For a Sane Solution

The current situation I find both appalling and frightening. The intention of immediate military action to reply to the terrorist attack is guaranteed to continue the augmentation of the violence spiral. That the scope, planning, and horror of the current attack is without precedence as a single act of terrorism is given, but in the overall cost of terrorism, it most certainly is not. Peru lost approximately 50,000 during its reign of terror, about half to the terrorists and half to the enforcers, almost all of the victims innocent civilians, just as dead no matter which side was raining down the terror. As has been commented on Univision, the United States is now joining much of the rest of the world in knowing what it is to live with terror.

I have talked little about what we experienced in Peru; there were not ears to hear. Perhaps it is time that some is said.

Thrice people who care about me spirited me away from terrorist danger; one reason I did not go back for ten years -- I was afraid of putting others in danger. I was told I was on the Elist and my husband’s name was published in the newspaper as being a special target they had failed to kill, but were looking for. Many of our friends, acquaintances and relatives were victims in one way or another. Just this last visit we ran into a nephew we had presumed disappeared. Under a Human Rights tribunal and with the aid of Amnesty International, he had been released from prison after nine years, nine years of a young man’s life, with a writ from the (previous) government stating that he had been entirely innocent and that he was in jail because of a police plot which accused him of terrorism. He was a teacher but will never return to that path. One grandmother, whose story I am now transcribing from the many stories I have recorded, is raising the youngest grandchild and the rest have left her home town after the death of their mother. The woman was threatened with death if she did not provide a meal for the terrorists. So, she fed them. The military then arrived and shot her in front of her children for having given food to the Shining Path. She had no choice -- she was dead if she did and dead if she didn’t. Her children have now left behind their native culture, their native language and fled, like so many others, to the slums of the city. They, like so many others, are fertile soil for the flowering of the next generation seeking revenge on institutions and the people who run them.

I do not understand why it is so difficult to understand that when one person is killed the lives of so many are affected down the generations -- violence now provokes violence at least two generations down. We understand it of ourselves – aren’t we now more united under threat? Why would we think others different? Can we not understand that terrorizing does *not* make friends, no matter the cause or the culprit? In that story, the soldiers expected the mother to approve of her daughter’s death because she was a terrorist! [In the case of Christianity and Islam the mutual dehumanization and demonization goes back now about 1000 years -- since the Crusades. And would we today depict the Crusaders as utterly evil madmen? Their stated motives certainly parallel those of the people we now decry.]

Among the casualties of the reign of terror in Peru are the native languages and cultures. The battles were fought most heavily in the countryside; people fled. Tupe has now about half the population it had before, with a heavy dearth among the young adults. Part of this terrible loss is that of the language itself. Before the terror children all spoke their native language; now, the very few who are left are speaking Spanish first; most of the models for the language are dead.

The aftermath of any of this is long. I know the nightmares that will haunt those who were present and/or affected by the events of September 11. No human being anywhere, ever, deserves to live with the horror of terrorism. We might remember that as we prepare to rain down horror on the people of Afghanistan in retaliation for the horror we have experienced.

Peru chose military action, within its own borders, to act against terrorism. My husband remarked, at the time, that if the then government had sent truckloads of food to Ayacucho instead of truckloads of armed soldiers there would have been no Shining Path. [An email I received suggested we bomb Afghanistan with butter -- with food, clothes, printed materials, radios, etc., etc. in saturation. It would destabilize the regime as effectively as bullets, and without the concomitant loyalty to a government besieged and an increasing blaming of the U.S. for their misery.] The cost to Peru of that military action is immeasurable. The loss of a generation of young people, the alienation of those left, the loss of human and civil rights, and the utter corruption of the enforcers.

One intelligent move was the arrest and imprisonment of the leader of the Shining Path -- note, the imprisonment; he was not made into a martyr. In one of the ironies of history, the leader of the enforcers today occupies the very jail he built to hold the leader of that leader together with his adversary -- the two of them turned into mirror images of each other. Do we wish to become what we condemn?

Is there not in this great wide nation enough intelligence, creativity and wisdom to imagine a way to stop terrorism without propagating more of the same, without spiraling the violence to ever greater extremes?

MJ Hardman
22 September 2001


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