'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Mr. Rumsfeld Goes to El Salvador 

Rumsfeld spent Veteran's Day in El Salvador where he treated the locals to an uplifting speech. Here's a representative sample:

Not so long ago, El Salvador was enmeshed in its own fight for political and economic freedom. For millions of Salvadorans back then, peace and prosperity was little more than a distant hope. [ ... ] The Iraqi people can find much to admire in El Salvador's recent history. Your country has accomplished so much in so few years.

Today El Salvador is one of the freest and most stable countries in the hemisphere. And the people of the United States, I must say, take special pride when having stood with you during those tough times and they were tough. I believe someday both of our countries, the people of both of our countries, will look back with pride on the role that you are now playing in helping the Iraqis on their paths to freedom and a more peaceful future. Today the Iraqi people are learning that our people, your people, discovered during our own struggle for independence and freedom, that the fight is not easy, it never is, that it requires patience and that it has costs.

It is hard to express the hypocrisy of the above. Actually I'm not quite sure the word "hypocrisy" is semantically powerful enough to capture the full reality of Rumsfeld's statement.

That said, I must say I mostly agree with Rumsfeld.

The Iraqi people, indeed, can find "much to admire in El Salvador's recent history". They can admire the courage of the Salvadorans who fought to improve living conditions for the people of their country despite the horrific acts of terrorism El Salvador's right wing committed against them. Organizers and members of human rights groups, labor unions, church-based peasant associations, and other popular organizations were tortured, raped, and murdered in some of the most appalling atrocities that this hemisphere has ever witnessed -- arguably some of the worst atrocities of the second half of the twentieth century, which is saying quite a bit.

Rumsfeld is also correct that the United States "stood with [Salvadorans] during those tough times" but I don't think anyone should feel a "special pride" about it. The United States "stood with" a long chain of Salvadoran dictators and their henchmen who ruled the tiny country with an iron fist. The US provided El Salvador's rightist regimes with funding and other kinds of support during the worst of their crimes, and is closely linked to some of the worst atrocities. The notorious Atlacatl Battalion, responsible for the El Mozote massacre (see here or here) among much else, was created, trained, and equipped by the United States.

So when Rumsfeld said at another Salvadoran press conference

Iraq is a difficult situation today. They have diverse religious and ethnic groups that were held together by a powerful, repressive dictatorship, a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of human beings and used chemical weapons against its own people and its neighbors. A regime that cut the hands off and the heads off people. A regime that threw people off the tops of six story buildings with their hands and legs tied to kill them. That regime's gone. That is a wonderful thing for the people of Iraq, for the region and the world. You don't read about that. You don't see that on television. [ ... ] What's the lesson? The lesson is if you go back through United States history to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, they were all wartime presidents, they were criticized viciously, there were people who wanted them to stop doing what they were doing. I'm sure that was true in your country, that there were people who said enough! The cost is too great, the pain is too great.

I'm sure there were many people who could relate to his stories of Iraqi beheadings and dismemberment; after all, here is how Father Daniel Santiago described the Salvadoran equivalent

People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador -- they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed in their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the national guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch. The aesthetics of terror in El Salvador is religious. The intention is to ensure that the individual is totally subordinated to the interests of the Fatherland, which is why death squads are sometimes called the 'Army of National Salvation' by the governing ARENA party.

But I think many Salvadorans would disagree with Rumsfeld's point about America's wartime presidents. Many Salvadorans would have been very happy if the ARENA party and friends had "[stopped] doing what they were doing," and many Americans would have been happy if the United States would have stopped funding and supporting it.

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