El Mozote Masacre Essay, Research Paper
El Salvador 1981: An Overview
Peasants in El Salvador did not have a good life. They were violently oppressed by their government, and their lives were practically dictated to them. They lived in a so called democracy but they couldn’t vote for whom they wanted, and they couldn’t openly oppose their government without the most severe of all punishments. You would be shot dead where you stood if a national guard found you passing out political leaflets that opposed the government (Forch 15). If you decided to vote against the government you would be taken away from your home in the night and your family would never find you. The people were oppressed and most of them were too scared to strike back. The scared ones would either run to refugee camps in Honduras or go about their lives and pray nothing would happen to them or their families. The ones who were not afraid joined ranks with any number of rebel militias.
There was a civil war being fought in 1981, the fighting had first began two years earlier. Communist rebel militias openly opposed the government in an effort to see it crumble to the ground. The El Salvadorian forces were very afraid of the rebels, so afraid of them in fact that they viewed every peasant as being in allegiance with them. On the streets the national guard would randomly force people face down on the ground and check for their identification (Forch 56). If they didn’t have their identification on them they would either be killed where they lay, or arrested, interrogated, and then killed. So say you forgot you ID at home, you were then assumed to be a rebel, and you would be killed without a fair trial. This is one of the many reasons why many innocent civilians were killed. However, the main reason why most innocent civilians were killed was the government of El Salvador wanted to keep the public afraid so that it could stay in power (Forch 104).
The United States’ Hypocrisy
The United States has never been entirely fond of communist countries, and even less fond of the ones that were almost touching their borders (Gettleman et al. 9). The United States’ government didn’t want the rebels to take control of El Salvador, because the rebels were thought to be communist. So The United States supported the El Salvadorian government in the civil war, because after all El Salvador was a democracy, wasn’t it? However, El Salvador was not a democracy. It was a prime example of an authoritarian regime which kept its power through violence, but The United States turned it’s back against this violence. The U.S. government didn’t care as long as the communist insurgence was being eradicated, and the U.S. populus didn’t care as long as they didn’t know what was happening to civilians in El Salvador.
So how exactly was the United States helping El Salvador fight its war? In most every way except actually sending in troops to fight the rebels. The U.S. trained El Salvadorian troops, gave extremely high amounts of financial aid to El Salvador, and helped cover up the horrible human rights violations caused by the El Salvadorian army. The United States constantly sent El Salvador emergency money for weapons, machinery, and troops (Forch 111).
One result of the United States intervention was the Atlacatl Battalion, who were trained by U.S. Special Forces (Danner 51). The Atlacatl Battalion was responsible for the deaths of over 600 civilians in one day at the town of El Mozote. The United States indirectly supported this genocide, which makes it obvious that The United States’ policy on genocide has less to do with human rights and more to do with its political agenda.
On Thursday, December 10, 1981 the Atlacatl Battalion entered the town of El Mozote. They quickly gathered the townsfolk into the street and had them lay face down on the ground. Next, hours of interrogations went by as the soldiers barked questions at the peasants, asking them where the guerrillas were, where their weapons were, where their base was, and many other questions of this sort. After that was over the men and women were separated, and systematically killed. Of course the word “kill” would be sugarcoating the events too much. Some verbs that would more accurately describe what happened to these victims would be, “mutilate,” “dismember,” “rape,” “behead,” and “impale.” But then of course the real atrocities were how these verbs were enacted. Machetes and bayonets were used to dismember the arms and legs of the victims. Females (regardless of age) would be raped over and over again. Perhaps the victim would be shot a couple times. Finally he/she would have his/her head separated from his/her neck by a machete blade, or a bullet would carve its way through the person’s brain. Infants of the town died an equally grusome death. The soldiers would throw a baby into the air and try to impale the child upon their bayonets as it fell back down. When the entire population of the town was brought down to zero the army moved out of the area, because they knew there were no rebels in the area, in fact it was known that El Mozote leaned more towards the government’s side in the civil war (Danner 62-84). Why then did the soldiers slaughter the town? Because they may have had family members in the rebel forces. If this tale sounds at all disturbing keep in mind that the U.S. government indirectly supported it by training their troops and covering up what happened at El Mozote so the U.S. public wouldn’t get upset.
Denounce the Genocide
It’s clear, from this one drastic example, that the United States government will support mass murder if it fits what it wants to accomplish, in this case the destruction of communist forces in El Salvador. The people of America barely heard about this massacre. What little knowledge some people did gain through certain media was pushed aside by government officials saying that it was all left-wing propaganda to support the communists (Gettleman et al. 16).
If the United States populus widely knew about the massacre, and they openly opposed the government policy, then financial aid would have been cut off to El Salvador. In-turn the rebels would have made short work of the poorly trained, ill-spirited, El Salvadorian armies. Thus ending the murder of innocent civilians ten years earlier. If an event similar to the El Mozote massacre happens again, the U.S. public should know what their government is doing. However, the government can hide the facts from the media. People need to seek out independent sources of media (i.e. through the internet) to cut down on governmental agenda setting. With an accurate idea of what their government is doing they can denounce the genocide themselves and openly oppose the U.S. government. A simple solution to prevent another El Mozote: (a) avoid mass media, (b) seek out independent forms of media, and (c) speak out against injustices caused by the government.
Danner, Mark. The Massacre at El Mozote. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Forch , Carolyn, and Cynthia Arnson. El Salvador. Eds. Harry Mattison, Susan Meiselas, and Fae Ruben Stein. New York: Writers and Readers, 1983.
Gettleman, Marvin E., et al, eds. El Salvador: Central America in the New Cold War. New York: Grove Press, 1981.