Argentina: A dirty war that was filthy

by , under All categories, Enrique

If I recall, a reporter had once asked an Argentinean general to describe the war it had waged against its enemies during one of Latin America’s most repressive dictatorships during 1976-83.

The general answered by stating it was “a dirty war.” That’s how the name of Argentina’s civil war was baptized.

During the dirty war, over 30,000 Argentineans and non-Argentineans were abducted and murdered. Not only did they lose their lives but sometimes even their property like apartments were confiscated by their captors.

It was back then when I wrote the first sentences that had some meaning to me. I was a conscript in the Argentinean army but refused to kill anyone.

During those times I’d stay up at nights in front of my typewriter and try to write everything I’d hear about the dirty war. We didn’t torture at our base but it was a commonly known and widespread practice.

Here’s one of the hitherto unknown and unpublished stories I heard from a major in 1977.

“Sometimes we shot innocent victims like the time when we were driving a military truck full of soldiers on the street. The site of the truck made some drivers behind us nervous. If a person acted suspiciously we’d shoot first and ask questions later. One driver reached for an object next to his seat and we shot him dead. We found out later that it was a comb.”

What is most incredible about this account thirty years on is that it was a “normal” conversation at the base. The major said that the soldiers hadn’t done anything wrong in killing the man because it was a time of war. You shot anyone suspicious first and asked question later.

The name “dirty war” is a too clean word to describe the atrocities that happened back then. Possibly “filthy war” is a better term.

  1. Kaitlin

    We are currently studying the different latin american countries in my spanish class and we happened to come across Argentine. One of the students presenting about Argentina brought up the dirty war. I’m 19 years old so this all end before I was even born, but I would imagine this would be something we would study in history as to protect the world from a tragedy like this happening again. Suprisingly this was the very first time I had ever heard of this situation. How is it possilbe that 30,000 people “disappear” and I’ve never heard of it…..Does this not speak lengths about society these days. My heart aches for all the victoms and their families.

  2. nemoo

    Dear Kaitlin, many thanks for your comment. My apologies for commenting so late. I’ve been busy writing my thesis and it’s robbed most of my time. The dirty war was a terrible episode like many civil wars. You ask how 30,000 people can “disappear?” Let’s use simple mathematics: The military junta usurped power on March 24, 1976 and the left power in December 10, 1983. If we count the days they were in power, that gives us about 2,830 days. If you divide that sum with 30,000 it gives you about 10 people that disappeared per day. Much of the dirty war victims were kidnapped, tortured and killed by the security forces 2-3 years before the junta took over in March 1976.
    The dirty war was such a terrible war that it scarred Argentina for generations.