The Chaco War And Its Exhibit


Part of the Chaco Museum that we visited today.

Part of the Chaco Museum that we visited today.

We visited another Paraguayan museum today. There is a veteran’s association which has an exhibit for the “Chaco War” in Encarnación.

It was a fairly well done museum, with lots of pictures and artifacts from this very bloody conflict that lasted from 1932 to 1935. The war was over several issues, including national pride, but also concerned possible oil reserves in The Chaco, Paraguay’s huge western desert.

The war was brutal. Paraguay successfully faught a defensive guerilla war against Bolivia, and emerged with title to most of The Chaco, but the death toll per square mile for both sides was terrible.

I like old war museums like this, including the Victory Monument to World War I in Kansas City. This is not as large as that, and if I have one complaint, the museum doesn’t really tell the story of the war but rather just shows war “stuff.”

And our guide, while otherwise nice and helpful, said that the U.S. was behind Bolivian aggression. Given how our country behaved towards the Americas in the early 20th Century, it’s a plausible suspicion, but plausability is not the same as fact. According to other sources, Bolivia and Paraguay cooked up this deadly oven of a war pretty much on their own—they had long argued over the Chaco, and didn’t have the technology to move large armies into its arid vastness until the 20th Century.

It was the bloodiest war in the Americas of that century, as long as you don’t count WWI or II since they largely took place elsewhere.

Victory or death! Panamanian boats transported troops--the war was far from water.

Victory or death! Panamanian boats transported troops–the war was far from water.

I hope that old war museums such as this do more than awaken any national pride. We were among the winners in WWI, but a visit to the museum in Kansas City is mostly a reminder that by the 20th Century, war technology had advanced to the point that the morality of war as national policy is a pretty dicey.

Anyway, if you’re ever in Encarnación, Paraguay, check out this Chaco War museum. If you like this sort of thing, and I surely do, you won’t be disappointed. The other lesson of this display is that tanks and planes and machine guns are a century old now. That’s too long for them to exist and still be used on other humans.

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