Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0159
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0159
Between 1864 and 1870 Paraguay engaged in a large-scale war against its neighbors Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The first military engagements began when Marshal Francisco Solano López captured the Brazilian steamer Marquis de Olinda in 1864, afterward invading the Brazilian territories of Mato Grosso and Rio Grande do Sul as well as the Argentine province of Corrientes. Solano López had wished to intervene in Uruguay to forestall a Brazilian occupation, but when his Blanco allies were defeated there, the Brazilians, Argentines, and Uruguayans formed an alliance to drive him from power. The war, which was protracted, had many aspects that are hotly debated today, including causes, casualty figures, diplomatic motivations, the character of nationalism, and the personalities of key protagonists—most especially Marshal López. Paraguay’s economic status and its capacity to resist the Allied onslaught for nearly six years have also drawn much attention from historians. In the end, the war’s effect on all participant nations continues to shape political and cultural debates throughout the region.
The multiple causes of the Triple Alliance War are much argued. The first period of historiographical debate, roughly 1870 through the early 1920s, saw the elaboration of a model that depicted Solano López as both a despot and the major aggressor in the war. The work in Box 1930 is reflective of the trend that viewed the Marshal as irrational. The advent of far-left or far-right governments in the 1930s brought a revisionist shift notable in much of the historical writing on the war, with some historians and polemicists blaming British imperialism as the chief factor in the conflict. This current in the literature became particularly strong during the 1970s. In particular the work in Pomer 1968 reflects this trend. Cárcano 1939 blames the war on earlier imperial rivalries on Spain and Portugal. These revisionist works may have succeeded in making the war more emotionally engaging for casual readers, but they were generally spurned by academics who found their methodologies suspect and their lack of supporting evidence distasteful. More recent ideas about the origins of the war have been more nuanced and tend to blame political circles in all four countries for their shortsightedness in their attempts to enhance their power at the expense of their neighbors in other areas of the Rio de la Plata. The works that best exemplify these trends are Leuchars 2002, Fano 2008, Capdevila 2007, Doratioto 2002, and Whigham 2010–2012—which is by far the best example of the later trend.
Box, Pelham Horton. The Origins of the Paraguayan War. New York: Russell and Russell, 1930.
A key English-language historical overview of the war’s origins. The author maintains that political instability throughout the Platine region made the war almost inevitable. Recounts the complicated diplomacy preceding the conflict, devoting particular attention to the Banda Oriental imbroglio, which Marshal López saw as a threat to a “balance” of power. Following the argument of Argentine jurist Juan Bautista Alberdi, Box argues that López needed to resist the imperial ambitions of a monarchist Brazil.
Capdevila, Luc. Une guerre totale, Paraguay 1864–1870: Essai d’histoire du temps présent. Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007.
A response to one of the most interesting questions of the war: How did Solano López keep so many men in the field during the war? The author notes that Paraguay’s authoritarian politics left López as the embodiment of the nation, deserving of loyalty in what Paraguayans regarded as injustice inflicted by the Allies. Capdevila shows that Paraguayan women were perhaps the most loyal citizens in a country of very loyal people.
Cárcano, Ramón José. Guerra del Paraguay, orígenes y causas. Buenos Aires, Argentina: D. Viau, 1939.
Useful analysis of diplomatic crises leading up to the war. Considers the war from the perspective of imperial rivalries between Spain and Portugal. Considers as well what the short-term causes in the Rio de la Plata for monarchy, republicanism, and dictatorship.
Cardozo, Efraím. Hace cien años: Crónicas de la guerra de 1864–1870 publicadas en “La Tribuna” de Asunción en el centenario de la epopeya nacional. 13 vols. Asunción, Paraguay: Ediciones EMASA, 1968–1982.
A very useful compilation of materials, arranged as a weekly recounting of the war’s events. Originally appearing as a regular column in the Asunción newspaper La Tribuna, the study celebrates the centenary of the struggle by eschewing modern polemics and offering readers an abundant potpourri of details. Though the editors evidently decided to omit footnotes and bibliography, the judicious researcher can discover most of Cardozo’s sources with little effort.
Doratioto, Francisco. Maldita Guerra: Nova história da Guerra do Paraguai. São Paulo, Brazil: Companhia das Letras, 2002.
A solid diplomatic history focused on the tense relationship of the various Platine countries as the key factor in spurring the Paraguayan conflict. Argues that the war grew out of a misbegotten Brazilian intervention launched to counter Argentine pretensions in the region during the 1850s (and subsequent Paraguayan fears of ending up as a victim of either the Brazilians or Argentines). Well documented with materials from many archives.
Fano, Marco. Il Rombo del Cannone Liberale: Guerra del Paraguay, 1864/70. Rome: n.p., 2008.
Another well-documented study considers multiple causes for the war: economic competition, colonial legacies, and ideological frictions that when combined led to the conflagration. Also considers the role that Mitre’s need to consolidate his rule led to an Alliance with Brazil and that all three nations believed they needed to “save” Paraguay from Solano López. In Italian.
Leuchars, Chris. To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.
A non-professional historian offers a well-written and sometimes insightful account of the war in English. Concentrates on the military conduct and consequences of the struggle, which Leuchars analyzes battle by battle. Though poorly endnoted, the study has the advantage of using secondary sources from all sides, eschewing none of the key materials from Allied and Paraguayan camps. The result is balanced.
Pomer, León. La Guerra del Paraguay ¡Gran negocio! Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones Caldén, 1968.
Left-wing revisionist analysis of the war argues that British imperialism was responsible and that the Paraguayan campaign was part of an overall effort to suppress “Americanist” interests throughout the Platine region. Defends Solano López as an anti-imperialist leader, and characterizes his country as a progressive bulwark against England. Claims that Brazil and Argentina were used as puppets by the British.
Whigham, Thomas. La guerra de la Triple Alianza. 3 vols. Asunción, Paraguay: Taurus, 2010–2012.
This three-volume set is the most definitive treatment of the conflict to date. Since the end of the war, most studies have reflected self-serving nationalist polemics, but Whigham’s work is different, as it provides an inclusive treatment of the four belligerents—war aims, political culture, and the personalities of military and political leaders. Uses extensive archival and secondary sources, including materials from private repositories, and measures the war’s impact on all four nations, not just Paraguay alone. (Volume 1, Causas e inicios del mayor conflicto belico de America del Sur; Volume 2, El triunfo de la violencia, el fracaso de la paz; Volume 3, Danza de muerte y destruccion.)
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