The Spirit of Bolivar Edit
The Bolivian-Chile war is an event that was based nearly purely on chance and happenstance. While one might argue any event is merely a conglomeration of random factors, the Bolivian-Chile War makes it quite plain. The confluence of shaky political balances, rough tertian, confused small scale fighting. Brilliances and ideas on both sides, and curious malaise on neighboring nations led to some of the most outrageous outcomes known to modern warfare.
After bearing the humiliation of the Triple Alliance and the institution of the military coup, Bolivia was mentally ready for war, if not physically prepared. Still in the small scale fighting of South America, drive counted for much, particularly when such resolve was lacking. Chile had a kinda of panicked malaise on it, despite its recent victories. While the hold on the coast and other Triple Alliance victories were valuable, fortification had not taken place and the army had atrophied for years. The increasingly loud debate (then subsequent silence) about the treaty mandated railway for Bolivia only led to increasingly bad relations.
Indeed, the final treaty to work out the final details of the Triple Alliance had never been done and many Bolivian leaders (awash in the new “Spirit of Bolivar”) were ill-suited to accept them. While these issues swirled, the leaders in Peru were somewhat wooed by Bolivian promises and (bluffs of military strength). The major coup came when Peru announced that it would stay neutral in any war to its south, as long as its border remained involute. This so-called “Lima Declaration” was basically a permission for a Bolivian-Chilean war, and Bolivia quickly took advantage of that.
Setting the Scene Edit
The setting was quite different then the last war. Instead of Bolivia facing a collation of stronger powers determined to corral it, now Bolivia only faced one, weakened foe. Chile was in no position to put up as strong a fight. The investment into the Actamea region, ironically, had bankrupted the nation, and had left the military somewhat impoverished. More importantly, it had sapped much of the morale strength, which was most important despite its access to more foreign weaponry and supplies.
The Rapido Guerra Edit
So when war was declared, Bolvia had a large ill armed, poorly trained but high spirited army. Such a force is often only good for one thing. A quick sharp blow to shatter the enemy. Luckily, the Bolivian war plan was base don this exact concept. As war opened on the distant and desolate border, the pattern that would be followed for the rest of the war was revealed. While on a tactical level Chilean troops often fought well, on a strategic level Chile began to suffer from the holes punched in their lines by thrusting Bolivian spearheads. This fast paced, often small scale fighting was new and well adapted to the harsh conditions. One Chilean observer, shaken when reports of how far the Bolivians had penetrated dubbed it “Rapido Guerra” or 'Fast War'.
While the Bolivians had not went into the war expecting this fast changing, small scale fighting conflict they adapted far quicker their their Chilean enemies. Also, while the Bolivian armed forces had only implemented a few changes since the Triple Alliance, those changes had been base don previous experience in the same region. The Bolivian military junta changed far faster which was a direct cause of their crushing victory over Chile. It is important to note that while Bolivian troops were successful, thier goals were limited. As is shown when some Bolivian troops attempted to head south, they ran into trouble and many Chilean units scored victories in the end of the campaign. Despite this, as Peru entered the war late in 1903, Chile gave up any hopes of a decent peace and was ready to accept any peace thtat didn't shatter the nation. Chile's armies were beaten in the field, at home deafeatism reigned and the arrival of Peru merely sealed a fate that had already been set as Bolvian troops won victory after victory. While the entry of Peru soldified Bolvia's postion, it turned out to be a double-edged sword later.
The Bolivian-Chile war is a monument to the power of the unseen factors in war, and the ability of small units and single individuals to change the tides of politics and war.
The war changed the balance of power in West South America drastically. Bolivia, with its large population and natural resources, had regained a coast and port (not to mention significant minerals deposits). Chile was forced to 'look south' and had been humiliated. The biggest change was in Peru however.
Most Peruvian observers, in 'allowing' a Bolivian-Chile war had expected a far different outcome. In a worst case scenario, Bolivia and Chile would be locked in a long running and draining war among the inhospitable Andes for years, weakening both greatly, that might led to a marginal Bolivian victory. In this case, Peru would happily join in the later part of the conflict hoping for easy spoils. The more widely held view was that Chile would be the victor, keeping Bolivia in its place, and Peru would merely go back to Chile. The actual events however demanded immediate change.
The change came quick however and Lima soon established a new system of dealing with Bolivia. Unfortunately it was based on two flawed concepts. The first one was the Bolivian-Chile War 'justified' the idea of a strong Bolivian military power even where it didn't exist. The war had greatly pushed Bolivia and its army was over burdened and greatly weakened. Still, the image of Bolivian troops wading into the sea and the propaganda of the 'Spirit of Bolivar” was hard to ignore. The second idea was that Bolivia was appeaseable if given small border corrections. For many Bolivian leaders however, these small changes weren't enough.