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Useful Notes / War of the Triple Alliance

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Death of Francisco Solano López in Aquidabán —by Adolfo Methfessel— (from Wikipedia)

The War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), also known as the Paraguayan War, was fought between Paraguay and an alliance of Argentina, Uruguay and the Empire of Brazil. It was a conflict with more deaths than any other in the history of Latin America, with estimates of 90,000-100,000 deaths on the alliance and circa 300,000 Paraguayans, both soldiers and civilians. There are a lot of speculations of the war’s motives, including British economic interests in the region, post-colonialism effects and expansionist goals of Paraguay’s president Francisco Solano López.

Brazil was getting too involved in Uruguay’s internal politics and eventually invaded it, making Paraguay, Uruguay's political ally, declare war on Brazil. When López tried to pass through the province of Corrientes, and having lost his Uruguay allies, Presidents Aguirre and Berro to a Brazilian-led coup, Argentina declared war on Paraguay and the three countries forged an alliance to fight López’s regime. This turned the tide of the war; Paraguay's army, despite having some victories against Brazil in the beginning, devolved into guerrilla warfare in its own territory. The war only ended with López’s death.


The war ended catastrophically for Paraguay, having lost almost 90% of the male population and a big part of its territory. Apart from the battle casualties, the isolation from foreign aid and deprivation of basic sustenance caused massive casualties due to famine and disease. To this day, no other country has lost as many people to war proportionally to their total population as Paraguay did. Brazil and Argentina had an increase of public debt that took decades to pay, but it brought some Brazilian slaves’ freedom (some of them were freed to fight in the war, although slavery would only be fully abolished in Brazil 18 years after the end of the war). Uruguay, on the other hand, was finally free of its neighbors’ meddling (kind of), but still had its own internal problems.

To this day, there are still consequences of the war felt on the four countries involved, especially due to politics and ideological revisionism initiatives brought along by the Paraguayan dictatorship of the mid-late 20th Century, which controversially sought to bring the image of Solano López as a patriot, a visionary and a hero of the Paraguayan people, and after the Falklands War, to include in the narrative the aforementioned possible British intervention that led to the war.


Tropes set during the war:

