Neither communism nor anti-communism can be built on mountains of human corpses. -- Bertrand Russell
Defying the truth of Russell's argument is the major reason the Reagan policy toward El Salvador is doomed. The mountain of corpses grows higher every day. Two Catholic human rights groups in El Salvador report that between 21,000 and 26,000 persons were killed in the last two years.
It's an odd way for the government of El Salvador to prepare for next month's election: by turning the army loose to massacre the voters. In the annals of voter-registration drives, the West has seen nothing quite like it. Presumably there will be no ballot initiative on whether citizens suspected of disloyalty prefer to be decapitated, shot behind the ear or slain by strafing from American-supplied helicopters. All three methods have been perfected by the American-advised Salvadoran army.
Ronald Reagan says there is progress in El Salvador. He's right. A year ago when his administration issued its vaunted February White Paper on "Communist Interference in El Salvador," several weeks passed before the document was publicly discredited as partly doctored and fully biased. This February, the discrediting is occurring almost simultaneously.
Thomas O. Enders of the State Department told Congress: "Thanks to the efforts of the military command, the level of violence has fallen. All sides agree that the trend is downward." Two days later, the Los Angeles Times reported: "In El Salvador, all sides, including the U.S. Embassy, agreed on just the opposite."
Politically, it is 1984 Orwellian: War is peace, lies are truth. The State Department says the violence is falling. It is really rising. Reagan says the Salvadoran government "is making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights." The country is under martial law and military-led massacres are common. The administration declares it is not seeking a military solution to El Salvador's problems. It greatly increases military aid and transports Salvadoran soldiers to Ft. Bragg, N.C., and Ft. Benning, Ga., for training.
On a moral level, the Reagan policy is even more Orwellian. When W.H. Auden used the phrase "necessary murder" in his poem "Spain," Orwell wrote scathingly: "Mr. Auden's brand of amoralism is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled."
That's the United States. A weak Salvadoran government, unable to prevent its murderous military from pulling the trigger on the nation's poor and helpless, is supported by the Reagan administration because -- geographically and philosophically -- it is somewhere else. Its amoralism is to persist in seeing El Salvador as a test between communism and anti-communism when, as one impartial observer after another has said, justice and injustice are colliding more than ideologies. The struggle is a revolution of the poor who after a half-century of abuse are demanding their rights to some basics like justice, land and education.
Alexander Haig can theorize that a villainous Cuba is threatening democracy in Central America, but at every turn the facts dispute him. What democracy? None exists in El Salvador or Guatemala, the two charnel houses of the region. The sending of $55 million in military aid to El Salvador is seen by its army as a warm pat on the back from its patrons in Washington: Keep up the mass killings of "suspected subversives," here is money for more death.
The amoralism of Reagan's complicity in this extermination program is to disbelieve the revolutionaries' claim that they are not communist ideologues hot to create another Cuba. How often and how emphatically must someone like Miguel d'Escoto, the Nicaraguan foreign minister and Catholic priest, express the goal: "With all due respect to our Cuban sisters and brothers, we repeat that Nicaragua doesn't wish to be a second anything; only a first Nicaragua, truly free, truly democratic and very distinct from the Nicaragua of the time of the Somozas that was pleasing to Washington."
The same aspiration is being expressed in El Salvador. A just and needed revolution is under way there. We have helped the blood to run and now are for more bloodiness. We choose to obstruct the best gamble for peace, a negotiated settlement. We prefer a higher mountain of corpses