I want to make a special call to the military. And more concretely to the military bases and to the military headquarters….You are from our same people. You kill your own brothers and sisters. The law of God that says “Do not kill” is higher than the order of your commander to kill. …The Church, as defenders of God-given rights, of the laws of God, of human dignity, and of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination. In the name of God, then, in the name of this suffering people, whose laments are raised to the sky from a world everyday more violent, I pray, I entreat, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression. (Oscar Romero, Homily, March 23, 1980—the day before he was murdered)
I kept thinking during the vigil on Sunday that we shouldn’t have to be doing this anymore. We shouldn’t have to be protesting and calling for the close of the School of the Americas again this year. We shouldn’t have to be here one more year after 19 previous ones. The problem should already have been taken care of. And the vigil’s “faithful” agree: I was considering buying a T-shirt, a black one with images of the many white crosses with names on them. I had seen someone wearing a T-shirt with a similar design but that said “close the School of the Americas,” and I wanted a shirt that stated the demand. However, the vender, who has helped ever since the first Close the School of the Americas vigil in 1990, told me that last year they had thought that the School of the Americas was going to be closed, so they had only printed T-shirts that more generally spoke about remembering the martyrs and resisting.
Yet, the School of the Americas has continued to train Latin American soldiers, so we continue to resist and demand its closure. In my Old Testament class, Professor David Carr explained that the words of the prophets were often not heeded in the times they were written but were written down and remembered later only because the words they spoke had relevance in successive generations. Oscar Romero’s order to the military quoted above is a similar text. It was not heeded in its own historic time: in fact, the very military to which Romero spoke murdered him the very next day. Violence in El Salvador continues, from 1980-1992 with the civil war, and afterwards until today with the violence of economic exploitation, poverty, and gangs. We remember and use Romero’s words today because violence at the hands of an oppressive military and exploitative foreign policy continues.
…boundaries that should not be crossed?
Yes, the liturgy of this year’s School of the Americas vigil was beautifully symbolic, as my fellow “Unionistas”along on this trip have described in this blog, but we can’t be lulled into wanting to come back to see it again next year. The principalities and powers want us to want to return next year because, if we return next year, it will signify that the SOA still trains Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics and the oppressive government still determines the boundaries that should not be crossed. No matter how touching and beautiful the acts of remembering, honoring, mourning, and resisting were at this year’s vigil, instead of just planning for next year’s trip to the SOA vigil, we must plan to work this year so that we don’t have to go back next year. The idea that we could actually close the SOA or change the oppressive US foreign policy may sound naively optimistic, but I wonder if the literally hundreds of thousands of people who have protested the SOA each November over the past 20 years are not more powerful than we admit? The powers-that-be certainly don’t want us to recognize our powers to not only sing and march at a vigil and protest, but also effect grassroots change. What if everyone at the vigil, instead of marking next year’s date on their calendars went back to their homes determined to work this year so that such a vigil and protest becomes no longer necessary?
Behind 3 rows of fences…
With this in mind, I wonder what must be my personal commitment, the collective commitment of the four of us who attended this year’s vigil and our supporters, and the commitment of the Union community now that we’re back from SOA Watch vigil? As we sat on “the line” at the Fort Benning gates on Saturday and Sunday in a prayerful and reflective spirit,
I couldn’t help but notice a box-shaped, technologically-advanced machine with at least 4 different video cameras attached to it parked behind the 3 rows of fences. It raised and lowered at various times by radio control.
…a technologically advanced machine with at least 4 cameras.
The full purpose of the machine remained a mystery to us, and its sheer complexity as a tool used by the oppressors reminded me of a point made often by Poverty Scholar Willie Baptist, who helps lead Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary. Willie talks often about how those of us working to end poverty, exploitation, and oppression must understand the intelligence and complexity of our enemies (which I define as those who create misery for others). The technologically-advanced machine at SOA represents something greater. Think about it: the enemies have at their disposal money, technology, media, messaging, political and religious establishments, and I could go on. Not to mention advisors, the educational systems, other world leaders indebted to or afraid of the US, the world economic system, etc.
But before we get depressed or lose hope, remember what we do have on our side as those who struggle against injustice and oppression: the sheer masses “who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.” (Martin Luther King Jr, 1967), “the arc of the moral universe [which] is long but it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King Jr, 1967), and God (I don’t say that lightly). An intelligent, highly-evolved oppressive force must be countered by a highly-developed, highly-intelligent, and highly-organized force toward liberation. A vigil with a 20-year-long history of heart-felt is no longer enough; opposing an enemy that has evolved new tactics requires the resistance to have new tactics.
3-faced “Puppetista”: Capitalism, Imperialism, and Militarism
The School of the Americas is part of a complex system of exploitation and oppression that is more intelligent and advanced than ever before. The 3 faces on the “Puppetista” at the SOA Watch Vigil accurately represented the 3-faced enemy that we must confront: capitalism, imperialism, and militarism. What if, during the 2010-2011 year, before the SOA Watch vigil next year if there has to be one, we could commit personally and collectively as concerned students at Union (including attendees of the Vigil, SPJ, Latin@ caucus, etc—there are already existing avenues) to engaging in some practical efforts that combat this 3-faced enemy: capitalism, imperialism, and militarism? Couldn’t we work so that next year there won’t have to be a Close the SOA vigil?
I propose a first step, something that is possible before next year: we must understand more about what SOA does today and how it plays into the larger complex system of capitalism, imperialism, and militarism. Instead of ignoring or down-playing that SOA has changed its name to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), and that it claims a new “commitment to Democracy, Ethics and Human Rights” (WHINSEC website, https://www.benning.army.mil/WHINSEC/ ), we need to better understand these changes and new strategies. We stand no chance at changing that which we don’t understand.
…how does the SOA play into the larger complex system of capitalism, imperialism, and militarism?
What does SOA do today? What is its role in the bigger picture of US foreign affairs? What does the maneuver of changing the SOA name and vision really mean? Speakers at the SOA Watch vigil said that there is no noticeable difference between SOA and WHINSEC, but I suspect that the act of revamping the image of the School in such a way that its opponents think there is no difference makes the changes even more of a threat and demonstrates the high intelligence of the enemy.
Embarking on this “comprehend to upend” effort will be difficult because truth is manipulated from all sides. Someone who supports the closing the SOA who attended the WHINSEC Open House on Saturday reported that WHINSEC promotes itself as different from the SOA which trained murderous military officials in the 1980s, and WHINSEC sees itself promoting a form of development. This argument reminds me once again of the intelligence of the forces we are working against. Is anybody interested and would anyone like to dive into this “comprehend to upend” work with me? Do you have your own ideas about how we can take concrete steps to combat the 3-headed monster in order to not have reason to go back to the Close-the-SOA Vigil next year?