Conscription and military service in Latin America were major political and social forces during the Cold War and have been the subject of a growing number of studies in the last decade. Common themes include gender, state-building, racism and anti-racism, civil-military relations, colonialism, neocolonialism, and war and peace. These works take on the topics from diverse methodological and theoretical frameworks: in some cases, there are rich and accessible archives available to scholars whereas in other areas, historians are limited to newspaper accounts. Both the Cold War and military service were transnational phenomena that had profound effects in specific national contexts. They thus need to be studied at different scales. This roundtable takes a comparative and transnational framework to address the experience of rank-and-file soldiers during the Cold War era. Panelists with expertise on militaries and soldiers in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America will discuss the following questions. How did military service co-exist with emerging youth cultures that rejected family paternalism and authoritarian structures? How did those doing military service see their experiences differently from country to country? What roles did political ideology, race, social class, and masculinity play in their participation and assessment of military service? To what extent did those in the anti-war movement and who resisted military service acknowledge shared experiences with their age cohort in other parts of the world? In what ways did the use of conscripts in foreign or domestic conflicts change how the experience has been remembered? What were the effects of foreign trainers and officers trained abroad on soldiers’ experiences in the military? How did rank-and-file soldiers perceive their own role in the global Cold War?
Jonathan Ablard, History, chairs panel on military service in Latin America
By Michael Smith, February 6, 2023