  • The Alliance: Or rather, The Triple Alliance.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Francisco Solano López. Fearless leader against more powerful nations backed by imperialism or madman bent on conquering without thinking of his people?
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1 for Paraguay. It lost over 60% of the population and 90% of the male population.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores / Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The bulk of the Brazilian army was composed of slaves sent to fight in place of their owners and poor white citizens who didn't have any slaves to send in their place.
  • Badass Beard: Practically everyone. The main ones being: Paraguayan ruler Francisco López, Paraguayan war hero Pedro Diaz, Argentinian commander Bartolomé Mitre, D. Pedro II Emperor of Brazil, The Duke of Caxias, Deodoro Fonseca,
  • Badass Family: The Fonseca Family was a renowned military family, remarkable for more than ten members of that family fighting in the war.
  • Bad Boss: Solano López towards the end of the war at least, since he started putting old men and boys into the military with even less adequate supplies than the other combatants, began acting erratically in command, and started shooting anybody who so much as voiced that Paraguay's only chance to survive was to make peace.
  • Battlecry: "Those who are true Brazilians, follow me!" shouted by the Marquis (later Duke) of Caxias when he charged alone the Paraguayans during the the Battle of Ytororó.
  • Bayonet Ya: The main weapon of choice, in both sides.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Many battles qualify, but the Battle Of Tuyuti is definitely one: it is, to this day, the largest land battle ever fought in South America.
  • The Cavalry: The Brazilian Cavalry served as this for the Allied Forces many times.
  • The Chessmaster: The Duke of Caxias, A.K.A The Iron Duke. Commander of the Allied forces on the latter part of the war, described as a military genius, he played a mean game of Xanatos Speed Chess outmaneuvering the Paraguayan forces at every turn. In particular, his "Piquissiri Maneuver" is legendary.
  • Child Soldiers: Sadly, not only children but old people too were dragged into the Paraguayan army at the end of the war; most of these children were killed in the Battle of Acosta Ñu ("Acosta's Field").
  • Crazy Enough to Work: At the Battle Of Riachuelo (the most important nautical battle of the war, fought for the control of the most important river), the Brazilian side was trapped by Paraguayan forces and losing badly. Admiral Barroso, in this moment of desperation, had an idea: to ram his ship in the Paraguayan ones. The daring move sunk four Paraguayan warships and turned the tide of the battle, ensuring Allied victory.
  • Cultured Warrior: Bartolomé Mitré was a writer.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Firstly deployed by the Paraguayans on the Brazilians on the first year of the war, but from the moment The Alliance was formed onwards, the Paraguayans suffered a lot of those.
  • Decisive Battle: The aforementioned Battle of Riachuelo: It was the most important water route on that region, whoever won the battle, controlled the river and so gained the nautical advantage. With the absolute destruction of the Paraguayan fleet, the Allied Forces had total control over the river and pretty much won the War on the nautical side.
    • On land, the Battle of Tuyuti: The devastating losses of men and the strategic defeat sealed the fate of the Paraguayan Army, and what followed was a string of defeats.
  • Didn't See That Coming: López suffered from this a lot in the later stage of the war. In particular, The "Piquissiri Maneuver" executed by The Duke of Caxias, which managed to perfectly avoid the bulk of the paraguayan forces and emerge straight on its rear. This lead to disastrous defeats that only further solidified the Paraguayan defeat.
  • Eat the Dog: At one point, the Paraguayans had to eat their horses to survive.
  • Enemy Mine: Argentina and Brazil were very antagonistic toward each other, but they decided to forge an alliance to fight their common enemy.
  • Follow the Leader: López was greatly inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte's campaigns, and modeled both his war politics and himself after the man.
  • Freudian Trio: The Triple Alliance: Bartolomé Mitre (The Id), The Duke of Caxias (The Superego), Venancio Flores (The Ego)
  • Gatling Good: Deployed mostly by the Allied forces.
  • Glory Hound: López is often considered such.
  • Godwin's Law: The South American equivalent. Whenever international policies affect Paraguay for the worse, especially those whose initiatives come from any of the countries of the Triple Alliance, invoking the war or Solano López devolves all debates into name-calling and mudslinging.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: The formation of the Triple Alliance went somewhat like this, with Brazil assembling the aid of Argentina and Uruguay.
  • The Greatest History Never Told: It's one of the most important events in the history of Latin America because it helped Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay to consolidate themselves as nations, though Paraguay had to pay for it. Apart from the involved countries, the conflict is barely, if ever mentioned or taught about at all in other Latin countries due to their own simultaneous conflicts, as the 19th Century was rather event-charged for the continent as a whole. It doesn't quite help that the opinions of this controversial war are markedly politically charged even to this day, and the consequences are still affecting Paraguay to this day.
  • Honor Before Reason: López had a serious case of this. Refusing to surrender even though his country was going to Hell in a handbasket and his defeat was certain, and when he was finally cornered by soldiers (see Last Stand for more details) he refused to surrender and charged to his death, even though he was absurdly outnumbered AND he was assured he would be spared if he surrendered.
  • Hopeless War: From the point of view of the Paraguayans. Things looked promising at first, but got worse in ridiculous proportions. Historians agree that Paraguay had no chance to win this war in any way whatsoever.
