David K. Sheinin, Consent of the Damned: Ordinary Argentinians in the Dirty War (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2012), pp. x+216, $64.95, hb.by LEANDRO KIERSZENBAUM

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David K. Sheinin, Consent of the Damned:

Ordinary Argentinians in the Dirty War (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2012), pp. x+216, \$64.95, hb.


Journal of Latin American Studies / Volume 45 / Issue 04 / November 2013, pp 859 - 860

DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X13001454, Published online: 13 November 2013

Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0022216X13001454

How to cite this article:

LEANDRO KIERSZENBAUM (2013). Journal of Latin American Studies, 45, pp 859-860 doi:10.1017/S0022216X13001454

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J. Lat. Amer. Stud.  (). doi:./SX

David K. Sheinin, Consent of the Damned: Ordinary Argentinians in the Dirty

War (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, ), pp. x+, $., hb.

In , Osvaldo Bayer, one of the most prominent Argentine contemporary intellectuals, accused civil society, and the press, of enthusiastically supporting the military dictatorship. In Consent of the Damned, David Sheinin transforms this assumption into a research hypothesis. He calls our attention to different expressions of support to the juntas on the part of ordinary Argentines rather than to the memorialised accounts of the struggle against human rights violations. Sheinin’s work raises important questions concerning the widely accepted dictatorship–democracy binary. The main argument of the book is that far from being massively rejected, the military dictatorship was, in fact, welcomed by vast sectors of society. Various segments of society hoped that military rule would end socio-political disorder and financial instability, from outstanding intellectuals such as Jorge Luis Borges, and the urban middle classes, as expressed in popular magazines like Gente, Siete Días and El

Gráfico, to boxers like Sergio Victor Palma. Moreover, the author highlights the tacit recognition by foreign governments – the United States on the one hand, and the

Soviet Union on the other – which, despite the constant denunciations of gross human rights violations, continued their economic and political links with the regimes.

In the first chapter, the author exposes not only the straightforward collaboration between the media and the military, but also the more subtle use of the media and popular culture to advance ideological goals such as modernisation and the free market economy. Mainly, these means were instrumental to projecting an image of normalcy and stability distant from the state’s violent repression. It is within this context that

Sheinin recalls the well-known fatidic dictum ‘por algo será’, as an expression of the implicit collaboration between civil society and the military.

The second chapter deals with official efforts to blur reality through two main instruments. First, ‘the fantasy of strict legal constructionism’ helped the military to create an image of the coup as a constitutional step. This legal framework constituted an existential fallacy through which clandestine detention, torture and disappearances would be impossible because the law prohibited such actions. The military asserted that democratically elected governments were not capable of protecting civil and human rights in the face of leftist terrorism. Such tactics were not privative of the

Argentine context; the hemispherical Doctrine of National Security provided Latin

American dictatorships with conceptual and operational tools which, together with local repressive traditions, enabled these states to combat sedition legitimately, in their terms. Second, the author analyses the way in which the government used indigenous rights discourse to construct an image of itself as a promoter of modernisation and a defender of human rights. The analysis is based mainly on internal official documentation and secondary sources; it is intriguing to discover how the indigenous peoples perceived this ambiguous policy adopted towards them.

The third chapter develops the idea of a ‘fabrication of an ongoing menace’, meaning the construction of an image of a terrorist threat which was considered the authentic human rights violator. In this framing, the Dirty War (massive disappearances, kidnappings and killings) was fought not by the military but by the terrorist guerrillas – rather, the military fought a ‘frank war’ to save the ‘principles and traditions of the West’. Foreign campaigns to discredit the regime were a product of manipulation by Argentine subversives abroad and the naiveté of Europeans and Book Reviews http://journals.cambridge.org Downloaded: 12 Mar 2015 IP address:

North Americans who could not grasp the magnitude of the menace. One of the most serious campaigns against the regime was the accusation that Argentina was particularly targeting Jewish Argentines. The author is of the mind that, in view of the ongoing Argentine integration into the international community and despite the constant denunciations by human rights organisations, the military were successful at embellishing the regime’s image as a promoter of human rights. However, one can argue, this fact by itself cannot bear witness to the success of the project; rather, geopolitical and economic interests and not principled humanitarian policies prevailed.

The following chapters focus on the processes of the reshaping of human rights politics by democratic governments which followed the dictatorship. Raúl

Alfonsín, the first elected president after the dictatorship, had to manoeuvre between the expectations of truth regarding the past violation of human rights, and the perpetrators who threatened to return to power in case of being required by the courts. Sheinin considers that despite the government’s efforts to account for human rights violations under the dictatorship, its policy on the matter remained a low priority. In sum, until the late s, information gathered by government bureaucracies was not translated into action, meaning that only a few perpetrators faced justice and only a small number of the disappeared were found. Since the early s this tendency has been reversed, particularly regarding the destiny of the children of the disappeared who were born in clandestine detention centres or kidnapped with their parents. As of September ,  women and men have been able to restore their identity.