Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Infamous Days

It's been seventy years since the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the forces of the Empire of Japan. That's a very long time. On that day, my father was an underemployed wannabe actor on the streets of Manhattan. He happened to be near Times Square as a crowd gathered around the ticker that displayed headlines in moving lights. He gathered with hundred of others as the news of the attack flashed to passersby on the streets of New York. He insists he can find himself in photos of the crowds, but to me, he's just another hatted gentleman in the multitude. My mother was in the first semester of her senior year of high school; her two older brothers got up early the next morning and joined the military, her oldest brother, Eugene, joined the Navy, Rowland, the Army.

My parents are old, now, as are the rest of those who still remember that day when Dr. Win-the-War took over from Dr. New Deal.

This week marks another anniversary. It is more recent, happening 31 years ago on December 2nd. On this infamous day, innocent people were attacked and killed by a military power. The difference is that, unlike the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was not the victim. We were, in fact, the willing conspirators and global apologist for the brutal rape and murder of four nuns by military forces in El Salvador. Charlie Pierce reminded us all yesterday of the gruesome details:
During what we used to call The Prayer of the Faithful, which comes immediately after the Homily, we prayed for the souls of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel, four Catholic missionaries who were beaten, raped, and murdered by a death squad in El Salvador in 1980. The death squad carried out this mission at the direct order of the Salvadoran government, a right-wing horror show of which President Ronald Reagan and his incoming administration were quite proud. When Republicans boast of Reagan's foreign policy triumphs, murder and rape is part of what they're talking about. The four women — American citizens and clergy, mind you — were brutalized on December 2. Last Sunday was the 31st anniversary of their deaths.
The case was a stench in the nostrils of the world. Once in office, the Reagan people lied their asses off — or, worse, blamed the nuns. Jeane Kirkpatrick said that the murdered women were "not just nuns. The nuns were political activists – on behalf of the [leftist opposition] Frente." Alexander Haig, Reagan's lunatic Secretary of State, opined that "the nuns may have run through a roadblock or may have accidentally been perceived to have been doing so, and there may have been an exchange of fire."
The history of America's dealings with Central America is written in blood. Whether we supported or opposed any particular government, it seems the result was death and destruction, a horrible wasting of lives to no good end or real purpose. Even the cries of "communism" rang hollow in the teeth of brutality we supported with an almost gleeful abandon. Our drug-running terrorist freedom-fighters in Nicaragua, getting help from Pineapple Face, also known as our drug-running lackey Manuel Noriega in Panama, were the flip side of the brutal sociopaths we supported in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Largely forgotten now when we recall the decade of Reagan, it is important to remember how much time and energy the American government expended to insure that the horror show in the long isthmus between Mexico and Colombia continued.

Both of these days need to be remembered. Both need to live on in our national consciousness, reminders of our failings as a country. The spirit of the four young nuns, whose bodies were buried in shallow graves by the roadside without the comfort of last rites to console their souls in their final, terrified minutes, should haunt us all, horrific reminders of the price we Americans make others pay for our delusions of Empire.

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