Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina

Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina

Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina

Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina


For decades, Argentina's population was subject to human rights violations ranging from the merely disruptive to the abominable. Violence pervaded Argentine social and cultural life in the repression of protest crowds, a ruthless counterinsurgency campaign, massive numbers of abductions, instances of torture, and innumerable assassinations. Despite continued repression, thousands of parents searched for their disappeared children, staging street protests that eventually marshaled international support. Challenging the notion that violence simply breeds more violence, Antonius C. G. M. Robben's provocative study argues that in Argentina violence led to trauma, and that trauma bred more violence.

In this work of superior scholarship, Robben analyzes the historical dynamic through which Argentina became entangled in a web of violence spun out of repeated traumatization of political adversaries. This violence-trauma-violence cycle culminated in a cultural war that "disappeared" more than ten thousand people and caused millions to live in fear. Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina demonstrates through a groundbreaking multilevel analysis the process by which different historical strands of violence coalesced during the 1970s into an all-out military assault on Argentine society and culture.

Combining history and anthropology, this compelling book rests on thorough archival research; participant observation of mass demonstrations, exhumations, and reburials; gripping interviews with military officers, guerrilla commanders, human rights leaders, and former disappeared captives. Robben's penetrating analysis of the trauma of Argentine society is of great importance for our understanding of other societies undergoing similar crimes against humanity.


This is the story of a country of great natural wealth and economic promise torn asunder by violence and trauma. Decades of mounting political violence cost the lives of more than ten thousand people, inflicted unimaginable suffering on many more, and traumatized society in the process. This traumatization was not apparent to me when I visited Argentina in 1978 during a break from fieldwork in Brazil. in retrospect, I understand that the deceptive calm of public life in Buenos Aires had been imposed by state terror and concealed a national tragedy. the atmosphere was entirely different in April 1983, when, again away from fieldwork, I became swept up in the popular effervescence of a protest march against the transitional military government that had replaced a military junta discredited by losing the 1982 Falkland/Malvinas war.

On 16 April 1983, twelve thousand people joined the March for Human Rights to present the military government with a petition demanding that they bring back the disappeared alive, return the abducted babies, and dismantle the repressive apparatus. What I remember most vividly is my shock at the display of force when we reached the intersection of Avenida 9 de Julio and Avenida de Mayo. It seemed as if a human stockade had been stacked against the advancing crowd to prevent its direct passage to the presidential palace. An assembly of policemen on horseback stood in front, closely followed by rows of riot police, behind them bumper-to-bumper squad cars, and finally a barrier of armored vehicles with gun-toting soldiers on top. As the protesters veered toward the right, away from Avenida de Mayo and into a narrow parallel street, several mounted policemen charged into the crowd. Like everyone else, I shrank away and felt a tremendous surge of anger because of this intimidation. I quickly entered Hipólito Yrigoyen street. Each side street was blocked by armed policemen and soldiers. the crowd was cheered from the balconies, and finally arrived at the Plaza de Mayo. Prominent human rights leaders, among them Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, approached the Casa Rosada presidential palace to hand over the petition, supported by more than two hundred thousand signatures, but there was no government official to receive them and the doorman refused to accept any papers. “Murderers!

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