In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Brazilian Armed Forces

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Colonial Era, 1500–1822
  • Imperial Brazil, 1822–1889
  • Intervention in Rio de la Plata, 1851–1852
  • Paraguayan War, 1865–1870

Military History Brazilian Armed Forces
Frank D. McCann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0169


All of Brazil’s constitutions have limited the option for war. As a result, the armed forces are basically defensive. Negotiations or arbitration are to be used in resolving international differences and disputes. Wars of conquest, alone or in an alliance, are expressly prohibited in the constitution. Yet the armed forces are defined as “permanent” national institutions to protect Brazil from foreign intrusion and to support the national government in enforcing law and preserving order. Because the armed forces are simultaneously focused externally and internally, their deployment of units seeks to balance that dual posture. Scholars researching the Brazilian armed forces should keep this defensive orientation in mind. Historically, military spending has been low, especially considering the country’s great size and that it shares borders with ten South American neighbors. One tendency that distinguishes Brazilian military historiography from the type produced in the United States is that it treats colonial, 19th-century imperial history and contemporary history as a continuous whole, ignoring whether real continuity exists or not. This tendency exists in part because Brazilian military officers, with minimal education in historical research and writing, dominated the production of armed forces history until recently. Also, until the 1960s, archival-based historical study of Brazilian history was largely absent. Graduate study of history, especially 20th-century history, in Brazilian universities dates from that decade. The sophistication of the study of history in the universities has moved at a more rapid pace among civilian scholars than in the officer corps. This is noteworthy because the armed forces archives are in the possession and control of the military. While this situation allows scholars the opportunity to view the military firsthand and to deal with them directly, it can also be restrictive depending on the topic being researched. The armed forces’ archival collections are extremely rich, are well maintained, and can enhance many topics beyond strictly military ones.

General Overviews

For much of its history, Brazil’s military leaders looked to Europe and then to the United States for models and armament, but even so, influences of South American neighbors can be noted, often in reactive fashion. Most authors have emphasized civil-military relations rather than the institutional history of the armed forces themselves. This gives much of the literature a point of view from outside those services. One might think of observers standing outside the barrack’s gates rather than inside. Rouquié 1987 is excellent for placing the history of the Brazilian military within the context of Latin America. To learn how the army viewed its own history, see Macedo Carvalho 1998. And for an extensive internal view with a Marxist bent, there is Sodré 1965. For a deeper look at the services’ historical self-image, Cidade 1998 provides a mass of highly useful readings.

  • Cidade, Francisco de Paula, Síntese de três séculos de literatura militar brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca do Exército Editora, 1998.

    Cidade gained the rank of general and was a noted military intellectual. This collection of readings spans Brazil’s military history from the war against the Dutch in the northeast and the struggles against the Spanish in the La Plata region, through independence, the war against Paraguay, the end of the monarchy, the Republican era, the French Military Mission, and participation in World War II. It provides insights into how Brazilian officers view their institution’s history.

  • História naval brasileira. 10 vols. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Serviço de Documentação da Marinha, 1975–2002.

    This series, produced by the navy’s documentation service, contains chapters ranging from the colonial era through the 20th century. Some volumes, such as Volume 2, consist of two books (Tomo 1 & Tomo 2). The chapters usually follow the course of Brazil’s history, with an emphasis on maritime matters. Anyone writing on naval history will need to consult this series.

  • Lavenère-Wanderley, Nelson Freire. História da Força Aérea Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Ministério da Aeronáutica, 1967.

    This is a good reference for Brazilian aviation and the air force itself. The author was a senior officer who trained in the United States during World War II. He treats army and naval aviation, which were combined in 1941 to form the Brazilian Air Force. He begins with the aerial balloons used in the Paraguayan war, and includes many documents and lists of participants in various operations.

  • Macedo Carvalho, Luiz Paulo, ed. The Army in Brazilian History. 3 vols. & box of maps. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Biblioteca do Exército, 1998.

    These volumes are richly illustrated with paintings, photos, and maps. They originated out of a project at the army’s Command and General Staff School in the 1970s and are probably the closest thing to an official history that exists.

  • Rouquié, Alain. The Military and the State in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

    Rouquié combines analysis of the historical role of the military in Latin American politics with a broad theory of the relationship of military institutions with the state. Professionalism was supposed to make armies apolitical neutral servants of the state, but it did just the opposite. Officers envisioned a “depoliticized” state that would modernize the Pátria. They wanted to eliminate politics, not to create a new political order.

  • Scheina, Robert L. Latin America: A Naval History, 1810–1987. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 1987.

    This study embraces all Latin American republics, with subsections dealing specifically with Brazilian naval matters. There are helpful maps and copious notes. The chapters on the world wars, US naval missions, and the Malvinas/Falklands war are likely the best in the book.

  • Sodré, Nelson Werneck. História militar do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Editora Civilização Brasileira, 1965.

    The text runs from the colonial period to the military’s seizure of power in 1964. It is firmly based on existing literature and benefits from Sodré’s considerable historical research and his other publications. His historical thinking was often based on his career experiences as an army officer. His leftist tendencies were used to justify forcing him out of the army. Simply put, you cannot study the Brazilian military without reading Sodré.

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