LITTLE HOPE, BUT GREAT STRENGTH
- by Cat Garlit Bucher
As a U.S. American
child-expatriate in South America, I grew up
loving and even idealizing the USA. I committed
to that choice during a year when my family
was embraced during the day by Peruvian friends,
but our bedrooms were stoned at night by those
same "friends" simply because of the
USA foreign policy my parents represented.
A thirst to understand why U.S. Americans (like
me) were hated profoundly molded who I have
become. Today I accept the citizenship privilege
and responsibility of a U.S. passport, but choose
to carry in my soul the voices of my Three Americas
identity (North, Central and South). All these
voices shout within me that there is no hope
for U.S. national security in the absence of
truth and the presence of unchallenged propaganda.
National security will not come from guns and
"bombs bursting in air."
The lies, incivility, redistricting manipulations
and (in some states) voter disenfranchisement,
coming after my nation's violent international
behavior after 9/11/01, has for me been a time
of mourning and abandonment of hope for my country.
But loss of hope is not a negative!
While it has been hard for me to accept the
violence and situtation ethics many of my fellow-citizens
embrace either through advocacy, apathy or pathological
politeness, I believe this reality check has
liberated me into a more textured U.S. citizenship.
I've learned that the citizenship model I respect
most is not based in the U.S. ethic of winning,
but instead comes from the lived behaviors of
people I am fortunate to know as friends.
Victims of of U.S.-financed military aggression
in Israel/Palestine, El Salvador, Guatemala,
and Colombia are among those who have taught
me about true democracy, true faith, true strength.
Their lives illustrate that faithful non-violence,
intentional bridge-building, and planned times
for enjoying healthy relationships and nature
can nurture lives of dignity and humanity, even
when there is little hope that "leaders"
will "get it".
I met new mentors this summer in Colombia, a
nation where my country is now investing more
money in the materials of war than it spends
to educate U.S. children. A bipartisan investment,
at least 90% of this money actually ends up
in the hands of U.S. weapons and chemical manufacturers.
Local Congressman Ralph Hall has, occasionally,
resisted increasing monetary investment, but
President Bush this summer raised the number
of soldiers and high-priced subcontractors the
U.S. will send. Much of that blood money ends
up in Texas, but none of the Colombians who
received our Texas-heavy national Presbyterian
Peacemaking Fellowship (PPF) delegation (including
three from Sherman) responded to us with animosity.
of a Mennonite Church in Bogota, after days
of feeding us, described how he helps armed
combatants into the more-dangerous path of conscientious
objection against involvement with any "armed
actor" whether guerilla, paramilitary,
narco-trafficker, or national military. He helps
them retrain their minds, souls and skills for
non-violent careers. This pastor is thus now
the target of all armed groups, especially the
military. The most dangerous thing you can do
today in Colombia is speak against violence
and for peace. Citing "legitimate precedent"
in President Bush's doctrine of pre-emption
and Attorney General Ashcroft's scolding of
U.S. senators who challenged his "PATRIOT"
Act, Colombia's President Uribe has this year
declared church and human rights workers "terrorists"
because they dare to resist Uribe's increased
power, secrecy, and militarization. Uribe passed
"PATRIOT" laws more autocratic than
Ashcroft's. About the only reliable place Colombian
clergy can now turn for help and protection
from the harassment of government, guerilla,
paramilitary or narco-traffickers is the Canadian
embassy in Bogota.
U.S. embassy officials in Colombia
assured us Uribe's statements were a "linguistic
mistake," but admitted that recent revelations
about torture of U.S. detainees at Abu Ghraib,
Guantanamo, and many other U.S.-run detention
centers had nullified the embassy's moral authority
when confronting human rights abuses. Days later,
after listening to the stories of displaced
communities and being inspired by the courage
of Peace Communities (which the United Nations
calls the only hope for Colombia), our commercial
flight out of Uraba Province was delayed while
five Black Hawk helicopters flew in "as
a show of force." Hours later, President
Uribe arrived in Apartado and said the Peace
Communities were terrorists because they do
not allow any armed person onto their community.
