I applaud the extensive coverage given by the news media to the tragic situation in Poland. Tyranny that imposes an ideology and economic system on the people is rightly to be condemned. Solidarity and its charismatic leader, Lech Walesa, surely merit our support. Yet the Polish situation is only one dramatic example of the suppression of religious and human rights throughout the world.
Martial law was declared in Poland on Dec. 13. But martial law has been in effect in El Salvador for nearly two years. The people of Taiwan have lived under martial law for 32 long years. I know the effects of 10 years of martial law in the Philippines where I worked as a missionary. And I know the people I served see little difference in the "non-martial law" rules that apply in the Philippines today.
In Poland, priests are being held in icy detention camps with thousands of other persons. In the Philippines, a young priest I know similarly served many years in prison for telling his people of their rights. In Guatemala and El Salvador, two dozen priests have been murdered in the last three years because of their loyalty to the poor. Just one year ago, four women missionaries, two of them Maryknoll Sisters, were murdered in El Salvador.
That thousands of Poles are in those detention camps is an outrage. But so also is the plight of the thousands of people who have disappeared in Argentina where their waiting mothers and wives, the now-famous "women of the Plaza de Mayo," have become a symbol of the resistance to totalitarianism.
The martial law government of Poland has placed restrictions on travel so that citizens are not free to move from town to town in their own country. But in South Africa the majority of the population is similarly restricted in moving from home to work without a government-issued pass--because their skin is black.
The courageous voice of Lech Walesa rallied the workers of Poland to speak up for their rights. Now he is detained. Union leaders in Guatemala also rallied workers the First of May 1980, Labor Day in Guatemala. For that, more than a score of them were kidnapped and killed. Bolivian tin miners, similar to the miners in southern Poland, struck for higher wages in November. The Bolivian military surrounded the area and starved them out.
What is happening in Poland is a crime. The Polish government has gone far beyond the authority God grants to governments to maintain order in society and to serve the people for whom the government is instituted. But it is a crime and outrage similar to what is happening in many other countries of the world today.
I am very pleased that our government has shown such rightful concern for the Polish people. However, I do believe that this concern would have more impact if we were equally attentive to similar violations of religious and human rights in other parts of the world. In order to have a consistent policy, our concern would have to also include countries that profess an anti-Soviet position, and that are our economic partners, if they violate the God-given rights of their people.