Your Neighbors are Fascists

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Your Neighbors are Fascists
James McRae

In 1944, Jewish-American Journalist Ray Josephs’ published Argentine Diary an account of the political events occurring in Argentina during part of his stay there. The book covers the period 1943-1944 during which a military coup overthrew corrupt Argentine President Ramón Castillo. Josephs’ Diary was based on Berlin Diary, a book by fellow American journalist William Shirer. Shirer’s book details Fascist Germany’s rise to power and its subsequent road to war. Josephs’ work, in imitating Shirer’s form, is also imitating his function. That is to say, Josephs foresaw what he considered to be a fascist movement gaining power in Argentina. Josephs saw the Military’s Junta, and by association, Juan Perón, as being agents of fascism and sympathetic to the axis powers. Joseph, while being one of the earliest to state this view, was by no means a lone voice. The United States government had been furious with Argentine neutrality in Second World War and would later, like Josephs, accuse the Argentine government of harboring fascist sympathies.

It is fair to ask whether these accusations were justified by the actual action of the Argentine state. These issues have been clouded by the strident voices of both Perón supporters and critics. The fact that the movement that Peron founded Justicialism, continues to play a leading role in Argentine politics today makes proper historical perspective difficult. Certainly there is no denying that several notorious Nazi war criminals have been found in Argentina (though that is hardly the only place they’ve been found), nor can one deny that there was some curtailing of civil liberties in Argentina under the Junta, and then under Perón. However, under Perón Argentina never experienced anything near the holocaust or the Second World War. So, to what extent was there an actual connection between Nazi fascism and Argentine military nationalism? Was there a deep connection of contacts and interests as was suggested by United States ambassador Spruille Braden, (Latin America 65) or perhaps it was merely “an invention of British intelligence, fearful of the loss of historic markets in that country to the U.S. after the war, and therefore desirous of straining relations between Buenos Aires and Washington” as has been suggested by Canadian scholar Ronald Newton (Falcoff).

Through the analysis of Joseph’s first hand accounts, and corroboration of his testimony through other sources it can be understood that the United States concern about the possibility of extensive relationship between European Fascists and the Argentine government, and that Peron himself holding considerable sympathies for the Axis cause, was, at the least, justified.

Joseph’s Argentine Diary is a diary in the truest sense. It is a day by day account of what Josephs sees going on in Argentina. Some days he is hopeful and optimistic, and on other day, far more commonly, he is gloomy about Argentina’s prospects of becoming democratic and fending off fascism. His views can be viewed as an American, an unusually culturally aware American, but an American nevertheless, viewing events in Argentina. His interpretation of events on the ground helps inform a modern audience of why Americans might have been concerned about Argentina’s intensions in the late war period.

It is important to grasp some of the terminology that adds so much to the perception of these events. For example, when Ray Josephs speaks of fascism, what precisely does he mean? Fascism can have many different permutations and attributes. Typically fascism represents a marriage between hyper-nationalism and the totalitarian state. When Americans conceptualize fascisms, they often think of it as being synonymous with anti-Semitism. While fascists are not necessarily anti-Semitic, it is clear that Josephs uses the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Argentina to further his argument. Joseph’s writes “Clarinda (An Argentine periodical) as furiously pro-Nazi and anti-Semetic as it ever was during the Castillo days, yesterday made its first appearance since the new Military Government took over. …the inside pages are crammed with articles explaining how the June 4th coup was staged to force out “Jewish communist legions trying to control our country” (Josephs 64-65). It is easy to see why anti-Semitic sentiments in a military controlled state might send up red flags in the mind of Ray Josephs. By 1944, Joseph would have had some idea of the horrors of the holocaust be committed in Europe and as a Jew himself, would have been very sensitive to any signs of something similar happening elsewhere.

Josephs also is quick to cue in on any evidence of censorship on the part of the Argentine government. Again, as a journalist, it makes sense that he would have been sensitive to the curtailing of his craft. Josephs also infers, justifiably, that press censorship was the advance of the totalitarian state. In November of 1943 Josephs wrote “I think I’m going to get myself a little calendar showing all of the steps Hitler took on his way to insuring absolute control of Germany and check it off against what is happening here. …Tonight they announce a new Sub-Secretariat of Information and Press with wide powers to regulate the activities of the papers and foreign correspondents,” (Josephs 226)

Throughout the 1930’s the United States had made it a point to improve their relationships with Latin American nations. Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” of non-intervention had made some success in opening Latin American markets for American products during the Great Depression. As the United States felt the tremors of another war brewing across the Atlantic, Roosevelt again looked south to attempt to secure at least one hemisphere against fascism.

