The School of the Americas

Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas

The School of the Americas

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: Published: September 2004

Author: Lesley Gill

History > U.S. History, Latin American Studies, Law > Human Rights

Located at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, the School of the Americas (soa) is a U.S. Army center that has trained more than sixty thousand soldiers and police, mostly from Latin America, in counterinsurgency and combat-related skills since it was founded in 1946. So widely documented is the participation of the School’s graduates in torture, murder, and political repression throughout Latin America that in 2001 the School officially changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Lesley Gill goes behind the façade and presents a comprehensive portrait of the School of the Americas. Talking to a retired Colombian general accused by international human rights organizations of terrible crimes, sitting in on classes, accompanying soa students and their families to an upscale local mall, listening to coca farmers in Colombia and Bolivia, conversing with anti-soa activists in the cramped office of the School of the Americas Watch—Gill exposes the School’s institutionalization of state-sponsored violence, the havoc it has wrought in Latin America, and the strategies used by activists seeking to curtail it.

Based on her unprecedented level of access to the School of the Americas, Gill describes the School’s mission and training methods and reveals how its students, alumni, and officers perceive themselves in relation to the dirty wars that have raged across Latin America. Assessing the School’s role in U.S. empire-building, she shows how Latin America’s brightest and most ambitious military officers are indoctrinated into a stark good-versus-evil worldview, seduced by consumer society and the “American dream,” and enlisted as proxies in Washington’s war against drugs and “subversion.”


“Well written and therefore accessible to the non-expert reader. . .” — Wolf Grabendorff, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“By mapping connections that others have for too long ignored, Gill has produced a book of immense political and theoretical importance. It should be required reading for anyone concerned with peace and justice in our time.” — August Carbonella, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Lesley Gill offers a study of Empire focused through and produced by a specific institutionalized system of military might, into which the School of the Americas provides one powerful lens. Her book convincingly demonstrates the unique vision that anthropology can bring to the study of global processes. . . . The book should be of interest to students of both U.S. and Latin American history and culture—be they anthropologists, sociologists, historians, or political scientists—and would work well in a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in any of these fields.” — Daniel M. Goldstein, PoLAR

“Lesley Gill’s The School of the Americas is an ambitious book that provides the reader with a thorough analysis of the School of the Americas (SOA), and the effects of the SOA’s training on the trainees and on two Andean Communities.” — Silvia Borzutzky, Latin American Research Review

“The notion of impunity which Lesley Gill develops with many insights has far-reaching ramifications and consequences. . . . Gill’s clarity appeals to our reason, love of truth, and common human decency. . .” — Bill Griffin, Catholic Worker

“This book is a hugely impressive, detailed, and fascinating cultural history of jazz in Britain and should be recommended not only to cultural historians but also to historians of the Cold War, the British Left, and those interested in race relations and national identity in twentieth-century Britain.” — James J. Nott, American Historical Review

"[A] sophisticated work of history, culture, and ethnography. . . . The book is remarkably informative, and the method and breadth of content are impressive." — David Ryan, Journal of Cold War Studies

"[A] useful study of the SOA and a good introduction for students. Gill is persuasive in terms of her analytical framework, and she provides an intimate account of the people who staff the SOA and the people who train there." — J. Patrice McSherry, Latin American Politics and Society

"[A]n impressive, rigorously researched work that builds on extensive ethnographic research and expertise in Latin America, archival research, and unprecedented access to the School of the Americas itself. Much more than an analysis of a particular military training school, Gill's work is at core an analysis of empire. . . . This is an outstanding book for scholars and students interested in Latin America, and more broadly, an anthropology of power." — Katherine T. McCaffrey, Journal of Anthropological Research

"[B]reathtaking. . . . This book should make one proud to be in the same profession as its author and appalled at the implications of having a U.S. citizenship." — Gavin Smith, Journal of Latin American Anthropology

"Evocative. . . ." — Theresa Smalec, TDR: The Drama Review

"[H]ighly readable and enticing. . . . [E]xciting and original." — Brian Loveman, Journal of Latin American Studies

"[I]n the wake of recent revelations that suspected terrorists captured by CIA and U.S. special forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have been deliberately hidden from the Red Cross, severely tortured and in some cases abused to death, this book remains immediately relevant. The questions at the heart of the controversy over the school -- is the U.S. military teaching the art of atrocity to Latin American soldiers, and do Americans bear responsibility for the horrors that many of the supposedly 'professionalized' graduates of the school have committed? -- take on new meaning as the United States engages in actions that bear a damning resemblance to the dirty wars fought in years past in Central and South America."
— Peter Kornbluh, Washington Post Book World

