Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 22

Sage Publications, Ltd.

Combat Motivation, Fear and Terror in Twentieth-Century Argentinian Warfare


Author(s): Antonius C. G. M. Robben
Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Apr., 2006), pp. 357-377
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036390
Accessed: 13-10-2015 02:24 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/
info/about/policies/terms.jsp
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Sage Publications, Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Contemporary
History.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

@ 2006 SAGEPublications,
London,ThousandOaks,CAand
of Contemporary
Journal
History
Copyright
New Delhi,Vol41(2),357-377. ISSN0022-0094.
DOI:10.1177/0022009406062073

AntoniusC.G.M.Robben

Combat Motivation, Fear and Terror in


Twentieth-century Argentinian Warfare
This article focuses on combat motivation in two Argentinian wars: one
domestic against a guerrilla insurgency and the other international against
foreign troops. The willingness to fight one's fellow citizens in face-to-face
combat with small fire arms is quite different from battling foreign professional forces on unfamiliar terrain with high-tech armament.' Despite these
differences, the two wars were historically, politically and culturally related.
Both wars were waged by largely the same field officers and started by a military regime with intense convictions about the integrity of Argentinian culture,
territory and nation, a strong sense of martial honour, and an exaggerated
belief in its historical mission.
The Falklands war had all the characteristics of a classic confrontation
between two military forces, but the brutal assault by the Argentinian military
on guerrilla insurgents and the country's political opposition is harder to
qualify as war. The disappearance of around 10,000 citizens, the forced
adoption of over 200 babies, and the torture of tens of thousands of unarmed
civilians can more appropriately be called state terrorism. Most deaths were
not caused by combat but by execution. Be this as it may, there were many
armed confrontations between military personnel and guerrilla combatants,
even though the odds were often uneven. Counter-insurgency warfare and
state terrorism are distinct ways of using military force, although in Argentina
they partly overlapped. Torture and terror were considered the most effective
ways to combat insurgents as well as unarmed political opponents. Here, I
will focus exclusively on the 1975-80 counter-insurgency war between the
Argentinian military and the guerrilla insurgents for the sake of a better
This article was made possible thanks to a research fellowship in 2004 from the David Rockefeller
Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. I am grateful to Catherine Merridale for
inviting me to the Culture and Combat Motivation workshop at King's College, Cambridge, and
would like to thank Inga Huld Markan, William O'Reilly and Emma Rothschild for the hospitality offered by the Centre for History and Economics. I am indebted to Catherine Merridale, the
participants, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful editorial suggestions.
1 This article does not discuss the British side of the Falklands war. For accounts by British combatants, see Max Arthur, Above All, Courage: The Falklands Front Line: First-Hand Accounts
(London 1985); Iain Dale, Memories of the Falklands (London 2002); John Lawrence and Robert
Lawrence MC, When the Fighting is Over. A Personal Story of the Battle for Tumbledown
Mountain and its Aftermath (London 1988); Nick Vaux, Take That Hill! Royal Marines in the
Falklands War (Washington, DC 1986).
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

358

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

comparison with the 1982 Falklands war, while leaving aside the state terrorism against civilians which I have analysed extensively elsewhere.2
An analysis of the combat motivation of the Argentinian military in the
counter-insurgency and Falklands war needs to pay some attention to the
adversary's willingness to fight. The revolutionary objectives of the guerrillas
and their hatred towards the Argentinian military affected the combat motivation of the military and turned revenge into an important motivating force.
With respect to the Falklands war, the Argentinians feared the professionalism
of the British forces, and made them emphasize valour and honour in combat.
A comparison of these two wars makes it possible to disentangle context
from combat so that the willingness of Argentinian troops to enter into war is
distinguished analytically from their motivation to actually fire and fight.
Combat and context are, of course, related because troops need to be properly
inspired, trained and equipped to be able to fight. However, such preparation
quickly loses its motivational force in actual combat when other factors take
over. The context resurfaces again in between battles when combatants have
time to reflect on their harrowing ordeal and ponder whether they are still
motivated enough to get up and fight another round.
The context of the two wars consisted of the cause of war, ideology, civilian
support, type of warfare, training, weaponry and the enemy definition. These
factors framed the actual combat, understood here as 'a threatening situation
of extreme stress and uncertainty (the chaos or "fog" of battle) in which units
(combinations of soldiers, lethal equipment, and drills) under the command of
officers perform their assigned tasks by mastering their emotions'.3 Actual
combat was influenced by fear, revenge, self- and overconfidence, valour,
honour, loyalty, as well as camaraderie, unit cohesion and esprit de corps.
One strong indication of combat motivation is the soldier's willingness to
shoot at the enemy. There is no information about the firing rates of
Argentinian guerrillas and military during the counter-insurgency war. British
surveys about the Falklands war suggest that the modern trained British forces
had considerably higher firing rates than the traditionally trained Argentinian
infantrymen, while Argentinian snipers, machine-gunners, and the welltrained special forces did much better than regular soldiers.' Superior military
training and conditioning are, of course, essential to combat motivation, but
cannot explain why inferior forces still win wars, how motivation fluctuates
from one battle to the next, or what makes troops willing to enter into combat
in the first place. Firing rates need to be supplemented with qualitative
evidence about combat motivation.
The qualitative data have been extracted from interviews, diaries, letters,
reports, communications and combatant accounts. How reliable are these
2 Antonius C.G.M. Robben, Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina (Philadelphia, PA 2005).
3 Eyal Ben-Ari, Mastering Soldiers. Conflict, Emotions, and the Enemy in an Israeli Military
Unit (New York 1998), 47.
4 Dave Grossman, On Killing. The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
(Boston, MA 1996), 258.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

inArgentina
Robben:CombatMotivation,
Fearand Terror

359

sources? They cannot be taken at face value because most of them were
written between 1982 and 1986 at a time of trials against the deposed junta
commanders, hundreds of indictments against military officers accused of
human rights violations, the exhumation of mass graves and the testimonies of
torture victims. Public opinion had turned against the military, deriding them
for only being capable of torturing defenceless civilians in a dirty war, while
not being man enough to fight a real war.' Still, the preparation for both wars
can be distilled reliably from contemporary newspapers, public speeches, and
secret documents and coded communications made public during the trials.
Combat accounts are always written after the fighting has died down and are
therefore the most problematic source. They suffer inevitably from the bias of
hindsight, the suppression of shameful moments, the limitation of translating
experience into narrative, and an unbridgeable gap between the stressful chaos
of war and the tranquillity of peacetime contemplation. The consulted
Argentinian sources, including a few diaries and several interviews, were
varied enough to provide a good-enough impression about combat motivation
in both wars.

