Last night I finally watched Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985, and it held me start to finish. Altogether a morally sobering experience, a disturbing history lesson and finally an affirmation of civic decency.

Based on the true story of the Trial of the Juntas, the film focuses on Argentina’s great moral reckoning — the prosecution of several fascist junta bigwigs who, during Argentina’s military dictatorship, had embarked on a campaign to exterminate hardcore leftists like a gardener eliminates crabgrass. An estimated 30,000 Argentinians were “disappeared” by the junta during the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Heroic Buenos Aires prosecutor Julio Strassera, assisted by Luis Moreno Ocampo and a team of young researchers, brought a complex case against the baddies, and put a lot of them (but far from all) in jail, and certainly made a moral statement that resonated worldwide.

I saw Argentina, 1985 with the original Spanish-language dialogue (Amazon streaming idiotically defaults to English dubbing). I still don’t care for the first half-hour (too whimsical and anecdotal and digressive) and I felt increasingly annoyed by the constant cigarette smoking, but this is nonetheless a fact-based, disciplined, well-ordered story of good guys vs. bad guys. Based on the historical record, pic exemplifies how a first-rate, down-to-business research procedural and courtroom drama should operate.

Just before watching it I had been bickering with a smart guy who knows his Latin American history. He had been reminding me that Argentina has a long history of being a bad-news country that believes in white supremacy and racially repressive policies, and for many decades had made life very difficult for native Argentinians and POCs. The finale of Argentina, 1985 doesn’t leave you with this kind of residue at all. It leaves you with a great feeling of humanitarian compassion and decency. So there’s a basic conflict of perceptions.

Here’s a taste of how our discussion had been going prior to watching Mitre’s film…

Latin American history guy to HE or LAHG: “The fact is that Argentina, just like the U.S., committed genocide against its native population, so that today only about 1% of the country is indigenous, and lives in the south, hundreds of miles from Buenos Aires. The country’s black population is also miniscule, about 1%. The majority are European immigrants, primarily from Italy, Spain, Germany and England.

“Of all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, only Argentina and Chile (which also did a number on its indigenous population) have an overwhelmingly white population. All the other countries are a mix of black, mixed black and white, mixed white and indigenous, and pure indigenous.”

HE to LAHG: “Without disputing or challenging recorded fact, I just watched Argentina 1985 and I found it deeply moving. You know more about Argentine history than I, but the basic thrust of your comments strikes me as boilerplate anti-white wokester stuff. With certain qualifications, of course. Because history insists that fair-skinned people of that country have invaded and colonized and done morally reprehensible things to native people of color, and they have to accept their guilt.”

LAHG to HE: “The fact is that white colonizers did some horrible things to people of color. That’s history, plain and simple. And yes, people of color also did some horrible things to each other. The fact is, as a trained historian, I am a realist, neither woke or anti-woke. What I am is pro-truth, and pro-historical fact.”

HE to LAHG: “I’m getting really sick of the constant 24-7 implication that white European descendants are inherently evil. I’m SICK TO DEATH of reading that shit all the time. What are descendants of European tribes supposed to do to correct their history? Commit mass suicide?”

LAHG to HE: “This discussion began when I simply pointed out that among the Latin American World Cup teams, Argentina stood out because it had no POCs. I mentioned it to my wife in passing, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who commented on it. It’s just a peculiarity of that country’s demographics.”

HE to LAHG: “Why is Argentina’s largely white population ‘peculiar’? If you were to visit any region of India, you’d notice that just about everyone is brown skinned. Would you call that ‘peculiar’? Same deal with certain nations of Africa. All black. The near total absence of white people would be ‘peculiar’? You should visit Prague some day. Almost entirely white people, and quite a few of them are nice and polite.”

LAHG to HE: “India is on a continent filled with people of color. Africa is a continent of overwhelmingly black or brown people. Argentina is on a continent of people mostly of color or mixed race. That’s the difference, and that’s why people who know nothing about Latin American history are wondering why that is. For the umpteenth time, it has nothing AT ALL to do with wokeness, or anti-white feeling. It is about history and culture.”

HE to LAHG: “Yes, I understand. Argentinian whites believe in suppressing the presence of people who aren’t white. Same thing with the Chileans, and also the North Americans. And the British and the Canadians, not to mention the French, Austrians, Poles, Estonians, Swedes, Finnish, Norwegians, Belgians, Italians, Swiss…all genocidal murderers. Not to mention the Spanish and the millions of fair-skinned Mexicans. That’s a lot of peculiarity.”

LAHG to HE: “Maybe you should school yourself on the history of Spanish conquest in the Americas, and how the native inhabitants were treated. I have a master’s degree in Latin American history, and believe me, a lot of it isn’t very pretty. Same goes for all the colonial powers, whose rules were a decided mixed bag, running from somewhat benevolent (in America but not Ireland) to horrific (the Belgians in the Congo). I do believe that white males are getting the short stick these days, but it’s a recent phenomenon, and doesn’t come close to how this country treated blacks, Latinos and Asians for years. I see it as a form of payback, but most people I know aren’t going crazy with wokeness, and deal with people on a case-by-case basis.”