In This Review

Blood and Debt: War and the Nation-State in Latin America
Blood and Debt: War and the Nation-State in Latin America
By Miguel Angel Centeno
Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002, 329 pp.

Amid today's impenetrable postmodern jargon, it is a joy to discover a sociologist who not only writes good English but who opens up important questions previously neglected by scholars. Latin America, Centeno observes, has millions of small stories, but it is high time to appreciate some of its wider lessons. For example, the West's understanding of the rise of the nation-state is heavily tied to the European experience with war. But in Latin America, war was generally directed toward often destructive domestic ends. Hence when war occurred there, it destroyed institutions, deepened internal divisions, and killed many people needlessly rather than helping build a state or form a notion of democratic citizenship. Patterns of identity were based not on culture or nationality but on race, class, and caste. With exceptions in Chile and Brazil, few groups tied their own survival to that of the central state; the constant fear of the internal enemy often prevented the consolidation of authority or the emergence of an all-encompassing nationalist mythology. In the nineteenth century, Paraguay did create a short-lived spell of homogeneity and autonomy, but this special feat ended with the outbreak of South America's most sustained and bloody international conflict: the Paraguayan War (1864-70), fought between Paraguay and the united forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Based on wide historical reading, Centeno has broken much new ground in this major contribution.