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A review of the debate over Central America during the past decade reveals the decisive role of the pragmatic criterion. Guatemala was never an issue, because mass slaughter and repression appeared to be effective. Early on, the Church was something of a problem, but, as Kenneth Freed comments in the Los Angeles Times, when "14 priests and hundreds of church workers were killed in a military campaign to destroy church support for social gains such as higher wages and an end to the exploitation of Indians," the church was intimidated and "virtually fell silent." "The physical intimidation eased," the pragmatic criterion having been satisfied. Terror increased again as the U.S. nurtured what it likes to call "democracy." "The victims," a European diplomat observes, "are almost always people whose views or activities are aimed at helping others to free themselves of restraints placed by those who hold political or economic power," such as "a doctor who tries to improve the health of babies" and is therefore "seen as attacking the established order."54 The security forces of the "fledgling democracy," and the death squads associated with them, appeared to have the situation reasonably well in hand, so there was no reason for undue concern in the United States, and there has been virtually none.
There was some media notice of the atrocious human rights record in Guatemala as Washington moved to discredit President Cerezo and his Christian Democrats, in a policy shift towards more right-wing elements. The proper lessons still have to be taught, however. Thus, Freed stresses Washington's "repugnance" at the extraordinary human rights violations of the security forces that it supports. And in the New York Times, Lindsey Gruson reports that Washington is increasing its dependence on the Guatemalan army, which is the source of the abuses, including Guatemalan Military Intelligence, G-2, notorious for its leading role in state terror. But he assures the reader that human rights issues rank high among "American policy goals" for Guatemala, a doctrinal truth resistant to mere fact.55
Freed adds that General Hector Gramajo "was a senior commander in the early 1980s, when the Guatemalan military was blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, largely civilians." But, he continues, Gramajo "is seen as a moderate by the U.S. Embassy" -- the familiar pattern. Freed quotes a Western diplomat who doubts that Gramajo himself "is promoting all these killings" by death squads linked to the security forces, though "whenever he senses that the left is trying to organize, he permits, if not orders, hard action against them" and "certainly doesn't root out any offenders."
El Salvador and Nicaragua also illustrate the pragmatic criterion. The media pretended not to know that the government of El Salvador was conducting mass slaughter from 1979, and concealed the worst atrocities. By the early 1980s, it appeared that the U.S. might be drawn into an intervention harmful to its interests; accordingly, concern increased, and there were even a few months of fairly honest reporting. But as the terror appeared to be achieving its goals thanks to U.S. guidance and support, qualms dissipated in favor of the celebration of "democracy," while the government continued its programs of terror and intimidation.
Nicaragua was an object of contention, because terror and economic warfare were achieving only limited success. But these were the only concerns, as was made crystal clear when the population finally followed U.S. orders after a decade of terror and destruction in a country already ravaged by Somoza's murderous assault and robbery, leaving all right-thinking people "United in Joy."
Throughout this grim decade of savagery and oppression, liberal humanists have presented themselves as critical of the terror states maintained by U.S. violence in Central America. But that is only a façade, as we see from the demand, virtually unanimous in respectable circles, that Nicaragua must be restored to "the Central American mode" of the death squad regimes, and that the U.S. and its murderous clients must impose the "regional standards" of El Salvador and Guatemala on the errant Sandinistas.56
A closer look establishes more firmly the prevailing norms. The record reveals near unanimous opposition to the Sandinistas, with only tactical disagreement as to how they should be overthrown -- in sharp distinction to the gangster states that already meet the "regional standards." Unmentioned in hundreds of columns sampled in the national press is the fact that unlike the regimes favored by the liberal doves, the Sandinistas, whatever their sins, did not engage in mass slaughter, terror and torture; such matters are of near zero significance to enlightened Western opinion, as this record reveals. Correspondingly, there is unanimity that the one military force that must be dismantled is the one that does not regularly engage in mass terror against the civilian population. As Edward Herman observed, just as there are "worthy and unworthy victims" (the worthy being those persecuted by official enemies, who arouse great anguish, the unworthy being our victims, whose fate is a matter of indifference) -- so there are "worthy and unworthy armies." Worthy armies, such as those of Somoza, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, and others like them, need no interference, because they are doing their job: they kill and torture for us. The unworthy armies do not meet these high standards, even daring to protect their populations from the killers we dispatch. They must therefore be replaced by a force more congenial to our needs and moral values. All of this is so commonplace as to pass without notice.
Also virtually unmentioned in hundreds of opinion columns on Nicaragua are the programs of social welfare and reform, considered remarkably successful by international agencies until the U.S. was able to reverse the unwelcome progress by the mid-1980s. Strikingly, after the U.S. victory in the 1990 elections in Nicaragua, it was suddenly permitted to take note of these facts, now that the threat to wealth and power had been removed. Throughout, the priorities of enlightened opinion shine through bright and clear.
Returning to Hume's principles of government, it is clear that they must be refined. True, when force is lacking and the standard penalties do not suffice, it is necessary to resort to the manufacture of consent. The populations of the Western democracies -- or at least, those in a position to defend themselves -- are off limits. Others are legitimate objects of repression, and in the Third World, large-scale terror is appropriate, though the liberal conscience adds the qualification that it must be efficacious. The statesman, as distinct from the ideological fanatic, will understand that the means of violence should be employed in a measured and considered way, just sufficient to achieve the desired ends.
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54 Freed, LAT, April 14, 1990.
55 Freed, LAT, May 7, 1990; Lindsey Gruson, NYT, July 5, 1990. For an analysis of Gruson's observations on flaws in Guatemalan "democracy" in earlier articles, while absolving the U.S. of any responsibility and not questioning its commitment to democracy, see Edward Herman, "Gruson on Guatemala," Lies of Our Times, August, 1990.
56 For extensive documentation on the matters discussed here, see Necessary Illusions.