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The overshadowed war

To the Bitter End: Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance - Chris Leuchars

Human history is replete with epic conflicts. From the Trojan War to World War II, they have served as a source for our myths, shaped our national identities, and determined the world in which we live today. Yet even these pivotal events can be obscured in our modern understanding by barriers of geography and language, so that for all of their importance some of them are overshadowed and overlooked.


One example of this is the Paraguayan War of 1864-1870. Though little known to most people in the United States, it was the most devastating war in Latin American history. Over 400,000 people died as Paraguay faced an ultimately insurmountable alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. The result was a nation devastated, with perhaps as much as 60 percent of its population wiped out by the war and its attendant famine and outbreaks of such diseases as cholera and typhus. The result reoriented the balance of power in the continent, with Paraguay permanently crippled by the devastation caused by the war and the loss of nearly half of its territory to Brazil and Argentina.


Such a war is well deserving of study, yet Chris Leuchars's book rank among the few histories of the conflict. Part of the reason for this, as he explains, is the scarcity of documents, which makes recounting the details of the war difficult. Nonetheless, Leuchars has constructed an informative, albeit dry, overview of the conflict. He is generally favorable in his treatment of Francisco Solano López, the controversial Paraguayan dictator whose aspirations for Napoleonic greatness were a key factor in the war, but overall provides a fair and informative analysis of the the people and events in it. Readers seeking a more in-depth account would be better served turning to Thomas Whigham's multi-volume study, but for those looking for an introduction to this unfairly neglected conflict this is the book to read.