In most societies, clear guidelines are in place to restrict and regulate the practice of engineering, law, nursing, and the like. Professional groups establish minimal training requirements for their practitioners and set general standards to evaluate the quality of their output and services. Although historians, as a professional group, follow rules pertaining to our training and set standards against which to measure the product of our toil, we have no power—and no desire—to keep nonhistorians from writing about the past. Still, it is the responsibility of professional historians to evaluate books by lay historians according to minimal standards of rigor, specially if these works have received funding from serious cultural and academic institutions.
Hector Andres Negroni’s Historia militar de Puerto Rico is a well-intentioned attempt by a retired career officer of the U.S. Air Force to survey Puerto Rico’s military history from early colonization to the present. Unfortunately, Negroni’s efforts and passions for the subject could not compensate for his lack of formal or informal training in the historical discipline. The resulting product, I am sorry to report, lacks any original contribution. It is a book that is disorganized, bibliographically weak, flawed in many of its conclusions, and worse yet, factually inaccurate and unreliable. As if these problems were not serious enough, the edition is plagued by dozens of misspelled words and names and incorrect dates.
Negroni’s book consists of two main parts: one covering the period under Spanish colonialism; the other, the period following the island’s transfer to the United States in 1898. Each part includes chapters or sections on the organization and structure of government and on military units, installations, and conflicts. The segments dealing with the government structures are superfluous. The more useful and interesting chapters are those that trace the evolution of the island’s fortifications and the various armed conflicts during the first three centuries of Spanish colonialism.
The book rests on a very flimsy and inadequate bibliographic foundation. Although Negroni states that he conducted research in several archives, no indication of that appears in either the bibliography or the text. The bibliography is nowhere close to being comprehensive or exhaustive. It is quite dated; it does not include a single book published after 1970. When dealing with the roots of Puerto Rican separatism, for example, Negroni uses only two sources: Angel Rivero (Crónica de la guerra hispanoamericana en Puerto Rico, 1922) and Antonio S. Pedreira (Insularismo, 1945; originally published in 1934). Similarly, he looks into the topic of slave revolts exclusively through the eyes of Luis M. Díaz Soler (Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico, 1952), ignoring the more recent works of Guillermo Baralt, Benjamin Nistal Moret, and others.
The bibliographical poverty of the book manifests itself in a variety of lacunae, flawed assertions, and incorrect information. Early on, for example, Negroni asserts that a Carib cacique from the island of Vieques launched an attack on the Spanish colonists of Puerto Rico. None of the recent works on pre-Columbian Vieques supports the claim that Vieques was inhabited by Caribs. In another chapter, Negroni states that the rebels of Lares (1868) sang “La Borinqueña”—“the same which at present is the anthem of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” (p. 298). Although bearing the same title, the present version of the anthem is very different from the original. One more example of poor research and poor historical judgment is made patent in Negroni’s treatment of the Vietnam War, which he dismisses in a few lines, arguing that “because it is such a recent conflict we cannot say much about it” (p. 448).
Some uninformed readers may find Negroni’s book interesting and entertaining, and that is fine. Anyone considering using it as a reference, however, should verify its information against other, more reliable sources.