You know that true red-white-and-blue conservatives are in trouble when they start whining about why "Our Side" cannot come up with "articulate, dedicated,spokeswomen for the anti-communist point of view," as my friend the columnist, William Safire, was doing the other day. He was green with envy over the "pro-Sandinist" lobbying power of two women-- Bianca Jagger, wife of the rock singer, and Liza Fitzgerald, a nun who is also a lawyer who works in the thick of the fighting in the Nicaraguan town of Jalapa, near the border with Honduras. "Our Side," he cried, "should thank their stars for Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and hang out a sign: More Help Wanted, Female."
Bill, you've got it almost all wrong. Surely, gender isn't the test and, if celluloid celebrity is what you want more of on Your Side, there's a pretty articulate film figure in the Oval Office. As for your unsuccessful efforts to get Bianca Jagger to return your phone calls, you should have tried Sister Fitzgerald, who was easily accessible the other day at a breakfast arranged by Foreign Policy magazine. You would have found that what was devastating in her report was not her political passion--she discounted her expertise in politics or policy--but her credentials as an eyewitness. She has been there, on the ground for months on end, having abandoned a legal career (which had made her an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts) in favor of doing the church's work in Nicaragua. And the war she sees--traveling the main road or by mule-back in the mountains, working in the schools and the hospital-- simply does not correspond to the war the Reagan administration would have us see.
Item: By their methods and means of support, the so-called counterrevolutionaries, the Contras, can no more be categorized as "freedom fighters" than the Salvadorans can be lumped under a "Marxist-Leninist" label. Some Contras are ex-national guardsmen, some are outright mercenaries, and some do feel betrayed by the Sandinista revolution. They terrorize by kidnapping campesinos in large lots (up to 30 or more at a time). Escapees report that some are summarily shot; some are pressed into hard labor as porters or conscripted into the Contra militia.
Item: The bloodshed and disruption the Contras have brought are actually strengthening local support for the Sandinista government and turning otherwise uninterested peasants against the United States.
Item: What of the supposed mission of the Contras to interdict the delivery of Nicaraguan/Cuban/Soviet supplies through Honduras to the Salvadoran rebels? "If their intention is to interdict arms, they have disguised it very well," says Sister Fitzgerald. Jalapa has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the counterrevolution--but there is only one road in and out, and its traffic consists largely of civilian buses, and trucks carrying rice or tobacco or farm equipment.
Safire mistakenly builds up Liza Fitzgerald as a "potent Sandinist advocate." And then he puts her down as too driven (or dumb) "to realize" that she is "helping totalitarian repression in Nicaragua." But the question that ought to deeply trouble Safire's Side is not some maddening dearth of "stunning spokeswomen for the anti-communist" view. The problem-- for all of us--is that here from the front lines is a nun and lawyer with a version of what's happening that sharply challenges the Reagan administration's view, and Safire can't find a "counterpart," with a comparable vantage point--and a contrary account.