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Friday, September 28, 2012

My reivew of: Children Of Cain: Violence and the Violent in Latin America


Rosenberg, Tina. Children of Cain: Violence and the Violent in Latin America. New York, NY: Penguin (Non-Classics), 1992.
Tina Rosenburg has won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as a non-fiction author and as a journalist. She graduated from Northwestern University with both a B.S. and a M.S. She has written for papers and magazines such as Harper’sThe Washington PostThe New York Times Magazine, and many others. Her non-fiction works include Children of Cain: Violence and the Violent in Latin America, The Haunted Land: Facing Europe's Ghosts After Communism, and her latest book, Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World. With Rosenburg’s MacArthur Fellowship award, she was able to travel throughout Latin America and report both the violence throughout South American nations and her own experience recording the violence. Rosenburg is currently serving in the World Policy Institute as a senior fellow.[1]
In Children of Cain: Violence and the Violent in Latin America, Rosenburg’s thesis is that whether or not a military junta or a democratic republic runs a state, a state cannot function properly unless that state respects its citizens and the citizens respect the state. If there is no respect for state or citizenry then there is a breakdown in society. Street violence and or state-sponsored violence become the norm of states that suffer from this social breakdown. This work is divided into seven chapters.
The first chapter is where Rosenburg lays out her underlying thesis. The following six chapters are divided by country. Each Latin American country receives its own special analysis on why and when violence became the social norm for that country. In each chapter, Rosenburg tries to maintain a list of influential characters, the movers and shakers of each particular country. Rosenburg does this well by giving a thorough study of each chapter’s main characters, and the impact that those characters play in the social breakdown of their own country.
The style Rosenburg used to write Children of Cain: Violence and the Violent in Latin America wasn’t as journalistic as it was personal. Each chapter read like a diary entry rather than one of Rosenburg’s column pieces. The style Rosenburg used for Children of Cain reminded me the similar writing styles used by journalist authors such as Robert Fisk and Stephen Kinzer. Throughout the book, Rosenburg’s consistent emphasis was what made each country accept violence as a social norm. Rosenburg exemplified this very well by giving descriptive histories of national revolutions and counter-revolutions, testimonies by government officials, and testimonies by members of the popular leftist movements, and those who had been caught in the middle. Rosenburg emphasized that in Latin America violent acts of revenge or rebellion resulted in more violence; a cycle which lasted for decades in the countries Rosenburg explored while writing Children of Cain.
The way Rosenburg organized Children of Cain was enjoyable and easy to comprehend. Each chapter felt as if it had been a repeat of a previous chapter, but with the names, dates, and places changed. The organization of this work is great; because it gives its readers who are interested in one or two case studies the opportunity to read those studies in whole, rather than flipping around throughout the book. The only problem with the way Rosenburg organized her work was the lack of linkage from one chapter to the next. Certainly there was a linkage of the violence and instability, but Rosenburg failed to link one country to another in their shared institutions of violence. Many countries which Rosenburg discusses did in fact share fear tactics, disappearances, assassinations, and general death threats. Rosenburg does not touch on what role this had in the spread of violent acts from one country to another. However, she could have skipped over this supposed linkage because it may have played no role at all.
The author consulted many sources, too many to list. Roseburg interviews everyone from people in the poverty stricken slums of Columbia to former political prisoners in Argentina. One source in particular that I found to be useful in exemplifying Argentina’s Dirty War was a document that Rosenburg came across. The document is a brief testimony of a member of Task Force 3.3.2. The massive collection of sources that Rosenburg uses has helped to shape the history of Latin America in a light so rarely seen in such violent graphic detail.
Rosenburg set out to explore why Latin America had become as violent as it was and if there were any similarities to the violence each country experienced. Rosenburg answered her curiosity of Latin American violence by proving that an overall disregard for the state and human rights was a root cause of the cycle of violence in all of the countries explored, except for Nicaragua. Nicaragua is an exception to the cycle of violence because of the extensive external role played by the United States. None of what Rosenburg had to say in Children of Cain has conflicted with any other works I have read by Noam Chomsky, Greg Grandin, Walter LaFeber, or Stephen Kinzer.
In conclusion, Rosenburg’s Children of Cain is an excellent source of investigative journalism on a broad scale. I would highly recommend this work to anyone interested in studying the causes of the epidemic of violence in Latin America throughout the 1970s and 80s. This work would be useful to students studying modern Latin America.
[1] “The 1996 Pulitzer Prize Winners General Nonfiction,” Pulitzer.org, http://www.pulitzer.org/biography/1996-General-Nonfiction (accessed October 24, 2011).

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