Wot No Army?
A guest wrote us today: " For us - Mediterraneans, a country without enemies and no army, no guns is too strange..." For Costa Ricans the alternative may be also "too strange".
But let's start with a digression from a famous non-Costa Rican - Alexander Skutch. There are ongoing debates on the subject locally primarily from gringos who have only been here a short time or are thinking of moving here (by "gringo" I usually mean anyone who is not a Costa Rican, this is not technically correct but who cares eh?). My guest reminded me of a beautiful book any traveler should pick up before coming here. Perhaps they will discover some insight as to why we do not need an army - A Naturalist in Costa Rica.
"But I wished to do more than learn facts about living things that surrounded me here; I wished to dwell in harmony with them. The concord that I desired intensely to achieve was more than ecological balance with my environment, which some people mistake for harmony. This ecological balance or stability, wonderful enough in its way, is in reality a balance of disharmonies, violence held within bounds. It is preserved by the merciless decimation, by predators and parasites and other natural checks, of any species that threatens to become so abundant that it will cause the deterioration of its environment by bearing too heavily upon its resources. Such ecological balance with our environment is indispensable for our survival as organisms, but it is too often achieved by means that distress an awakened conscience."
It went on . . . . and he closed with (after he has built his rude cabin in the backwoods) . . . "Here I hoped to have the leisure to mature my thoughts on these baffling problems."
This section written around 1940 . . . A Naturalist in Costa Rica, by Alexander Skutch (click link for my book list) - the most influential naturalist to wander the forest and hills of Costa Rica.
Alexander also traveled to the only place a Costa Rican army had marched to in anger in 1856 - Rivas, just north of the Costa Rican border, in Nicaragua.
"Rivas is one of those happy places without a history, save such as was connected with its name. It was evidently named for the Rivas in the neighboring republic of Nicaragua where Juan Danta-Maria had advanced under rifle fire to ignite the building in which the army of the filibuster, William Walker, had fortified itself. That campaign to hurl the North American adventurer from Central American soil, few as were the men engaged in it, furnished the epic theme of Costa Rican history. Happy the nation which can recount no more sanguinary wars."
Alexander Skutch and many ex-pats/gringos etc felt as comfortable as I do with the idea that armies are unnecessary if you can get the circumstances working in the right direction and be at one with the ecology. Once there was an army BTW, but they were abused by the government in an effort to circumvent a democratic election in 1948.
The country was retaken by force, a small militia of 2000 led by Don Pepe Figueres, in 1948. In 1949 he turned the main military barracks into a museum and abolished the army for their poor behavior.
From Wiki: "abolishing the army (as a precaution against the militarism that has perennially thwarted or undercut democracy in Central America) Figueres said he was inspired to disarm Costa Rica by H.G. Wells "Outline of History", which he read in 1920 while at MIT. "The future of mankind cannot include armed forces. Police, yes, because people are imperfect.", he declared.
From a local message board, the question was asked,
"Is Costa Rica ready for a Swiss style Army?"
The respondent opined during our very noisy christmas season that starts in early December and ends some time in the second week of January,
"I've been thinking about this. As I've been puttering around in my garden this weekend, and trying to get some sleep at night, I've heard an unending stream of parties with mariachis, marimbas, and cimarronas, not to mention the fireworks and other noisy forms of merrymaking.
Ticos should go with their strengths, which is to party hearty. What would happen if a Nicaraguan invasion force was met at the border with 100 tico cimarrona bands armed with several thousand cases of Cacique? My guess is that any red-blooded Nicaraguan soldier would lay down his arms and join in the merriment. --Steve, trying to keep his sanity in S. Rafael de Heredia
So I'll continue with my disconnected musings on a Costa Rican Army. For CR to need an army it needs to really upset someone else. There is no right side of THAT equation in Costa Rica. This discussion prompted me to do a first hand survey with 5 Ticos who happened to be standing around having breakfast today. The question was simply, "give me your first reaction to an army in CR?"
The best one was along the lines of "we don't want to teach our children military ways, there is already enough violence in the world. They would grow up to be different people." This was an interesting take and had the room nodding in agreement. Another, "It is better to talk than to fight." The room was adamant about the lack of need for an army and everyone agreed the effect would be negative for the country. It isn't up to us or our gringo opinions.
They might also respond with "soy Tico" (I am a Costa Rican), and that perhaps sums it up. It is easy for the Tico to give up on the army idea . . . for others it is more difficult. Every now and again a strong character shows up on the local scene, in 1948 it was Don Pepe Figueres. He had a good idea and as he had just saved the country from loosing it's soul in a failed election, the populace was more than happy to go along with his brilliant and simple idea.
One respondent, obviously new to Costa Rica opined some time back, "I am wrinkling my eyebrows now at the thought that CR has no army. Do you really feel safe there? I mean, there are ideologies that seek to dominate the world and it seems to me that CR has no way to defend herself. Don't you feel terribly vulnerable?"
I pondered, "Um for the life of me I can't see why any country would "take over" Costa Rica today? In a world of city states (lets say circa 1456 a.d.) there was a great need to accumulate more cities and territories in part because a city state was non viable and needed some economies of scale, room to graze more cows, score additional slaves or just vent the frustrations of young men with too much aggression or allow old men to score points. Nobody takes over other countries any more (well ALMOST nobody). Its truly passe, makes a mess of the local landmarks, interrupts the only thing that separates us from cavemen (schooling) and pisses off the neighborhood."
The idea continues today with our current president Laura Chinchilla. The country responds to aggression in peculiar and hilarious ways (link to blog posting on the border incident) - Nicaragua stole a bit of land from Costa Rica and Costa Rica thinks of it as a "fire on the border" and sent 14 fire fighters to patrol the fire.
I can only smile. Skutch's words ring out today 70 years later "But I wished to do more than learn facts about living things that surrounded me here; I wished to dwell in harmony with them"