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Autos and Progress: The Brazilian Search for Modernity Americas South America Brazil Joel Wolfe Oxford University Press USA


28th May 2013 History Books 18 Comments

“Convincingly demonstrates an extraordinary range of cultural, social, political, and economic influences that increasing ‘automobility’ had on Brazilian society.” –American Historical Review

“Autos and Progress casts new light on an old subject–Brazil’s struggle to become a modern nation. Joel Wolfe wonderfully blends the history of technology, business, consumer culture, and politics to show how the automobile and trucks played a central role in the integration and creation of the Brazilian nation. His book is a major contribution to Brazilian and Latin American history.”–Marshall C. Eakin, Vanderbilt University

“Autos and Progress provides an important new way to understand the Brazilian obsession with modernity. Joel Wolfe shows how Brazilians linked technology and consumerism by investigating a wide range of topics relating to automobilism, including the relationship between Formula 1 racing and nation-building and the connection between auto workers and democracy. Autos and Progress teaches us that motorized vehicles were more than tools for creating a modern state; they were important cultural symbols of twentieth century Brazilian national identity.”–Jeffrey Lesser, Emory University

Joel Wolfe is Associate Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of Working Women, Working Men: So Paulo and the Rise of Brazil’s Industrial Working Class, 1900-1955.

Autos and Progress reinterprets twentieth-century Brazilian history through automobiles, using them as a window for understanding the nation’s struggle for modernity in the face of its massive geographical size, weak central government, and dependence on agricultural exports. Among the topics Wolfe touches upon are the first sports cars and elite consumerism; intellectuals’ embrace of cars as the key for transformation and unification of Brazil; Henry Ford’s building of a company town in the Brazilian jungle; the creation of a transportation infrastructure; democratization and consumer culture; auto workers and their creation of a national political party; and the economic and environmental impact of autos on Brazil. This focus on Brazilians’ fascination with automobiles and their reliance on auto production and consumption as keys to their economic and social transformation, explains how Brazil–which enshrined its belief in science and technology in its national slogan of Order and Progress–has differentiated itself from other Latin American nations. Autos and Progress engages key issues in Brazil around the meaning and role of race in society and also addresses several classic debates in Brazilian studies about the nature of Brazil’s great size and diversity and how they shaped state-making.

“Convincingly demonstrates an extraordinary range of cultural, social, political, and economic influences that increasing ‘automobility’ had on Brazilian society.” –American Historical Review

“Autos and Progress casts new light on an old subject–Brazil’s struggle to become a modern nation. Joel Wolfe wonderfully blends the history of technology, business, consumer culture, and politics to show how the automobile and trucks played a central role in the integration and creation of the Brazilian nation. His book is a major contribution to Brazilian and Latin American history.”–Marshall C. Eakin, Vanderbilt University

“Autos and Progress provides an important new way to understand the Brazilian obsession with modernity. Joel Wolfe shows how Brazilians linked technology and consumerism by investigating a wide range of topics relating to automobilism, including the relationship between Formula 1 racing and nation-building and the connection between auto workers and democracy. Autos and Progress teaches us that motorized vehicles were more than tools for creating a modern state; they were important cultural symbols of twentieth century Brazilian national identity.”–Jeffrey Lesser, Emory University

Autos and Progress: The Brazilian Search for Modernity

The Massacre at El Mozote

Based in large part on his extensive account published in the December 6, 1993, issue of the New Yorker , National Magazine Award winner Danner’s engrossing study reconstructs events that took place some dozen years before. In December 1981, over 750 men, women and children were killed in El Mozote, El Salvador, and the surrounding hamlets. Although at the time it was covered on the front pages of both the New York Times and the Washington Post , the reports were not enough to derail Ronald Reagan’s push to prove that the El Salvadoran government was “making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights.” Why the government chose to ignore stories in the nation’s two leading newspapers is one part of Danner’s sad, well-researched book. The other is why El Mozote was attacked at all. Populated by evangelical Christians who, unlike Catholic neighbors fed on liberation theology, did not abet the rebel FMLN, the people of El Mozote believed they would be spared when the army decided to wipe out insurgents and their supporters. After several days of brutal rapes and murders, a handful of people managed to escape to the rebels, setting in motion press reports and the under-investigated, coyly couched American embassy reply that allowed the U.S. to continue its massive subsidies. Danner has disinterred an event that is an equal indictment of Salvadoran brutality and American blindness.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

In December 1981 soldiers of the Salvadoran Army’s select, American-trained Atlacatl Battalion entered the village of El Mozote, where they murdered hundreds of men, women, and children, often by decapitation. Although reports of the massacre — and photographs of its victims — appeared in the United States, the Reagan administration quickly dismissed them as propaganda. In the end, El Mozote was forgotten. The war in El Salvador continued, with American funding.

