The Pinochet Generation: The Chilean Military in the Twentieth Century

The Pinochet Generation: The Chilean Military in the Twentieth Century

by John R. Bawden

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Chilean soldiers in the twentieth century appear in most historical accounts, if they appear at all, as decontextualized figures or simply as a single man: Augusto Pinochet. In his incisive study The Pinochet Generation: The Chilean Military in the Twentieth Century, John R. Bawden provides compelling new insights into the era and posits that Pinochet and his men were responsible for two major transformations in Chile’s constitution as well as the political and economic effects that followed.
Determined to refocus what he sees as a “decontextualized paucity” of historical information on Chile’s armed forces, Bawden offers a new perspective to explain why the military overthrew the government in 1973 as well as why and how Chile slowly transitioned back to a democracy at the end of the 1980s. Standing apart from other views, Bawden insists that the Chilean military’s indigenous traditions and customs did more than foreign influences to mold their beliefs and behavior leading up to the 1973 coup of Salvador Allende.
Drawing from defense publications, testimonial literature, and archival materials in both the United States and Chile, The Pinochet Generation characterizes the lens through which Chilean officers saw the world, their own actions, and their place in national history. This thorough analysis of the Chilean services’ history, education, values, and worldview shows how this military culture shaped Chilean thinking and behavior, shedding light on the distinctive qualities of Chile’s armed forces, the military’s decision to depose Allende, and the Pinochet dictatorship’s resilience, repressiveness, and durability.
Bawden’s account of Chile’s vast and complex military history of the twentieth century will appeal to political scientists, historians, faculty and graduate students interested in Latin America and its armed forces, students of US-Latin American diplomacy, and those interested in issues of human rights.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817319281
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 09/15/2016
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

John R. Bawden is an associate professor of history at the University of Montevallo and teaches twentieth century Latin American history. His articles on the Chilean military have been published in the Journal of Latin American Studies and The Latin Americanist.

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The Pinochet Generation

The Chilean Military in the Twentieth Century

By John R. Bawden

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2016 University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-9025-9


Evolution of a Proud Tradition

Chile's Armed Forces to 1931

When Pedro de Valdivia left Peru in 1540 to conquer the forbidding lands south of the Incan empire, his expedition promised hardship. Five years earlier Diego de Almagro had set out with five hundred Spanish soldiers and several thousand Indian allies to conquer the country he and his men called Chilli, but from beginning to end Almagro's campaign was a disaster. Thousands died of exposure crossing the Andes, and once the expedition reached Chile's temperate heartland it became apparent that the country had few prospects for profitable conquest — too little gold and hostile Indians. Returning to Peru, Almagro told everyone the land was poor and miserable.

Undaunted by Almagro's warnings, Valdivia marched into Chile's central valley and defeated a Native army on the site where he built the settlement known as Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura. In a letter to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Valdivia wrote that "this land is such that there is none better in the world for living in and settling, this I say because it is very flat, very healthy and very pleasant." The Mediterranean climate may have been agreeable, but the conquest of Chile was not. Native warriors, whom the Spanish called Araucanians, burned Santiago to the ground in 1541 and destroyed the ship Valdivia's men were building to establish contact with Peru. For the next two years the colony's settlers lived a frightened existence, nervously guarding their crops and livestock from indigenous warriors.

Valdivia managed to consolidate Santiago's defenses, but once the conquistador crossed the Bío Bío River three hundred miles south of the capital his soldiers met even hardier resistance. Native peoples learned to neutralize European advantages by attacking the bearded invaders at night or in the rain and by pushing Spaniards off their horses with lances. A celebrated warrior named Lautaro had carefully studied Spanish culture and technology during six years of captivity before he escaped his masters; he then perfected the tactic of separating men into dispersed squads that successively pushed forward and fell back in order to exhaust the Spanish cavalry and diminish its maneuverability.

From the Spanish perspective, these Native warriors were savage indios, the worst of all kinds: sin rey, sin fe, y sin ley (without king, without religion, and without law). Lacking any concept of monarchy, Araucanians formed a loose confederation of extended family units without a central state, which meant that Valdivia could not simply defeat an absolute monarch and place himself atop a set of preexisting imperial structures, as Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro had done in Mexico and Peru, respectively. No matter how many chiefs the Spanish captured, resistance continued from the Native people who are today called Mapuches.

