Smoking Snake of Brazil

Review of the book “The campaign of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force for the liberation of Italy”, by Durval de Noronha Goyos Jr.; written by Ambassador R. Viswanathan of India, in website Latin American Affairs, February 13, 2020.

Smoking snake.. Sounds funny? It was the emblem used by the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Fuerza Expedicionaria de Brazil-FEB) which participated in the liberation of Italy in the Second World War.

When he heard that Brazil was joining the Allies in the war, Hitler had made a contemptuous remark “ If snakes could smoke, Brazilians would also fight in the battlefield”. In response to this insulting taunt, the FEB decided to use the smoking snake as their emblem.

The Brazilian snake had managed to smoke out Germans in the battlefield in Italy, as a revenge against Hitler’s insulting remark. The FEB defeated and captured as prisoners of war a large contingent of 20573 German soldiers and Italian Fascists including 2 Generals, 892 officers, 5000 vehicles and 4000 horses. This is extraordinary since the Brazilian contingent itself was almost equivalent to the number captured as prisoners.

I found this and some other interesting information from reading the book, “The campaign of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force for the liberation of Italy” written by my Brazilian amigo Durval de Noronha Goyos Jr, head of the law firm Noronha Advogados.

Noronha is a prolific writer, besides running law offices in UK, US, Argentina and China, besides the major cities in Brazil. He has written dozens of books and hundreds of articles on international law and related issues. He is at present the President of the Brazilian Writers Union. He has given many lectures around the world including in India.

Here are some highlights from his book

-In the beginning of World War II, the Brazilian government kept up relations with both sides and tried to take advantage from Germany as well as US which were the largest trading partners of Brazil at that time. In 1935, Brazil had signed preferential trade agreements with both partners.

-Brazil sourced military hardware from Germany and some from Italy, when US refused to supply weapons to Brazil. Later, under the US’s Lend Lease Agreement, Brazil got 200 million dollars of arms and ammunition.

– In 1937 Getulio Vargas did a coup, dissolved Congress, closed political parties and established a New State (Novo Estado) with a new constitution drafted by his Fascist advisors. The Novo Estado put the rights of the society as paramount. The individuals had only duties and no rights. The only differences with the German and Italian Fascism were that (a) the Brazilian dictator did not have political parties like the Nazi and Fascist parties of Germany and Italy and (b) Brazil did not pursue racist policies. Vargas had in fact banned the Brazilian Fascist party Acao Integralista. But the party tried in 1938 a counter coup which was suppressed successfully. The leaders of the party escaped to Italy with the help of the Italian ambassador.

– Hitler and Mussolini liked the fascist regime of Brazil which had large numbers of Germans( about 800,000) and Italian immigrants ( about 4 million). At that time there were about 400 Italian schools and over 1000 German schools in Brazil. Sao Paulo state alone had 360 Italian newspapers. The German and Italian governments started to influence their communities in Brazil with propaganda and material help.

-Brazil had a large Japanese population of around 650,000 in 1940. Between 1924 and 1941 about 130,000 Japanese had immigrated to Brazil under a governmental agreement. The recruitment of the immigrants was done by a Japanese state company Kaigai Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (KKKK). The Brazilian government closed Japanese newspapers and banned public use of the language during the war.

– The German government dreamed of an Antarctic Germany through separation of the three southern states of Brazil, where the German descendants had settled. Hitler had eyes on Brazil and had said,” we shall build a New Germany in Brazil”. He had contempt for the “absurd South American democracies ruled by mestizos”.

– After seeing the possibility of danger from immigrants supported by Nazi Germany, the Vargas government banned public use of foreign languages, closed down all foreign newspapers and nationalized the schools.

-The Brazilian government put under detention about 5000 descendants of Axis powers out of their total population of about 6 million. This is much small compared to the 110,000 descendants of Axis powers detained by US which had put pressure on Brazil to do the same. But the Brazilian government resisted it.

-After the war broke out, Vargas broke relations with the Axis powers and joined the Allies. – During the war, Brazil could not use its four submarines since they were made in Italy and faced the danger of being mistaken as submarines of Italy. Thirty four Brazilian warships and merchant vessels were sunk by German and Italian submarines.The Brazilian navy managed to sink 9 German U Boats.

– FEB, created in August 1943 and sent to Italy, consisted of 25334 persons including 20 women who were nurses. FEB suffered death of 467 and around 2700 wounded.

– FEB was racially integrated unlike the US forces which were segregated according to races. The black US soldiers were excluded from honor guards and were given inferior equipments. The Afro-American newspaper of Baltimore published a photo of the racially integrated Brazilian contingent with the headline “Blacks and whites fight together for Brazil, why not for the US?”.

Noronha’s book has a detailed account of the evolution of fascism in Europe and in Brazil and the similarities and contrasts between the continental and tropical varieties.