Rebecca HermanMar 29, 2023
Cooperating with the Colossus
A Social and Political History of US Military Bases in World War II Latin America
Oxford University Press 2022
During the Second World War, the United States built over two hundred defense installations on sovereign soil in Latin America in the name of cooperation in hemisphere defense. Predictably, it proved to be a fraught affair. Despite widespread acclaim for Pan-American unity with the Allied cause, defense construction incited local conflicts that belied the wartime rhetoric of fraternity and equality.
Rebecca Herman's book Cooperating with the Colossus: A Social and Political History of US Military Bases in World War II Latin America (Oxford UP, 2022) reconstructs the history of US basing in World War II Latin America, from the elegant chambers of the American foreign ministries to the cantinas, courtrooms, plazas, and brothels surrounding US defense sites. Foregrounding the wartime experiences of Brazil, Cuba, and Panama, the book considers how Latin American leaders and diplomats used basing rights as bargaining chips to advance their nation-building agendas with US resources, while limiting overreach by the "Colossus of the North" as best they could. Yet conflicts on the ground over labor rights, discrimination, sex, and criminal jurisdiction routinely threatened the peace. Steeped in conflict, the story of wartime basing certainly departs from the celebratory triumphalism commonly associated with this period in US-Latin American relations, but this book does not wholly upend the conventional account of wartime cooperation. Rather, the history of basing distills a central tension that has infused regional affairs since a wave of independence movements first transformed the Americas into a society of nations: national sovereignty and international cooperation may seem like harmonious concepts in principle, but they are difficult to reconcile in practice. Drawing on archival research in five countries, Cooperating with the Colossus is a revealing history told at the local, national, and international levels of how World War II transformed power and politics in the Americas in enduring ways.
Rachel Grace Newman is a historian of modern Mexico with particular interests in migration, childhood and youth studies, and social inequality. She is Assistant Professor of History at Colgate University.