Does the term ‘Dirty War’ mean anything to you? By this I mean the upper case Dirty War and not some generic concept as I would bet that most wars, if not all, have a dirty phase to them.
In this instance I am referring to the Argentine Dirty War from 1976 to 1983, a particularly nasty era in that country’s history full of disappearances, torture and killings all in the name of quashing a perceived leftist threat. The Argentine military was the main actor in all of this, helped by the fact that it had carried out yet another coup in 1976.
Not surprisingly, this state action invited certain reciprocal acts. In 1974 at least 9 soldiers and a young girl were shot dead by members of the Ejercito Revolucionario Popular (ERP – People’s Revolutionary Army, the militant wing of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party) in alleged retribution for earlier heinous acts by the army/government at a chapel. The ERP launched its guerrilla campaign against the Argentine military government in 1969, using urban guerrilla warfare methods such as assassination and the kidnapping of government officials and foreign company executives.
These were dark years for Argentina and horrific acts were carried out by multiple sides. We must not forget, 45 years later, that leftist violence was a real concern for many governments back then and the predominant form of terrorism was indeed socialist in nature (David Rapoport’s third wave). This is not intended to remove the blame from the Argentine military and government for its atrocities but we must be careful in not absolving groups such as the ERP for its retributive decisions to maim and kill.
The interesting part is to look at what is happening today. Does the general public apathy for political involvement mean that entities such as the ERP are less likely to form? Or does the concern over social inequality and the concomitant decline in the number of true democratic governments actually create the conditions for a renewed rise in these groups? I could make arguments for both sides.
Let’s just hope that we do not return – anywhere – to the events that defined the Dirty War in Argentina.