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Rabinovich, Alejandro (2013). Ser soldado en las guerras de independencia. La experiencia cotidiana de la tropa en el Río de la Plata, 1810-1824

Buenos Aires, Ed. Sudamericana, Colección Nudos de la historia argentina, 217 pages
Daniel Emilio Rojas
Référence(s) :

Rabinovich, Alejandro (2013). Ser soldado en las guerras de independencia. La experiencia cotidiana de la tropa en el Río de la Plata, 1810-1824, Buenos Aires, Ed. Sudamericana, Colección Nudos de la historia argentina, 217 pages

Texte intégral

1Rabinovich’s Being a soldier in the wars of independence is an invitation to discover the lives of the officers and soldiers who fought in the River Plate’s line infantry during the Argentinean War of Independence. The work is aimed at a wide readership among those interested in understanding the military and political challenges of the United Provinces independence movement in the early decades of the 19th century. It focuses on the experience of war, as told by some of its protagonists, and is built on a detailed study of particular cases which portrays the “everyday experience of the troops” in a clear and uncomplicated language. The book thus goes beyond the patriotic narrative that long dominated the historiography of Latin-American Independence. There is no linear narrative, based on a listing of prestigious names and battles in order to glorify war, but instead an historical interpretation that emphasizes the voices of the officers and soldiers to show the reader that war is “both stupid and glorious, miserable and unfair, but exciting” (p. 12).

2Rabinovich’s concern to provide information on the practices of war is matched by his interest in theoretical issues. He uses academic historiography to support his analysis and to establish a fruitful dialogue between the anthropology of war and military sociology. This innovative historical approach, which is not confined to the disciplinary conventions or traditional scholarship, allows him to ask questions and point out problems that have gone unnoticed in other historical works. For these reasons, Being a soldier is thus a book that will also attract specialists.

3If Rabinovich succeeds in his description of the “the everyday experience of the troops” it is largely due to the type of sources he uses: reports of officers and soldiers, requests, judicial cases and military regulations. Drawn mostly from the General Archives of the Nation in Buenos Aires, this corpus realistically illustrates the days and nights of hundreds of men immersed in the theater of war and recovers the “human, modest and immediate dimension of the huge and small deeds” when told by the protagonists (p. 28). If the “memories” describe in great details the events that were experienced during military training or combat, the requests and cases before the courts are a prism through which can be observed the expectations and challenges that soldiers faced, such as shortages of food and money or physical and mental problems. Meanwhile, military manuals are an excellent guide to understanding the routines of military life that every soldier must undergo in order to learn automatic gestures such as carrying a rifle to fire and returning to the guard position (p. 49).

4The book does not follow a chronological order, but follows a rather original organization based on a list of verbs that depicts the way of life of soldiers: recruitment, training, eating, drinking, sleeping, dressing, dancing, working, stealing, fighting, suffering, love, rape, desertion, waging guerrilla warfare, killing, and of course, death. This format allows the book to be used almost as a tool, which in turn allows the reader to consult particular issues, as he or she would do with a dictionary. The reader is not required to perform a linear reading, but can easily find the information he or she wants by consulting directly the relevant section(s).

5There are two qualities of the book that should be noted. The first is the description of the continuities between the civil sphere in peacetime and the military sphere in wartime, an innovative approach that Rabinovich has drawn from War Studies and the Anthropology of War to suit his work. Referring to the dominance of bladed weapons in the Rio de la Plata, for example, the author mentions that to kill using a saber, bayonet, or spear in combat was a more natural act for the River Plate peasants of the time than for any other combatants:

“killing an enemy was not the same as slaughtering a cow or a lamb or a pig, but the use of the knife, the contact with the blood and the scream of the victim were part of everyday experience, and would facilitate fighting” (p. 166).

6The second commendable quality is the consistency with which Rabinovich seeks to show the social impact of warfare. The author makes it explicit when he analyzes the consequences of conscription in the “dismemberment of countless couples and family units” (p. 124), or by observing the harmful effects of mobilization on the agricultural economy, which greatly reduced food production during the War of Independence. He also emphasizes the intensity of militarization in the River Plate: between 1810 and 1820 the region had about 90,000 men of military age, of whom at least a quarter fought in the infantry of the regular army, while almost all others served in the militias (p. 27).

7It would have been interesting to know more about the convictions and religious practices of the soldiers, but apart from noting the usual importance they had in the daily life of soldiers, Ravinovich does not address the issue. However, this gap does not diminish the quality of this work, which represents a genuine contribution to the understanding of both the military and historical dimensions of Latin-American Independence movements.

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Référence électronique

Daniel Emilio Rojas, « Rabinovich, Alejandro (2013). Ser soldado en las guerras de independencia. La experiencia cotidiana de la tropa en el Río de la Plata, 1810-1824 », L'Ordinaire des Amériques [En ligne], Comptes rendus, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2015, consulté le 23 juin 2018. URL :

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Daniel Emilio Rojas

danielrojascastro [at]

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L’Ordinaire des Amériques est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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