The 1975-80 counter-insurgency war of the Argentinian armed forces against


the guerrilla insurgency was preceded by 30 years of political conflict and
occasional violent clashes within Argentinian society. The rise to national
power of the populist leader Juan Domingo Per6n in 1945 heralded a political
emancipation of the Argentinian working class which worried the middle
classes. Per6n mobilized the workers for his political movement by giving them
dignity and power, and improving labour conditions and social services, but
he alienated the middle classes through a bitter conflict with the Catholic
Church and his growing authoritarianism. The opposition gathered strength
when numerous military officers became disenchanted with Per6n and finally
overthrew him in 1955 in a military coup. The working class responded with
sabotage, while officers loyal to Per6n attempted a military rebellion in 1956
that was quickly repressed. Worker resistance continued through the late
1950s but petered out when the military handed power to a civilian government in 1958, and pragmatic Peronist union leaders struck deals with business
and government during the first half of the 1960s.6
The political climate deteriorated in 1966 after a military coup d'etat was
staged to prevent Peronist politicians from gaining too much power after
several electoral victories in 1965 and 1966. Two tiny guerrilla insurgencies
tried to capitalize on this unrest but quickly ended in failure. Their timing was
not right because the Peronists were still pursuing a political rather than an
5 CJE (Comando en Jefe del Ejercito), Directiva del Comandante en Jefe del Ejercito no. 704/83
(Operaciones del Ejercito en el Marco Interno), 21 March 1983, 5(anexo), 2-3.
6 Daniel James, Resistance and Integration. Peronism and the Argentine Working Class. 19461976 (Cambridge 1988).
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

360

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

armed strategyto gain power. This all changed in 1969. The Peronistshad
now exhausted all means (negotiations,elections, sabotage, strikes, protest
marches)to participatein the country'spolitical process. The political disenfranchisementof the Peronistmovement,worseninglabourconditions,the
curtailmentof culturalexpressionand free speech,togetherwith a world-wide
spirit of rebellion,resultedin a series of violent mass mobilizationsand the
rise of guerrillaorganizationswhose membersbelievedthat a maturingclass
consciousnesshad madeArgentinaripe for a social revolution.
The Argentinianmilitaryhad been preparingthemselvesfor this dreaded
moment. The 1959 Cuban revolution, Ernesto Guevara'sill-fated 1966-67
Bolivianadventure,the two small guerrillainsurgenciesin Argentinaand the
covert guerrillatrainingof Argentiniansin Cuba duringthe mid-1960s had
made the Argentinianmilitary wary about the chances of a revolutionary
insurgency. About a dozen Marxist and Peronist guerrilla organizations
carried out more than 1500 armed actions between 1969 and 1972. The
protestcrowdsand guerrillainsurgentsforcedthe militaryjuntato call for free
elections and allow Per6n'sreturnto power in 1973. The escalatingviolence
of the 1970s was thus not caused only by a violent confrontationof armed
forces and guerrillaorganizations,but emergedfrom a deterioratingpolitical
strugglewithin Argentiniansociety as a whole.
The Marxistand Peronistguerrillaorganizationsrefusedto demobilizeafter
the 1973 elections, trying to force PresidentPer6n to take a more radical
politicaldirection.Per6n'sdeathin July 1974 and the riseto the presidencyof
his widow Maria EstelaMartinezde Per6n were the start of an increasingly
violent confrontationbetweenright-wingPeronistdeath squadsand left-wing
Peronistguerrillaorganizationsas well as armedoperationsagainst the military by the Marxistguerrillaforces. By 1975 the Argentinianmilitaryand the
guerrillacommanderswere convincedthat the country was on the brink of
civil war. The armedforces decidedto go on the offensiveafter receivingthe
green light from the Argentiniangovernment.This counter-insurgencywar
received little open public support, even though the 1976 coup d'etat was
approvedby broad layers of a population worn down by years of political
chaos and violence.
The junta that took power on 24 March 1976 regardeda victory over the
guerrillainsurgencyas only one step in a process of national reconstruction
and cultural salvation. Determined to stamp out all nationalist political
thought and end the economicprotectionismthat in their eyes had thwarted
Argentina'sprogress,they combined a liberal free-marketideology with an
authoritarianpolitical model and a conservativeculturalagenda.The preservation of what they saw as a national cultural heritage was of considerable
ideological importance. This legacy was manifested in paternal authority,
private property, a catholic tradition and the nuclear family as a cornerstone
of society, the very characteristics of Argentinian society which the guerrillas
were allegedly wanting to abolish. According to the military, the nation was
under attack from a guerrilla force with an atheist communist ideology and
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Robben:CombatMotivation,
Fearand Terror
inArgentina

361

supported by foreign interests intent on taking control of Argentina's vast


human and natural resources. The commanders mirrored themselves in the
achievements of their nineteenth-century military predecessors who shaped the
Republic, wrote a national constitution, founded Congress, and stimulated
the export economy, while self-servingly ignoring the fact that the nationbuilding process had been the accomplishment of Argentinian society as a
whole, civilian as well as military. This foundational period of Argentinian
history is known as the National Organization and the military junta named
its own project, therefore, the Process of National Reorganization.7 President
Videla saw himself as a national saviour who demanded the full support of his
troops for a ruthless war in which 'nothing more and nothing less than the
national being was at stake'.8
Religious faith was believed to be essential in motivating troops to fight a
counter-insurgency war, according to General Acdel Vilas:
The conventional Army must be adapted to the fight against subversion, not just its
techniques and procedures, but also the morale and spirit of the troops engaged or soon to
come into action. As a result, a 'winning mystique' must be created that makes them feel that
they are participating in a real war impregnated with national feeling, in defence of
Argentinian principles that we inherited from our ancestors; this will stimulate their courage
until reaching the precise share of sacrifice that will be demanded of them.'

In 1976, the conservative Catholic Major Mohamed Ali Seineldin was asked
to instil such a fighting spirit in the Federal Police and army personnel. A more
conscious awareness of personal faith and a collective religious identity were
assumed to strengthen the willingness to sacrifice one's life in combat.
The guerrilla commanders had their own concerns about motivating their
combatants. What was religion for the military was ideology for the guerrillas.
The Marxist guerrilla commanders urged their cadres to study Marx, Engels,
Lenin, Mao and Giap to improve their ideological formation.'0 They also
recommended romanticized accounts from the second world war, the Cuban
revolution and the Algerian and Vietnam wars to instil a spirit of sacrifice,
unwavering belief in one's ability, fearlessness in sight of the enemy and a love
of battle. Whereas the Marxist guerrillas spoke of combat motivation in the
service of a social revolution that would lead to an inevitable victory of the
proletariat, the Peronist guerrilla commanders appealed to past glories and a
mystique of invincibility. The latter referred to the worker resistance against
7 Juan E. Corradi, The Fitful Republic. Economy, Society, and Politics in Argentina (Boulder,
CO 1985), 24-30; John Lynch, 'From Independence to National Organization' in Leslie Bethell
(ed.), Argentina since Independence (Cambridge 1993), 38-46; Oscar Oszlak, La formacion del
estado argentino (Buenos Aires 1990), 45-84; David Rock, Argentina, 1516-1987. From Spanish
Colonization to Alfonsin (Berkeley, CA 1987), 120-6.
8 Cited in La Nacion, 14 December 1976.
9 Acdel Edgardo Vilas, 'Reflexiones sobre la guerra subversiva', Revista de la Escuela Superior
de Guerra, 54, 427 (1976), 10.
10 Boletin Interno, 72 (December 1974), 1.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

