Sunday, February 15, 2009

War of the Triple Alliance 1864-1870

Never heard of the above war? Not a surprise; this war is virtually unknown to North Americans. It was a war between Paraguay vs. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. (Hence the term Triple Alliance).1

The war stated because of the rather boring and interminable political intrigues and diplomacy between the various powers in the region concerning who had influence in the region of the Rio de la Plata; the wide estuary between Uruguay and Argentina. Francisco Solano Lopez faced with problems with Brazil first declared war on Brazil and then when Argentina wouldn’t let him cross their territory to attack Brazil declared war on them. Uruguay having a new government that was pro-Brazilian soon declared war on Paraguay.2

Francisco Solano Lopez3 the Dictator of Paraguay had succeeded his father Carlos Antonio Lopez has leader (Dictator) of Paraguay in 1862 when his father died.

Francisco Solano Lopez

In 1853 while touring Europe in order to learn modern methods of modern adminstration and Military technique and also to get contacts in order to facilitate the export of Paraguayan products. Francisco meet the Irish courtesan Elisa Lynch in Paris and fell in love with her and brought her back to Paraguay where she swiftly became well hated by other members of Francisco’s family and also Francisco’s most important advisor.4

Elisa Lynch

Francisco didn’t help his post war reputation by indulging in various atrocities, (the extent to which is debated to this day), including the torture and murder of various foreigners, the execution of several of his brothers in law and eventually ordering the executions of his sisters and mother. All of this has given Francisco a well deserved reputation for cruelty.5

Aside from his cruelty for which there is amble evidence, although it is a reasonable speculation that his enemies exaggerated it for foreign and indeed propagandistic consumption. Even some of the contemporary accounts may be flawed by exaggeration and bias.6 However it does appear that Francisco Solano Lopez did to an incredibly, almost megalomaniac extent identify himself with his nation and certainly towards the end may have been close to insane.7 He seemed to have had a rather dangerous illusion that he and his nation / people were one, so that if he was overthrown his nation would be destroyed. Well this came stunningly close to actually happening. The war did not end until Lopez was killed in 1870.

Battle of Riachuelo

Popular accounts of the war often give absurd figures for Paraguay’s losses, for example: supposedly at the end of the war Paraguay’s population which had been 1, 337,000 in 1864 had been reduced to 221,000 of which only 29,000 were adult males or that the population had been 1,400,000 in 1864 reduced to 221,000 of which 106,000 were women, 86,000 were children and 29,000 were men.8

Among the more reasonable scholars there has been debate. Certainly no one who has looked into the matter takes any population figure for Paraguay in 1864 of a million or over the slightest bit seriously. In fact the usual figures are usually given has follows 285,715 – 318,144 thousand9, 372,543-574,850 thousand based on different projections of population increase,10 and 420,000 – 450,000 thousand.11

Losses were subject to debate one author contended that the huge losses indicated in various accounts were false and ideas that Paraguay lost c. ½ her population were false. Instead the estimate was for between 8 – 17.9% of pre war population estimated to have been between 285,715-318,114 thousand. (Which works out to 21,257 – 54,079 losses). In fact the author contends that the lower figure and percentage is much more likely.12 this was disputed. It appears a lot of this was based on an implicit argument from incredulity.

It appears that in fact the debate about whether or not the losses of the Paraguayans were catastrophic has in fact been settled conclusively and the results are indeed mind blowing. In the late 1990’s a census was discovered in the Paraguayan Ministry of Defence which had been conducted in 1870.13 the figures recorded are terrifying. For example they give a total of 14,266 adult men, 50,977 adult women and 39,334 children out of a total of 116,351 total.14. These figures are incomplete and miss certain regions of the country and certain categories and there was probably some undercounting in the areas covered making the actual total of somewhere between 141,351 – 166,351. Given that the figure of 285, 715 for 1864 is almost certainly too low.15 and a figure of 420,000 – 450,000 for 1864 is more reasonable it appears that Paraguay did in fact experience a truly terrifying demographic disaster. Something on the order of 60 – 69%!!16 In fact just looking at the ratio of adult men to adult women has indicated in the census, (14,266 to 50,977, which works out to 3.57 adult women to 1 adult man), this if nothing else indicates a severe demographic disaster.17

Not quite has extreme as the first two figures quoted but pretty bad!

