The Order of Generals

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward — Photograph — Malcolm Parry

Sometimes one must look backward at backward countries like my country of birth Argentina to see where another country, in this case the USA, is headed towards.

Because I am 75 I live my present with a rosy look at memories of my past as when the man with the horse-driven-cart brought us ice for our house on Melián Street in a 1950 Buenos Aires. My first use of a phone was in 1954 and that is when my mother bought a TV for our little house in Mexico City.

Shadows and glimpses of that past came to me last April when I visited Buenos Aires with my wife Rosemary and my youngest granddaughter Lauren, 14.

It was fantastic to see open bookstores everywhere and even open at midnight. It was a treat to see people dining everywhere in cafes and restaurants at that hour. Buenos Aires is the bustling city of my past where books are still published and people read newspapers on paper.

I would call these the benefits of a third-world country where unfortunately WhatsApp is queen and iPhones king. And there is a Burger King at the end of the fashionable Calle Florida.

But there are other areas of my past memory that are jarring and scary.

On June 28, 1966 I was part of a contingent of sailors, soldiers, marine corps and Argentine aviation conscripts that surrounded the Casa Rosada (the Argentine seat of the executive). I was holding a turn-of-the-century Mauser in my Navy blues as winter was raging at that time of the year. A loudspeaker warned the president, Arturo Illia to leave the premises within an hour. He left in a cab 45 minutes later and not a shot was heard.

The military junta took over headed by General Juan Carlos Onganía.

The reason for the coup was to bring order to the government.

That order brought many more juntas and generals and a terrible period which Argentines call El Proceso. A young navy lieutenant I knew, and handsome he was later confessed to have slit (or ordered that action) the stomachs of political prisoners while still alive so as to make sure they would sink when pushed from navy helicopters over the River Plate.

The idea that the generals like John F. Kelly, James Mattis, and H.R. McMaster can bring order to the White House and to the chaos in the US is scary.

Real scary.

During the Falkland’s War when I was working for Vancouver Magazine its editor Malcolm Parry ordered me to write something about Argentina. Then he came up with the idea of taking my photograph with my medium format Mamiya RB-67. I had part of the uniform but no mauser, bayonet or cap. The cap, a military collector’s WWII German Navy was easy. The rifle came from a friend of Parry’s who ran a place called Lever Arms. Because of the strict Canadian rules of transporting guns, Parry took my portrait at Lever Arms. The worst part about all this was that I had to get a haircut. The magazine appeared in May 1982. Since magazines were important in Vancouver in those days I wore sunglasses for a month.

Link to: The Order of Generals

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