362

of Contemporary
Journal
HistoryVol41 No 2

the militarywho oustedPer6nin 1955, and endedin Per6n'sreturnto power


in 1973. The Peronistguerrillastried to instil this legacyto 'achievea revolutionarymystique',which meantto understand'the need for this fight and the
justice of its objectives,the faith in the final triumph,and the sacrificefor an
ideal'."
A strong contextual influence on the combat motivation of military and
guerrillascame from reprisalkillings, kidnappingsand assassinations.The
Marxist guerrillaorganizationPeople'sRevolutionaryArmyor ERP(Ejercito
Revolucionariodel Pueblo) accused the military in 1974 of the summary
execution of capturedcombatants,and announcedthat it would carry out
reprisalkillings to force the militaryto abide by the Geneva Conventions.12
However, the vengeancekillingsreboundedon the combatantsby makingthe
militarymore eager to fight them. The incarcerationof abductedofficers in
people's prisons did the rest. The appearanceof the emaciatedbody of an
armyofficerin August1975 affectedthe militarydeeply,and madethem eager
to root out the guerrillainsurgency,by whatevermeansnecessary.
An even greatermotivatingforce to enter into combat was the threat to
family and home. The flyers distributedto teach militaryfamiliespreventive
measuresraisedratherthan diminishedthe generalanxiety.The assassination
of an army captain and his three-year-olddaughterin December 1974 sent
shiversthroughall officerranksand strengthenedtheircombatmotivation.
The families of Argentinianinsurgentswere also in danger.The guerrilla
commandershad no way of foreseeingthe disappearanceof morethan 10,000
people, but they were aware of the risks to relativesand friends. This was
the price of a social revolutionthey were willing to pay to save many more
from hungerand exploitation.Individualswere dispensablein the tragedyof
revolution,even if those personswere one's father,son and wife.
All partieswere eagerto enterinto operationsby 1975. The increasedguerrilla attacks on militaryinstallationsand officers, noted a 1975 battle plan,
'have createdstrongaggressivefeelingsamong the troopswhich translateinto
a desire to operate against the enemy'.13The guerrillaorganizationswere
equally motivated. 'Glorious days are awaiting us', so wrote Commander
Mario Roberto Santucho jubilantlyin late March 1975. 'The Argentinian
revolutionariesare willing happilyto shed the last drop of their blood to win
the happinesswhich our peopleneed and deserve.This is the roadto victory.'14
Whetherthese two quotes reflectthe combat motivationof ordinarysoldiers
and combatants remains to be seen, but both guerrillaand military commandershad effectivelyconvincedtheirtroops that the cause of war was just,
the historicalsituationripe, and the politicaland militarynecessityurgent.
This battle readinesswas tested in February1975 when the Argentinian
11 Evita Montonera, 3 (1975), 25.
12 Estrella Roja, 40 (1974), 2; El Combatiente, 137 (1974), 2.
13 CGE (Comandante General del Ejercito), Plan de Acci6n Sicol6gica No. 1/75 (Apoyo
Problema Independencia), 5 February 1975, 2.
14 El Combatiente, 160 (1975), 2.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

in Argentina
Robben:CombatMotivation,
Fearand Terror

363

military began a counter-insurgency campaign against a rural front of around


100 Marxist guerrillas. The army isolated the insurgents from their support
structure in the villages and towns of Tucuman province, while slowly
increasing their counter-offensive with ambushes and rapid forays into enemy
territory. As many officers and NCOs as possible were given a tour of duty to
initiate the troops in counter-insurgency warfare.
A similar rotation system was used among the military assigned to cities
and industrial zones. Officers and NCOs were assigned to task groups which
operated in demarcated areas. About half a dozen areas made up one subzone,
while four to five subzones comprised one defence zone. Argentina had been
divided into five defence zones with an army corps commander at the helm of
each zone. This grid pattern gave great operational freedom to the task
groups, allowing them to act on the spur of the moment without having to
wait for orders from higher up. The combat motivation was therefore high,
also because the physical risks were small. Operations against suspected armed
combatants were backed by regular army troops, air support surveyed the
target or dropped explosive devices, while the task groups entered with a
superiority of men and fire power. The determination to stamp out the threat
to family, property and Argentinian national culture was great among the
military.
The first battle between army troops and guerrilla forces took place on 14
February 1975. A combat unit of ten was suddenly shot at from behind by a
group of 15-20 guerrillas. The corporal fell to the ground seriously wounded.
A first lieutenant ran to his aid and was mortally wounded. An account
published to motivate the troops described how the remaining lieutenant,
'paralysed and stretched out on the ground, manages in a desperate move which proves his combative capacity, will and valour - to throw a hand
grenade and succeed in knocking down one [guerrilla] who was escaping'.15
The wounded corporal joined his lieutenant in returning fire before helicopter
support arrived to disperse the guerrillas. This baptism of fire was regarded as
the army's first experience with 'a new war. Different. Strange. Maybe the
military instruction that was received did not prepare the troops for all these
new demands.''6
The combat situation enhanced group cohesion, which was an important
motivating force in the counter-insurgency war. The combat platoons combed
the bush in Tucuman, slept in makeshift shelters and could only rely on each
other when trapped in an ambush. Likewise, the task groups hunting urban
guerrillas were close-knit units of a dozen men who were together day
and night, abducted combatants and civilians, engaged in psychologically disturbing but socially bonding torture practices, and expanded the counterinsurgency warfare into state terrorism.
Revenge was a great motivating force for the Argentinian military and
15
16

CJE (Comando en Jefe del Ej6rcito), El Eje'rcitode Hoy (Buenos Aires 1976), 43.
Ibid., 44.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

364

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

police becausethe enemieswere not foreignsoldierscarryingout theirprofessional duties, but fellow-Argentiniansbelieved to endangertheir comrades,
families and whole way of life. One officer told a capturedguerrillain late
1977: 'And what were you thinking,that we were going to do nothing while
almost everyyear of graduatesof the MilitaryAcademysufferedcasualties?'"
One police officerwas determinedto find the four guerrillaswho had assassinated his wife by booby-trappingher car. He volunteeredfor particularly
dangerousmissions,willingto risk his life in pursuitof revenge.18
Therewas also a morediffuselevel of revengecontributingto combatmotivation. This was revengefor the violenceinflictedon Argentiniansociety. The
guerrillaorganizationswere held responsiblefor destroyingthe Argentinaof
the Sundayafternoonswith family and friends,the barbecues,eveningstrolls
and holidayoutings.Therewas revengefor the permanentthreatto theirloved
ones, for the 'dirtywork' they were forcedto carryout, such as torturingand
executingcaptives.Severalofficerstold me that they had resentedcarryingout
the tasks orderedby theirsuperiors.Trainedin conventionalwarfare,they had
been obligedto fight an intelligencewar againstan invisibleenemy.
Taking into considerationthe ideological and historical motivation, the
physical and mental preparation,the patriotic and religious fervour, the
cohesion, esprit de corps and comradeship,and finally the strong feelings of
revenge,how did the Argentinianmilitaryand guerrillashold up underenemy
fire in the counter-insurgency
war of 1975-80?
The counter-insurgencywar was waged by platoons, special forces and
intelligence units from the armed and security forces against Argentinian
guerrillacombatantsorganizedin cell-type structures.Guerrillacombatants
were hunted down in search-and-destroy
missions by small units using rifles,
machine guns and hand grenades,either in the sparselypopulated Andean
foothills of Tucumainprovince or in major cities and industrialbelts. The
weaponryplayed a minor role in affectingcombat motivation,although the
superior firepower of the Argentinianmilitary was decisive in armed confrontations with guerrilla combatants. In 1976, the Argentinianguerrilla
organizationswere expectingthe army to seal off entire neighbourhoodsin
searchof combatants,as had happenedin Chile in 1973. 'But what did they
do?' asks formerPeronistguerrillaErnestoJauretche.
They launched a war technology that was totally unknown to us. They launched those
famous pickup trucks in the street, the ones that had six soldiers in the back, one of whom
operated a MAG, a MAG-30 machine gun which is something terrifying; the other five with
a FAL rifle; in front an NCO with a machine gun and grenades, and a driver. Every contact
of one of our vehicles with one of theirs was four deaths for us .... We disappeared from the
street very soon because the combat was totally uneven."'9