Uribe said that resistance to guns (carried
by Colombian military inspectors) meant the
communities were "against" the Colombian
government. "If you're not with us, you're
against us," Uribe quoted George W. Bush.
Specifically, Uribe threated the Fellowship
of Reconciliation (FOR) accompaniers with administrative
detention, citing U.S. detentions in Guantanamo
as precedent. "Being a U.S. citizen does
not give 'terrorists' immunity from arrest,"
he announced, repeating his position that church
or human rights workers who 'speak truth to
power' are terrorists.
The church workers and Peace Communities had
heard this before, and many had already been
killed for their beliefs. It did not change
the behavior or mute the voices of Colombian
survivors, but it impacted their U.S. American
visitors. In the past weeks, inspired by the
example and effectiveness of accompaniers such
as those from FOR and (Mennonite) Christian
Peacemaking Teams, the Presbyterian Church USA
announced an accompaniment program for church
workers under death threat for their human rights
work, and the first accompanier was PCUSA's
new moderator, Rick Ufford-Chase, founder of
On the day a young pastor buried the victim
of an Apartado bomb which went off the night
we arrived, I asked the pastor and his wife
how they kept going, how they found the courage
to conceive the son who toddled and grinned
at me as we spoke. "We remember that God
created us because the Divine sought relationship
with human beings," he said. "So we
find ways to carve out space in which to be
fully human. We create spaces for enjoying nature,
and for enjoying each other. We find ways to
teach children how to negotiate non-violently.
To be fully human with God, we must practice
fully human, non-violent behavior with others."
What his wife said next will stay with me forever.
"We have no hope that the violence and
and death will diminish," she said, "especially
with U.S. funding focused on weapons rather
than social needs. What matters is that we be
faithful to the teachings of Christ, which were
against violence and war. As we behave in ways
faithful to New Testament teachings, ways which
are fully and non-violently human, we discover
strength and community."
Volunteering at the Center for Survivors of
Torture in Dallas this year, several Austin
College young people have learned that torture
is anti-human behavior. It is anti-human because
it destroys the humanity in both victim and
Many U.S. soldiers have been pushed
into anti-human behavior in Afghanistan, Guantanamo,
Iraq. I have no hope my country will change;
senior administrators in this U.S. administration
have supported torture even when they worked
in previous administrations, regardless of Congressional
mandates against torture. But, survivors of
torture in Central and South America, and in
Dallas, have taught me that learning to dream
of a fully human life - and then role-play that
dream - is the beginning of individual healing.
Many forensic anthropologist friends who exhume
massacre sites, appalled by the physical consequences
of brutality justified by language of the church,
have stopped believing in God altogether. "Christian
witness" doesn't mean much when Jerry Falwell,
as recently last week, exuded "kill all
the terrorists," in the name of Christ.
"Christian witness" doesn't mean much
from U.S. presidents who have ordered the bombing
of the Nicaraguan harbor, or orchestrated the
original 9/11/1973---the Operation Condor bombing
of the Chilean Presidential Palace (which killed
the democratically elected president of that
country.) I draw extraordinary strength from
folks who, not as a response to God, but simply
out of respect for the sacredness of humanity,
risk their own lives to stand up and speak out
for truth. Exhumations matter, because they
establish truth strong enough to stand against
the propaganda of governments.
A Colombian woman who I won't name, because
her government (and thus my government) calls
her a "terrorist" for criticizing
military violence, used to be mayor of one of
Colombia's more violent cities. This mayor decided
the action of women was needed if her city was
to be "fully human," so she invited
them to awaken early each morning with her and
"clean off" city streets before children
walked to school. What they "cleaned"
off the streets were the bodies of those who
had been assassinated during the night. It seemed
a hopeless endeavor, but it was motivated by
the dream of lessened trauma in the lives of
I wonder... What would happen if Sherman women
mobilized to clean the guns out of our communities
and homes, or we asked the city and county to
refuse subsidies for businesses which manufacture
weapons of war or their components?
