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The Tribute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race and Nation in Brazil, 1864-1945.

The Tribute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race and Nation in Brazil, 1864-1945. By Peter M. Beattie (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. x + 390pp., $54.95 cloth, $18.95 paperback).

One morning, hiking in the Itatiaia National Park, located in the mountains between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, I encountered a contingent of several hundred Brazilian soldiers who were breaking down their encampment and taping their blistered feet as they prepared for a training march through the mountains. Shortly afterward, I stepped off the trail to allow the soldiers to pass. They marched by, toting heavy packs and carrying obsolescent, perhaps First World War-vintage, rifles whose true value potentially lies less in national defense than as collectibles. The polite but weary soldiers were the fruit of Brazil's draft policy, which all but guaranteed they came from Brazil's poorer classes. Their weekend training in the woods had little to do with preparation for combat, something which very few Brazilian soldiers have ever witnessed. To the contrary, their presence in those uniforms in that national park had much more to do with their social class, with the Brazilian military's broad concept of national security, and with elite discourse about honor and the health of the nation.

The endurance and the historical significance of these questions of social class, honor, nation-building and race are, as its title suggests, the subject of Peter Beattie's Tribute of Blood. This landmark study is one of the richest sources on the social history of Brazil between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, offering a rare glimpse into the vast social space between slaves and oligarchs and providing a cogent analysis of the social, institutional and political changes that the transition from slave to free labor generated for Brazil, as for other nations of the Americas. Beattie focuses on the policies of military impressment, recruitment and drafting, as well as the conflicts over discipline, resistance, morale and honor which characterized popular reactions to military obligations.

Through these features of Brazilian military history, Beattie deftly synthesizes major currents in Brazilian political and economic history with the challenges of lives lived at the margins of economic power and political protection. While this study covers nearly a century of Brazil's most transformative political experiences (including the Paraguayan War, the end of slavery, the replacement of its monarchy with a republican government, and the emergence of an authoritarian regime that would bring Brazil to fight in the Second World War alongside the Allies), Beattie's principal concern is with the changing social roles played by the Brazilian army. The army which at the time of the Paraguayan War (1865-70) served largely as a penal and policing institution, was transformed by the Second World War (which Brazil entered in 1942) into a tool of nation-building which promoted notions of health, eugenic were central areas of national political debate, and they touched principally upon the lives of poor and working class men. Tribute of Blood analyzes the relationships between elite men's ideas about nationhood and the lives and bodies of typically unwilling non-elite men. This relationship is all the more laden with significance in Brazil because, down to the present, elite ideas have not historically been imposed upon elite bodies: "vulnerability to the draft came to mark the lower limits of middle class status." (271). This object lesson on class difference and social power is evident to any Brazilian but has been largely neglected by historians on both ends of the hemisphere.

Beattie relies on a wealth of primary sources ranging from military trial transcripts, legislative debates, conscription records and accounts of popular protests over drafts and recruitment in order to characterize Brazil's 19th-century army as an institution little different from slavery, one in which the military dragooned soldiers and held them for years or decades, underfed and unwilling. Far from comprising a fighting force, this army served as a form of social control and disaster relief. In the absence of prisons or effective police, men convicted of lesser crimes could be inducted. Beyond its role in controlling criminality, military impressment was a tool employed by rural political bosses for punishing those that challenged their authority, and in turn the risk of impressment compelled the poor to seek the protection of powerful patrons. By the twentieth century, the growing institutionalization and professionalization of the army meant that the state retained the power to mediate the relationships between the popular classes and the military once held by rural bosses. In this context, institutionalized notions of racial hierarchy and of the perceived eugenic degeneracy of non-white Brazilians were added to the hurdles to social integration faced by Brazilians of color.

While this book should attract the interest of scholars of both Brazil and of the military in Latin America and is easily accessible to undergraduates, it is a project that should also be read by all scholars interested in concepts of whiteness and masculinity. Beattie rigorously illustrates the clarity with which both Brazilian elites and non-elites consciously employed discourse and mounted challenges founded upon languages of race, whiteness, gender and masculinity. To give one example, Beattie traces the change in the gender of the Portuguese word for soldier, praca, which accompanied the transformation of soldiering from slavish to honorable endeavor. This study bears out well Beattie's conclusion that "as new studies of masculinity and whiteness demonstrate, new questions and hypotheses emerge when scholars examine categories that are relegated to the realm of 'traditional' history." (284).

Jerry Davila

University of North Carolina at Charlotte
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Davila, Jerry
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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