17
18
19

Cited in Juan Gasparini, Montoneros: Final de Cuentas (Buenos Aires 1988), 125.
El Diario del Juicio, 14 (1985), 304.
Interview with Ernesto Jauretche, 20 April 1991.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

inArgentina
Robben:
Combat
FearandTerror
Motivation,

365

Terrorratherthansuperiorfirepowerwas the crucialweapon in Argentinian


counter-insurgencywarfare and disappearancethe preferredmeans. Terror
was regardedas a rationalmilitarystrategy.
The first victory is achieved by instilling fear in the adversary. Thus, one task of the forces of
order consists of instilling such fear among the guerrillas. Fear leads to mistrust and mistrust

leadsto uncertainty.... One loses fearwhenone knowsits cause.Thiscausemusttherefore


always remain hidden, must constantly change if possible, and must in all cases be part of
reality.20

The inabilityto discoverhow, when and why comradeshad disappeared,and


whetheror not they were collaboratingvoluntarilywith or had beenforcedto
talk to the militaryduring brutalinterrogations,was highly demotivatingto
guerrillacombatants.
How motivatedin combat did the militaryremainafter they beganOperation Independencein Tucumanprovincein February1975? By October1975
the guerrillaswerepermanentlyon the move. One armysourcestatedthat the
soldiers were hunting them with an intense desire for combat. 'Life hardly
counts anymore.It matterslittle to lose or preserveit. One wants to enterinto
combat. One longs for combat. But one wants it now and once and for all,
because the hope and nervousnessdo as much damage as what could be
inflicted by the bullets of the others.'2'There were 15 confrontationsin
October 1975 in which 40 guerrillasdied.
The RevolutionaryPeople'sArmy (ERP)tried to encourageits combatants
to continuefightingby arguingafterthe March 1976 coup d'etat:'A stageof
generalizedcivil war will open up, allowingfor the massiveflow of the people
to the armed resistance.'22In the meantime, the number of new recruits
dwindled rapidlyand the armed forces abductedERP sympathizersin large
numbers.The ERPcommanderscontinuedto try to boost moraleby declaring
that imaginarytroops were coming to the rescue:'Thousandsand thousands
of men and women throughoutour fatherlandwill marchto swell the revolutionaryranks,reinforcingand creatingnew guerrillaunits .... '23
The PeronistMontoneros, the other main Argentinianguerrillaorganization, did not fare much better.They had not tried to set up a liberatedrural
zone but had dedicatedthemselvesto urbanguerrillawarfare.Theirruthless
persecutionby task groupsforcedthem to move from shelterto shelter,while
tryingto maintaincontactwith theirorganization.The guerrillascontinuedto
inflict casualtieson the Argentinianmilitary,more as revengefor their dead
comradesthan as a way to win the war. Fightinga losing battlecould lead to
total passivenessand profounddisillusionment,as was to be the case among
20
373
21
22
23

Juan Jose Masi, 'Lucha contra la subversi6n', Revista de la Escuela Superior de Guerra, 45,
(1967), 80.
CJE, El Ejercito de Hoy, op. cit., 69.
Estrella Roja, 73 (1976), 2.
Ibid., 3.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

366

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

Argentinian soldiers in the Falklands war, but it could also lead to seething
anger, hatred and a dogged determination to continue fighting.
Still, the tireless task groups gave no quarter to the hunted guerrillas.
Surviving Montoneros became completely disheartened by the abductions.
'Everything produced an impressive demoralization in the heart of the organization. One couldn't walk in the street, nobody knew where it was safe
because even your own comrades were informers.'24The Marxist guerrillas
had the same experience: 'Survivors search one another out, they meet in the
street, check certain bars and cross certain squares and specific streets at specific hours; everyone has his reference points and resorts to them driven by the
need to know, to meet each other, and talk with others about the disaster.'25
Combat in the 1975-80 counter-insurgency war did not end with capture
or surrender because of the strategic decision to use terror and torture as
short cuts to victory. The zeal to annihilate the guerrillas caused the counterinsurgency war to deteriorate into a ruthless repression that dovetailed with
the state terrorism inflicted on the civilian political opposition. The inhuman
treatment of captives was glaring and has been analysed by me elsewhere, 26
but its effect on the combat motivation of the military has never been studied.
I suspect that morale becomes difficult to maintain under such extreme conditions, if not shored up by strong Manichean convictions, continuous
demonization and dehumanizing practices.27
Surprisingly enough, both the guerrilla organizations and the Argentinian
military regarded torture as the continuation of combat in another theatre of
operations. Intelligence, rather than the conquest of territory, was the crux
of this counter-insurgency war. Torture was seen as necessary to extract
information and as a means to break the enemy's will to fight. Aware of the
brutal interrogation practices, Argentinian guerrilla commanders tried to
motivate their members to resist torture. Silence was regarded as a victory over
the enemy, and a boost to morale. An article of June 1975 entitled 'Torture is
a Combat and It Can be Won', stated: 'Torture hurts, but it is not the pain that
is unbearable but the situation and conditions in which we find ourselves.'
Suggestions were made as to how to deceive interrogators with convincing
story lines. 'One has to lie to and mislead the enemy; that is the way to fight
them.' Guerrillas were also told to feign a cardiac arrest and exaggerate their
pain to win a victory in the heart of the repressive apparatus. 'The enemy may
kill, torture and abduct us, we may see comrades fall into their hands, but that
doesn't mean that we lose the unbreakable will to win.'28
Tragically enough, such victory in the torture chambers for many captives
entailed death rather than life. Death was a liberation from suffering rather
24 Interview with Ernesto Jauretche, 20 April 1991.
25 Rolo Diez, Los compaheros (Mexico City 1987), 102.
26 Robben, op. cit., chap. 11.
27 See Peter Watson, War on the Mind. The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology (New
York 1978), 36-9.
28 Evita Montonera, 3 (1975), 20, 23, 27.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

in Argentina
Robben:CombatMotivation,
Fearand Terror

367

than the end of life. 'One had to endure the suffering before an enemy who
didn't give death away. The victory was to earn one's death.'29By 1976, the
torture in the military's secret detention centres had become so ferocious that
resistance was impossible, and the Montonero commanders ordered their
combatants to die fighting or swallow a cyanide capsule. However, the
Marxist guerrillas continued to believe that resistance to torture was the mark
of a true revolutionary and that the following 1974 directive was still valid:
'The high proletarian combat morale has to be demonstrated as much in the
mass struggle as on the battlefield, in the torture chamber and in prison.'30
Torture, captivity and disappearances broke the morale of the guerrilla
organizations or what was left of them. A 1979 internal report from the
Montoneros stated that about 6000 comrades had been imprisoned between
1976 and 1978: 'Only 5 per cent of this figure fell through intelligence or by
accident, the other 95 per cent were the result of direct or indirect collaboration.' The report attributed the general inability to withstand torture to the
low combat morale and lack of faith in the success of the revolutionary war.
'This low morale before the enemy is a common denominator, not just of the
Montoneros but of the members of all armed organizations in the country,
because they all have one thing in common: defeat.'3'
The Marxist ERP admitted defeat in mid-1977 after the death of its principal military commanders in 1976 and the flight abroad of others thereafter.
The Montoneros split between February 1979 and April 1980 when two large
groups broke with the Montonero leadership in exile.32The 1982 Falklands
war dealt the death blow, as the tiny organization split in two over the offer by
the Montonero National Leadership to supply troops to fight the British, even
though in reality they were unable to supply even one company of combatants.
The opponents argued that the military were trying to make amends for the
state terrorism and regain lost support among the Argentinian people.
Patriotism and betrayal stood diametrically opposed, leaving permanent scars
on what remained of the Montoneros.

