When talking about a subject like the armed forces, wrote journalist Ricardo Bonalume Neto in 1995, it is rare for a discussion or analysis to be guided by nuances. “Generally supporters [partidários] they require a definition: if you are against or if you are for ”.
Words from a quarter of a century ago would easily fit into the country’s current political debate over the military’s presence in the Jair Bolsonaro government.
The excerpt, which seems prophetic today, is found in the introduction to “Our Second War”, celebrated on the long journey of a journalist from Bonalume, who worked in Folha for more than three decades, until his death in 2018, at the age of 57. The book-report, published by the former editor Expressão e Cultura, tells the story of the FEB (Brazilian Expeditionary Force) in the fight against Nazifascism in Italy.
Now out of print and only found in second-hand bookstores, it has now won a new, revised edition by the publisher Contexto. “The books on Brazil’s participation in World War II in general are divided into two opposing groups. One that only praises the military efficiency of the Brazilians, and another that shows the squares as mixurucas, cowards, ”says historian Jaime Pinsky, editorial director of Contexto.
Bonalume’s book, he says, works with documents and avoids value judgments. “It’s a useful book for anyone who wants to know the Brazilian army and understand the army,” he says.
In his career, Bonalume has mainly covered scientific, historical and military themes. The rights to the book belonged to his widow, Anita Galvão, who signed the contract with the new publisher.
A new photo edit was made and minor errors were corrected in the original version, in addition to the addition of a postscript from journalist Leão Serva, who was a friend of Bonalume and with whom he worked.
The book is based on documents and testimonies from pracinhas, collected by the journalist in the 1990s, five decades after the adventure in Europe. Bonalume also visited some of the stages of major battles in Italy, interviewing people who still remembered the Brazilian presence there.
In addition to reporting episodes of heroism on Italian soil, the work demystifies the social and political context of Brazil in the early 1940s. The country at that time was still a predominantly rural society, isolated from the rest of the world and without appetite. for adventure. across the ocean.
But everything changed from 1942, when Brazil opted for the allies, and the ships on the coast became the target of German submarines. The description of this period which precedes the embarkation of the troops is one of the strong points of the book. Bonalume reports in detail the German attacks, without neglecting the human component of the large number of lives lost, as he does in the section on the sinking of the ship Baependy, which left 270 dead.
“The passengers had just finished dinner and were celebrating the birthday of companion Antônio Diogo de Queiroz. An orchestra was playing in the hall. With the explosion, the lights went out and the panic started, ”he says.
Within weeks, a feeling of popular revenge was created, which fueled the formation of FEB. “For many Brazilians, in August 1942, the country’s honor would only be taken away if troops were also sent to Europe, to fight the Germans and Italians in their countries. For that, it would be necessary to form an expeditionary force ”, reports Bonalume.
There were many obstacles to the establishment of this expeditionary force. For starters, Brazilian military equipment was obsolete. There was, for example, no ship in the Navy capable of detecting a submerged submarine, and Brazilian officers only went to see sonar, a paramount warfare technology at the time, after following specific courses in the United States.
There was also the inexperience and provincialism of the troops. Few had any experience of combat, in the case of the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932 – again a conflict of relatively low intensity, incomparable to the carnage that was unfolding in Europe.
“Suddenly, they left their tropical country and had to dig trenches in the hard, snowy ground, scaling steep mountains under machine gun, cannon and mortar fire,” Bonalume writes.
They were about 25 thousand to embark for Italy, arriving there from July 1944, for the final phase of the war. A saga of heroism, no doubt, but the author nevertheless failed to list less exhilarating aspects of the epic, such as the persistent racism in the ranks of the FEB and the censorship of the work of war correspondents.
He also does not refrain from playing with a totem pole of Brazilian military historiography, the capture of Monte Castelo, defined in the book as “of low strategic value, but which has become a point of honor for the army. Brazilian, after several unsuccessful attempts “. “Taking this climb in the Apennine hills took on additional significance, far beyond its local tactical importance. It has become a symbol.
Just as important as the move of places to Europe, a rare occasion where the country came together around a genuine sense of national pride, has been the return.
Bonalume shares the opinion of several historians that the return of the army, with the status of acquired hero, helped to accelerate the final phase of the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas. After all, what’s the point of risking your life to defend democracy on another continent if you couldn’t do the same at home?
A “democratic virus” defending institutions has been inoculated in the country, writes the journalist.
Read today, when we see the succession of authoritarian kidnappings of the military who occupies the presidency, its conclusion seems to contain a new prophecy from the journalist, and a warning to future generations of readers.
“There have been relapses [autoritárias] dangerous, but in 1995 I believe (and hope) that the cycle of military intervention in politics has become history.