In 1942 The United States convened a meeting in Rio de Janeiro of American foreign ministers hoping to build a pro-allied consensus. It wanted all the American republics to break off diplomatic and economic relations with the axis powers. However, objections, mostly from the Argentine Caucus forced a less decisive resolution to be passed that merely recommended nations sever diplomatic relations (Latin America 155). The reluctance of the Argentines to sever themselves from the Axis powers could have only raised suspicions in the United States of an implicit cooperation.

Argentina was, in fact, one of the last nations to declare war on the Axis powers, not doing so until late 1944. Before then, Argentina had been officially neutral. This neutrality policy was not originally one of the military Junta that took over in 1943. It had been a policy of the Castillo government before it. In fact, when the Junta gained power, many Americans thought this coup would represent a pro allied and pro-democratic shift Josephs 3). Josephs, however, from his first hand account, is immediately suspicious of the new government, he reports shortly after the coup “That this is a break for our side is not certain, (Josephs 3). Quickly, in fact, Josephs clearly feels that the new government represents little, if any, movement towards a pro-allied stance. He points out that there has been “the appointment of a known 100 percent Nazi…to the important Mayoralty of the capital city of Buenos Aires, [and] the suspension of several leading anti-Axis newspapers” (Josephs 49).

Josephs takes very early notice of Juan Perón’s importance in the military government. While Perón would not become President of Argentina until he’s elected in that capacity in 1946, even by 1943 Josephs sees that Perón has a special place in the government, writing “a small group of army colonels plotted and executed the June 4th coup, and that these men are the real power behind the Ramirez Government [and] among the names mentioned are Juan Perón” (Josephs 38). In fact, by late 1943 Josephs writes about two interviews a Chilean journalist had, one with President Ramirez, and the other with Perón. According to Josephs “What each says and how the is played here makes it obvious that Perón has a three-to-one lead over the official President. If there were any public doubts about Perón’s importance previously, the interviews will certainly knock them down,” (Josephs 230). Perón’s presence as part of this earlier government is significant because, as Joseph seems to argue, he had such a leading role in the Military Junta, and Americans believe that the Junta is essentially fascist, that implicates Perón as a fascist sympathizer as well. (Modern American scholar Mark Falcoff argues that this was definitely the case). That fact, as well as the migration of many Nazi officers to Argentina after the war seems likely to have influenced the United States stance to the Perón government, which was, for almost the entirety of Perón’s rule, generally negative.

Especially interesting in Josephs’ account was his entries when Argentina finally broke diplomatic relations with the Axis powers. Josephs seems to argue that the move was a symbolic one that the Argentine government undertook to get Washington and London of its back. Josephs cautions that “As in Washington, London, and elsewhere…people are waiting for the next steps-the real rounding up of Axis spies, the closing down of totalitarian commercial activities and the energetic halting of propagandizing, espionage, and sabotage. Frankly, most of them don’t expect much,” (Josephs 347). Josephs’ main argument seems to be that any actions the government did end up taking against the Axis powers were taken reluctantly to appease foreign interests, especially the United States and Britain. Josephs’ also stresses that breaking diplomatic ties was generally popular with the people of Argentina, whom he generally shows as being anti-Axis (Josephs 347).

Much of the history of Latin American-United States relations focuses, rightly, on the injustices and abuses of the United States on its weaker neighbors. Some have made the argument that the United States actions towards Argentina from 1943 through the Perón era were more of the same: putting economic pressure on a nationalist government to prevent the loss of economic interests in a Latin American country. However, Ray Joseph’s book actually reveals that a strong argument could be made that justified that anti-Argentine stance of the United States. While certainly the Military government, nor the Perónist regime ever really equated the Nazis in function; there was no genocide in Argentina in this era, nor was there any significant military conflict, Josephs book shows us how the United States might have viewed what was going on as the precursor to a fascist regime. The anti-Semitism and the curtailing of civil liberties, especially that of the press seemed to be some of the telltale signs of totalitarianism as it existed in Europe. Argentina’s further close relationship with the axis powers, and its apparent reluctance to break ties with them further indicted the Argentine government. Further evidence that has come to light more recently revealing a very close working relationship between Nazis and the Argentine government seems to exonerate the United States’ actions as being justified in the fight against fascism, a rare clean spot in an otherwise spotty record.

Sources Sighted

Falcoff, Mark. "Peron's Nazi Ties." Time International 09 Nov 1998: n. pag. Web. 8 Dec 2010.

Josephs, Ray. Argentine Diary, The Inside Story of the Coming of Fascism. New York, NY: Random House, 1944. Print.

Latin America and the United States. Ed. Robert H. Holden, Eric Zolov. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

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