Maybe if President Reagan talked to some U.S. citizens who have been there recently, he might feel a little differently about aiding the "contras" trying to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
Dr. Doris Bowles of Oakland, Calif., a retired, 71-year-old plastic surgeon, understands the presidential mentality very well. Her husband, also a doctor, is an impassioned Reagan supporter who shares the view that "anything we do is all right as long as we get rid of the communists."
A small intense woman in a rumpled jumpsuit and running shoes, she was in town after a three-week stint in Nicaragua as a coffee-picker, helping the Sandinistas harvest their most vital crop.
She and two fellow members of "Elders for Survival," 18 Californians who first met at protests against nuclear power, hope to persuade members of Congress that their view of Nicaragua is the right one, that the Sandinista government is "trying to make life better for the people."
Isidore Salkind of Berkeley, a retired professor of rehabilitation management at the University of San Francisco, has been to Nicaragua several times. He is outraged that "a little country with 3 million people who had nothing, not even toilet paper, is being so viciously attacked by our great democracy."
George Solinas, 58, an ex-bureaucrat in the San Francisco Department of Housing, was "ashamed to admit I was an American" to the peasants he met at Crucero, a town near Managua. There the elders joined 42 other voluntary harvesters to work on the steep slopes of a coffee plantation. They slept on planks in a 10-by-32-foot room, got up at 5 a.m., trudged to the fields, picked beans in the blazing sun for nine hours and ate nothing but rice and beans three times a day -- and they would do it again.
None of the seniors had any health problems.
They encountered no contras, whom Reagan calls "our brothers" and the "moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers," only the victims of contra raids.
They totally reject the president's picture of Nicaragua as a "totalitarian, communist state."
Says Salkind: "Nicaraguans complain loudly and bitterly against what is going on. They couldn't do that in a totalitarian state. I was there during the election, and opposition posters were everywhere. After years of repression and deprivation, they are learning to read and they have their health clinics."
If Reagan rejects the testimony of California contemporaries, he might listen to two nuns who live and work in northern villages near the Honduran border and have firsthand knowledge of the contras.
One recurring item in Reagan's bill of particulars against the Sandinistas is the government's persecution of the church. The reality, according to Sister Nancy Donovan, a Maryknoll nun for 35 years, is that the contras are interfering with the work of the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua and stepping up their campaign of terror against the peasants.
She was captured by contras on Jan. 8 when she was en route to a bishops' meeting. Public transportation had been disrupted by the contras, and she hitched a ride on a truck with a refugee family. When she was released, she tried to go back to the village to warn others against using the road. She was seized by another band of contras, who forced her to walk 12 miles through the mountains before letting her go.
She carries around a list of local contra victims -- the killed, wounded and kidnaped -- during the last year. Each casualty is listed by name, age and occupation.
Sister Sandra Price, a sister of Notre Dame de Namurs for 25 years, has lived in the town of Siuna since 1982. She has done all the parish's pastoral work since its priest was threatened by the contras. Last September, she was kidnaped by contras, held overnight, questioned to find out if she were a Sandinista or a "political" and finally released.
She carries a list of atrocities allegedly committed by the contras in Siuna since June. She also has the sworn statement of a 12-year-old boy who says his family was wiped out by contras on Nov. 20, 1984. His father was shot four times and then had his throat slit. They killed his mother, his 8-year-old brother, his uncle and his uncle's girl friend. He fled. When he returned to the house three days later, he found his mother's naked body. "The skin on my mother's face had been cut off," the child attests.
Both nuns are going back to Nicaragua, even though, Sister Sandra says, "Every time we go out on the road, we don't know if we are coming back."
Somebody, obviously is wrong. Either the sympathetic Americans have been hoodwinked by the wily Sandinistas, or the president's ardor for the "freedom fighters" is dictated by the notion he shares with Bowles' husband -- that "anything we do is all right if we just get rid of the communists."