As we near the 25th anniversary of the murder of the Jesuit/UCA Martyrs, there are numerous events on campus to inform students of history behind this tragic day. In the 1981 film titled El Salvador: Another Vietnam, I learned core similarities between the war in El Salvador and the Vietnam War. Because the film was made before 1989, the Jesuit martyrs were still alive, but this film provided a solid background and understanding of why the murder would occur in the near future. Dr. Tom Kelly also further explained concepts that were brought up in the film.
One key similarity between the two wars was the use of the counterinsurgency method. This is when both combatants and their supporters, which includes innocent, unarmed people, are killed alike. Dr. Kelly compared this to the saying, “If you drain the pond, the fish will die.” Though we are not proud of it, the U.S. used this method during the Vietnam and El Salvador wars.
The war began when there was a group that disagreed with the Salvadoran government. There were people who supported the government, and there were those against it. Those against it were called guerrillas, or rebels. These guerrillas had no mercy on anyone associated with the government. They destroyed anything and anyone in their path. Similar to the rebels in Vietnam, they started in the sky and bombed people overhead from planes. Then, they came to the ground as groundtroopers and shot anything they saw.
In the film, college students just leaving class fell facedown on the ground to beg for mercy and not be harmed. Some even played dead. These attacks were much more severe than drive-by shootings. They were thorough, well thought out plans of murder, mutilation and destruction. Though some families were able to flee to Honduras, the remaining families were undoubtedly massacred. The guerrillas used tactics to get you to leave before killing you. One way, according to Dr. Kelly, was to take your child and cut his or her arm off in hopes that this traumatic experience would cause you to leave or join their side. To this day, there are still Salvadorans with only one arm. In one case, 136 bodies were found in a church, and 120 of them were children. But that is not the most depressing part. These children did not die of gunshot wounds, but of machete wounds. One woman from the film teared up as she retold the story of what happened to her son. He worked in agricultural business, a job completely unaffiliated with supporting or going against the government, yet he was taken by guerillas to the top of a mountain and cut into pieces. Needless to say, these deaths were highly gruesome.
Seeing these images from the film reminded me of the Holocaust. The limp lifeless bodies just piled like packages really helped me understand and have much empathy toward the devastating and plain evil nature of this war. Under President Carter, the U.S. eventually sent help to El Salvador and from 1971 to 1981 to train El Salvador soldiers. From 1980 to 1981, the U.S. sent more money to El Salvador than they had ever received in the past. Unfortunately, the money was not put fully to good use as the U.S. intended. Because the Salvadoran military officers received 1 million dollars a day from the U.S. during the war, they basically gave the guerillas weapons because as long as the war continued, the officers would keep getting money from the U.S. When a country is not financially secure, money-hungry actions such as this are bound to occur.
Though the Vietnam War did not exactly match the outcome of the war in El Salvador, the film and Dr. Kelly’s explanations show that even a couple of similarities, like the counterinsurgency method and no mercy fighting style, can be a red flag that any country is going down a fatal path.
For more information about the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit/UCA Martyrs, visit http://blogs.creighton.edu/jesuitjustice/