Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998 ) was a war reporter who continued reporting into her 80th year. The last war-trip she made was to Central America when, under the Reagan administration, the government in El Salvador and the “contras” in Nicaragua were funded to murder their own citizens. Gellhorn reported it. Some of those, compiled, are in a collection of her reporting called The Face of War. (reviewed here) This is an extended excerpt from that essay.
Torture is the worst abomination of man and utterly condemns any government that sanctions it. El Salvador is a member of the United Nations and party to the Charter of Human Rights. Has the United Nations gone out of business? European officials rightly denounce psychiatric torture in the Soviet Union. Why keep obsequiously silent about El Salvador?
“Assassinated.” In 1982, regarded as a good year, better than the preceding three, 5,840 mutilated corpses of men and women, boys and girls, were found, dumped everywhere throughout El Salvador. Of these, peasants were the majority. Few peasants were “captured,” only eight “disappeared” in 1982. The method for peasants is immediate butchery in villages and fields. Peasant refugees tell how the army, or ORDEN, or the National Guard, came into their village, killing, before they stole the animals, looted and burned the houses. This is how refugees are made: an estimated 300,000 outside the country, 200,000 inside it, but the process is never-ending. Peasants are uprooted, killed, because they are Romero Catholics, Catolicos. They believe what their murdered Archbishop taught: misery is not decreed by God, but made by man. This is revolutionary Communism to the Salvadoran government. But then, Jesuit priests are considered Communists and live in danger.
Women, innumerable children, old men crowd into makeshift refugee encampments. They have all seen peasants assassinated. A sample: a pouter pigeon of a woman who has lived for two years with 1,200 other peasant refugees on the dusty playing fields of the Catholic Seminary. “It was ORDEN. We heard them coming. We ran to hide in the trees. But my daughter was eight months pregnant, she could not run fast enough. They caught her on the path. They cut open her stomach with a machete and pulled out the child and cut it in half. She was 17 years of age. I saw with my own eyes. With my own eyes. Then they stole everything we had worked for and burned our houses.”
We learned that President Reagan was distressed by the photographs of the Phalange’s victims in the Beirut Palestinian camps. He is morally obliged to see the Human Rights albums of assassinated Salvadorans. These people did not die quickly. Many faces are covered in blood below the eyes (” We think they do this with rifle butts.”) Some have been strangled. Some are decapitated, the head beside the corpse. A naked boy, lying on his face, has long deep open stab slashes on his legs. A naked woman, also on her face, is riddled with bullet wounds through the lower half of her body; her nakedness presumes rape but that is commonplace for women. There is a gruesome statuary of eight entwined faceless bodies, burned down to nothing but smooth white fat. I studied specially the photos of those killed this January, the month when President Reagan certified that human rights reform in El Salvador warranted more military aid, although 672 Salvadorans were murdered in that month alone.
We free worlders elect our governments freely, so we are responsible for what they do in our name. If governments were better, wiser, more in touch with real life, citizens would not have to spend so much time educating and restraining them. Nadezdha Mandelstam, survivor of another tyranny, gave the best advice to citizens: “If you can do nothing else you must scream.”
Gellhorn, Martha. The Face of War (Kindle Locations 5256-5259). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.