Valdivia's campaign proceeded with manifest brutality. He routed an indigenous army in 1550 and ordered his soldiers to slice off the nose and one hand of each of two hundred captives before releasing them with this message: Tell your war chiefs to make peace and submit. Native warriors avenged the deed. In 1553 Lautaro destroyed Valdivia's army at the Battle of Tucapel and took the conquistador prisoner. One Spanish chronicle relates that the victorious Indians amputated, roasted, and consumed Valdivia's limbs in view of the (still alive) conquistador.

The Spaniards retained control of the central valley, but in 1594 a Native army captured and killed another Spanish governor, Martín García Óñez de Loyola, and after 1598 the Araucanians destroyed every European settlement south of Concepción, the southernmost extent of Spanish dominion. In this remote imperial fringe, the king's soldiers had few prospects to become wealthy encomenderos (individuals granted the right to extract tribute from conquered people) but had every prospect to die grisly deaths at the hands of fierce Indians. Recognizing that conquest was at least temporarily impossible, the Spanish military governor, Alonso de Ribera, convinced Spain's King Phillip III to send a permanent garrison to maintain a frontier with Indians who had proved themselves the equals of any European soldier. At the height of Spain's global power, the Crown was forced to recognize the sovereignty of Native peoples south of the Bío Bío River. The Mapuches, for their part, agreed to warn the Spanish authorities of pirates off their coastal waters. Only with the advent of industrial technology — the telegraph, railroad, and repeating rifles — did Santiago finally acquire dominion over Araucanía in the late nineteenth century.

This chapter examines the historical evolution of Chile's armed forces with a focus on events and traditions that influenced behavior and outlook in the twentieth century. The Mapuches' epic defense of their homeland, which prompted the creation of a standing army in colonial Chile, is a major source of pride and identity in the army. Nineteenth-century triumphs over Spain and over Chile's neighbors Peru and Bolivia, especially during the War of the Pacific (1879–1884), endowed both the Chilean Army and the Chilean Navy with confidence.

At the same time, these wars created enduring suspicions among the countries involved and ensured Santiago's perpetual anxiety about the potential for strategic encirclement by rival nations. In the late nineteenth century a process of professionalization under British and German guidance altered the army's and navy's structures, composition, and basic attitudes. Important academic traditions developed. In the twentieth century the Pinochet generation could still speak with aging veterans of the War of the Pacific or with officers who had suffered the trauma of the country's 1891 civil war. Above all, the revolutionary movement of General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo and his subsequent dictatorship (1927–1931) affected military thought and behavior throughout the twentieth century.

The Colonial Crucible

Difficult environmental circumstances shaped colonial Chile. Indian raids, violent earthquakes, and coastal piracy made life insecure for the country's inhabitants. Each year a payment of silver, known as El Real Situado, arrived from Peru to finance military operations in the south, but geographic isolation meant the country's inhabitants were usually on their own during periods of crisis. Spoken Spanish evolved in curious ways. The colony was poor, remote, and costly for the Spanish empire to defend.

The army's institutional history describes the colonial period as a dynamic struggle for space between freedom-loving Mapuche patriots and Spanish conquistadors, which led to a unique mestizaje (mixture of indigenous and European people). "Not only did two races blend together, but also the Chilean soldier, heir to the formidable military capabilities of the Araucanian warrior and Spanish soldier, was born. It is, therefore, not a stretch to say that the Army of Chile had its origins during the Spanish Conquest rather than independence." This interpretation also puts warfare at the heart of colonial development, suggesting that the southern frontier, and by extension the entire country, was a nexus of practically uninterrupted conflict from the conquest until 1810. In reality, a stable aristocratic society emerged rather quickly in the central valley, marked by very rooted social hierarchies. Similarly, the Araucanian frontier was not always embroiled in violent skirmishes. Rather, intervals of calm allowed Indians and colonists to engage in mutually beneficial commercial and cultural exchange.

