The Paraguayan War - Vol. 1

The Paraguayan War - Vol. 1

The Paraguayan War - Vol. 1

The Paraguayan War - Vol. 1


The Paraguayan War (1864–70) was the deadliest and most extensive interstate war ever fought in Latin America. The conflict involving Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil killed hundreds of thousands of people and had dire consequences for the Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López and his nation. Though the Paraguayan War stirs the same emotions in South Americans as does the Civil War in the United States, there have been few significant investigations of the war available in English.

In this first of two volumes, Thomas L. Whigham provides an engrossing and comprehensive account of the war's origins and early campaigns, and he guides the reader through the complexities of South American nationalism, military development, and political intrigue. Whigham portrays the conflict as bloody and inexcusable, though it paved the way for more modern societies in the continent. The Paraguayan War fills an important gap in our understanding of Latin American history.


Axioms about the nature of war are as old as war itself. Thucydides said that men go to war out of fear, interest, or honor. Centuries later, Carl von Clausewitz argued that war is politics expressed through other means. And William Tecumseh Sherman succinctly and memorably noted that war is “all hell.” None had Paraguay in mind, but the lessons of Syracuse, Austerlitz, and Kennesaw Mountain were also applicable to that South American republic and its neighbors between 1864 and 1870. War can breathe new life into moribund political systems. It can push humble figures into positions of prominence. It can redefine nations. But it also kills comprehensively, often cutting down the innocent with the culpable and leaving devastation in its wake. The Paraguayan War, in all these ways, was no different than all the conflicts that preceded it.

Yet the Paraguayan (or Triple Alliance) War was unlike anything that had been seen in that part of the world. It presented a striking blend of the modern and the antique, with ironclad warships and observation balloons sharing the stage with battalions of barefoot soldiers carrying bamboo lances.

The war also had wide-ranging political effects; it made possible the final consolidation of Argentina into a single nation-state and opened a new chapter in the struggle between the Blanco and Colorado Parties in Uruguay. It cast the military into the forefront of Brazilian politics, a trend that ultimately led to the overthrow of the empire. And it crushed . . .

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