The Falkland Islands were seized in 1833 by the UK at a time when Argentina
was embroiled in a protracted civil war. The sovereignty over the islands has
been disputed ever since. The United Nations partially acknowledged
Argentina's claim in 1966 with Resolution 2065, urging the two countries to
enter into bilateral negotiations. These talks led to the 1968 Memorandum of
Understanding in which Great Britain accepted Argentina's sovereignty over
29 Gasparini, op. cit., 149.
30 Boletin Interno, 66 (1974), 2.
31 Cited in Gasparini, op. cit., 147, 146. The figure of 6000 comrades is deceptive because the
majority consisted of political members, not combatants. Emphasis in the original.
32 Marcelo Larraquy and Roberto Caballero, Galimberti. De Per6n a Susana (Buenos Aires
2001), 316-25; Richard Gillespie, Soldiers of Per6n. Argentina's Montoneros (Oxford 1982),
266-8.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

368

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

the islandsbut brokeoff furthernegotiationsafterstrongoppositionfromthe


ConservativeParty,the FalklandIslandsCompany,and the kelpers(residents
of the Falklands).A secondUN resolutionwas passedin 1973 and in 1976 the
Organisationof AmericanStatesruled in favour of Argentina.However, the
British governmentcontinued to stall the talks, ending in a stalemate in
February1981 when Britishdiplomatsproposedto postpone a decision on
Argentiniansovereigntyover the FalklandIslandsfor ten years.33
The militaryjuntafelt frustratedby the faileddiplomacy,especiallybecause
it was facing growing labour unrest, a falteringeconomy, and rising human
rights protests at home. It hoped to draw public attentionaway from these
problemsand reap publicsupportby recoveringthe FalklandIslandsthrough
a bold invasion. Just as the military junta intended to rebuild Argentina's
foundation after the counter-insurgencywar, so it sought to restore the
national territoryand the nation's spiritualunity throughthe Falklandswar.
The junta drew inspirationfrom the generalswho had liberatedArgentina
from Spain,as theirsecondcommuniqueon the day of the Falklandsinvasion
made clear: 'Possessedby the same spirit and value as those who made our
greatFatherland,we haveto make our utmostsacrificesto attainthe objective
we have taken upon ourselves.'34
PresidentGaltierisaw himselfas Argentina's
new liberator,on a parwith 'the Liberator'Jose de SanMartinwho had stood
up againstSpanishcolonialrule.
Like PresidentVidela beforehim, PresidentGaltieriregardedthis war as a
redemptive,if not divine,mission. And like Videla, Galtierispoke on 2 April
1982 of the need to save the Fatherland:'We have recovered,while protecting
the national honour . . . the southern islands that form part of the legitimate
right of the national patrimony. . . . The entire spiritual and material

ArgentinianNation is raisingitself..." Countryand Nation were indivisible


and one could not achieve its full potential without the other. Did the
Argentinianpeople, the troops, and maybe even the guerrillasin exile share
these motivesfor going to war?
The officersand conscriptsneededlittle encouragementto join the expeditionary force to the Falklands.The historicalclaim had been inculcatedsince
grade school, while many believedthat the Britishgovernmentwould seek a
diplomatic rather than a military solution to the crisis in a South Atlantic
about to enter an inhospitablewinter. The feeling that Argentinawould be
whole again was a powerful motivating force. One pilot wrote that many
comrades thought they might not returnalive from their first mission, 'but
we didn't doubt at all, becausewe knew what we were fighting for and we
33 Informe Rattenbach, El drama de Malvinas (Buenos Aires 1988), 23-36; Maria Laura San
Martino de Dromi, Historia politica argentina (1955-1988) (Buenos Aires 1988), vol. 1, 400, vol.
2, 80-2, 275-80.
34 Cited in Latin American Newsletters, Guerra de las Malvinas. Partes oficiales comparativos
Argentina - Gran Bretafia (Buenos Aires 1983), 14.
35 Cronica Documental de las Malvinas, 22 (1982), 526.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Robben:
inArgentina
Combat
FearandTerror
Motivation,

369

intendedto give our life for somethingvery great;for love of what is ours, for
servingthe Fatherland,for beingfaithfulto our oath and to our principles'.36
The Falklandswar was greetedwith an enthusiasmwhich had never been
displayed about the counter-insurgencywar. Large crowds populated the
Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to cheer PresidentGaltieriand convince US
envoy AlexanderHaig and PopeJohnPaulII of the justcause.Telethonswere
held at which nationalcelebritiesdonatedtheirjewellery.Politiciansfrom left
and right spoke about a historicalvindication,and the slogan 'The Malvinas
[Falklands]are Argentinian'was shouted throughoutthe country, echoing
nostalgic sentimentsnot only about the reconquestof lost territorybut also
about restoringa deeplydividednation and recuperatinga prosperouspast.37
Similarnationalistsentimentsmovedthe Argentinianguerrillas.In 1966 one
prominentguerrillahad alreadyhijackeda planeto the FalklandIslandswhere
he had raised the Argentinianflag. Severalcommandersin exile offered to
supplytroops and initiatecontactswith the IRA to carryout attacksin Great
Eventhough one factionof the Montonerosopposedsuchassistance
Britain.38
to a brutalregimethat had killed and torturedtheircomrades,they nevertheless embracedthe historicalclaim over the islands.
How was the nation-widesupporttranslatedinto combat motivationonce
the Argentiniantroops landed on the Falklands?Officersbegan to recallthe
glorious victoriesof their regimentsin the nineteenthcenturyin an attempt
to convert the patriotismof the young recruitsinto a heightenedesprit de
corps, namely the 'feelings of pride, unity of purpose, and adherenceto an
ideal representedby the unit'.39The troops were encouragedto operateas an
organicwhole with a respectfor discipline,obedienceand the chain of command. It is understandablethat morale droppedrapidly after Britishforces
securedtheirfirst bridgeheadbecausethe Argentinianconscriptsoldierswere
poorly trainedand had not been underarmslong enoughto developa strong
esprit de corps. As one conscript observed: 'All the English soldiers had
receivedat least three years'training.And howevermuch patriotismyou put
in, you can't fightthat.'40
The combat motivation of the two Argentiniancommando companies,
which receivedwide acclaim for their excellent performance,provides an
interestingcontrastto that of the conventionalforces. The commandoswere
36 Cited in Pablo Marcos Carballo, Dios y los halcones (Buenos Aires 1983), 29-30.
37 See Rosana Guber, ^Por que Malvinas? De la causa nacional a la guerra absurda (Buenos
Aires 2001) for an excellent cultural analysis of the Falkland Islands in Argentinian national identity.
38 Interviews with Ernesto Jauretche, 4 May 1991, and Fernando Vaca Narvaja, 27 November
1990.
39 Anthony Kellett, 'Combat Motivation' in Gregory Belenky (ed.), Contemporary Studies in
Combat Psychiatry (New York 1987), 208; Isidoro J. Ruiz Moreno, Comandos en acci6n. El
Ejercito en Malvinas (Buenos Aires 1986), 126; Hector Ruben Simeoni, Malvinas. Contrahistoria
(Buenos Aires 1989), 139.
40 Daniel Kon (trans.), David Bolt Associates, Los chicos de la guerra. The Boys of the War
(London 1983), 39.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

