“Our Archaic System”: Attempts to Reform the Military Justice System in Argentina, 1905–35

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:30 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jonathan D. Ablard, Ithaca College
Military justice occupied much of discussions about what military-civilian relations should look like in the first decades of the twentieth century. An examination of the debates over the treatment of soldiers and conscripts, suggests a remarkable level of consensus across ideological lines. This consensus, which ebbed and flowed, is evident in three areas: popular mobilizations and campaigns on behalf of individual soldiers facing military discipline and draft dodgers, newspaper coverage and editorials, and congressional action. Despite ideological differences and divergent political agendas, civilian elected officials generally agreed that conscripts deserved to be treated according to norms recognizable to liberal values. This consensus weathered a number of challenges including rising anxiety about the Russian Revolution.

Consensus did not mean identical motivations. Socialists argued that the position of the military raised troubling issues about the rule of law, human rights, and the functioning of a democratic system. Socialists sought to curb military budgets and the length of service. One of their central tenets was that if the military could try soldiers and sailors according to procedures that violated theConstitution, then it effectively enjoyed a fuero But the left did not have a monopoly on the issue. Many conservatives and Radicals, shared with Socialists the belief that conscripts were citizens before they were soldiers. Politicians and ad-hoc citizen groups often campaigned for limited goals; a single wronged conscript, a group of young men who had not registered and sought amnesty, and even draft dodgers who had left the country. And politicians across the spectrum often responded to constituencies who were sympathetic to both draft dodgers and conscripts under indictment in military tribunals. Many felt that brutal punishments reflected poorly on Argentina’s coveted status as a bastion of European civilization in the Americas and would scare young men into evading service.

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