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The terror of our fathers

Kamaria Porter | Tuesday, January 18, 2005

As the situation in Iraq grows increasingly bleak, mired by violent interchanges between Coalition forces and insurgents, a substantive peace seems farther and farther out of reach. Last week, Newsweek reporters discovered Pentagon officials have begun discussing using the chillingly termed “Salvador option” to counter the insurgency. The tactic refers to the then-secret plan sponsored by the U.S. government under the Reagan Administration to train and fund “death squads” in El Salvador during the 1980’s to target opponents of the oppressive right-wing government. These “death squads” of the Salvadoran military officers carried out numerous crimes against humanity.

Under their regime of terror, Salvador death squads murdered, abducted and tortured tens of thousands of people. In 1980, as he celebrated mass, military snipers assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero continually spoke out against the violence in his country, opposed U.S. military aid that fueled the terror, and reported human rights violations in his homilies. He said, “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.” His message of hope to the poor and justice to the oppressed put him on a death list. “Death squads” have also been found guilty of kidnapping, raping, and executing four American churchwomen working with the poor in El Salvador and massacring the entire village of El Mozote – of which most deaths were children.

One of the most noted atrocities of Salvadoran military was the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. On Nov. 16, 1989, a group of soldiers – with orders from their superiors – murdered Fathers Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Amando López, Joaquín López y López and Juan Ramón Moreno, and Julia Elba Ramos, their resident cook and housekeeper, and her daughter, Celina Mariceth Ramos. Father Ignacio Ellacuria – the prime target – and the other priests had been working with the poor and marginalized of San Salvador while trying to bring a peaceful end to the conflict between the factions. Yearly, people mourn these deaths at the School of the Americas protest and call for an end to U.S. sponsored terror abroad.

U.S. intelligence’s consideration to integrate the “Salvador option” in Iraq shows the persisting trend of deriving the wrong conclusion from past military entanglements. In El Salvador, “death squads” proceeded to kill anyone – of the resistance or not – who did not support the right-wing regime. The violent silencing of prophetic voices like Romero and Ellacuria retarded the peace process while robbing the people of witnesses to God’s hope for peace in El Salvador. If such a tactic is imported to Iraq, I fear a situation already plagued by violence, enmity and aggression will only increase in devastation. Also, we may lose Iraqi voices of change in the process of weeding out insurgents – as in El Salvador. We need to embrace a bold, yet even more difficult plan in Iraq. We can never eradicate terror by perpetuating it. Additionally, we do the martyrs of El Salvador further violence by continuing the policies that ended their lives.

For solutions, I am drawn to the pleas of an American prophetic voice, Martin Luther King Jr, whose birthday we celebrate this week. King called for an end to another quagmire – Vietnam, and publicly addressed it exactly one year before his assassination. He explained in 1967, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.” Further, King characterized the war as an enemy of the poor in which lower class Americans were sent to destroy peasant villages in the East, while money that could eviscerate the urban and rural poverty in the United States was being used to create a “hell for the poor” in Vietnam.

King spoke of the force of nonviolence -an active stance of empathy that compels us to use constructive policies, open communication, and dedication to a peaceful end. Today, King’s voice calls us to address the problems in Iraq without hubris or ulterior motives, and admit that – as in Vietnam, El Salvador and other nations – we were wrong in the invasion and occupation. The path of nonviolence may shriek in our ears only because it is hard, but it is the only way to preserve our soul of democracy and bring peace. We must shift policy or as King warned, “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

Kamaria Porter is a junior history major. She can be contacted at kporter@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.