The Chilean military's “Honorable Mission” in the 1920s was to assure government responsibility, even though this might entail destroying the cracking facade of liberal democracy, and to bring about social and economic reforms. The Honorable Mission, as described by Professor Nunn, was undertaken at the beginning of 1925 by a group of middle and junior grade officers after the senior officers, who captured control of the military movement that overthrew Arturo Allessandri in September 1924, demonstrated their opposition to reform. As “jefe máximo” of the Honorable Mission, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo “showed the determination of the mission’s perpetrators to eliminate . . . all possibilities of a political reaction” (p. 103). Nunn is convincing as he argues that civilian politics had putrefied, and so regeneration had to come from an outside power, the military. “There were no other means, no alternatives for the uniformed reformers and an increasing number of civilian allies” (p. 126).

The Honorable Mission was also tinged with personal ambitions and the desire to serve the military’s corporate interests. Only by political action, Nunn points out, could the junior and middle grade officers “rise to the top and push aside the generals, many of whom . . . had no professional military education whatsoever” (p. 111). In short, a new group of technically trained middle-sector officers wished to acquire more power, thereby emulating certain civilian middle-sector men with new skills and expertise who had already begun to wrest considerable power from the traditional elite.

Various shortcomings of the Ibáñez rule are acknowledged. Thus the book makes it clear that the economic progress achieved by the dictator was based largely on foreign investment and loans, not on effective internal capitalization. Not until after the effects of the great depression were already being felt in Chile did the Ibáñez administration devise a program for tapping local wealth through income and inheritance taxes.

On the whole, though, Ibáñez comes off rather well in the Nunn treatment, certainly better than Arturo Alessandri. Probably this is as it should be; for Alessandri did not really have the chance to show his abilities until his second presidential term (1932-38), when he proved that civilians could after all administer the system of new paternalism that he himself had to some degree conceived but that only dictator Ibáñez had been able to bring into being.

Solidly researched in Chilean collections and in the National Archives of the United States Library of Congress, Nunn’s book tells a great deal about civil-military relations in the 1920s. The author is reliable in his use of sources and objective in his judgments. Although it introduces few particularly challenging or controversial new interpretations, the work merits warm praise.