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  • I Die with My Country: Perspectives on the Paraguayan War, 1864-70
  • Michael Kenneth Huner
I Die with My Country: Perspectives on the Paraguayan War, 1864-70. By Hendrik Kraay and Thomas L. Whigham. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Pp. x, 257. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Index. $69.95 cloth.

Thomas Whigham and Hendrik Kraay seek to illuminate the human experience of war and modernity in this edited volume on the Paraguayan War (1864-70). The collective effort of its nine contributors is successful in this regard. In ten essays covering the four participant countries, they demonstrate how this catastrophic conflict had repercussions that altered lives across the continent, from Paraguayan female camp followers to Federalist insurgents in the Argentine provinces. Moreover, the anthology constitutes a pioneering English-language work on the war that completes the turn of its historical discussion away from tired polemics over tyranny and imperialism and toward critical questions of state formation. Indeed, in the volume's final essay Whigham provides the comprehensive claim that the war was the "great catalyst" (p. 179) for nationalism and modernity in the Plata region.

Whigham sees modernity and nationalism largely in terms of unified national states and export-oriented economies. This view gives way to a familiar narrative that portrays nineteenth-century South American elites struggling to create nations amidst political turmoil and rural populations more concerned with quieting their hunger than with questions of citizenship. Whigham asserts in turn that the war supplied the social and economic engines for these visionary elites to complete their work. A republican Brazil cleaned of monarchy and slavery and a unified Argentina freed of partisan violence stand out as the most impressive products of this historical process. In many ways, this interpretation implicitly assumes the political vision of late nineteenth-century liberals as the historical standard of modernity. Still, Whigham and his fellow contributors also explore alternative visions of modernity and nationhood lost in all the fighting.

The discussion of Paraguay perhaps yields the most profound case of such an embattled vision of modern nationhood. Whigham highlights the country as the only "near nation" (p. 180) in the Plata region before the war. He cites the autocratic López regime exploiting an organic cultural unity among the population to pursue its modernity, mainly via state industrial projects to benefit the military. In these pursuits, the state expanded colonial-era draft labor practices, while still relying on a subsistence agrarian economy labored by women. The essay by Jerry Cooney on Paraguay's war economy demonstrates how such modernizing proved inadequate in a world of fully industrialized warfare, especially for a landlocked country of limited manpower now involved in an extended conflict with its powerful neighbors. Barbara Potthast adds in her essay that, despite Paraguayan women's prominence in sustaining the fight, patriarchy remained embedded in government expressions of gender-inclusive nationalism. [End Page 677]

Ariel de la Fuente argues that the wartime Federalist uprisings in the Argentine provinces also bore tradition-bound expressions of nationhood. They pinned hopes on national caudillo figures and admitted an anti-Brazilian folk republicanism, which not coincidently found considerable echo in Paraguay's wartime propaganda. Furthermore, Juan Manuel Casal indicates that Uruguay's limited participation in the war against Paraguay was more an extension of traditional partisan struggle than a push toward liberal nation building.

The essays on Brazil suggest that the empire brought its share of bygone understandings of the modern nation to the war. Whigham reminds readers that the Brazilian emperor, Pedro II, believed slavery and monarchy fully compatible with a liberal, progressive state. Renato Lemos, in turn, reveals that the wartime letters of Benjamin Constant (the positivist military officer who decades later led the republican revolution that deposed the emperor) produced both modern frustrations with patronage politics and traditional sentiments of Brazilian political superiority. According to Roger Kittleson, veterans in Rio Grande do Sul used their war service to negotiate claims of citizenship with this seigniorial political culture. Finally, Kraay notes in his essay how the patriotic mobilization of black Zuavo regiments in Bahia grew from proud colonial and independence-era traditions of racialized militia organization. These units nonetheless dissipated during the war...


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