Sergio Vergara's social history of the Chilean Army shows that it recruited soldiers from humble yet diverse social groups, whereas the vast majority of officers serving in the frontier zone came from society's middle strata. On the cusp of independence 90 percent of the king's soldiers defending the southern frontier were Chileans. A few of the officers belonged to regionally prominent families, and social connections to Santiago's landowning elites existed only through occasional ties of marriage. Chile's officers thus came from respectable but modest families. Such research bolsters the army's view of itself as an institution of the people, not of elites. Vergara also concludes that the relatively large number of soldiers in Chile and their social importance contributed to a recognized aspect of the nation's character: respect for hierarchy and official titles.

The existence of a permanent frontier guarded by a standing army had one very important consequence. In the central valley, Native peoples and Europeans blended, relatively quickly, into a Hispanic, culturally homogeneous society. This development, observes Mario Góngora, distinguished Chile from Peru and Mexico, where "large indigenous cultures prefigured the viceroyalties and the republics." Góngora points out that Peru's and Mexico's Indians tended to remain clustered in autonomous villages, where they paid taxes to the Spanish king and received occasional visits from itinerant priests but on the whole spoke Native languages and lived in isolation from European society. In contrast, Chile's Indians were either independent or subjugated and assimilated. Góngora also draws attention to the fact that every generation of Chileans experienced a wartime victory after independence from Spain in 1817: the war with the Peru-Bolivian Confederation (1836–1839), a second war with Spain (1864–1866), and the War of the Pacific (1879–1884). These victories, Góngora argues, did not merely increase the state's territory, they also endowed political and military elites, if not illiterate peasants, with a sense of national superiority.

The past possessed relevance for civil-military relations in the late twentieth century. Gregory Weeks writes of a widespread consensus in the military that the army "either predates or coincides with Chilean independence; in other words, the army is so closely tied to the creation of the nation that the two can hardly be distinguished. ... By asserting that its roots are sunk so deep in the national soil, the army has claimed a permanent and prominent position in national politics and so views itself not as a spectator but as an actor on the historical stage." When Augusto Pinochet received the title Captain General of the Republic he relished the comparison to Chile's early military governors, called captain generals, who enjoyed broad powers to found cities, distribute land, and organize the economy. The title also compared Pinochet to Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's great patriot who held the same title after independence from Spain. Pinochet, as is well known, viewed his sixteen-year dictatorship as entirely consistent with the role played by past military governors.

Bernardo O'Higgins and the Portalian Paradigm

Two personalities dominate the nation's achievement of independence from Spain and first steps as a fledgling republic: Bernardo O'Higgins and Diego Portales. Military journals devoted enormous attention to these two personalities: O'Higgins as the man who secured Chile's independence from Spain, and Portales as the éminence grise who founded a stable political order that distinguished Chile from other Spanish American republics. In the military imagination, both statesmen guided their ungrateful compatriots through moments of peril.

The armed forces celebrate O'Higgins as a master strategist who foresaw the role that sea power would play in halting Spanish attempts to reimpose colonialism. To train army officers he established the Military Academy in 1817 and the Naval Academy one year later. In October 1818 the embryonic Chilean Navy captured a Spanish frigate, which forced the Spanish viceroy to assume a more defensive posture. He could not risk more royal ships falling into patriot hands. O'Higgins also wisely hired foreign officers, mostly from the British Isles, to develop the country's first naval squadron. This navy, led by the daring Scotsman Lord Thomas Cochrane, defeated royalist holdouts in southern Chile and then moved north to deliver a final blow to the center of Spanish power in Peru. The Chilean Navy takes considerable pride in its contribution to South American independence.

In domestic affairs O'Higgins never managed to reconcile his own progressive vision of republican development with the realities of a country emerging from three hundred years of Hispanic colonialism. A committed liberal, O'Higgins invited foreign merchants to set up trading houses in Valparaíso and scandalized conservative elites when he authorized non-Catholic merchants to build a Protestant graveyard. Though practical by nature, O'Higgins idealistically hoped that laws and constitutions could wipe away colonial structures without incurring the wrath of the landowning aristocracy that opposed his intention to separate church and state, educate the mestizo masses, and abolish hereditary entails of land (mayorazgos) from father to firstborn son.