When Mark Danner’s reconstruction of these events first appeared in The New Yorker, it sent shock waves through the news media and the American foreign-policy establishment. Now Danner has expanded his report into a brilliant book, adding new material as well as the actual sources. He has produced a masterpiece of scrupulous investigative journalism that is also a testament to the forgotten victims of a neglected theater of the cold war.

The Massacre at El Mozote










  • 18 responses to "Autos and Progress: The Brazilian Search for Modernity Americas South America Brazil Joel Wolfe Oxford University Press USA"

  • SayWhat
    5:46 on May 28th, 2013
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    This book is very well documented.It is extremely valuable for anyone attempting to understand US policy towards Latin American.Danner has done an excellent job of documenting his facts and has made it so interesting you won’t be able to put it down once you’ve picked it up.It is moving and informative

  • kayabasi
    12:56 on May 28th, 2013
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    When I was a college student, I majored in Latin American Studies, and many of my classes explored the functions of the military in various Central American countries. In my junior year, I joined up with a bus full of strangers from Austin, and we headed to Georgia for an annual protest designed to force the closure of the School of the Americas (later renamed the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation). We gathered early one morning with hundreds of like-minded activists, and we carried small wooden crosses with the names of individuals (all civilians, as far as I know) who had been killed by soldiers trained at this institution. My cross was for Maria Dolores Amaya Claros, Age 5, killed at El Mozote, but I didn’t really know many more details about her or what happened at El Mozote. In the ten years or so since the protest, I have become more moderate in my political views, but every so often, I have thought about that little girl and wondered about the details of what happened to her. I finally decided to buy this book, and I am thankful that I did.

    Danner writes his account in a journalistic style, giving the reader not just a graphic and nauseating play-by-play of a small group of Salvadoran soldiers storming into a town full of civilians and murdering hundreds of them in gruesome ways, but also a historical context of why the atrocity took place. Danner delves into the ongoing war between the military and the Communist guerrillas, and he highlights the complicated impact of the rumors and facts of the event on the new Reagan Administration in their Cold War efforts. Perhaps the most striking benefit of the book, though, is that the story is quite short – maybe 170 pages, minus full-page photos along the way – but it comes packaged with copies of actual communications and editorials and other documents, including a multi-page list of the hundreds of named victims of this military operation. Although the massacre at El Mozote occurred about thirty years ago, and the book itself is nearly twenty years old, I still highly recommend this book for readers today who are interested in the way that U.S. foreign policy has responded to human rights violations during times of war.

  • also obvious
    13:10 on May 28th, 2013
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    This is probably one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I had to read it for a history class at Furman University, but it’s one I definitley would have read on my own as well. It tells a heart-wrenching story, but gives the facts as they are. Not necessarily an easy story to hear, but one that I feel everyone should know about. It’s fairly easy to read and isn’t too history-like (a lot of facts, no emotion, confusing to follow). I recommend this book for anyone willing to learn about Latin America, and especially the part that the US plays in allowing things like this to happen.

  • Laila Ford
    18:02 on May 28th, 2013
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    In the early 1980s the Reagan administration engaged in all sort of efforts to convince the American people that its policies in Central America were geared towards preserving the democracy and freedom of the region’s inhabitants, while at the same time preventing damage to their country’s own internal security. However, Mark Danner, in his brilliant work that examines one of the darkest episodes of the conflict in Central America during that period, demonstrates that the U.S. supporters of the counterinsurgent option in countries like El Salvador, openly misled the American public as to the origins, methods, and final results of their intervention there. Throughout his well-documented effort, Danner (who himself became another unwilling victim of the Cold War – he was virtually fired from his job at the New York Times as a result of his coverage of El Mozote massacre)provides more than enough evidence that the U.S.-perfected doctrine of counterinsurgent warfare, when applied to situations such as El Salvador, can produce results of unequaled human perversity. In the name of freedom and democracy, the U.S.-trained “Atlacatl Batallion” murdered in cold blood hundreds of innocent, unarmed civilians -mostly women and children. In the meantime, Reagan and his advisors in Washington (even after convincing proof had been provided by the reporting of Danner that the massacre had indeed been carried out by U.S. allies there)cynically denied that anything had taken place. Instead, some argued that perhaps the victims of the massacre had killed themselves to embarrass the U.S and its military allies. In the end, Danner and the only survivor of the massacre – a middle aged woman – would be vindicated by history. And yet, the disturbing nature of that dark episode in the history of U.S. adventurerism in the region continues to terrify and, in a sinister way, fascinate those interested in that region. As Hanna Arendt has already stated in “Eichmann in Jerusalem”, the “banality of evil” knows no boundaries. Danner’s work must be read by anyone attempting to know the truth of what really happened to unsuspecting civilians in a God-forgotten Salvadoran village in a dark month of December, in 1981.

