This book is a translation of Henry Keith’s 1969 Ph.D. dissertation (University of California, Berkeley), in which he focused on the turbulent decade of the 1920s while setting his analysis against the backdrop of the previous century. His argument is that civilian leaders repeatedly used the military to enforce the central government’s political objectives—thereby casting them as “soldier saviors”—to the point that the post–World War I generation of officers became fed up with what they regarded as misuse of their talents. The professionalization of the officer corps beginning in the early lgros stimulated their disenchantment with their political role but led to more, rather than less, involvement in politics.
Keith devotes two chapters to the nineteenth century in which he develops the view of the military as “soldier saviors” who repeatedly acted to save the empire. He then applies the “soldier savior” interpretation of military behavior to the 1889–1914 period, in which he portrays the military as purifiers of the system. He ends with a chapter on the tenente movement, which he labels a new and more profound form of the soldier as savior. He notes that the tenentes were not truly revolutionary; they did not want to end the republican regime but to purify and perfect it.
The book is a good summary of the secondary literature available in the mid-1960s; but that is also a weakness, because by not updating the text, Keith did not take advantage of more recent work, such as that of José Murilo de Carvalho, Edmundo Campos Coelho, and José Drummond. The type of mentality Keith describes could apply to officers in the Castello Branco faction of the early 1960s, but his model does not provide a basis for understanding from whence came the more extreme authoritarians at the end of that decade.