370

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

not motivated by a regimental tradition, because the Argentinian special forces


only came into being in 1964, but by their camaraderie and cohesion, namely
the 'feelings of belonging and solidarity that largely occur at the primary
group level (usually the section or platoon) and result from sustained interactions, both formal and informal, among group members on the basis of
common experiences, interdependence, and shared goals and values'.41A number of the commandos operating in the Falklands had participated in the
counter-insurgency campaign against the rural Marxist guerrillas in Tucumin
province. This combat experience was acquired against an enemy of no comparison to the British paras, but similar tactics of surprise and mobility were
needed, while group cohesion was equally important. As one commando
observed: 'One only fights because one has confidence in one's own ability and
that of one's comrades.'42
Special forces demand much from their men: initiative, mobility, dexterity,
improvisation and endurance. Mental preparation is crucial to maximize those
qualities. One Argentinian Falklands veteran remarked that his men were
motivated in combat by three sources: 'a profound faith in God, and a clear
awareness of ... the values worthy of giving one's life for. But, basically, one
needs dexterity, the self-confidence that allows one not just to survive but also
to triumph in combat.'43 According to this officer, physical preparation is
important but mental preparation by training under duress is paramount.
Religion was also significant in maintaining combat motivation, albeit only
when it enhanced group cohesion and not when it was just a manifestation of
religiosity. Routinely, soldiers expressed faith in God for a good outcome and
hung rosaries around their neck for protection, leading one commando to
comment that 'experience shows that the rosary is the most used weapon
before entering combat'.44The same Mohamed Ali Seineldin who had boosted
the combat motivation of counter-insurgency task groups in the mid-1970s,
now a lieutenant colonel and the doyen of the Argentinian special forces, was
flown in to raise the combat spirit in the Falklands. He told the men to confide
in the Virgin Mary and fight with faith for this just, noble and holy cause.
More significant for combat motivation was the practice of one commando
company saying the rosary together daily. This collective ritual enhanced the
solidarity of the group and replenished its cohesion by expressing its sense of
community and deeply shared religious identity.4s
The 1982 attack on the Falkland Islands was an exclusively military affair
with a naval invasion force, a large army battle group, and missile-equipped
41 Kellett, op. cit., 208.
42 Cited in Simeoni, op. cit., 55; see also Frederick J. Manning, 'Morale, Cohesion, and Esprit
de Corps' in Reuven Gal and A. David Mangelsdorff (eds), Handbook of Military Psychology
(Chichester 1991), 468.
43 Cited in Simeoni, op. cit., 55.
44 Ibid.
45 Cr6nica Documental de las Malvinas, 44 (1983), 892; Ruiz Moreno, op. cit., 307-11;
Simeoni, op. cit., 139; Carlos M. Turolo, Asilucharon (Buenos Aires 1982), 286.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Robben:CombatMotivation,
in Argentina
Fearand Terror

37 1

fighter planes against a prominent NATO member with experienced armed


forces. This armed conflict was about the conquest of an archipelago surrounded by high seas in which military technology, strategic insight and tactical
skill were crucial.
The type of military hardware used by the warring parties was a crucial
factor for combat motivation. A counter-insurgency war is an intelligence war
in which information about the location, organization, and mobility of enemy
combatants carrying small firearms is decisive. In a conventional war, strategy,
tactics, movement, and especially superior weaponry are more important. The
Argentinian military were keenly aware of these differences because numerous
officers had fought in both wars, facing rifles in one while sustaining artillery
shells and missiles in the other. One commando observed: 'I believe that in
Tucumdinwe felt the way the Englishmen in the Falklands may have felt: they
had at their disposal the American intelligence satellites, their base in
Ascension, and amounts of ships and helicopters.'46
Superior armament and gear, great firepower, abundant supplies, and wellfunctioning logistics are important material circumstances for winning a war
and increasing the combat confidence of the fighting men. The official postwar
report of the Argentinian army stated that the troops were not properly
equipped to wage war on the UK, lacking sufficient and suitable food, clothing
and tents for the climatic circumstances. Superior communications and night
vision equipment, better means of transportation and armaments as well as the
high-tech Royal Navy and Air Force prevented the Argentinians from supplying their troops.47According to General Jeremy Moore, the Argentinian air
force, the commandos, the artillery, and the machine-gun posts were excellent,
but the infantry was poorly prepared for combat and fought without enthusiasm.48The Argentinian command had stationed more than 10,000 conscripts
in the Falklands, expecting the Thatcher government to accept this seemingly
irreversible fact and initiate diplomatic negotiations.
The technical superiority of the British resulted in an effective blockade
around the islands and the jamming of communications. This isolation from
the mainland produced serious logistic problems and demoralized the
Argentinians. After a month-long reunion, the Falkland Islands were again cut
loose from a nation that had for 150 years endured its partition, and delivered
the isolated troops to a forbidding climate and indecisive field commanders.49
The conscript soldiers, many coming from subtropical interior provinces,
complained in their letters home about the terrible circumstances on the windswept South Atlantic islands. Several officers noted that these conditions were
lowering morale. The conscripts were physically and mentally exhausted, not
following orders, and even sneaked away from their positions to steal food
46 Cited in Ruiz Moreno, op. cit., 24.
47 Comisi6n de Redacci6n, Informe Oficial del Ejercito Argentino Conflicto Malvinas. Tomo I:
Desarrollo de los Acontecimientos (Buenos Aires 1983), vol. 1, 14-20.
48 Cronica Documental de las Malvinas, 45 (1982), 920.
49 Simeoni, op. cit., 89.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

