Beat the Devil; Remember El Salvador?

By Cockburn, Alexander | The Nation, June 1, 1985 | Go to article overview

Beat the Devil; Remember El Salvador?


Cockburn, Alexander, The Nation


How is it that over the past two years the United States has been organizing, supplying, overseeing and in many cases actually executing the heaviest bombing and most ferocious aerial war even seen in the Americas and not one coherent report of the extent, viciousness or consequences of this campaign has appeared in any major U.S. newspaper or magazine?

The outrage to truth is barely credible. Most mainstream publications are echoing the complacent and ignorant words of an editorial in The Christian Science Monitor for May 16 which call El Salvador "the one region in Central America in which United States policies clearly have been successful. The U.S. has backed the forces of moderation. . . . [Duarte] can be expected to progress with reforms." The only substantive achievement here is that the United States is getting away with war crimes with barely a word of description or protest. Unfortunately, the U.S. left and left-liberal community, preoccupied with Nicaragua, has not mounted a campaign to disclose the atrocities. EL Salvador is going the way of Guatemala: a monument to counterinsurgency of unimaginable brutality and a testament to the gutless complicity of the U.S. press.

When the United States experienced the first urban aerial bombardment in its history, courtesy of the police force of Philadelphia, the news coverage was massive, the investigation assiduous and the indignation voluble. The nation of El Salvador is not as convenient for journalists as the state of Pennsylvania, but many U.S. reporters are based there and others visit it regularly. Since the middle of 1983, an aerial war has been responsible for most of El SAlvador's 500,000 internal refugees and for many of the 750,000 refugees outside the country's borders. This war has almost entirely escaped the attention of the press corps, even when it reached a particularly savage level during that country's presidential election campaign of 1984. Almost as many U.S. reporters were in El Salvador than as were in New Hampshire during the primary season. It is as if 750-pound bombs were being dropped on the White Mountains, the farmers of New Hampshire being regularly machine-gunned from the air and their families being mutilated and slaughtered, and the press corps in Concord on primary night said nothing about it.

War as Open Secret

As noted in the September 1984 issue of Alert!, the monthly newspaper of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador:

In El Salvador the Pentagon has unleashed a counter-insurgency air war on a scale never seen in Latin America. . . . The fact that this unprecedented bombardment is completely absent from press accounts is all the more astonishing as the carpet bombing of the Guazapa volcano at times literally shakes the residences of the international journalists, safely ensconced in the capital city.

What is taking place, as you may have guessed, is a "secret war." A secret war may be defined as a military enterprise carried out by the United States and known to its victims, international observers, humanitarian organizations, foreign journalists and the domestic radical community but, for reasons of collective internal censorship, not reported in the mainstream media of the United States. In this sense, the U.S. bombings from the early 1960s, through the early 1970s of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were "secret," until circumstances permitted this collective censorship to be relaxed, though in the case of South Vietnam much of it is still in force.

Witnesses to the Slaughter

Anyone who doubts that such a war is being waged in El Salvador should obtain two reports from Americas Watch. "Free Fire" was published last August; "Draining the Sea . . ." appeared this March. Equally valuable is "U.S. Aid to El Salvador," a report presented to the bipartisan Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus by Representatives Jim Leach and George Miller and Senator Mark Hatfield. …

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