Even though Chile is isolated geographically, it has not been immune to foreign threats. The
country of Chile has developed some of the strongest military and naval traditions in Latin America.
Following the declaration of independence in 1810, Chile became the first country in Latin America to
organize the armed forces on a professional basis. The army and navy quickly earned the reputation for
effectiveness. Chiles coastline, which stretches 2650 miles, and its elongated shape are major defense
problems. Its geographical barriers such as the Andes Mountains, the Atacama Desert, the Strait of
Magellan, and the Beagle Channel have discouraged military aggression by neighboring Peru, Bolivia, and
Argentina. The army has not been involved in a foreign war since 1883. The Chilean military is composed
of four branches: the army, the navy, the air force, and the national police force (Carabineros).
After the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, admiration for the Prussian
military began to grow. In 1885, Chilean president Jose Manuel Balmaceda contracted a Prussian Army
Captain to reorganize the Chilean military system. The name of Emilio Körner Henze was recommended
by the Prussian Minister of War General Bronsart Schellendorf. Captain Hörner arrived in Chile
September 17, 1885. (Quiroga 40) In 1886 Körner reorganized the General Bernardo O' Higgins Military
Academy, inaugurated a staff school (La Academia de Guerra), and started to consolidate the Prussian
influence in the Chilean Army.
During the Civil War of 1891, most of the army sided with the winning congressional forces.
Körner acted as the Chief of the General Staff and was largely credited with the armies victories. The
majority of the navy also supported the congressional forces. However, the new gunboats, the Lynch and
the Condell, supporting the president, scored a major victory when they sank the congressional flagship, the
Blanco Encalada, in the harbor of Valparaíso on April 23.
After the Civil War, Körner, who was now a general, was joined by thirty-two other Prussian
instructors. He was also confirmed as chief of staff of the army. The Prussian instructors organized the
army into four divisions and developed the General Staff. One of the Prussian reforms was to establish a
Non-commissioned Officer's School and other military schools. With the help of these instructors, Chile
achieved great prestige throughout Latin America as one of the best prepared military forces. The prestige
was so great that many area countries sent selected officers for training in Chilean military schools, and
some countries contracted for full scale Chilean military and naval missions to train their armed forces.
Chilean officers also taught in military schools in other Latin American countries.
One of the most important Prussian reforms occurred in 1900. As part if the reform process to
eliminate the national guard, military service became compulsory. The law, which was approved on
September 5, states that all Chilean males between the ages eighteen and forty-five who are fit to bear arms
are obligated to serve. (Quiroga 92) Chile was the first Latin American country to introduce obligatory
military service. Government policy also dictates that ten percent of the annual recruit intake should
consist of illiterate citizens. They are taught to read and write during their time of military service. After
finishing their period of training, recruits are required to serve in the Active Reserve for twelve years, and
in the Second Reserve until the age of Forty-five.
In 1902, four of the army's cavalry regiments were ordered to detach a squadron a piece to form a
new entity to be known as the Border Police (Gendarmes de la Frontera). Their primary concern was to
suppress banditry in the less developed regions of the country. In 1924, the country was divided into five
police zones, in an effort to provide uniformity.
During the next decade, the government would not automatically give in to all of Körners
demands. As a result, the relationship between the government and the military started to show signs of
strain. The Chilean Army superficially appeared to be a Latin American version of the German Army.
However, there were signs of weaknesses and inconsistencies which were apparent to Chilean officers
under the rank of colonel who were most affected by Prussianization. In 1907, army officers from the
garrison in Santiago formed the secret Liga Militar. Their principle objectives were