September 13, 2005
12:15PM -to- 1:30PM
153 Uris Hall
Latin American Studies Program
During the debate in the United States over whether or not to introduce military conscription, on the eve of the U.S. entering World War One, several major newspapers in the United States ran articles that lavished praise on Argentina’s conscription law. Argentina’s conscription system was creating a strong race of men who were capable of defending the country. Military service had also taught generations of young men to love their country and to respect the institution and tradition of the military.
Military conscription was instituted in 1901 with the goal of shoring up the republic’s defenses while also forging more patriotic and civic-minded citizens. By 1911, the latter goal became paramount as war scares subsided but the threat of internal revolution seemed to increase. Significantly, the 1911 reform sought to provide the government with accurate lists of 18 year-old men for the dual purposes of more efficiently enforcing conscription and establishing universal obligatory suffrage.
Despite high praise from foreign observers and from members of the military hierarchy, however, there is strong evidence that conscription-age men, as well as conscripts and volunteers already in service, routinely challenged or undermined military hierarchy. Some conscription-aged men simply evaded service, either by refusing to enroll and/or by leaving the country. Once conscripted, many soldiers employed a range of individual and collective responses to the rigors of barracks life, including individual and collective insubordination, public protests, and even organizing revolutionary cells within military units. Many of the collective actions were probably motivated by the influence of revolutionary working class movements that were prevalent in Argentina through the 1930s.
There is strong evidence to suggest that between the military coup of 1930 and the election of Juan Perón in 1946, the Argentine military began to exercise more draconian control over those serving in the ranks. This was accomplished through the stiffening of discipline and through the institutionalization of internal propaganda that sought to inculcate patriotic and martial values into the minds of conscripts. These responses coincided with the military’s growing autonomy from civilian political authority.