Sunday, December 2, 2007

SOA/WHINSEC and more...











Let’s see, what’s been going on lately? Two weeks ago, I went to Fort Benning, GA for the annual School of the Americas vigil. It’s a big deal for the Jesuit universities and high schools because of the connection of the SOA to the deaths of the 6 Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador, and campus ministry hosts a trip down there every year, so I felt like I should do it so I could see for myself what is going on there. I’ve read a decent amount of stuff on both sides of the argument over the years, and still don’t feel like I’ve ever been able to nail down what my position should be. After a 12-hour bus ride down there, some of us were able to take a tour of WHINSEC (the current school for members of Latin American military personnel) and talk to a number of people who work there, all of whom were very hospitable and gracious. We were able to attend an hour-long Q&A panel with several higher-ups from the school, during which time I asked a question about the difference between the SOA (then) and WHINSEC (now) but which, I thought, no one really answered. Still, there was a lot of emphasis placed on the amount of human-rights education going on now at WHINSEC, and an obvious effort to distance themselves from the SOA, which is fine if they are indeed doing so much stuff right these days. If there were improprieties and even training in techniques that did not respect human rights back in the SOA days, that doesn’t mean closing WHINSEC is the right move, but it sure would be nice of the government to admit to it. Sunday was the big march down the street leading to the gates of Fort Benning, and the procession was some 20,000 people strong, as the speakers at the microphones spent several hours reading off the names of men, women and children killed or disappeared in a number of Latin American countries over the past few decades. Again, that doesn’t mean the closure of WHINSEC is the proper response (that depends on what is going on there now), but there is something is really right in keeping vigil for the innumerable people who were affected by their governments’ violence.
Throughout the trip, I saw a number of our students (and a number of people from other schools) doing the “violent pacifism” kind of thing that Merton hated about the peace movements of the 1960s – so dehumanizing the folks at WHINSEC, refusing to allow real discussion to happen, that they were in fact the violent ones, despite their rhetoric of being strictly nonviolent on the trip. Part of me wonders (not knowing all the background on that time period) if part of the problem with the protest folks is that the truth and reconciliation commissions in El Salvador allowed for amnesty for people who were guilty of human-rights abuses if they would tell the truth about their involvement – as good as the idea is in principle, it leaves a lot of unmanaged anger and the reality of a lot of guilty people not being punished. That means the urge to assign guilt is still out there, especially since the U.S. government hasn’t done much in the area of acknowledging its complicity with some genuinely dirty regimes. The need on our part is not to let our students stay at the level of simply being angry liberals – they will simply keep on banging heads with angry conservatives and fuel the fire of anger and mistrust. It is much harder and more costly to stand in the shadow of the cross, wanting to seek the truth with the folks on the other side, than to simply rail at injustices.
Since then has been less exciting, but still busy. A good trip home at Thanksgiving, a nicely cooked Tofurkey courtesy of my sister and a few hours of cracking a tiny fraction of the pecans that were in her yard, and a couple more days to spend with the parentals, seeing my mom’s new place, going for a bicycle ride with my dad, and still finding time to read a couple of books. Back to StL on Monday morning, and right back to the grind. That Tuesday after Thanksgiving was an information meeting about the trip to Haiti this summer, and I had a good turnout – between those who came to the meeting and those who couldn’t but emailed about their interest, I’ve got about 30 people in the hopper. We’ll see how many actually turn in applications…
These past couple of weeks have been crazy busy, even with the Thanksgiving break, so I’ve been fairly sleep-deprived and getting increasingly out of shape. Perhaps (ha) the Christmas break will be a chance to ameliorate both, but I doubt it. I’m finally shaping up my theological foundations class for the spring, but I still have to parse out the readings across the semester. Hard to believe this upcoming week is the last week of classes in the semester – next weekend is our much-anticipated trip to Gethsemani. On that note, I’ll go ahead and finish this little ramble with my old standby from Merton: mercy within mercy within mercy…

1 comment:

beth said...

Much insight here about angry liberals and angry conservatives banging heads. I always remember Merton saying that until we can admit that "we are all more or less wrong", we'll get nowhere.