Twenty-five years ago today, the worst offensive of a dozen years of civil war was launched by El Salvador’s FMLN insurgency – a violence of despair when it seems as if no other tools exist; when your cries to the international community go unanswered and the world’s largest purveyor of violence is funding your oppression. The U.S. State Department-underwritten response by the Salvadoran military killed thousands, displaced and sent into refugee-exile thousands more.
The eleventh of November, I said to those with whom I was working – stacking bags of flour and beans and rice in the church sanctuary, each day venturing out in the most heavily-bombed areas of the capital to deliver these supplies and bring in, eventually, hundreds of families to perch precariously in a church compound ill-prepared for their numbers – this is a day of remembrance, of wars past, not the present.
Little in my toolbox at the time prepared me for the nightly sorties of helicopter gunships, machine-gun fire, lifeless bodies; the fear, the mutiny of my own body as the daily terrors continued; the brutality of the murders of two housekeepers and six Jesuit priests by the Fort Bragg-trained Atlacatl Battalion. In the communication black-out that obliterated the news at the Berlin Wall, a trickle came through, my mother’s words: ‘The same moon over my head watches over you.’
For those of us who toil in the fields of war and genocide bearing no weapons other than a conviction that peace and an end of war is the only route to our survival, there is little air to breathe on days like this. All those poppies, oceans of blood-red poppies, whose message was meant to be: Never again; lest we forget. Forget what? The bloody horrors of war, the utter foolishness of industrialised murder, the cost – in blood and treasure and the carnage to mother earth?
That is not what is happening today: it is about sorrow, well justified grief, yes, but sorrow turning to renewed energies for violence, our PM leading the charge. Mission bases renamed and memorials now built by our soldiers in Iraq preparing to go kill those bastards who killed two of our own. Memorials costing millions, the Vimyised Mother Canada, for which all sorts of celebrities are willing to turn their attention and their energies to raise the requisite funds.
Meanwhile, the tip of our national baby finger is dedicated to a few seconds to contemplate nonviolent means for social, political and economic change (the forces of poets that, for example, tore down that Wall) – when it is our whole bodies in need of turning away from the killing logic of war, the marketing of war’s machinery; away from earth’s ravaging to feed that machinery and the total insanity of capitalism’s/ corporatism’s foundational logic of endless growth within a limited biosphere.
These are all connected. I am praying at the eleventh hour to a God who in Jesus said the most outrageous thing: Love your enemy. El Salvador put those convictions to a brutal test followed by others. I understand the despair-violence of the insurgent clamouring to be heard; what is harder to love is the killing-distance warfare that allows the most powerful to kill in comfort without dying, with little thought to our role in the creation of the ‘enemy’ we fight. Lest we forget. Ourselves.