Latin American militaries have traditionally regarded themselves as the final arbiters of society. Closed institutions, they share values and beliefs common to other militaries—order and honor, discipline and duty, and respect for hierarchy. In addition, as arbiters, they believe that it is their mission to intervene and to restore order when they perceive society to be out of control—torn by unrest and political rivalry. “Order” is usually defined in terms of Western civilization, Christianity, and anticommunism. Throughout the 20th century, the military in Argentina intervened numerous times—the first in 1930, the last in 1976. From 1928 to 1989, not one constitutionally elected administration succeeded another. By contrast, during the same period, the military in Chile intervened only briefly in 1924 and 1931 and not again until 1973, when it ruled for 17 years; the military in Uruguay did not intervene until 1973, when it ruled for 12 years. (The “soft” Uruguayan dictatorship of 1933–1942 had been a civilian affair.)
   Yet even in Argentina, with its succession of coups, early interventions by the armed forces—those before 1960—were short, lasting at most a couple of years. The military specialized in warfare and preferred to leave government in the hands of politicians. By the early 1960s, however, the military began to see its role in broader terms. Successful revolutions in Algeria, China, and Cuba prompted the military to shift its emphasis from traditional warfare to internal defense. It also took a greater interest in government, having been trained in economics and administration as well as counterinsurgency. By the mid-1960s, the military was prepared to intervene for extended periods. Whereas before it was content to restore order, return government to civilians, and retreat to the barracks, it was now interested in reforming society and the economy with the aim of preventing insurrection.

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

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