Dozens of my role models are in El Salvador,
Central America. One of them, United Nations
womens' activist and "Siglo 23" founder
Rev. Marta Benavides, worked with Archbishop
Oscar Romero, who evolved to a conviction that
all violence was sin. Twenty-five years ago,
days after beseeching all armed actors to "lay
down your arms," the archbishop was assassinated
by a soldier trained at the U.S. Army School
of the Americas. As Romero was administering
the Eucharist (communion) he was shot by a Salvadoran
military sharpshooter trained at the U.S. Army
School of the Americas (SOA).
Congressional renaming of SOA to Western Hemisphere
Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) in
2000 did not alter SOA/WHISC's mission as a
combat training school for Latin American soldiers.
Its graduates are consistently involved in documented
human rights abuses and atrocities. In 1996
the Pentagon was forced to release training
manuals used at the school that advocated torture,
extortion and execution. Thousands of U.S. Americans
will converge on Ft. Benning, GA, later this
month (as they have for years) to protest the
torture manual used at the U.S. Army School
of the Americas until 1996 (whose teachings
and attitudes continue to be expressed through
the behavior of today's graduates, most of whom
come from Colombia and the Andean region). This
citizen commitment to speak truth to the powerful
promoting (or silently sanctioning) torture
gives me strength.
Journalists in a Sherman delegation to El Salvador
last March sought interviews at the ARENA party
headquarters whose administration orchestrated
Romero's assassination (among others). The son
of a party founder said "Romero deserved
For the record, Vice President Cheney got it
wrong in his vice presidential debate. The folks
shooting voters in El Salvador were members
of the U.S.-backed military who did not want
the poor to vote out a system in which fourteen
families owned and managed the country's resources
(highly convenient for U.S. corporations). I've
listened to survivors of the conflict, and have
accompanied grave exhumations. Bones, and U.S.-manufactured
bullets in graves, don't lie.
Marta Benavides's life example, motivated by
Romero's example, encourages and mentors me.
She continues her work through a Salvadoran
non-governmental organization which trains people
to live "as though there were" economic
and social peace in El Salvador, to live lives
not just oriented to non-violence, but lives
which intentionally take time to to appreciate
beauty - to focus not just on the social justice
that is absent, but on the natural gifts that
are present. Marta is also an activist through
the United Nations, working with and through
women around the world, learning from all countries.
She helped originate the idea of the Beijing
Women's Conference. When she visited Austin
College last year and I asked what kept her
going during the years she was under death threat,
and even in exile, she said "I learned
to stop working so hard at making peace, and
instead focus on being peace. I learned to enjoy
God's blessings. I don't waste pearls of energy
on people who don't want to know ; I focus on
being grateful for what I already have, and
I teach only those who really want to learn.
I accept the fact that most people only choose
non-violence after they have experienced the
consequences of their own nation's violence."
We were driving over Denison Dam at the moment,
and Marta sighed deeply. "Thank you for
bringing me to the water. This water, this view,
is part of God's peace, God's gift."
Salvadoran Rufina Amaya may be the woman who
has impacted my life the most. She witnessed
- and survived - the worst recorded massacre
in our hemisphere. U.S. Black Hawk helicopters
delivered soldiers of El Salvador's Atlacatl
Battalion (trained at the U.S. Army School of
the Americas and accompanied by ten U.S. military
advisors) to Morazan province, where their assignment
was to kill every living thing. "I've experienced
Armageddon already; I can't imagine anything
worse," Rufina said while describing how
she escaped to the hills after witnessing the
violent deaths of her family, her community.
The "crime" of Rufina's community
was that they lived in an agricultural area
of her country, which the United States' post-Vietnam
military strategists said must experience "scorched
earth policy" to eliminate a food source
for the guerilla. Worse, Rufina was part of
a Christian Base Community movement which sought
to live by the example described in the New
Testament. "Kill a Commie for Christ"
is a button in my husband's collection from
that era, and similar slogans were used to recruit/justify
U.S. help for the slaughter not just in El Salvador,
but elsewhere in Central America - as they had
been used during the Vietnam War. Demonizaton
of other human beings is part of how nations
convert their citizens into authors, perpetrators,
or supporters of killing.