"[T]he book signals a triumph by a courageous and resourceful scholar who uncovered the cultural underpinnings of political violence in the Americas from the hallowed halls of Fort Benning to the coca fields of the Andes."
— Alan McPherson, The Americas

"As coverage of the ongoing 'war on terror' continues to be periodically interrupted by images of brutalized Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib, or unarmed and wounded Iraqis being shot dead in cold blood by marines, a new book by Lesley Gill helps to put these various images into perspective. . . . Gill gives us more than an analysis of the school’s bloody history. She reveals the extent to which the SOA has been put on the defensive over the past several years by a growing protest movement. . . . The School of the Americas is not just for those interested in learning about this particular institution. Gill’s work is both a scathing condemnation of U.S. imperialism as well as a ringing call to action."
— Keith Rosenthal, International Socialist Review

"Gill has produced an important analysis of the School of the Americas that is long overdue. . . . In one compelling study Gill has unmasked the School of the Americas and given readers a close-up look at a troubled and troubling institution that has done little to advance the cause of democracy and human rights in Latin America." — Michael Kryzanek, Review of Politics

"Gill provides a wealth of well-researched information about the SOA." — Christin M. Ormhaug, Journal of Peace Research

"Gill was able to examine the school's folkways and rhetoric, thanks to glasnost-like levels of administrative cooperation. Lessons in thinking in terms of how to 'kill and maim' opposition and to 'dehumanize' those who persist. Gill then traces the paths of various graduates of the school and links their activities directly to the torture and death of 'Latin American peasants, workers, students [and] human rights activists'--i.e., 'opposition.' " — Publishers Weekly

"Gill's argument is compelling and consistent. . . . [A] first-rate and thorough examination of the SOA and the repressive military apparatus of which it is part." — Dana Sawchuk, Canadian Journal of History

"This book is must reading for anyone interested in US-Latin American relations or anyone seeking to understand how the US influences the military establishments of developing nations to serve its own ends. Highly recommended. General readers through professionals and practitioners." — W. M. Weis, Choice

"This new investigation by Lesley Gill not only provides some new information, but raises serious questions for the movement that has been attempting to close this US-based terrorist training camp. . . . The book's strength has to do with Gill's ability to weave a great deal of interview material throughout the text. . . . The School of the Americas is an important contribution to the struggle for justice in the Americas and could be an essential catalyst for new approaches to challenging US military hegemony in the region." — Media Mouse (Grand Rapids)

"Those with interest in current U.S. foreign policy and thoughtful citizens alike would do well to follow Gill into 'America's backyard' to see firsthand how this superpower creates an atmosphere of zero accountability and reckless paternalism. . . ." — Jason A. Smith, The Common Review

“Lesley Gill has produced an in-depth exposé of the militaristic mentality, socioethnic tensions, and outrageous atrocities of the empire’s Praetorian Guard. Insightful and richly researched, a work of superior quality.” — Michael Parenti, author of The Terrorism Trap and The Assassination of Julius Caesar

“Lesley Gill’s study of the premier military training operation in the Americas is a treasure trove of histories that will provoke a long overdue debate about the values and limits of U.S. engagement in the region.” — Robin Kirk, author of More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs, and America’s War in Colombia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lesley Gill is Professor of Anthropology and Department Chair, Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Teetering on the Rim: Global Restructuring, Daily Life, and the Armed Retreat of the Bolivian State; Precarious Dependencies: Gender, Class, and Domestic Service in Bolivia; and Peasants, Entrepreneurs, and Social Change: Frontier Development in Lowland Bolivia.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Prologue: The Teflon Assassin xiii

Introduction: The Military, Political Violence, and Impunity 1

1. Georgia Not on Their Minds 23

2. De-Mining Humanitarianism 43

3. Foot Soldiers of the U.S. Empire 59

4. Pathways to Power 90

5. Strategic Alliances 110

6. Human Wrongs and Rights 137

7. Disordering the Andes 163

8. Targeting the " School of Assassins" 198

Conclusion: The School of the Americas 233

Notes 245

References Cited 259

Index 271
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3392-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3382-1
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