In the face of such daunting challenges O'Higgins came to believe that the republic required a strong enlightened leader to enact policies that progressively purged the aristocratic mentality. When O'Higgins tried to construct a legal dictatorship, elites supported General Ramon Freire's call for revolt. Rather than plunge the nation into civil war, O'Higgins left the country in 1823, and he died in Lima in 1842. For military officers O'Higgins represents the self-sacrificing patriot and visionary leader unjustly scorned by his own politically immature people. From 1823 to 1829 Chile suffered acute instability. Governments failed to reconcile provincial interests, resolve incessant conservative-liberal disputes, or put down regular military uprisings. Politicians wrote three liberal constitutions, but each failed to generate a societal consensus.

At roughly the same time that O'Higgins departed for Peru, a businessman named Diego Portales returned to his homeland, which was now embroiled in political turmoil. Portales shared none of O'Higgins's high-minded idealism; he had little faith in his country's immediate ability to build a liberal democracy, which he thought "an absurdity in American countries like ours, full of vices and where the citizens lack all virtue, as is necessary in order to establish a true Republic."

By the end of the decade, a succession of coups and countercoups — always involving military officers — generated agreement that the country needed order. Portales belonged to a political faction called the pelucones (bigwigs), composed of businessmen and landowners. In 1829 he and his allies from Concepción took control of the central government by defeating liberal general Ramon Freire at the Battle of Lircay. Immediately Portales implemented policies to stabilize the republic. To pacify the bandit-plagued countryside and subordinate soldiers to civilian authority, Portales established a militia of twenty-five thousand men.

Unlike O'Higgins, whose liberal ideas offended the elites' religious sensibility, Portales specifically designated a social role for the Catholic Church. His constitution (1833) created a centralized, impersonal, authoritarian state with political suffrage for property-holding men. While Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru suffered under the reckless rule of caudillos (charismatic strongmen), Chile embarked on a period of postindependence stability. Other factors contributed to Chile's early achievement of political order, including geographical compactness, ethnic homogeneity, a weak Church, and the absence of powerful provincial interests. Stability in Santiago made an enormous difference for Chile and its neighbors.

In 1836 Andean politician Andrés de Santa Cruz united Peru and Bolivia into a confederation imagined as a re-creation of the former Incan empire. Portales immediately declared war on the short-lived political entity because it threatened Santiago's commercial interests and unfavorably altered regional power dynamics. Few in Chile understood the foreign policy implications of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation (1836–1839) or Portales's reasons for going to war. In fact, the decision unleashed political forces that would lead to Portales's assassination in 1837. Ultimately, however, this murder strengthened support for the war and for the political system Portales had founded, and it ensured his place as a patriotic martyr among admirers.

Indeed, the 1973 military junta claimed to be restoring the politics of Diego Portales, who, in conservative historiography, laid the basis for Chile's nineteenth-century achievements. In the eyes of military officers, he embodied a pragmatic, nonideological nationalism. As for Portales's war with Andrés de Santa Cruz, Chile's navy achieved control of the sea-lanes in January 1839, and thereafter an army of mixed nationalities decisively defeated confederation forces at the Battle of Yungay, inflicting about three thousand casualties. This would not be the last Chilean incursion into Peruvian territory.


Excerpted from The Pinochet Generation by John R. Bawden. Copyright © 2016 University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Evolution of a Proud Tradition; Chile's Armed Forces to 1931 9

2 First Years in Uniform, 1931-1945 34

3 The Gathering Storm; Postwar Politics and Institutional Frustration, 1945-1970 51

4 Intellectual and Professional Formation, 1945-1970 78

5 Salvador Allende and the Armed Forces, 1970-1973 96

6 Soldiers before Pinochetismo, 1973-1976 135

7 Defying the World and Restructuring the State, 1977-1981 164

8 Circling the Wagons: The Survival of the Pinochet Regime, 1981-1986 183

9 Mission Accomplished: The Transition to Protected Democracy, 1987-1990 203

Epilogue 216

Notes 221

Bibliography 259

Index 277

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