Bruce Farcau, a good storyteller, describes with clarity the military campaigns of the Chaco War, 1932-35. Following a chronological organization, with chapter titles denoting the location of battles, his book describes military campaigns, commander tactics, infantry hardships, and diplomatic efforts for peace. Farcau viewed Paraguayan general José Félix Estigarribia as more competent than either of the Bolivian generals, Hans Kundt and Enrique Peñaranda. Estigarribia fought closer to his supply lines, commanded men more accustomed to the terrain and climate, had clearer goals, and effectively utilized mobile defenses. In contrast, the Bolivian military sought to defend long lines and never concentrated its forces effectively.
While President Daniel Salamanca and the Bolivian officials seemingly fought each other more than the Paráguayans, President Eusebio Ayala protected General Estigarribia from partisan political opponents, which allowed him to plan the military campaigns. Until the end of the war, the Bolivians failed to mobilize all men of military age. Although President Salamanca was willing to enlist more troops, General Kundt regularly insisted that additional soldiers were not necessary. Thus, the Paraguayans won the Chaco War, even though they had a smaller population and more limited resources.
Although this volume is the most detailed discussion of these military campaigns in English, it has a number of problems. The author neither provides an innovative interpretation of the war nor utilizes new sources. Although Farcau used no manuscript sources, he had better sources for Bolivia than for Paráguay. He consulted Bolivian newspapers, but none from Paraguay. Given the author’s desire to “Pain (sic) a human face on a decidedly inhuman war,” one wishes that he had used more autobiographical materials and quoted from oral interviews. There is only one map, and it focuses on the military campaigns of the latter war years; the author should have provided maps with each chapter.
Traditional military histories are often of limited use for Latin American historians who desire broader social, economic, and diplomatic analysis. The Chaco War is no exception. Although it includes descriptions of the diplomatic efforts of the League of Nations and the neighboring countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru to prevent and to end the war, this material is difficult to locate without reading the entire work. The index includes only proper nouns. Therefore, if one wants to find Farcau’s interpretation of the oil questions, which he views as a postwar justification and not a cause, one must know that the issue is “Standard Oil’s holdings,” because “oil” is not listed in the index. Although both disease and medical treatment are referred to in the text, neither is listed in the index.
Finally, the author draws no conclusion about the causes of the war and the importance of various military battles. The last chapter, titled “Buenos Aires,” describes the end of the war and the peace negotiations; as an aside, it suggests that the real casualty of the war was “collective security” and the “League of Nations.” Thus, the author fails to provide either the breadth of discussion of the war or the level of analysis that new approaches to history demand.