My, but we have selective memories. Republicans who hold up Ronald Reagan as the patron saint of the party forget about Iran-Contra, for which President Reagan likely could have been, and should have been, impeached.
They also forget the Reagan administration’s wider complicity in funding Central American death squads, including those in El Salvador who killed Archbishop Romero, and a few months later, the four U.S. churchwomen working with the poor in the small rural village of Suchitoto. The Atlantic has a new piece about those deaths, written by Raymond Bonner and entitled “The Diplomat and the Killer”. The article begins this way:
“On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.”
Why is revisiting this long-ago period relevant? Because we now have Republican presidential candidates who talk foolishly as if any behavior on the part of the United States is justifiable, be it waterboarding or colluding with strongman autocrats who imprison and kill their own people — or funding death squads.
Not all behavior is justifiable, no matter how angry and fearful and insular we get. We can see it reading back into our history, and we should see it equally clearly in the ugly language of now.