The gripping and little known story of the fight for the allegiance of Latin America during World War II
The Tango War by Mary Jo McConahay fills an important gap in WWII history. Beginning in the thirties, both sides were well aware of the need to control not just the hearts and minds but also the resources of Latin America. The fight was often dirty: residents were captured to exchange for U.S. prisoners of war and rival spy networks shadowed each other across the continent. At all times it was a Tango War, in which each side closely shadowed the other's steps.
Though the Allies triumphed, at the war's inception it looked like the Axis would win. A flow of raw materials in the Southern Hemisphere, at a high cost in lives, was key to ensuring Allied victory, as were military bases supporting the North African campaign, the Battle of the Atlantic and the invasion of Sicily, and fending off attacks on the Panama Canal. Allies secured loyalty through espionage and diplomacy--including help from Hollywood and Mickey Mouse--while Jews and innocents among ethnic groups --Japanese, Germans--paid an unconscionable price. Mexican pilots flew in the Philippines and twenty-five thousand Brazilians breached the Gothic Line in Italy. The Tango War also describes the machinations behind the greatest mass flight of criminals of the century, fascists with blood on their hands who escaped to the Americas.
A true, shocking account that reads like a thriller, The Tango War shows in a new way how WWII was truly a global war.
Born in Chicago, MARY JO MCCONAHAY is an award-winning reporter who covered the wars in Central America and economics in the Middle East. She has traveled in seventy countries and has been fascinated by the history of World War II since childhood, when she listened to the stories of her father, a veteran U.S. Navy officer. A graduate of the University of California in Berkeley, she covers Latin America as an independent journalist. Her previous books include Maya Road and Ricochet. She lives in San Francisco.
"This lively book, driven by colorful personalities, strikes the ideal balance between informative and entertaining." --Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
"A lively history...Although the stories take place on a global stage, McConahay has followed their ripples to the personal level, the book's most engaging feature." --Booklist
"Fascinating...McConahay gives an account thick with detail and unexpected twists regarding America's efforts to control the resources of Latin America. Fast-paced and informative, this is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand World War II and some of the forces that led to it." --Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"A long-overdue history... In a series of deeply-compelling stories Mary Jo McConahay shows how Latin America's reputation as a sleepy backwater was a deceptively convenient cover for all sides. For anyone interested in World War II, Latin America, or just plain good old-fashioned stories, really well told, this is a fascinating read." --Jon Lee Anderson, Staff Writer, The New Yorker, author The Lion's Grave and Che Guevara
"What a dazzling array of stories Mary Jo McConahay has put together! The Tango War provides a highly unusual look at World War II while filling in a missing chapter of 20th-century Latin American history. It is entertaining, original, and scholarly, reflecting the author's lifetime immersion in the region she covers." --Stephen Kinzer, Senior Fellow in International and Public Affairs, the Watson Institute,
author of The True Flag and The Brothers
"If you think the history of World War II in Latin America is just about Nazi spies, you are in for a surprise.