372

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

from the depots. Upon their return home, they had lost between six and fifteen
kilos and suffered from pyorrhoea, bronchitis, eczema, diarrhoea and anaemia
because of poor nutrition and hygiene, and the cold and humidity.o
The mental exhaustion of the conscripts was due to their limited training
and young age, according to Argentinian army sources: 'The English soldiers
counted on an extended period of operational training .... Their average age,
considerably higher than that of the Argentinian soldier, put them in better
condition to confront the mental pressures and physical efforts of the operations'.s1 The army report failed to mention that the Argentinian junta had left
many of its best-trained professionals on the mainland in fear of a Chilean
attack. If the lack of troop rotation, the poor equipment and the immobility of
most Argentinian troops are taken into consideration, then the drop in combat
motivation and the physical and mental exhaustion of the conscripts become
easy to understand.
Next to weaponry, the type of combat is the major difference between
conventional and counter-insurgency warfare. Much of the Falklands war
consisted of long-range attacks with missiles, bombs and artillery while closerange combat occurred only in several major infantry assaults after the
Argentinian military capabilities had been severely damaged. The effects on
the combat motivation of the warring parties were the downing of planes, the
sinking of ships and the destruction of defensive positions.
Superior enemy firepower was one of the major causes of fear in the
Falklands war. On 1 May 1982, the British air force flew a Vulcan bomber
from Ascension Island to the Falklands to attack the Port Stanley airfield
before dawn. One shocked Argentinian commando witnessed the assault from
afar: 'It was Dantesque. My heart started pounding. We thought that this was
a general attack and that they had destroyed the city: we saw a horizon, white
because of the explosions, and we heard the cannons of the anti-aircraft
guns.'52 A secret communication by the military governor of the Falkland
Islands General Mario Men6ndez complained on 16 May 1982 about the
gradual deterioration of the troops: the harsh climate and difficult terrain, the
inadequate gear and the 'feeling of impotence when one sees no reaction of
one's own against the enemy attacks . . . erodes the morale of troops, despite
ardent action from the commanders'." The troops were mentally exhausted by
intense air strikes and shelling from naval gun ships.54The Argentinian foxhole
50 Cr6nica Documental de las Malvinas, 44 (1982), 898; Italo Angel Piaggi, Ganso Verde
(Goose Green) (Buenos Aires 1986), 35, 100; Ruiz Moreno, op. cit., 195; Kon, op. cit., 73;
Dalmiro Manuel Bustos, El otro frente de la guerra. Los padres de las Malvinas (Buenos Aires
1982), 94-5.
51 Comisi6n de Redacci6n, op. cit., vol. 1, 18; see also Ruiz Moreno, op. cit., 37.
52 Cited in Ruiz Moreno, op. cit., 72.
53 Comisi6n de Redacci6n, Informe Oficial del Ejercito Argentino Conflicto Malvinas. Tomo
II: Abreviaturas, Anexos y Fuentes Bibliograficas (Buenos Aires 1983), vol. 2, anexos.
54 Comisi6n de Redacci6n, op. cit., vol. 1, 19; about the psychological effects of artillery
shelling, see Richard Holmes, Firing Line (London 1985), 209-11, 231-3.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Robben:CombatMotivation,
Fearand Terror
inArgentina

373

strategy made the troops feel like sitting ducks. One soldier remarked: 'I didn't
feel afraid but yes a total lack of control. At that moment I thought about
many things, as if they happened in a movie in which I was the lead actor.'"
Another soldier spoke of a roller coaster between life and death: 'There
was good morale among us. But nobody abandoned the notion of death. I was
frightened, hysterical.'"6
Fear and inferior equipment did not necessarily lead to low morale, because
many troops felt that it was their duty and honour to fight. One sergeant
declared: 'Holy smoke, I'm very scared but the Englishman must also be
afraid, and I'm going to face him!'57One infantry officer remarked that he and
his men were fighting the battle of Goose Green as if hypnotized: 'It is like a
street fight, while one hits and receives hits, one isn't aware of the pain and
seems blinded, delivering blows.'58 In the heat of battle, the men neither
experienced a sense of pain nor were aware of the consequences.
Combat motivation and fear differed between the three armed forces
because of their different commissions. One pilot was very anxious during his
flight. He sensed a dry mouth, his arms were tense and his muscles stiff, but
there was no time to be afraid because all attention was absorbed by flying his
fighter jet and engaging enemy aircraft.59The pilot was completely focused on
his mission: 'There's no room for emotions. There's no room for fear, neither
for hate nor for memories.'60The mission was to destroy the target, irrespective of the fate of other planes. 'That's what happened to me. I saw the target,
steered towards it, saw the anti-aircraft flak, and saw the boiling water. I saw
a comrade fall. I proceeded. I shot. I believe I shot well. I believe that I applied
everything they had taught me and escaped.'6'Part of this concentration has to
do with the technical and personal demands on a pilot facing single-handed
combat. As one helicopter pilot wrote in his diary on 7 May 1982: 'Under
these circumstances of repeated alarm and a few airplanes that dropped their
explosives nearby, one comes to know each person well: his lack of control,
his courage, his egoism and his heroism .... In the beginning one fears the
pain of bone splinters, of disfigurement, of bleeding to death, but later one gets
used to the explosions of the aggressors coming from behind the clouds.'62
Revenge was another motivating force in the Falklands war, although not as
strong as in the counter-insurgency war. The sinking of the 'General Belgrano'
cruiser on 2 May 1982, causing hundreds of deaths, raised much hatred
among the Argentinian forces, and helped motivate the successful attack with
Exocet missiles on the destroyer 'Sheffield' several days later. The Argentinians
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62

CronicaDocumentalde las Malvinas,44 (1982), 895.


Ibid., 896.
Citedin RuizMoreno,op. cit., 196.
Cr6nicaDocumentalde las Malvinas,45 (1982), 908.
CronicaDocumentalde las Malvinas,46 (1982), 925-9.
Ibid.,929; see also Carballo,op. cit., 111.
CronicaDocumentalde las Malvinas,46 (1982), 928.
Citedin Carballo,op. cit., 107.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Journalof ContemporaryHistoryVol 41 No 2

374

were elatedand consideredthis a turningpoint in theirmorale,indicatingthat


the Britishcould be successfullyattackedif the determinationexisted.63
However, the euphoria wore off quickly. One corporal admitted in his
diary: 'Today I behavedlike a coward. I took too much, simply because of
fear;I'm writingthis so that I can neverbrag about myselfand I promisethat
I'm not going to lie by saying that I did things which I didn't do, because I
don't deservethe pridemy fathertakesin me.'64One marinestatedthat he was
not afraid duringcombat but that fear settled in when he saw the effects of
war: 'How not to be afraidwhen one sees a man completelyblown to pieces
into the air by a cannon shot.'65An officer expresseda sense of dread at the
recoveryof his dead comrades:'The sight becomesunbearablewhen one has
to pick up the mutilatedcorpses,some scatteredlimbs,obviouslyhit by bombs
or mortarshells.'66
The physicalhardship,the constant fear of falling prisoner,the dangerof
freezingto deathand the anxietyaboutwalkinginto an ambushmade soldiers
lose theirappetiteand feel discouraged.Somecried,othersprayed.Suchphysical and mental condition led to apathy. Orders were not followed. One
commando found five conscriptsat an air defenceartillerypost in complete
apathy,entirelydetachedfrom the battleragingaroundthem. He screamedat
them and then hit one in the face, but there was no reaction. Looking for
cover, the commando ran to a ditch but only one soldier followed him.
Anotherstood up and beganto walk slowly as if on a strollin the countryside,
until he was beheadedby an artilleryshell.67
Argentiniantroops had a considerablefear of being captured by British
forces.This fear must be seen in conjunctionwith the counter-insurgency
war
and its practiceof torturingcaptives.Britishprocedureswere thereforerepeatedly misinterpreted.When one second lieutenantstretchedout on the ground
in an act of surrender,he fearedthat the Britishwould shoot him point blank.
As he was being blindfolded,he heard his soldiersscream:'My second lieutenant! . . . ay ...

ay! . . . ay!'. The officer wondered if his men were being

torturedbut later discoveredthat they had interpretedtheir blindfoldingas a


sign of their upcomingexecution.68
As the Falklandswar was drawingto a close, GeneralMenendeztold President Galtierithat the Argentiniantroopswere exhausted,without artilleryand
surroundedby superiorBritishforces. Galtieriresponded:'The Englishmen
are also exhausted,Menendez.We have to stand firm, we have to drive the
troops forward.Don't take them out of the ditchesto retreat,but take them
from the ditches to go forward. We have to counter-attackwith valour.'69
63
64
65
66
67
68
69

Ruiz Moreno, op. cit., 83-4; Tuirolo, op.cit., 169.


