Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reflecting on The War in El Salvador

If you set out to list all the crimes of the Reagan administration, you'd better pack a lunch. And you'll want to include that administration's policies toward El Salvador near the top of that list.


Blogger matthew christman said...

Word, Winston. Though, for my money, Reagan's greatest crime was arming Rios Montt in Guatamala: the most direct American involvment in genocide since the Indian wars.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know nothing about no communists, says the former Marxist rebel. I was just trying to get my little girl into college.

For those who didn't follow Winston's link, I'm not making this up.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I used to collect baby skulls," says former anti-communist, "they made great candleholders."

For those who didn't follow Winston's link, I'm not making this up.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrible guy. Neither of the reporter's primary witnesses are very appetizing.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Y'know, Myca your point was quite apt, and troubling. My actual ire was directed toward the article itself---the second half, where agenda journalists bury the other side of the story, was actually quite worthy. The first was fairly worthless and revisionist. In my opinion, of course.

In any case, I didn't want you to think my glib answer was the sum of my thoughts on an issue, and a time of great complexity.

If Monterrosa had lived, Salgada said, he should have been prosecuted for "war crimes like a Hitler." But he tempered his historical indictment, saying that "those were different times."

How do we deal with the descent into the heart of darkness?

And we can dispense with any moral complexity and achieve our desired result of bashing/blaming Reagan by doing away with any context. Substitute "Kiwanis Club" for Marxist and we can ignore an ideology and a tyranny with worldwide ambitions, had already killed 50-100 million people, and had nuclear missiles pointed at us.

From the safety of 2007, "Communist" means little more than McCarthy, paranoia, and our own military-industrial complex. When Hugo Chavez says the other day, "Fatherland, socialism, or death!," we blink not an eye.

I appear to be defending the indefensible, like right-wing death squads and massacres, but from their point of view, looking at all the other Marxist guerillas throughout the Americas who made their countries unlivable, and the gulags of Castro, North Korea not to mention the then-USSR, they said, not here.

Their ruthlessness in dealing with a ruthless enemy cannot be excused, but the Salvedorean people themselves seem to have decided to do their best to understand it, and get on with their lives.

For the US, the only other solution to the moral dilemma was hari-kiri---the side we chose commits unspeakable atrocities, so we pull our support. That an equal or greater horror follows, and one that is a danger to us, is supposed to be of no concern. But it is.

Mr. Christman makes a strong point too, about Guatamala. Looking it up, all I can say is that the Reaganistas resisted the truth that Rios Montt's 1982 atrocities were as bad as they were reported by historically unsympathetic-to-the-US human rights groups.

It does appear, however, that the horrible truth crept in during 1982, and when Rios himself fell to a coup in mid-1983, it was doubtless with US assent.

Anyway, thanks for making me think. The end of the 20th century issued in the beginning of the 21st, and we have a similar passel of complexities to deal with. Each age has its challenges, and I dunno what to do with Sunni insurgencies, Shia death squads, Darfur, or Ahmadinejad either.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I am certainly not carrying water for the communists here . . . I'd like to take the radical step of coming out publicly against death squads, no matter who gives the orders.

It's just . . . baby skulls, man.


1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess my problem is that once we go down the road of excusing atrocities because there are worse possibilities out there, it never ends.

I mean, if we want to just play the communist/anti-communist escalation game, you play Stalin, I play Hitler, and we both feel justified doing whatever the hell we feel like doing pretty much forever, because, "Hey, look at what I'm fighting against."

And yeah, I know that the moral calculus isn't that simple, I'm just really very uncomfortable with any moral system that hedges on the whole baby skull issue.

And yeah. I dunno what to do with Sunni insurgencies, Shia death squads, Darfur, or Ahmadinejad either.


2:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, to our credit, we de-escalated nicely. For the record, I'm not excusing anything, and neither are the Salvadorean people. They simply made a choice to get on with it, and now their sons and daughters marry each other. Let the dead bury their dead.

Today, the west is in the same pickle as then with allies-in-name-only Egypt and Saudi Arabia and omigod Pakistan. Ghastly regimes, but bulwarks against something even bigger and worse.

The Kirkpatrick doctrine, that authoritarian regimes are more able and likely to liberalize than totalitarian ones, is the slender thread that makes it possible to choose at all.

You couldn't say our support for the above regimes is "justified," and certainly not the atrocities themselves. However, they seem likely to slip into (Islamic) totalitarianism if they fall.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

This isn't about opposing communism.

This is about radical, inhuman, knee-jerk anti-communism that sees a red under every non-radical-right-wing poliical movement, and is willing to help others kill innocent people in order to marginally lower the already-extremely-low likelihood that a small, distant, strategically uninmportant country might someday be not-rabidly-hostile to the USSR.

It's, again, the American right's biggest failing: the inability to be objective. They thought that OUR rights were so much more important than the rights of peasant in Central America that it was alright for us to help kill them on the off chance that that might help us out somehow.

Jesus, that's despicable.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert D. Kaplan had an article in the January Atlantic that looked at the issue. When there is no worldwide thing like Communism or Islamism involved, you can look at a little country on its own merits.

What Chavez is doing in Venezuela right now really stinks, but we don't really care.

There certainly were people who saw commies under the bed back in the day, but the other extreme is to view communism and its millions of murders as isolated, unconnected events.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Right. And the third--and only sensible--alternative is to do what American liberals did: that is, recognize that communism in the USSR was horrific, but also recognize that:

(a) Not every peasant fighting for a better life is a communist


(b) Not everybody who says he's a communist wants to ally himself with the USSR.

Yet again, liberals were right about an extremely important issue.

Heck, liberals bug the sh*t out of me much of the time, but I don't see any way around admitting that they were right about most of the major issues of the last 40 years. That's why I (somewhat reluctantly) ally myself with them.

1:20 PM  

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