by Harry Franqui-Rivera
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. Pp. xxx, 312.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $60.00. ISBN: 9780803278677
A Military History of Modern Puerto Rico
Prof. Franqui-Rivera (Bloomfield College), has written the most useful military history of Puerto Rico in English, while discussing the importance of military service to the evolution of a Puerto Rican national identity. He opens with an introduction that covers the Spanish conquest of the island and the organization of local forces to support defense against the repeated attempts by various powers – Britain, Dutch, and French -- to capture the island that continued into the early nineteenth century.
Franqui-Rivera concentrates on developments since the “Grito de Lares” in 1868. Spanish intransigence over reforms and the abolition of slavery, led to a brief uprising against Spanish rule. Despite the fact that the local militia was primarily responsible for the suppression of the outbreak, it was abolished, which only exacerbated tensions between the islanders and the “Mother Country”, which denied them equality of citizenship.
Franqui-Rivera follows with a too short discussion of the defense of the island during the brief American invasion in 1898, a campaign far more interesting in many ways than that in Cuba. Although most Puerto Ricans tended to welcome the invaders, which divided the revived local militias, the Spanish put up a strong defense.
The bulk of the book is devoted to the role of Puerto Rico in military service during U.S. rule. This is a complex subject due to the interplay of American colonialism and racism, and Puerto Rican efforts to seek political and civil equality – and for some independence – from military service. So while Puerto Ricans were accepted for military service, into both the Regular Army and National Guard, and formed an entire draftee division 1917-1918, few saw combat service in the world wars; not until Korea did the Army’s 65th Infantry serve in combat, distinguished itself under the most hostile conditions.
Franqui-Rivera does a good job of exploring these complexities, and he offers a very good look at the revolutionary nationalist movement that developed in the 1930s and culminated in an abortive armed uprising in 1950, an event largely neglected by most historians.
Soldiers of the Nation, a volume in the Potomac series “Studies in War, Society, and the Military”, is a good read for anyone interested in the history of modern Puerto Rico, American colonial policy, or national military policy.
Note: Soldiers of the Nation is also available in several e-editions