The above makes Lopez look pretty bad for dragging his country into such a war and then prolonging it past the point of any sense. However things are not quite so simple. After Lopez had so foolishly gotten himself ringed with enemies the Allied powers formalized their alliance by treaty; said treaty contained secret clauses (16, 17, 18) by which the allied powers stated clearly that their goal wasn’t simply the removal of the Lopez regime and securing river access to the interior but the satisfaction of their maximum territorial claims, which amounted to more than ½ of Paraguay!. The allies may have dressed up their aims for public consumption as a liberal and high minded fight against Dictatorship and “Barbarism”, but sheer naked imperialism played a very powerful role. The Argentineans for example discussed in secret with the Brazilians the idea of completely eliminating Paraguay and dividing it between Argentina and Brazil, most going to Argentina. Not surprisingly the Brazilians refused to go along with this.18

Map of Paraguay 1864.

To quote:

However, word of the treaty’s contents leaked after several months. The result, as Octaviano and his colleagues had foreseen, was that Paraguayan resistance stiffened in every way, for now the Paraguayan people saw that more than simple politics guided the ambitions of their enemies: Paraguay’s survival as a nation, as a community, was at stake. Given that fact, it mattered little that the marshal was irresponsible. [Lopez] The Paraguayan people would follow him, if necessary, down the long, painful trail to Armageddon.19
During the war there were various negotiations between Lopez and the allied power but frankly it is hard to disagree with the following appraisal.

For, from his point of view, he was never offered anything better than abject surrender, humiliating expulsion, and a reputation as the man who allowed almost half his country to be swallowed up by foreign powers. Few leaders would have found this an acceptable basis for peace, and few of his people did either.20
After the war the Domingo Faustino Sarmiento the Argentinean President wrote:

Providence decreed that a tyrant should cause the death of the Guarani people. [Paraguayan] It was necessary to purge the earth of all that human excrescence.21
Not quite an edifying, clear struggle against tyranny. Of course the Paraguayan people survived.

In fact the above comment, however disgusting, touches on several important facts about Paraguay and its people. That the great majority of the population is mestizo, i.e., of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry and that the great majority of the population spoke Guarani, an Indian language, as their main language, and said language had a sort of official recognition at the time. These facts have had and continue to have a powerful influence in how Paraguayans see themselves. A distrust of their neighbours created by years of slave raids for Indian slaves and the thinly or not at all disguised contempt many had for the “Indian” Paraguayans also played a role and prepared them to fight hard.22

Among the enemies of Lopez were the well intentioned Brazilian Emperor Pedro II and the highly talented Argentinean diplomat / politician Mitre, who was instrumental in finally unifying Argentina. Perhaps I will discuss them in more detail another time.

Pedro II (Left) Bartolome Mitre (Right)

The war was characterized by savage battles, much suffering, and the incredible bravery of the Paraguayan people, soldiers and civilians alike. To quote one author:

The words “Paraguayan” and “courage” have mentioned so often together in this history that they have become synonymous…23

Battle of Avahy

In the end Lopez was finally killed, march 1870, leading a staving band of 500 ill equipped men, accompanied by perhaps 1000 starving civilians. His last words were “I perish with my country!” His body was buried near by at Cerro Cora in Paraguay, until it was moved to a much more lavish burial place in the capital Asuncion in the 1930’s.24

Elisa Lynch was sent into exile after the overthrow of Lopez, she returned to Paraguay in 1875 in a desperate effort to get back land that Lopez had given her, much expropriated from Lopez’s enemies in the last part of the war. It is hard not be either impressed by her courage and desperation, considering how hated she and her former lover were hated in Paraguay and blamed for the disaster that had fallen upon Paraguay, or be appalled by her sheer unmitigated gall in trying to regain possession of property, much of which had been gained by torture, execution and brute force. Elisa lynch died of stomach cancer in Paris in 1886. In the early 1960’s she was reburied with honours as a national heroine in Asuncion.25

