“Dirty War”

“Dirty War”
(“Guerra Sucia”)
   Although the term is commonly applied to events in Argentina from 1976 to 1983, the concept behind it is by no means peculiar to that country or to Latin America. In a “dirty war,” the state brings the full weight of its military and other resources to bear against individuals, groups, or ideas it considers subversive. The phrase is often enclosed in quotation marks or preceded by so-called, suggesting that a “dirty war” is not a war in the traditional sense. Unlike a conventional war, in which standing armies contest territorial boundaries, a “dirty war” combats ideological boundaries. “Dirty-war” tactics are designed to root out an enemy that the state regards as hidden and elusive. Suspects are kidnapped, taken to clandestine detention centers, tortured and raped, and often “disappeared” or exiled. Names of additional suspects extracted during torture sessions lead to further arrests. Those who authorize and commit such acts enjoy not only the resources of the state but also the impunity it provides. There is no attempt to account for the desaparecidos (missing)—bodies are buried in secret graveyards or left out in the open as a warning to others. The ensuing climate of terror silences opposition and breeds collaboration.
   The “dirty wars” waged by the countries covered in this volume, coming in the throes of the Cold War, were aimed primarily at the left and those perceived to be its supporters. Guerrilla movements and left-wing political parties all suffered heavy losses, many of their members killed or forced into exile. But not all the victims were party leaders or guerrillas. Journalists, labor activists, schoolteachers, university professors, progressive church leaders, high school students—anyone whose ideas were perceived to be antithetical to government notions of “Western, Christian civilization”—could join the ranks of the missing.

Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . . 2010.

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