  • Debra Gould
    23:16 on May 28th, 2013
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    In December 1981 the army of El Salvador rounded up over 750 men, women and children who happened to be Evangelical Christians, herded them into a church in the hamlet of El Mozote in remote Morazan Province and killed them all. Why? They were not members of the FMNL who were fighting against them or proponents of Catholic liberation theology. They were apparently killed for no reason except that the army which was trained by its American advisers was totally out of control. The US embassy tried to cover it up, but Mark Danner got the chilling story which was first published in The New Yorker Magazine in 1993, a year after the war ended.
    This was a massacre in a war that we paid for, but it was covered up by our government. The next time our government wants to start another war, what will your response be? Think about it. Why do we fight? Remember, war is a profitable enterprise for many large American corporations who also own many members of the US Congress.

  • BioGeek
    1:00 on May 29th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Mark Danner’s short book, The Massacre at El Mozote, is an extremely powerful depiction of not only what can go wrong with US foreign policy, but of the lengths politicians will go through to convince us that what they are doing is, in fact, right. The thoroughness and integrity of Danner’s investigation cannot be disputed; on top of that, he is very adept at leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. The book may be the Hiroshima of our times.

    While I agree with earlier reviewers, especially the point that what appears to be propaganda should not be immediately dismissed as such, I think the real lesson of the book is that the US, as a leader in world affairs, needs to choose its “friends” very carefully. Danner’s book made me realize that while the US likes to shape Latin American policy, in point of fact the powerful “Good Neighbor” to the north is often manipulated by the very regimes it seeks to control. And as citizens of this great country, we have a hard time imagining such a thing.

    The butchers of the El Salvador government, trained and financed by the US, knew that they could commit whatever atrocities they wished so long as they opposed the socialist rebels. Consequently, in December 1981, they murdered 767 people at El Mozote and in surrounding villages with impunity because they understood that the political stakes were much higher in Washington once the Reagan administration had committed itself to supporting the status quo. In its frantic attempts to dispute or to ignore the details of the massacre, the Reagan administration-which liked to portray itself as hard-line-really appears as the spineless weakling in this whole affair. Truly, the “tail wagged the dog.”

    This is an important lesson to bear in mind as the US conducts a new war on terrorism (the Communists having been vanquished years ago). Is our country going to find itself supporting human rights abusers once again because our leaders are afraid of political fallout, by appearing to be weak on combating terrorism or inept at finding WMDs? Human rights–and especially the right to life itself–should be the criteria our government considers when it decides to throw its support behind a foreign government.

  • Ray Prince
    5:02 on May 29th, 2013
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    I picked up this book primarily from the intriguing cover. The words inside the cover were shocking. This short little book (161 pages of text and 141 pages of notes) is a straightforward account of one of the greatest shames of the century. The extensive research involved gives it the weight of authority. The style of writing was plain reporting and somewhat dry and uninteresting in places. However, I doubt that this book was written to entertain. This work is a must for students of Central American politics and foreign relations. I came away with the growing distrust and dismay of government, including the USA. Patriotism in every land seems to be a diversionary tactic used to orient the populace away from the amoral and often immoral workings of government run by people motivated by greed and fear. I have an equally increasing admiration for the press and good reporting. Free speech and a free press is the conscience, gadfly, and salvation of trusting and sometimes misguided persons.

