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"War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” A man in battle camouflage holds a machete at the throat of a peasant farmer on his knees genuflecting in a shallow grave he just dug. Far from the scene of this photo our free-world leader speaks. Into a microphone, he says of the men in camouflage that they are “freedom fighters, the moral equivalent of a founding father.” The farmer’s terrorized eyes gaze from the page of the magazine, which doesn’t show the blade cutting the stem where life flows to a living brain, heart’s rhythm visible in spouting blood, lungs’ rasp and gurgle, last gulp of air. Killing face-to-face is grotesque business. The moral equivalent of a founding father does it with practiced, awful grace. * Dawn, a quiet highland valley, low clouds drift with smoke from cooking fires, scent of corn tortillas — freedom fighters sift toward sleepy San Gregorio, a few tin-roof shelters, families scratching stony bean plots to survive, resettled from the northern war zone by their government, “a cruel clique of Godless men,” says our leader, the great communicator who paints his words on waves of air that flow to the people as he speaks about people he refuses to meet or talk with. With assault rifles and grenades the freedom fighters set their ambush by the hut that serves as school. The great communicator doesn’t say this. And our newspapers don’t tell us. And memory hungers not to forget thunder of Hotchkiss guns in South Dakota, shrapnel tearing infant flesh, a photo — the old chief hooded in a white rag, his frozen corpse rising from the snow. Now there are six children aged five through eleven, life evacuated from twelve brown eyes. And their teacher, a pretty young woman from Managua, whose father, a man of private enterprise, friendly to our leader, says, sadly shaking his head, he doesn’t know what she was doing there anyway. * Sunday in September — freedom fighters launch their rocket toward a bus, northbound, the road to Jinotega. Flame of gasoline explosion — black smoke with a red tongue licks and whispers into the air that freedom is not just a word — 19 women, traveling to visit their sons, in the Sandinista army near Matagalpa, are dead. The freedom fighters dissolve into cloud-forest mountains of wild green parakeet, squirrel monkey, jaguar where they don’t hear our leader talking and talking, where they know killing face-to-face is grotesque business. We watch the face of business as it smiles, talks about God and freedom and says “moral equivalent of a founding father” with practiced, awful grace.
Copyright 1989 Mike Schneider. First published in Heart Quarterly.
Note from the author: I lived in Nicaragua for 6 weeks in 1984, was there for their first post-Somoza election in fall 1984. I went under the auspices of a program organized at Harvard & lived with a Nicaraguan family in Estelí, taking Spanish classes in the morning & working in the community in the afternoons.
I wrote many letters to the editor after being back here & a few OpEds, also spent a night in the County jail (along with about 50 others) who protested at then-Senator John Heinz’s office. Heinz has a haloed rep as a moderate Republican, but he was obdurately aligned with Reagan on C. America policy (meaning funding the contras) & refused adamantly to take any kind of meeting (none) with local activists, seemed to have nose-in-the-air, rich & haughty attitude toward Catholic-affiliated activists from the Merton Center, which was the Pittsburgh hub — as it still is — of organizing. Had he been willing, I would’ve been part of a small contingent meeting with him, since I’d been there & knew in a first-hand way how misinformation (and disinformation) filled the mainstream U.S. media about politics there. As you may know, there were prominent mainstream journalists on CIA payroll covering Nicaragua events at this time . . .