The Paraguay War was so catastrophic for the male population of Paraguay, there were only 26,000 adult men left alive in the country at the end of the war. In addition, the F/M ratio in some areas were high as 20:1
The Paraguayan War (Spanish: Guerra del Paraguay; Portuguese: Guerra do Paraguai), also known as War of the Triple Alliance (Spanish: Guerra de la Triple Alianza; Portuguese: Guerra da Tríplice Aliança), and in Paraguay as the “Great War” (Spanish: Guerra Grande, Guarani: Ñorairõ Guazú), was an international military conflict in South America fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. It caused approximately 390,000 deaths, the highest rate of fatalities related to the number of combatants of any war in modern history. It particularly devastated Paraguay, which suffered catastrophic losses in population and was forced to cede territory to Argentina and Brazil.
Scholars have several theories regarding the origins of the war. The traditional view emphasizes the aggressive policy of Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López towards gaining control in the Platine basin. Conversely, popular belief in Paraguay, and Argentine revisionism since the 1960s, gives a preponderant role to the influence by the British Empire, although the academic consensus is there is little evidence for this theory. The war began in late 1864 with combat operations between Brazil and Paraguay; from 1865 onwards, Argentina and Uruguay entered, and it became the “War of the Triple Alliance.”
The war has also been attributed to the after-effects of colonialism in South America, the struggle for physical power among neighboring nations over the strategic Río de la Plata region, Brazilian and Argentine meddling in internal Uruguayan politics, Solano López’s efforts to help allies in Uruguay (previously defeated by Brazilians), and Solano López’s presumed expansionist ambitions. Paraguay had recurring boundary disputes and tariff issues with Argentina and Brazil for many years; its aid to allies in Uruguay in the period before the war worsened its relations with those countries.
The outcome of the war was the utter defeat of Paraguay. After the Triple Alliance defeated Paraguay in conventional warfare, its people conducted a drawn-out guerrilla-style resistance that resulted in the destruction of the Paraguayan military and much of the civilian population. The guerrilla war lasted until López was killed by Brazilian forces on March 1, 1870. One estimate places total Paraguayan losses—through both war and disease—as high as 1.2 million people, or 90% of its pre-war population.
A different estimate places Paraguayan deaths at approximately 300,000 people out of its 500,000 to 525,000 prewar inhabitants. According to Steven Pinker, the war resulted in the deaths of more than 60% of the population of Paraguay, making it proportionally the most destructive war in modern times.
It took decades for Paraguay to recover from the chaos and demographic imbalance. In Brazil, the war helped bring about the end of slavery, moved the military into a key role in the public sphere, and caused a ruinous increase of public debt, which took a decade to pay off, seriously reducing the country’s growth. It has been argued that the war played a key role in the consolidation of Argentina as a nation-state. That country became South America’s wealthiest nation, and one of the wealthiest in the world, by the early 20th century.[verification needed] It was the last time that Brazil and Argentina took such an interventionist role in Uruguay’s internal politics
At the end of the war and with Paraguay suffering severe shortages of weapons and supplies, López reacted with draconian attempts to keep order, ordering troops to kill any combatant, including officers, who talked of surrender. As a result, paranoia prevailed in the army, and soldiers fought to the bitter end in a resistance movement that resulted in more destruction in the country. Paraguay suffered massive casualties, and the war’s disruption, including disease, also cost civilian fatalities. Some historians estimate the nation lost the majority of its population by the end of the war.
The specific numbers of casualties are hotly disputed. It has been estimated that 300,000 Paraguayans, mostly civilians, died. According to one estimate, the prewar population was approximately 525,000 (a survey of 14 estimates varied between 300,000 and 1,337,000; see F. Chartrain : “L’Eglise et les partis dans la vie politique du Paraguay depuis l’Indépendance”, Paris I University, “Doctorat d’Etat”, 1972, pp. 134–135. Shaw’s calculation, based on a 1879 census and the military forces, gives between 700,000 and 800,000 inhabitants). An 1871 census recorded 221,079 inhabitants, of which 106,254 were female, 86,079 were children, with no indication of sex or upper age limit; and 28,746 were male. Considering the local situation, such casualty figures are a very rough estimate; many men and boys fled during the war to the countryside and forests. Accurate casualty numbers may never be determined. It has been reported that up to 90% of the male population was killed, though Shaw notes this figure is without support.
A 1999 study by Thomas Whigham from the University of Georgia, published in the Latin American Research Review under the title “The Paraguayan Rosetta Stone: New Evidence on the Demographics of the Paraguayan War, 1864–1870,” and later expanded in the 2002 essay titled “Refining the Numbers: A Response to Reber and Kleinpenning,” has a methodology to yield more accurate figures. Based on a census carried out after the war ended, in 1870-1871, Whigham concluded that 150,000–160,000 Paraguayan people had survived, of whom only 28,000 were adult males. This leaves a woman/man ratio of 4 to 1, while in the most devastated areas of the nation, the ratio was as high as 20 to 1.
A Brazilian priest with Paraguayan refugees coming from San Pedro, 1869 or 1870.
To establish the population before the war, Whigham used an 1846 census and calculated, based on a population growth rate of 1.7% to 2.5% annually (which was the standard rate at that time), that the immediately pre-war Paraguayan population in 1864 was approximately 420,000–450,000. In total, 60% to 70% of the population died as a result of the war.Steven Pinker noted the deaths of more than 60% of the population made the Paraguayan War proportionally the most destructive war in modern times.[page needed]
Of the approximately 123,000 Brazilians who fought in the Paraguayan War, the best estimates are that around 50,000 men died. Uruguay had about 5,600 men under arms (some of whom were foreigners), of whom about 3,100 died.
The high rates of mortality were not all due to armed conflict. As was common before antibiotics were developed, disease caused more deaths than did war wounds. Bad food and poor sanitation contributed to the outbreak of disease among troops and civilians. Many deaths are believed to have been caused by cholera. Among the Brazilians, two-thirds of the war dead died either in a hospital or on the march. At the beginning of the conflict, most of the Brazilian soldiers came from the north and northeast regions of their country; the change from a hot climate to a colder one, along with restricted food rations, may have contributed to weakening them and lowering their resistance. As entire battalions of Brazilians were recorded as dying after drinking water from rivers, historians believe that cholera, transmitted in the water, was the most likely chief cause of death during the war.