  • Last Stand: Francisco Solano López, ruler of Paraguay, died charging against his captors and screaming "I die with my nation.".
  • Majorly Awesome: Deodoro Fonseca, the future first president of Brazil, was a renowed soldier with many honors with a Chest of Medals.
  • Matricide: López ordered his own mother executed, though his order was never carried out.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: A Brazilian soldier called José Francisco Lacerda was nicknamed "Chico Diabo". It roughly means "Frank Devil". He was the one to finally kill López, for once.
  • Old Soldier: The Duke of Caxias was pushing 65, but still leading his soldiers from the front lines.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: After the war male Paraguayans were in high demand. The Catholic Church in Paraguay even allowed men to take multiple wives to rebuild the population.
  • Out-Gambitted: One could say the entire latter stage of the War was a Battle of Wits between López and The Allied Command: He was trying to make the war as costly as possible for them (both in economic and men terms), forcing them to back off and let him keep the territory he invaded. However, The Duke Of Caxias caught up on his strategy and developed maneuvers (Like the Piquissiri Maneuver mentioned above) to avoid every single drawback he designed, avoiding as much losses as possible and increasing the costs for the Paraguayan side. Result: It was still a very costly war, but not nearly as López hoped. And doubly as costly for him.
  • The Purge:
    • While this had been a fixture of Paraguayan political life for decades, Solano López started it in earnest towards the end of the war. Which unsurprisingly did not do his already failing war effort or his country any favors...
    • By the end of the war, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay had killed so many Paraguayans that it almost ceased to be a nation altogether by causing a bona-fide population crisis. Solano López's dying opinion was that Paraguay would die indeed.
  • Ramming Always Works: The Amazonas, the Brazilian Flagship, during the Battle of Riachuelo, used its bow to ram Paraguyan ships (even though the ship wasan't designed for ramming).
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dom Pedro II tried to conduct the war as honorably as he could, ordered surrender when the losses were too great and had multiple diplomatic meetings with López (all of them resulted in failure, but he gets points for trying). He was also the one who proposed freeing slaves who fought in the war (he was campaigning for their freedom for a few decades).
  • Red Baron: Duke Of Caxias, The Iron Duke. He was also known as "The Peacemaker".
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Gaston, Count of Eu, son-in-law of Emperor Pedro II, was the Brazilian commander-in-chief from 1869 until the end of the war in 1870.
    • Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, also went to the battlefront with his troops, and while he did not see any battles, he personally coordinated the troops, stood within firing range of the paraguayan forces and slept in the campaign tents.
  • Sanity Slippage: The war wasn't good for López's mental health. As the war went on, he became increasingly more paranoid and suspicious of betrayal among his peers (which, to be fair, is not a entirely unlikely assumption, since he was losing badly), and had a lot of his men executed out of sheer paranoia. Including his two brothers and his two brothers-in-law.
  • Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse!: A mild example—in the Catholic Church, polygamy is outlawed. However, so few Paraguayan men were left when the dust settled the Pope lifted the ban.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In the final year of the war, the Marquis (Later Duke) of Caxias left Paraguay without warning, disobeying the orders of his commanders. According to Caxias, he'd have died if he stood there any longer; considering his age and health, one can understand why.
  • The Siege: The Paraguayan fortress of Humaitá (Nicknamed the "South American Sevastopol") was sieged by Allied forces for two whole years.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Had the highest percentage of a country's population lost in any war ever, with half of them dead.
  • Tired of Running: López, after spending the entire later stage of the war in what can be described as a game of cat and mouse with the allied forces (him being the mouse), suddenly decided against escaping his country, and stopped at Cerro-Corá with his forces, making there his Last Stand.
  • Undying Loyalty: Most of the Paraguyan army had this towards López, and so did the population at first, but as the war dragged on, he became much less well-seen.
  • War Is Hell: Both sides endured Hell. Paraguayans were driven to near extinction by the bloody conflicts, Allied Forces were plagued by numerous painful diseases in Paraguayan soil besides the battles itself.
    • War Is Glorious: Not from the point of view of the soldiers, but the legendary heroics of the Brazilian army renewed the brazilian patriotism and gave the military a much stronger role into politics, which eventually led to a revolution that installed the first Republic. Tropes Are Not Bad ?
  • The Woobie: If you know something about the region’s history, you’d know Uruguay was bullied by its neighbors all the time. In this war, it was almost a puppet state for Brazil.
  • Win Your Freedom: The Brazilian Empire promised freedom to any slaves who fought in the War. Some of them got it, some of them didn't.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Attempted by the paraguayan commander Pedro Duarte at the Battle of Jataí, he led one last cavalry charge in a last-ditch effort to stop the Allied forces from advancing, but his horse was shot from underneath him, his forces slaughtered and he was eventually convinced to surrender.
  • Zerg Rush: Employed by both sides in different periods of the War, with varying results. In Paraguay's case, this could be seen as a Deconstruction: The War ended with 90% of the male population wiped out, proving why this strategy can be devastating.

Depictions in fiction

  • A Brazilian Heavy metal Band called Armahda has a song chronicling the Battle of Itororó (in which Duke of Caxias charged alone ahead of his troops) called "The Iron Duke"

Example of: