In most journalistic accounts of Argentina's "Dirty War", there is a clear tendency to villify the Argentine Military and whitewash their adversaries, portraying them as youthful idealists, subversive but essentially harmless. This approach is highly misleading. One cannot understand "the Generals" without understanding "the Guerillas". The great merit of Paul Lewis's book is that it promotes an objective understanding of both sides.
In Lewis's evenhanded account we learn that the Monteneros, the ERP, the FAR, the FAP and others - were not innocuous hippies or armchair radicals, but rather violent and utterly ruthless revolutionaries who would stop at nothing to impose a communist dictatorship on Argentina.
As the title suggests, Lewis doesn't take sides, but allows the facts speak for themselves. He describes the brutality on both sides of the conflict with unflinching candor, in a narrative that is thoroughly engrossing and delivered with verve and style.
Who, then, were the revolutionaries who were defeated by the Military during Argentina's "Dirty War"?
- Groups of urban guerillas and armed terrorists were organized by the Peronist Youth during Juan Peron's exile. Peron's eventual return to Argentina in 1973 owed much to their efforts.
- The largest of the guerilla bands were the ERP and the Montoneros. Both fought for a communist state similar to Cuba's. The Montoneros believed, mistakenly, that Peron agreed with their goals. After Peron's election as President in 1973, when it became clear to him that the urban guerillas would not obey his orders or cooperate with his movement, he turned decisively against them. Among other things, he funded the "Argentine Anti-communist Alliance", under the leadership of his close crony, Jose Lopez Rega - an organization devoted to the murder of as many communists as possible.
- At the height of its power, the ERP ("People's Revolutionary Army") had 5,000 heavily-armed soldiers and a support-network of some 60,000 sympathizers. The Montoneros fielded a disciplined force of some 25,000 armed combatants, assisted by a total membership of some 250,000.
- These groups (and others as well) had intelligence networks, munitions workshops, printing presses, training camps, safe houses and "peoples' prisons". They engaged in the entire gamut of terrorist activity: bombing, assassination, kidnapping, bank-robbery, etc. Their activities were funded by tens of millions of dollars, much from multi-nationals paying ransom for kidnapped executives.