EDITORIALS

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.

 

The pastor 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 BORDERLINKS.

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 perpetrator.

 

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 community kids.

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 to die."

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 we have.

 

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 me strength.

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 them.

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 their culture.

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.

 









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