In one of the ironies of history that by holding out so long, Paraguay enabled Argentina and Brazil to fall out with each other so that in the end although Paraguay lost a sizable chunk of territory, (c.¼ of its whole territory) but not all that the allies were planning to take from her in the beginning. Further the animosity between Brazil and Argentina so great Paraguay was able to regain some real independence.26

Paraguay emerged as a shattered broken society and people, with a stunningly lopsided sex ratio, unusual social arrangements and a devastated economy.27

Its interesting to contrast the almost insane determination of Paraguay to fight to the last with the American Civil War. Certainly in comparison the considerable Union and Confederate effort seems almost pathetic against the almost superhuman Paraguayan effort. It seems that to the Paraguayans a lot more was at stake and accordingly their effort was proportionally vastly greater.28

In the end the only real heroes in this whole sorry mess were the Paraguayan people whose endurance and courage in this war and its aftermath are amazing. It’s a pity this story isn’t more well known; if it was in a work of fiction it might be labeled has too unbelievable!

Paraguayan Mother and Child c. 1870

1. For books on the War of the Triple Alliance in English look for Kolinski, Charles J., Independence or Death, University of Florida press, Gainesville, 1965, Phelps, Gilbert, Tragedy of Paraguay, Charles Knight & Co. Ltd., London, 1975, To the Bitter End, Leuchars, Chris, Greenwood Press, London, 2002, Whigham, Thomas L., The Paraguayan War, vol. 1, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NB, 2002. For Aspects of the war see, Kraay, Hendrick, and Whigham, Thomas L., Editors, I Die with my Country, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NB., 2004, For contemporary accounts of the war see Burton, Richard Francis, Letters from the Battle-fields of Paraguay, Tinsley Brothers, London, 1870, (the Edition I have is an Elibron Classics Replica Edition),It can be found at Google Books, Here Washburn, Charles Ames, The History of Paraguay, two volumes, Lee and Shepard, Boston, 1871, (The Edition I have is an Elibron Classics Replica Edition in four volumes).It can be found at Making of America Books, Here Thompson, George, The War in Paraguay, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1869, It can be found at Google Books Here. Masterman, George Frederick, Seven Eventful Years in Paraguay, Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, London, 1869, It can be found at Google Books, Here McMahon, General M. T., Paraguay and Her Enemies, Harper’s new monthly magazine, vol.40, Issue 237, (1870), pp. 421-429, which can be found at Cornell University Library Making of America, Here by the same author The War in Paraguay, Harper’s…, vol.40, Issue 239, (1870) pp. 633-647. can also be found at Making of America, Here, Bulfinch, S.G., Paraguay and the Present War, The North American review, vol. 109, Issue 225, (1869), pp. 510-543, can also be found at Making of America, Here.

2. For the causes of the war please see, Bethell, Leslie, The Paraguayan War, Institute for Latin American Studies, London, 1996. (Whole book is devoted to the causes) and Whigham, pp. 77-161, pp. 165-254, Phelps, pp. 84-102, Kolinski, pp. 64-95, Leuchars, pp. 21-53.

3. See Whigham, pp. 63-73, 89-92, 105-117, for some detail on Lopez and assessments of his character. Saeger, James Schofield, Francisco Solano Lopez and the Ruination of Paraguay: Honor and Egocentrism, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, New York, 2007, for a very caustic but generally accurate portrayal of Lopez. It is also the only serious biography in English of Francisco Solano Lopez.