Cited in Carballo, op. cit., 155.
Cronica Documental de las Malvinas, 47 (1982), 944.
Cronica Documental de las Malvinas, 45 (1982), 910; see also Kon, op. cit., 156-7.
Simeoni, op. cit., 18-20, 121-2.
Ibid., 24.
Cited in Ruiz Moreno, op. cit., 396.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

in Argentina
Robben:CombatMotivation,
Fearand Terror

375

Within hours, General Men6ndez surrendered to General Moore. And then,


after 45 days of constant artillery shelling, the guns fell silent. 'It was something unreal . . . two hours of total silence seemed terrible to us, as if they
weighed more. We later heard that we had surrendered.'70
The Argentinian people were baffled. Their government had told them that
the Argentinian troops were standing firm and that the British forces were
incurring major losses. Collective violence erupted on 14 June 1982, and protesters converged on the presidential palace at the Plaza de Mayo to listen to
President Galtieri's speech, scheduled for seven o'clock in the evening. Galtieri
did not appear before the crowd who shouted slogans against the military. He
resigned from the presidency the next day, and was to face two trials: one for
starting the Falklands war and another for his conduct in a counter-insurgency
war turned foul, thus personifying the historical, political, ideological and
operational connections between both military campaigns.

Argentinian officers, commandos and pilots want to leave the impression that
they were professionally well-prepared and fought bravely in the Falklands but
that the incompetent high command was responsible for the defeat. In contrast,
conscript soldiers complain about their poor training, outdated weapons, inadequate supplies and indecisive officers, while stressing their patriotism and
determination to make the best of a terrible situation.71These contradictory
renditions yield an interesting perspective on combat motivation when juxtaposed to those of the counter-insurgency war.
Military officers spoke with resentment about having had to carry out the
dirty work to save the country from communism, only to receive the scorn of
the Argentinian people and hear their commanders deny that they had given
orders to torture and disappear the captives. A sense of betrayal runs through
their accounts, leaving many veterans disillusioned about the wars they waged.
The combat motivation of the Falklands war cannot be understood in isolation from the counter-insurgency war. The Argentinian military by and large
disliked the repressive measures and human rights violations of the counterinsurgency war. They regarded the Falklands war as a chance to rehabilitate
their smeared reputation, and were determined to fight with valour and
honour for a just historical cause. Now they could really show their worth in a
clean, conventional war: a war in which they faced uniformed soldiers with
their sophisticated weapons, unhampered by human rights protests, no longer
burdened by the screams of hooded torture victims, away from the sordid
secret detention centres, and out into the open fields of a longed-for land that
they were promised would be theirs.
70 Cr6nica Documental de las Malvinas, 44 (1982), 896.
71 Kon, op. cit. and Turolo, op. cit. are representative of these opposite views. The former presents the conscript soldiers as victims, while the latter depicts the officers as heroes. See Rosana
Guber, De chicos a veteranos. Memorias argentinas de la guerra de Malvinas (Buenos Aires 2003)
for the differences between officers and conscripts as war veterans.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

376

of Contemporary
Journal
HistoryVol41 No 2

war is of
The fact that many officershad fought in the counter-insurgency
relevanceto the way they fought in the Falklands.Therewere repeatedassurancesthat the kelperswould not be takenhostage,that capturedBritishtroops
would be treatedaccordingto the GenevaConventions,and that therewas no
personal hatred againstthe Britishpersonnel.Even the report by Lieutenant
GeneralBenjaminRattenbach,which gave a devastatingcritiqueof President
Galtieriand the Argentinianarmedforces,emphasizedthat 'we must be proud
of the nobility with which the Argentinianforces behaved. . . by not at any
momentviolatingthe norms of war . .. such as attackingnon-combatantsor
ships and planes conductingrescuemissions.'72The contrastwith a counterinsurgencywar turnedfoul could not be greater.Whereasthe Britishforces
were fought with chivalry, 'the armed forces responded to the terrorists'
crimeswith a terrorismfar worse than the one they were combating,and after
24 March 1976 they could count on the power and impunityof an absolute
state, which they misused to abduct, torture and kill thousands of human
beings.'73
The comparisonof the Argentinianconventionaland counter-insurgency
wars yields four lessons about combat motivation.The first is that combat
motivationis not purelya mentalstate that can be maximizedthroughconditioning and realistictrainingexercises,but that it is as much a social process.
This process consists of shifting motivations influencedby both contextual
and combat-relatedfactors which are experienceddifferentlythrough time
according to the predicamentof the troops. Combat motivation fluctuates
continuouslyaccordingto the social, political and militarycircumstancesof
the war. The motivationof the militaryin 1975 was somewhatdifferentfrom
that in 1977 at the heightof the militaryrepressionand supremacy.Likewise,
the combat motivation of the Argentiniantroops landing on the Falkland
Islandson 2 April 1982 differedfrom that on 19 May 1982 when the British
securedtheir first bridgeheadat San Carlos Bay. The second lesson is that
combat motivation is affected by the type of warfare. Counter-insurgency
wars imply differentresponsibilities,combat situationsand forms of engagement than conventionalwars. The centralimportanceof intelligence-gathering
in the first and that of conqueringterritoryin the second leads to different
strategic objectives and tactical decisions. The combat motivation of the
Argentiniantroops in the Falklandswar was more directlyinfluencedby successes and failureson the battlefieldthan in the protractedcounter-insurgency
war whose developmentwas much harderto gauge. The third lesson is that
there is a differencebetweencombat motivationand the motivationto go to
war. The political and historicalcontext made conscriptseager to fight for
Argentiniansovereigntyover the FalklandIslandsbut theircombatmotivation
declined rapidly when the fighting began. This distinctionbetween context
72 Informe Rattenbach, op. cit., 309-10.
73 CONADEP, trans. Writers and Scholars International Ltd, Nunca Mds. The Report of the
Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared (New York 1986), 1.
This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Robben:CombatMotivation,
inArgentina
Fearand Terror

377

and combat is also relevant in explaining the discrepanciesin motivation


between high command and combatants. The eagerness with which the
Argentinianmilitaryjuntawaged both wars did not runparallelto the combat
motivation of their troops. Many officers felt betrayed by the junta commandersfor sendingthem off to face the Britishforces without a solid battle
plan and for fightingthe guerrillaswith unsavouryand demoralizingmeans,
withoutwrittenordersand without a properlegalframework.The final lesson
is that combat motivation takes shape when the fighting dies down, when
combatantstry to give meaningto their intenseexperiences,think about the
context of war and reassesstheirwillingnessto fight. In the heat of action,the
combatantis so fully absorbedby the tasks at hand that the sense of it all
escapes attention.Reflectiononly settles in after the fighting dies down and
combatantsdeterminewhethercombat is still meaningfulenoughto continue
fightingfor comrades,countryor family.
AntoniusC.G.M.Robben
is Professorof Anthropologyat the Departmentof Cultural
Anthropology,UtrechtUniversity,the Netherlands.His most recent
books are Death, Mourning,and Burial.A Cross-CulturalReader
(Oxford2004) and Political Violenceand Traumain Argentina
(Philadelphia,PA 2005).

This content downloaded from 77.105.25.9 on Tue, 13 Oct 2015 02:24:25 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions