Study Guide

One Hundred Years of Solitude Warfare

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A burning noonday sun brought out a startling demonstration with the gigantic magnifying glass: they put a pile of dry hay in the middle of the street and set it on fire by concentrating the sun's rays. José Arcadio Buendía […] conceived the idea of using that invention as a weapon of war. Again Melquíades tried to dissuade him, but [José Arcadio Buendía was] completely absorbed in his tactical experiments with the abnegation of a scientist. […] Over the protests of his wife, who was alarmed at such a dangerous invention, at one point he was ready to set the house on fire. He would spend hours on end in his room, calculating the strategic possibilities of his novel weapon until he succeeded in putting together a manual of startling instructional clarity and an irresistible power of conviction. He sent it to the government, accompanied by numerous descriptions of his experiments and several pages of explanatory sketches, by a messenger who crossed the mountains, got lost in measureless swamps, forded stormy rivers, and was on the point of perishing under the lash of despair, plague, and wild beasts until he found a route that joined the one used by the mules that carried the mail. In spite of the fact that a trip to the capital was little less than impossible at that time, José Arcadio Buendía promised to undertake it as soon as the government ordered him to so that he could put on some practical demonstrations of his invention for the military authorities and could train them himself in the complicated art of solar war. For several years he waited for an answer. Finally, tired of waiting, he bemoaned to Melquíades the failure of his project. (1.2)

There are a couple of things going on in this great passage. For one, we're loving this little mini-satire of the military-industrial complex. You've got a half-crazy, half-genius weapons designer, a totally unrealistic and unusable technology, and a government bureaucracy that can't be penetrated. At the same time, you've got an interesting juxtaposition between visionary endeavor and the reality of trying to get anything done (that sad guy struggling to get through to the mail route).

War, in fact, had broken out three months before. Martial law was in effect in the whole country. The only one who knew it immediately was Don Apolinar Moscote, but he did not give the news even to his wife while the army platoon that was to occupy the town by surprise was on its way. They entered noiselessly before dawn, with two pieces of light artillery drawn by mules. And they set up their headquarters in the school. A 6 p.m. curfew was established. A more drastic search than the previous one was undertaken, house by house, and this time they even took farm implements. They dragged out Dr. Noguera, tied him to a tree in the square, and shot him without any due process of law. […] Four soldiers under his command snatched a woman who had been bitten by a mad dog from her family and killed her with their rifle butts. One Sunday, two weeks after the occupation, Aureliano entered Gerineldo Márquez's house and with his usual terseness asked for a mug of coffee without sugar. When the two of them were alone in the kitchen, Aureliano gave his voice an authority that had never been heard before. "Get the boys ready," he said. "We're going to war." […]

Tuesday at midnight in a mad operation, twenty-one men under the age of thirty commanded by Aureliano Buendía, armed with table knives and sharpened tools, took the garrison by surprise, seized the weapons, and in the courtyard executed the captain and the four soldiers who had killed the woman.

[…] Don Apolinar Moscote had trouble identifying that conspirator in high boots and with a rifle slung over his shoulder with the person he had played dominoes with until nine in the evening. "This is madness, Aurelito," he exclaimed. "Not madness," Aureliano said. "War. And don't call me Aurelito any more. Now I'm Colonel Aureliano Buendía." (5.43, 46-47)

Oh yeah, now it's on! This is like the "now it's personal" part of any action movie, when the hero reluctantly saddles up to fight the bad guys.

Another war began [when Colonel Aureliano Buendía and his men] would camp near the towns and one of them, with a small gold fish in his hand, would go in disguise in broad daylight to contact the dormant Liberals, who would go out hunting on the following morning and never return. […] Colonel Aureliano Buendía's men proclaimed him chief of the revolutionary forces of the Caribbean coast with the rank of general. He assumed the position but refused the promotion and took the stand that he would never accept it as long as the Conservative regime was in power. At the end of three months they had succeeded in arming more than a thousand men, but they were wiped out. […] [A] message from the government was sent all over by telegraph and included in jubilant proclamations throughout the country announcing the death of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. But two days later a multiple telegram which almost overtook the previous one announced another uprising on the southern plains. That was how the legend of the ubiquitous Colonel Aureliano Buendía began. Simultaneous and contradictory information declared him victorious in Villanueva, defeated in Guacamayal, devoured by Motilon Indians, dead in a village in the swamp, and up in arms again in Urumita. [Colonel Aureliano Buendía] proclaimed total war against the regime. (7.34)

No matter what these Buendía dudes do, they bring the same m.o. with them. From one perspective, this is some impressive not-giving-up-the-fight attitude. On the other hand, the war is yet another of those high-energy, repetitive, kind of pointless activities that recur throughout the novel. It's also interesting that the myth of Aureliano Buendía has so much to do with him not quite being human, since we know that eventually the war will completely dehumanize him.

Intelligent, pleasant, ruddy-faced, a man who liked to eat and watch cockfights, [General Moncada] had been at one time the most feared adversary of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. He succeeded in imposing his authority over the career officers in a wide sector along the coast. One time when he was forced by strategic circumstances to abandon a stronghold to the forces of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, he left two letters for him. In one of them, quite long, he invited him to join in a campaign to make the war more humane. The other letter was for his wife, who lived in Liberal territory, and he left it with a plea to see that it reached its destination. From then on, even in the bloodiest periods of the war, the two commanders would arrange truces to exchange prisoners. They were pauses with a certain festive atmosphere which General Moncada took advantage of to teach Colonel Aureliano Buendía how to play chess. They became great fiends. They even came to think about the possibility of […] setting up a humanitarian regime that would take the best from each doctrine. (8.7)

It's easy to assume that what we see in Macondo and the Buendía family is meant to represent all of Colombia. But here is a glimpse of morality and ethics that seems more recognizable. It's too bad none of that influence rubs off on Colonel Buendía: remember what ends up happening to Moncada's widow at his hands?

Colonel Gerineldo Márquez was the first to perceive the emptiness of the war. In his position as civil and military leader of Macondo he would have telegraphic conversations twice a week with Colonel Aureliano Buendía. At first those exchanges would determine the course of a flesh-and-blood war, the perfectly defined outlines of which told them at any moment the exact spot where it was and the prediction of its future direction. Although he never let himself be pulled into the area of confidences, not even by his closest friends, Colonel Aureliano Buendía still had at that time the familiar tone that made it possible to identify him at the other end of the wire. Many times he would prolong the talks beyond the expected limit and let them drift into comments of a domestic nature. Little by little, however, and as the war became more intense and widespread, his image was fading away into a universe of unreality. The characteristics of his speech were more and more uncertain, and they came together and combined to form words that were gradually losing all meaning. (9.1)

We're fascinated by the idea that someone's "tone" could be recognized over a telegraph wire. Why are Buendía's words losing meaning? Because he's falling into bureaucratic military jargon? Because he's no longer connected to any events outside the war and troop movement? Does the description of Buendía's disembodied "voice" over the telegraph line have anything in common with Fernanda's invisible doctors?

[Colonel Aureliano Buendía's] orders were being carried out even before they were given, even before he thought of them, and they always went much beyond what he would have dared have them do. Lost in the solitude of his immense power, he began to lose direction. (9.19)

Wow, that's a really astute insight into the way power turns into tyranny and then paranoia. How creepy is the idea that the people around Buendía are so die-hard that they try to anticipate whatever he wants them to do, or whomever he wants them to kill, and then take things a few steps further. This could easily be a description of what happens around any dictator.

For Colonel Aureliano Buendía it meant the limits of atonement. He suddenly found himself suffering from the same indignation that he had felt in his youth over the body of the woman who had been beaten to death because she had been bitten by a rabid dog. He looked at the groups of bystanders in front of the house and with his old stentorian voice, restored by a deep disgust with himself, he unloaded upon them the burden of hate that he could no longer bear in his heart.

"One of these days," he shouted, "I'm going to arm my boys so we can get rid of these s***ty gringos!"

During the course of that week, at different places along the coast, his seventeen sons were hunted down like rabbits by invisible criminals who aimed at the center of their crosses of ash. (12.23-25)

The strategy that worked against the corrupt government fails against the capitalist imperialism of the banana company. Maybe because this time the enemy is too diffuse? Too many people stand to profit by what the banana company is doing to really want to fight them?

Martial law enabled the army to assume the functions of arbitrator in the controversy, but no effort at conciliation was made. As soon as they appeared in Macondo, the soldiers put aside their rifles and cut and loaded the bananas and started the trains running. The workers, who had been content to wait until then, went into the woods with no other weapons but their working machetes and they began to sabotage the sabotage. They burned plantations and commissaries, tore up tracks […]. The summons announced that the civil and military leader of the province would arrive on the following Friday ready to intercede in the conflict.

[…] [M]ore than three thousand people, workers, women, and children, had spilled out of the open space in front of the station and were pressing into the neighboring streets, which the army had closed off with rows of machine guns. […] [I]n three articles of eighty words [Major Enrique Garcia Isaza] declared the strikers to be a "bunch of hoodlums" and he authorized the army to shoot to kill.

[…] The captain gave the order to shoot. It seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps.

 "Get down! Get down!" The people in front had already done so, swept down by the wave of bullets. The survivors, instead of getting down, tried to go back to the small square, and the panic became a dragon's tail. […]

They were penned in, swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns. (15.17-28)

Okay, this is beyond horrible, especially since it actually happened during a workers' strike in Colombia in 1928. Check out how the language heightens the reading experience. The guns go from being tools of the soldiers to being agents with seemingly no human controlling them. (It's as if the guns had been loaded with caps – but we don't get any sense of by whom.) Finally, the guns are completely anthropomorphized: they are "insatiable" and "methodical," both of which imply thinking and feeling. (Anthropomorphism is when objects or animals are given human qualities.)

Meanwhile, the victims start out as active participants, moving and talking to each other in the square. Then they become part of a mythical animal (a dragon's tail). Then they are described as an inanimate but powerful phenomenon (a gigantic whirlwind). And finally they are reduced to an insignificant onion being peeled. It's a subtle but really resonant way of demonstrating the shifting power dynamic here.

One hot dawn [José Arcadio (III) and Aureliano (II)] woke up in alarm at an urgent knocking on the street door. It was a dark old man with large green eyes that gave his face a ghostly phosphorescence and with a cross of ashes on his forehead. His clothing in tatters, his shoes cracked, the old knapsack on his shoulder his only luggage, he looked like a beggar, but his bearing had a dignity that was in frank contradiction to his appearance. It was only necessary to look at him once, even in the shadows of the parlor, to realize that the secret strength that allowed him to live was not the instinct of self-preservation but the habit of fear. It was Aureliano Amador, the only survivor of Colonel Aureliano Buendía's seventeen sons, searching for a respite in his long and hazardous existence as a fugitive. He identified himself, begged them to give him refuge in that house which during his nights as a pariah he had remembered as the last redoubt of safety left for him in life. But José Arcadio and Aureliano could not remember him. Thinking that he was a tramp, they pushed him into the street. Then they both saw from the doorway the end of a drama that had begun before José Arcadio had reached the age of reason. Two policemen who had been chasing Aureliano Amador for years, who had tracked him like bloodhounds across half the world, came out from among the almond trees on the opposite sidewalk and took two shots with the their Mausers which neatly penetrated the cross of ashes. (18.22)

There's a whole crazy confluence of themes in this passage. You've got the lost memory of the past, with José Arcadio (III) and Aureliano (II) having no idea who the seventeen Aurelianos were, even though that was a pretty significant part of their ancestors' lives. You've got a guy who has practically come back from the dead, having survived against nearly impossible odds. And you've got the unbelievable persistence of the random policemen who have been chasing Aureliano Amador for this many years just to complete the task of killing him, long after whatever danger he might have once posed to the regime or the banana company was gone.

One September morning, after having coffee in the kitchen with Aureliano, José Arcadio was finishing his daily bath when through the openings in the tiles the four children he had expelled from the house burst in. Without giving him time to defend himself, they jumped into the pool fully clothed, grabbed him by the hair, and held his head under the water until the bubbling of his death throes ceased on the surface and his silent and pale dolphin body slipped down to the bottom of the fragrant water. Then they took out the three sacks of gold from the hiding place which was known only to them and their victim. It was such a rapid, methodical, and brutal action that it was like a military operation. (18.23)

You can compare this scene to the way, many years before, Colonel Aureliano Buendía captured the town from the government soldiers who had been sent to control it (see quotation #2 in this section). Why does what looked so heroic then look so pathetic now?

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