  • Tageting Guru
    8:37 on May 29th, 2013
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    I read The Massacre at El Mozote immediately after finishing Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo (I was clearly in the mood, at the time, for books revolving around U.S. military/political affairs in Latin America). I absolutely loved Bowden’s book but only liked Danner’s. I found the prose in El Mozote to be rather dense and fleshy, especially in the first 30 or so pages of the book. Danner’s overuse of comma-offset clauses tends to muddle his sentences. But once he cut to the chase, it was much easier to follow along and really get into the action. Overall, it was an eye-opening read, well researched and presented. I really do think that reading Killing Pablo immediately prior to picking up El Mozote colored my opinion tremendously, since I literally was enthralled by Bowden’s fast-paced, detailed, page-turning prose and thus somewhat put off by Danner’s paragraphs-long sentences.

  • macbeach
    13:51 on May 29th, 2013
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    Easy read, hard to deal with the tragedy of the subject. Fascinating and I would recommend it to anyone (except children)!

  • MichaelM
    15:51 on May 29th, 2013
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    This was an excellent example of U.S. foreign policy being documented in a well organized fashion. Danner does a great job describing how the system works and how individuals are effected. In the back of the book he includes primary documents which I found to be very useful. I recommend this book.

  • groundhod day
    19:11 on May 29th, 2013
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    The book was in perfect condition and arrived in a timely manner. I would definitely buy from this source again

  • DRWES
    21:54 on May 29th, 2013
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    What compelled the army to decapitate infants, hang children and wipe out an entire village of 800 civilians? Why did the U.S. support a government that massacred nuns, priests, social workers and catequists? Danner’s book presents in clear and undeniable form the insanity of U.S. policy in El Salvador in the 1980′s. I am a U.S. priest working in El Salvador not far from El Mozote. Every day we work with survivors of the war, and see the results of the trauma still evident. Danner’s book gave me a great insight into the decisions that led to the Mozote massacre, as a keyhole to the broader conflict.

  • Walter Quirino
    23:36 on May 29th, 2013
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    I had to read this book for my latin american history class. I was totally satisfied i got the book for $5.00 cheaper than our college bookstore. It was in great shape and arrived within three days of me ordering. very satisfied

  • AOLDisliked
    5:56 on May 30th, 2013
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    Mark Danner has written a marvelously researched and page-turning account of one of the larger attrocities in Central America committed by U.S. trained, supervised and funded armies. After the American War in Vietnam, the U.S. made a strategic decision to pay the locals to do our fighting. In other words, a proxy war. Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, the crafty, spirited and charismatic officer who commanded the Salvadoran forces at El Mozote, trained in Panama at the U.S. training installation later moved to Ft. Benning, Georgia and named the School of the Americas. Graduates of the SOA have been implicated in the murders of thousands of civilians, Archbishop Romero and American nuns and priests.

    What I found most interesting, contrary to my previous opinion, is that the Ambassador and at least several American officials in San Salvador believed something terrible had happened in El Mozote. Without access to the site – it had been recaptured by the FMLN rebels – they could prove nothing. Nevertheless, they attempted to communicate their fears to Washington. Washington decided not to believe. Instead, the New York Times recalled one of the reporters who had been to the site at FMLN invitation and had seen the bodies. The story seemed unbelievable.

    The story was, of course, Communist propaganda and therefore not to be believed. Well, yes, the FMLN did broadcast the story with the intent of influencing Salvadorans and Americans. It was propaganda. It was also true.

    There is a parallel in U.S. history. (There may be more than one.) During the 1920′s and 30′s and even later, the American and European press was rife with reports of mass murders in the Soviet Union. The press reporting these attrocities had for years been reporting and editorializing against the Soviet threat and Communist revolution, many times exaggerating or being more than a little creative. They had also supported the American-British-French invasion of the Soviet Union after WWI. Liberals regarded these sources as unreliable and untrustworthy, and continued to defend Stalin. The liberals were right, of course, just as the Reagan Administration was right: the reports were propaganda. The reports were also true.

    Sometimes the enemy is right. We should take care to listen.

  • jlrlee
    16:57 on May 30th, 2013
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    What a shame it would have been to the writers of the American constitution to see the policy that the US took in El Salvador and the Latin American region. How could a country with the ideals of liberty and freedom of oppression support a government whose army killed and cruelly repressed its innocent inhabitants? I was a young girl when El Mozote massacre occurred but I remember the fear that infused every sector of society. Where was the liberty that the US was promoting if the only emotion allowed in the population was fear? Dissent, protest even ideological differences were brutally repressed! Mark Danner is an excellent journalist and a corageous human being by bringing to the attention of the American society the barbarism committed with the funding and support of the US government. Danner tells the truth about events and violations of basic human rights by the US. supported Salvadorean regime. Danner wins 10 out of five stars in my rankings.

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