When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want you to show you where it might do the opposite.
Nearby, in the long-depopulated villages, you can see stirrings of life: In a remote corner of El Salvador, investigators uncovered the remains of a horrible crime — a crime that Washington had long denied.
The villagers of El Mozote had the misfortune to find themselves in the path of the Salvadoran Army's anti-Communist crusade.
The story of the massacre at El Mozote — how it came about, and hy it had to be denied — stands as a central parable of the Cold War. But follow the stony dirt track, which turns and twists through the woodland, and in a few minutes you enter a large clearing, and here all is quiet.
No one has returned to El Mozote. Empty as it is, shot through with sunlight, the place remains — as a young guerrilla who had patrolled here during the war told me with a shiver — espantoso: After a moment's gaze, half a dozen battered structures — roofless, doorless, windowless, half engulfed by underbrush — resolve themselves into a semblance of pattern: Into this quiet clearing, in mid-October last year, a convoy of four-wheel drives and pickup trucks rumbled, disgorging into the center of El Mozote a score of outsiders.
Some of these men and women — most of them young, and casually dressed in T-shirts and jeans and work pants — began dumping out into the dust a glinting clutter of machetes, picks, and hoes.
Others gathered around the hillock, consulted clipboards and notebooks and maps, poked around in the man-high brush. Finally, they took up machetes and began to hack at the weeds, being Wake up call essay not to pull any, lest the movement of the roots disturb what lay beneath.
Chopping and hacking in the morning sun, they uncovered, bit by bit, a mass of red-brown soil, and before long they had revealed an earthen mound protruding several feet from the ground, like a lopsided bluff, and barely contained at its base by a low stone wall. They pounded stakes into the ground and marked off the mound with bright-yellow tape; they stretched lengths of twine this way and that to divide it into quadrangles; they brought out tape measures and rulers and levels to record its dimensions and map its contours.
And then they began to dig. At first, they loosened the earth with hoes, took it up in shovels, dumped it into plastic pails, and poured it onto a screen large enough to require several people to shake it back and forth.
As they dug deeper, they exchanged these tools for smaller, more precise ones: Slowly, painstakingly, they dug and sifted, making their way through the several feet of earth and crumbled adobe — remnants of a building's walls — and, by the end of the second day, reaching wood-beam splinters and tile shards, many now blackened by fire, that had formed the building's roof.
Then, late on the afternoon of the third day, as they crouched low over the ground and stroked with tiny brushes to draw away bits of reddish dust, darkened forms began to emerge from the earth, taking shape in the soil like fossils embedded in stone; and soon they knew that they had begun to find, in the northeast corner of the ruined sacristy of the church of Santa Catarina of El Mozote, the skulls of those who had once worshipped there.
By the next afternoon, the workers had uncovered twenty-five of them, and all but two were the skulls of children. Later that afternoon, the leaders of the team — four young experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Unit, who had gained a worldwide reputation for having exhumed sites of massacres in Guatemala and Bolivia and Panama and Iraq, as well as in their own country — piled into their white four-wheel-drive vehicle and followed the bumpy, stony road out of El Mozote the Thistle.
Slowly, they drove through Arambala, waving to the smiling little girls standing on their porch, and out onto the calle negra — the "black road" — which traced its way up the spine of the red zone, stretching north from the city of San Francisco Gotera to the mountain town of Perqu?
At the black road, the Argentines turned left, as they did each evening, heading down to Gotera, but this time they stopped in front of a small house — a hut, really, made of scrap wood and sheet metal and set among banana trees some fifteen yards from the road.
Getting out of the car, they climbed through the barbed wire and called out, and soon there appeared at the door a middle-aged woman, heavyset, with high cheekbones, strong features, and a powerful air of dignity.
In some excitement, the Argentines told her what they had found that day. The woman listened silently, and when they had finished she paused, then spoke. In the polarized and brutal world of wartime El Salvador, the newspapers and radio stations simply ignored what Rufina had to say, as they habitually ignored unpalatable accounts of how the government was prosecuting the war against the leftist rebels.
In the United States, however, Rufina's account of what had happened at El Mozote appeared on the front pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times, at the very moment when members of Congress were bitterly debating whether they should cut off aid to a Salvadoran regime so desperate that it had apparently resorted to the most savage methods of war.
El Mozote seemed to epitomize those methods, and in Washington the story heralded what became perhaps the classic debate of the late Cold War: Rufina's story came to Washington just when the country's paramount Cold War national-security concerns were clashing — as loudly and unambiguously as they ever would during four decades — with its professed high-minded respect for human rights.
In the United States, the free press was not to be denied: El Mozote was reported; Rufina's story was told; the angry debate in Congress intensified. But then the Republican Administration, burdened as it was with the heavy duties of national security, denied that any credible evidence existed that a massacre had taken place; and the Democratic Congress, after denouncing, yet again, the murderous abuses of the Salvadoran regime, in the end accepted the Administration's "certification" that its ally was nonetheless making a "significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights.
By earlywhen a peace agreement between the government and the guerrillas was finally signed, Americans had spent more than four billion dollars funding a civil war that had lasted twelve years and left seventy-five thousand Salvadorans dead.
By then, of course, the bitter fight over El Mozote had largely been forgotten; Washington had turned its gaze to other places and other things. For most Americans, El Salvador had long since slipped back into obscurity. But El Mozote may well have been the largest massacre in modern Latin-American history.
That in the United States it came to be known, that it was exposed to the light and then allowed to fall back into the dark, makes the story of El Mozote — how it came to happen and how it came to be denied — a central parable of the Cold War.
In the weeks that followed the discovery of the skulls of the children, as each day's work at El Mozote yielded up a fresh harvest, the initial numbers came to seem small.
But in San Salvador, five hours by road to the west, where President Alfredo Cristiani and the generals and the guerrillas-turned-politicians were struggling with one another about how to put in place, or not put in place, a purge of the officer corps, which was proving to be the most difficult provision of the ten-month-old peace accord — struggling, that is, over what kind of "reconciliation" would come to pass in El Salvador after more than a decade of savage war — the first skulls of the children were enough to provoke a poisonous controversy.
Those twenty-three skulls, and the nearly one hundred more that were uncovered in the succeeding days, were accommodated by the nascent Salvadoran body politic in two ways.
Juan Mateu Llort, the director of El Salvador's Institute of Forensic Medicine, declared that the skulls themselves proved nothing, for "there were an abundance of armed children in the guerrillas.
No vehicles or individuals are permitted to enter the zones of conflict in order to avoid accidents or misunderstandingsThis essay delves deeply into the origins of the Vietnam War, critiques U.S. justifications for intervention, examines the brutal conduct of the war, and discusses the .
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