, but in several cases they will be confusing to those unfamiliar with the region because national boundaries are often not included. When Whigham disagrees with previous interpretations of the war, it is never clear from footnotes or context with whom he is disagreeing. Conclusions are reached for which there is no evidence. For example, rank and file Paraguayans are perceived as loyal and the population "united behind their president" (p. 422). This would be clearer if Whigham had described Paraguayan society before and during the war.
Those interested in reading a military history of the Paraguayan War and gaining insight into the personality of Franscisco Solano López, will find Whigham a good storyteller. Readers will enjoy the collection of photographs that provide portraits of Paraguay's nineteenth-century rulers as well as the military battles of the Paraguayan War. This work, however, will not provide the reader with either an understanding of the developments of Paraguayan nation building or knowledge of Paraguayan society and economy either before or during the war.