Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil

Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil

Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil

Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil

Synopsis

In this history of right-wing politics in Brazil during the Cold War, Benjamin Cowan puts the spotlight on the Cold Warriors themselves. Drawing on little-tapped archival records, he shows that by midcentury, conservatives--individuals and organizations, civilian as well as military--were firmly situated in a transnational network of right-wing cultural activists. They subsequently joined the powerful hardline constituency supporting Brazil's brutal military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. There, they lent their weight to a dictatorship that, Cowan argues, operationalized a moral panic that conflated communist subversion with manifestations of modernity, coalescing around the crucial nodes of gender and sexuality, particularly in relation to youth, women, and the mass media.

The confluence of an empowered right and a security establishment suffused with rightist moralism created strongholds of anticommunism that spanned government agencies, spurred repression, and generated attempts to control and even change quotidian behavior. Tracking how limits to Cold War authoritarianism finally emerged, Cowan concludes that the record of autocracy and repression in Brazil is part of a larger story of reaction against perceived threats to traditional views of family, gender, moral standards, and sexuality--a story that continues in today's culture wars.

Excerpt

In 1974, Brazil commenced its tenth year of military government, a dictatorship marked by repressive campaigns to stamp out communist subversion. One afternoon that summer, Cristovam Breiner, a devoutly Catholic judge, former policeman, and decided supporter of the regime, boarded a public bus in Rio de Janeiro. There, to his shock and horror, he witnessed what he construed as an attack by the agents of subversion. These were not the (relatively few) armed revolutionaries whom, by that point, government forces had largely detained, exiled, or killed. Instead, Breiner recalled in an article written for the right-wing National Defense League, he had seated himself beside a “lady of modest and respectable aspect” when two students, aged “thirteen or fourteen at most,” boarded the bus. It was then that the onslaught commenced, as “the pair of students… immediately began embracing passionately, and even started to caress each other, reaching the point of repeated kissing, as if they were in the most secluded hideaway.” Appalled as he was, Breiner knew precisely how to interpret the scene before him. “That,” he explained to his readers, “is communism today, instigated by materialist subversives, as subversion lies implicitly… in that libidinous excess which is the greatest teacher of communist subversion [for which] it is necessary to instill libidinousness in the peoples of the world, to strip them of their character … that they may be more easily dominated.” Among the staunchest partisans of the dictatorship (which would last a total of twenty-one years, ending in 1985), Breiner rejoiced in the regime’s repressive anticommunism. As he saw it, Brazilian society was pervaded by subversion, apparent in the rampant moral and sexual dissolution evinced by these two young “assailants.” The situation, according to Breiner, necessitated authoritarian government, vigilance, and counterattack.

Breiner’s testimony reveals a key element in his and other Cold Warriors’ conjuring of enemy “subversives”—a way in which the Cold War could become “hot” via reimaginings of students, teachers, priests, artists, and other civilians as nefarious conspirators. Western Cold . . .

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