Whether the subject is a rubber crusade in Brazil, Disney cartoon goodwill campaigns, the forced exile of Peruvian Japanese to U.S. internment camps or yes, spies, this book combines the best of historical research and journalistic story telling. A must-read." --June Carolyn Erlick, Editor-in-Chief of ReVista, The Harvard Review of Latin America, author of A Gringa in Bogota
"An important, compelling book. With a keen, probing eye she has developed while reporting for decades from Latin America, McConahay provides a sympathetic portrayal of the impact of global events on local developments." --Marc Becker, Professor of History, Truman State University, author of The FBI in Latin America
"With decades of experience in the region and a sharp eye for the telling detail, no journalist is better suited than McConahay to plumb the hidden stories of Latin America's involvement in World War II." --Jake Bernstein, Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, author of Secrecy World
"An instant classic that shows the interconnections of war, economy and pure greed, with political overtones still recognizable and worth studying today." --Peter Eisner, author of MacArthur's Spies
"The Tango War is a kaleidoscope that provides a new perspective on a crucial era. In carefully reconstructed detail, McConahay fills significant gaps in history from the periphery." --Juanita Darling, Professor of International Relations, San Francisco State University, and author of Latin America, Media and Revolution
"It takes two to tango, but only one like McConahay can capture the nuance and essence of this dramatic face-off between the Axis and the Allies." --W. George Lovell, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Professor of Geography, Queen's University, Canada
Kirkus Reviews (07/15/2018):
A fascinating narrative of the struggle for Latin America during World War II featuring untold stories of politics, propaganda, spycraft, and intrigue.In her latest, journalist McConahay (Ricochet: Two Women War Reporters and a Friendship Under Fire, 2016, etc.) gives an account thick with detail and unexpected twists regarding America's efforts to control the resources of Latin America. An army marches on its stomach, and a modern mechanized army requires oil, rubber, and steel as much as food. With Europe, Asia, and North Africa drawn into the conflict, the world turned to Latin America to power its war machine. As the author writes, "war once begun has few limits in time and space," a point that her broad, exciting history bears out. Chronicling Mexico's role in selling oil to an otherwise fuel-famished Nazi regime, the fight for rubber in Guatemala and Brazil, American kidnappings of Japanese residents in Peru, the Catholic Church's assistance to the "ratlines" through which Nazi war criminals escaped to South America, and the "hydra-like Nazi system of intelligence and communications" that operated throughout the continent, McConahay displays scalpel-sharp precision with details and a nose for unintended consequences. Indeed, the dominant theme in the book might be American self-sabotage. Allied efforts in the region were consistently stymied by inexpert meddling in Latin American affairs, enforcing vast inequality and expropriation of wealth, and opposing democratic reforms. The debacle in Mexico, where the American oil industry's boycott of its nationalized reserves drove the country into the arms of the Axis, is probably the most striking example. However, the repeated kidnappings of Japanese people living in Latin America to use in prisoner exchanges with Japan is what may stick in readers' minds the strongest.Fast-paced and informative, this is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand World War II and some of the forces that led to it. COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
McConahay, an award-winning independent journalist whose father was stationed in Latin America during WWII, has written a lively history that illuminates that period in Latin America. The book is broken up into easily digestible chapters, each dedicated to a topic such as oil, Jewish refugees, spies, and war criminals finding sanctuary. McConahay conducted solid research and writes with an unprejudiced eye, peppering her narrative with fascinating anecdotes about both ordinary people and celebrities such as Henry Ford and Orson Welles. She also offers insights into the nefarious machinations of the U.S. government, which, while engaged in the so-called Good War against the Nazis, leveraged its power and influence on Mexico and Central and South America with ambitions for future capitalist gains. Although the stories take place on a global stage, McConahay has followed their ripples to the personal level, the book's most engaging feature. With tales about the Panama Canal and Latin American troops and pilots fighting in both Europe and the Pacific, McConahay's survey offers a fresh and thought-provoking perspective on a pivotal time and place.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)
Publishers Weekly (08/06/2018):
Journalist McConahay (Ricochet: Two War Reporters and a Friendship Under Fire) tells the gripping and often overlooked history of Latin America during World War II. Despite its proximity to the United States, it was by no means a given that the region would side with the Allies--many ethnic Germans, Italians, and Japanese lived in the region, Axis airlines ruled Latin skies until 1941, and Latin oil flowed to Fascist forces. With great verve and detail, McConahay recounts the reverberating "shadow war for the Western hemisphere": the competition for control of the region's airways early in the war; the dramatic rivalry over its strategic resources; the vast surveillance networks constructed by both sides throughout the continent; thrillingly told espionage and propaganda operations; Atlantic sea battles; the U.S. program of political kidnappings of civilians whose ancestors came from Axis countries; and the flight of both Jewish refugees and fascist criminals to the region. McConahay brings in a wide cast, among them Japanese-Peruvian detainees, Brazilian soldiers, Nelson Rockefeller, and spies such as the Canadian-born British intelligence agent William Stephenson. Throughout, McConahay reminds readers of the damage the U.S. has wrought in the region over two centuries. This lively book, driven by colorful personalities, strikes the ideal balance between informative and entertaining. (Sept.)