…It is difficult to imagine how strong the Reich was before 1943, how grievous a threat to the Allies, how unsure anyone was about which way the conflict would go. In the run-up to the war and during the hostilities in Europe and the Pacific, the Latin American region was up for grabs.
The Tango War is about a subject I didn’t know anything about. In fact, I had no idea that South and Central America and Mexico played any part in World War II. Strategically placed between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, both the Allied and Axis powers fought over control of their land, sea and air as well as exploit the natural resources for their use in the war.
Through research and interviews McConahay presents a compelling study, that includes James Bondsian intrigue, rich Americans supporting operations on both sides that would make them the most money, Hollywood propaganda films that supported the war effort in the South, and the Nazi war criminals who escaped prosecution in Europe and found safe harbor in South America.
These especially surprised me:
- Mexico was terribly exploited for its oil in the years before the war by private US companies who brought the oil to Germany in support of the Reich, including The Winkler-Koch Engineering company headed by Fred Koch, the father of the American conservative Koch Brothers. His oil refinery, built in Hamburg for Germany, was one of the largest oil refineries in the world
- In US controlled parts of Latin America, the US rounded up ethnic Japanese and put them in internment camps stateside to be used as prisoner exchanges with the Japanese
- 25,000 Brazilians took part in the invasion of Italy
- The “Ratline” which brought Nazi criminals from Europe was enabled by the Catholic Church who provide safe passage and visas. Men who never faced the consequences for their participation in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity were instrumental in supporting some of the most brutal governments and dictators that would plague South America for decades after the war
The final chapter discusses US support of Latin American dictators, including Peron in Argentina and Pinochet in Chile, which I found useful in showing how all the threads of this ‘tangoed’ tale come together.
I am attaching this review by Elaine Elinson, whose review in the LA Review of Books brought The Tango War to my attention. It is, in itself, a compelling read.
I’ve created BookNotes as short reviews when books have made an impression, but time constraints don’t allow a full record of the title.
Title: The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II
Author: Mary Jo McConahay
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Challenges: Library Love, World at War, (Nonfiction Friday)