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Journal of Cold War Studies 8.2 (2006) 132-133

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Robert Kirkland, Observing Our Hermanos de Armas: U.S. Military Attachés in Guatemala, Cuba, and Bolivia, 1950-1964. New York: Routledge, 2003. 178 pp. $80.00.

Robert O. Kirkland's book, Observing Our Hermanos de Armas, provides an excellent history of U.S. military attachés posted to Latin America at the height of the Cold War. Although Kirkland primarily focuses on Guatemala, Cuba, and Bolivia, he also offers a comprehensive overview of the history, training, and duties of military attachés. His analysis is especially important given the dearth of literature on the topic. [End Page 132]

Kirkland cogently and succinctly outlines the history of military attachés during three of the most important episodes of U.S. responses to revolution in Latin America. Previously, most histories of U.S.-Latin American relations have simply omitted the attachés. In contrast, Kirkland highlights the role of the military attaché in the policy process.

Important as Kirkland's book is in providing a corrective to the historical record, he might have included additional information to round out what is otherwise a good presentation. For instance, he could have better explained the attachés' relationships with the intelligence community. On p. 72, he tells the reader that the attachés were not supposed to "gather intelligence," but in the first chapters of the book he makes clear that the attachés were charged with gathering a variety of types of information, some of which could fall into the area of intelligence. Perhaps the bilateral military assistance agreements circumscribed the activities of the attachés—but this needs to be clearly put before the reader. One way of better situating the attachés in the intelligence community would be for Kirkland to describe how other policymakers perceived the attachés.

More broadly, Kirkland could have situated the role of the attachés into a wider policy context. For instance, one wonders how Dwight Eisenhower's "New Look" changed the role of the U.S. military overseas and the job of the attachés in particular. More significantly, the book contains little about the impact of major changes in U.S.-Latin American relations on the role of the attachés. Scholars have already noted the implications of such changes to U.S. foreign policy. For example, Bryce Wood demonstrated in his The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985) that the new U.S. interventionist thrust in the early Cold War period, driven by fears of Communist expansion, caused U.S. leaders to dismantle the Good Neighbor policy, the mainstay of U.S. relations with Latin America for a generation. How did this dramatic shift change the role of the attachés? In a more recent work, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), Lars Schoultz perceptively outlined two conflicting strains in U.S. policy toward Latin America during the early Cold War—"Attacking Dictatorships" and "Combating Communism with Friendly Dictators." It would have been useful to situate the attachés—and the U.S. military's role in Latin America-within this broader framework.

Despite these minor shortcomings, Kirkland's book is an important contribution to the history of U.S.-Latin American relations. By clearly explaining the attachés' role, Kirkland sheds valuable light on a critical yet often overlooked part of the intelligence and policymaking process. His book will be of particular interest to graduate students seeking to understand the rich complexity of U.S. policy toward Latin America.


The views expressed here are the reviewer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.

Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State