Rufina says she has prayed for clear and truthful
thinking every day since her escape from the
women's death march. Moving beyond grief and
bitterness has not been easy, but I have witnessed
that the "sanity" Rufina says strengthens
her comes by simply choosing to get up in the
morning, and intentionally meet the needs of
those in her community - including the ex-combatants
who were drafted to carry out the killing.
I do not have hope that my country or a voting
majority of citizens will ever understand the
harm of U.S. foreign policy when only 17% of
U.S. Americans have passports (and even fewer
have travelled to listen, rather than travelling
to proselytize, or be entertained). Ours is
a large country where international travel may
be too expensive for some (unless they sacrifice
their entertainment budget and/or comfort requirements),
so most U.S. citizens will never see how human
beings in other countries pay the price of our
high consumerism, environmental pollution, empire-building,
"bubba" rhetoric, and nuclear wars
(depleted uranium is a nuclear weapon which
permanently scars people and planet). Addicted
to an identity which requires them to believe
that the U.S. is the "best country in the
world," many don't grasp that while Grayson
County elections may function smoothly, the
broken election systems which affect state and
federal elections are so bad they don't even
meet the standards which Carter Center election
accompaniers set as minimum for democratic standards.
If U.S. citizens could at least evolve from
an "I'm the best" mentality to one
which instead expresses humble appreciation
for our country, we might be liberated to work
on creating the democracy we want to believe
I draw strength from U.S. citizens
already liberated to dream of a better USA.
I draw it from the local attorney who sacrificed
career and money to work for democracy in another
state, knowing that fair voting in one state
affects fair elections for all. I draw it from
citizens who volunteered precious hours to work
for candidates in ALL parties, but I especially
draw it from those young people and new voters
who will not let defeat and fatigue disuade
them from citizenship participaton in the future.
I draw it most from those whose candidates lost
their election, because I believe character
is built through perseverance, while winning
may instead lead to arrogance and power misuse.
Those U.S. citizens who worked even when they
knew the odds were against them (such as in
"redistricted" areas of Texas) give
Living through U.S-"encouraged" coups,
hearing stories of those who survive injustice
(whether in Tulia or Tegucigalpa), witnessing
the manner in which fellow U.S. citizens substitute/confuse
worship of God with worship of flag, witnessing
the evidence in exhumations in the other Americas
- all those have contributed to my lack of hope
that my nation will ever behave "morally"
in the world. Defense of the sacredness of pre-born
life doesn't impress me when it is not accompanied
by an equal concern for the sacredness of post-born
life even among the poor in the U.S. and the
innocent in Fallujah or Darfur.
Thanks to the solidarity and mentoring of international
friends, I don't need hope. I have seen that
life can still be fully human, fully divinely-connected,
wherever there are two or three gathered in
mutually respectful and non-violent relationships.
I have U.S. friends and neighbors who instead
of planting flags of occupation choose "This
Land is Your Land" for their national anthem.
I have a husband who has survived far too many
wars, yet interacts lovingly with everyone in
his path, and still sees the good in all of
I am rich in all that matters. I am blessed.
To honor my blessings, my friends and my God,
I will continue embracing U.S. Americans curious
and courageous enough to learn about people
in all nations. I will continue to be a student
of participatory communities and democracies
around the world. I will continue to challenge
anyone who calls themself a Christian to remember
that the teachings of Jesus never condoned war,
that involving national flags with worship of
the Divine is idolotry, and that while all lives
may not be equally righteous, all lives are
equally sacred. I will continue mourning the
"collateral damage" of violence in
Baghdad, Bogota, Palestine, Israel, and elsewhere,
but I will also mourn for soldiers drafted into
the "pre-emptive" torture and killing
of others. I will work for the healing of both
perpetrator and victim. I will remember that
people of faith are called to demand truth from
their leaders, and resist the propaganda of
Cat Garlet Bucher lives in Sherman,
Texas with her husband Henry. They are both
third-generation mission worker to Latin America,
were active in starting the Center for Survivors
of Torture in Dallas. Cat is active in Presbyterian
peacemaking as well.