A fascinating narrative of the struggle for Latin America during World War II featuring untold stories of politics, propaganda, spycraft, and intrigue.
In her latest, journalist McConahay (Ricochet: Two Women War Reporters and a Friendship Under Fire, 2016, etc.) gives an account thick with detail and unexpected twists regarding America’s efforts to control the resources of Latin America. An army marches on its stomach, and a modern mechanized army requires oil, rubber, and steel as much as food. With Europe, Asia, and North Africa drawn into the conflict, the world turned to Latin America to power its war machine. As the author writes, “war once begun has few limits in time and space,” a point that her broad, exciting history bears out. Chronicling Mexico’s role in selling oil to an otherwise fuel-famished Nazi regime, the fight for rubber in Guatemala and Brazil, American kidnappings of Japanese residents in Peru, the Catholic Church’s assistance to the “ratlines” through which Nazi war criminals escaped to South America, and the “hydra-like Nazi system of intelligence and communications” that operated throughout the continent, McConahay displays scalpel-sharp precision with details and a nose for unintended consequences. Indeed, the dominant theme in the book might be American self-sabotage. Allied efforts in the region were consistently stymied by inexpert meddling in Latin American affairs, enforcing vast inequality and expropriation of wealth, and opposing democratic reforms. The debacle in Mexico, where the American oil industry’s boycott of its nationalized reserves drove the country into the arms of the Axis, is probably the most striking example. However, the repeated kidnappings of Japanese people living in Latin America to use in prisoner exchanges with Japan is what may stick in readers’ minds the strongest.
Fast-paced and informative, this is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand World War II and some of the forces that led to it.