Argentina's Attitude To The War

By William Spense Robertson

[The Nation; March 1, 1917]

The "Great Conflagration in Europe," as the war is often designated by Argentina's newspapers, is the chief topic of conversation in Buenos Aires. The sympathies of the Argentine people vary, depending upon their ancestry, their interests, and their affiliations. Many residents of Argentina have forsaken their homes to enlist under the banner of England or her Allies. In some cases these recruits were adventurers; in many cases they were Englishmen, or descendants of Englishmen; in other cases they were Argentine citizens who had married daughters of subjects of the Allied nations. I saw an enthusiastic young resident of Argentina, the husband of an aged Belgian's daughter, embark for Havre to serve under Albert I. Thousands of recruits for the Allies have crossed the Atlantic since August 1, 1914. There is no doubt that only the influence of the sea-power has prevented a host of reservists from returning to the Old World to fight under the banners of the Emperor and the Kaiser.

The leaders of the metropolitan press, La Nación and La Prensa, favor the Allies, and partly on that account, shortly after the outbreak of the war certain German residents of Buenos Aires founded a daily newspaper, La Unión, which has since served as an organ of the Teutonic cause in southern South America. Aside from the editorials in that newspaper, it is almost impossible to find in the intellectual centre of South America and published expression of sympathy for the German cause. Argentine citizens are drawn to England by ties of commerce or of kinship; they sympathize with Italy's ambition to redeem the northern Adriatic; they resent the violation of Belgium's neutrality. But, above all, it is for la belle France—so wantonly attacked—that their hearts bleed. In somewhat extravagant words an Argentina writer recently declared: "In our literary circles, in our artistic coteries, in the scientific academies of the universities, and in the mansions of the aristocracy, France is revered as was Athens in the age of Pericles."

In a sympathetic spirit a number of well-known Argentine literary men have published opinions favorable to the Allies. The most influential prose writer to take up the pen in that cause is Dr. Francisco A. Barroetaveña, a lawyer and publicist, described in poetic phrase as "a youth of seventy years." Beginning on August 3, 1914, he contributed to El Diario a series of articles concerning certain problems of the war: "The Dream of the Kaiser," "The Crime of This War," "The Attack upon Belgium," "Germany and Sparta," "France and Athens," "The German Peril." In the first-mentioned article he declared that the war-horse of the Kaiser would "never drink of the waters of the Indus! He will not be able to seat a son upon every throne of the European monarchies!" In February, 1915, Barroetaveña announced his intention to publishing those articles in a volume entitled "Alemania contra el Mundo." This book soon passed through three editions; a fourth edition of ten thousand copies has recently made its appearance in the book-stalls.

A vivid illustration of the sentiment of Argentine thinkers was furnished in a booklet entitled "Prevues de sympathies Sud-Américaines envers la noble Belgique pour l'anniversaire de l'avènement au trone de son premier Roi, Sa Majesté Léopold I." This booklet—proceeds from the sale of which were given to the Belgian Red Cross—contained facsimiles of the signatures of many South American literary men. Among the signatories were Almafuerte, Barroetaveña, Carlos Guido y Spano, the venerable Argentine poet; José Enrique Rodo, the well-known Uruguayan writer; Ricardo Rojas, the editor of the scholarly reprint of Argentine classics; Paul Grosses, the erudite director of the Biblioteca Nacional; Jose J. Biedma, director of the National Archives; Jorge Mitre, director of La Nación; Ezequiel Paz, director of La Prensa; Luis M. Drago, author of the Doctrine which bears his name, and Ruy Barbosa, the Brazilian publicist. Some time afterwards, certain intellectual leaders of Buenos Aires held a meeting at a private residence and signed their name in albums which were addressed to the Institut Français and to the extinct Library of Louvain. On the dedicatory page of each album, these men paid tribute to the Allied nations: to Belgium, "the martyred, heroic, and undone nation;" to "the soul of France, the redeemer;" to "a victorious young Italy," struggling toward "her final integrity;" to the British people, "the guardians of liberty;" to Russia, "gigantic and generous," and to Servia, "dismantled and wounded"—nations which had united to substitute for the aphorism "that force is the first right" the other motto that "justice and respect for man have conquered and will ever conquer…. Later, in the eloquent silence of the bone-strewn fields, nature will bestow her pious offerings of flowers; the sun his light, and man his reverence. Future generations will make pilgrimages there, and will read, in the epitaphs of the fallen, their heroism, their tenacity, and their love of good."

The most notable literary production evoked in South America by the great war is a poem addressed to the Kaiser by "Almafuerte." From the city of La Plata, Pedro B. Palacios—for that is the poet's real name—sent into the world his Apóstrofe to the Kaiser. In that Apostrophe Almafuerte characterized the Kaiser as "the dictator of a meek people," a "crowned assassin," whose hands were imbued with "the blood of millions of innocents, the putative descendant of the Huns…an invader indifferent to the beautiful, the sacred. The defenceless, the destroyer of magnificent cathedrals and colleges…and cities." The Kaiser was stigmatized as "the assassin of Miss Cavell…" "an imperial infanticide," "a Herod-king," "the enormous ogre of Belgian children," "a corrupter of the conscience of men," "Mephistopheles," "anti-Christ."

No; la Historia es un momento, una mísera palabra,—
Una mísera palabra que resuena altisonante….
Para tí, para la serie
Larga y negra de tus crímenes horrendos,
Cien milliones, mil milliones de centurias
son un soplo.

Te reclamen los archivos de lo eterno;
Vida eternam fuego eterno, llanto eterno,
Sin Plutarcos.

Sin siquera la sonrisa de Cain el fratracida:
Dolor pleno, dolor sumo, dolor puro
por los siglis de los siglos;
y en aquella angustia eterna,
tú y Satán.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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