4. The number of useless “Biographies” in English of Elisa Lynch, which are in effect nothing more than novels crammed with sentimental hogwash and nonsense is annoying. The only English biography worth reading for real information rather than has an amusing piece of fiction is Rees, Sian, The Shadow of Elisa Lynch, Headline Book Pub., London, 2003. Do avoid Women on Horseback, by William Edmund Barrett, Frederick A. Stokes, New York, 1938, Empress of South America, by Nigel Cawthorne, William Heinemann, London 2003, Madame Lynch and Friend, by Alyn Brodsky, Cassell, London, 1976, unless you want to read heavily fictionalized novels. For a novel that bills itself has a novel and not a “Biography” try Tuck, Lily, The News from Paraguay, HarperCollins, Pub., New York, 2004. It won the National Book Award and is more historically accurate than either Barrett’s, Cawthorne’s, or Brodsky’s so-called “Biographies”.

5. For contemporary accounts of these atrocities see Bulfinch, Washburn, vol. 2, pp. 350-457, Thompson, 318-325, Masterman,144-158, 161-170, 240-304. For a more skeptical look at these atrocities see Burton, pp. xi, 128, 330. See also McMahon, both items. For more modern views see Leuchars, pp. 181-184, 188, Phelps, pp. 210-233, Kolinski, pp. 157-162, Washburn’s objectivity has been heavily questioned with good reason and it appears that Washburn may in fact have been involved in a real conspiracy against Lopez. For a collection of testimony and an investigation of the torture and imprisonment of foreigners in Paraguay, along with some pertinent questions involving Washburn's activities and the credibility of some of the testimony see Paraguayan Investigation 1870, A Report of the Committee On Foreign Relations (Report no. 65), Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., 1870. A copy can be found at Internet Archive, Here. See also Phelps above. Still that and later atrocities during Lopez’s retreat make for gruesome reading. See Leuchars, pp. 225-227, Kolinski, pp. 184, Phelps, pp. 252-255. Lopez’s sisters and mother survived.

6. See Ibid. Phelps.

7. See Footnote 3.

8. The first set of figures is from Vagts, Alfred, A History of Militarism, Revised Edition, The Free Press, New York, 1959, p. 470. The Second set of figures is from Dupuy, Ernest R., and Dupuy, Trevor N., The Encyclopedia of Military History, Harper and Row, Pub., New York, 1977, p. 911.

9. Reber, Vera Blinn, The Demographics of Paraguay: A Reinterpretation of the Great War, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 68, No. 2, (1988), pp. 288-319, p. 307.

10. Williams, John Hoyt, Observations on the Paraguayan Census of 1846, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 56, No. 3, (1976) pp. 424-437, p.436.

11. Whigham, Thomas L., Potthast, Barbara, The Paraguayan Rosetta Stone: New Insights into the Demographics of the Paraguayan War, Latin American Research Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, (1999), pp. 174-186, p. 179.

12. Reber, p. 307.

13. Whigham & Potthast, pp. 179-180.

14. Ibid. pp. 182-185, Table One. The figures for Adult Males, Adult Females and Children do not add up to 116,351 because some of the figures for various locations are total population figures and are not broken down by sex or age.

15. See Ibid. pp. 175-179.

16. Ibid. p. 185.

17. Calculation done by Pierre Cloutier

18. For a copy of the Treaty see Kolinski, pp. 219-222. For more of the discussion of the Treaty see Whigham, pp. 276-281.

19. Whigham, p. 281.

20. Leuchars, p. 190, Phelps, pp.164-168, Kolinski, 124-127.

21. Galeano, Eduardo, Memory of Fire: II Faces and Masks, W.W. Norton & Co., New york, 1978, p. 204.

22. Whigham, pp. 3-21, Phelps, pp. 1-14.

23. Leuchars, p. 201-202.

24. Leuchars, pp. 225-231, Kolinski, pp. 181-187, Rees, pp. 286 – 291, 317-318.

25. Rees, pp. 309-313.

26. Leuchars, pp. 233-236.

27. See Warren, Harris Gaylord, Paraguay and the Triple Alliance: The Post War Decade, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1978, Chapter, The Stricken Nation, pp. 29-46.

28, See Beringer, Richard F., Hattaway, Herman, Jones, Archer, Still, William N., Why the South Lost The Civil War, The University of Georgia Press, Athena GA., 1986, pp. 440-442, for the comparison.

Pierre Cloutier

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