|Yo y mi amigo Wilmer|
Dianne and I sometimes wonder that when we talk about injustice in El Salvador do some people roll their eyes and say “it’s the same old story”. I think in our blog we have skirted this issue to try to be alert to this but sometimes it gets to be too much. To tell the stories is about awareness but it’s also about our liberation. Silence in the face of evil is affirming evil.
For instance, it was a sobering moment when in my Espanol class we discussed the use of terrorism and violence in the world. In order for my teacher (Wilmer) to explain his pacifist views he shared a couple of stories. During the civil war in El Salvador he worked as a union organizer among the telecommunication workers. His desire to organize labor in order to help them get better pay, benefits and working conditions made him an enemy of the ruling families (there are 14 ruling families that make up the oligarchy of El Salvador). Soon the police were accusing him of being a terrorist. They came to his house and threatened his arrest and when he continued his work, they came to his house and arrested him. He spent 4 days at the prison being tortured both physically and psychologically. He was blindfolded almost all the time while they screamed at him “CONFESS, YOU ARE A TERRORISTA, CONFESS TERRORISTA”, guns were pressed against his face and into his mouth while they screamed that he confess. All he could do was cry out “no, I am not a terrorista, please I am not a terrorista”. At that point he had to sit and collect himself while telling this story; I had to collect myself too. During this time of torture his union Brothers and Sisters protested outside the prison declaring his innocence and demanding his release. Through the grace of God, the authorities finally released him. That was not all; he then asked us, have you ever lived in a community that was bombed by aircraft? We had to say nunca (never). He said his family did and the experience was like this: All of a sudden you hear a jet engine, in a matter of seconds it screams low across the town with a deafening roar, seconds later there are huge explosions that shake the ground, your body and your house. In those seconds between the sound of the jets and the explosions you pray, please God, NO. Seconds after the explosions you shake off the terror to hear your children and the neighbor’s children crying and screaming for their parents. Parents are screaming out in fear for their children, men and women are screaming in utter terror of what happened. You then help survivors, bury the dead, give thanks to God that you and your family were spared by His grace and you wait for the next bombing. Wilmer feels violence only continues violence and in war innocents suffer as much as soldiers, sometimes in the hands of your own people.
Since I was a boy I was fascinated by military history. I read everything I could get my hands on but what was most interesting was 1st hand accounts. I wanted to know what it was like, how does a human deal with the horrors of war? Here was my 1st hand account right in front of me. Wilmer is a little older than me, a father of four with 3 daughters and a son, just like me. He’s shared humorous stories of his family life and raising a family. We’ve had some good laughs about our kids and wives (shhhh, don’t tell Dianne). He’s also a religious man who has studied and believes in liberation theology, a theology that I believe is The Way. Our similarities make me feel close to him. He’s the type of guy I could develop a friendship with. His belief in God and love of family allowed him to survive the storm of war and become the man he is today. My answer as to how you survive is as simple as that.
The revelation for me is this. When you have a chance to speak to people (don’t forget to listen to them if you want to learn) we find we are not different and may have many things in common. When we start to look at people as friends all of a sudden the stories of oppression and Government sponsored psychological and physical torture is not a story with fictional characters. It’s not a story in a book anymore. I don’t want to hear that it’s the same old story or there are 2 sides to every story, shame on anyone who thinks that. What I described happened to a friend named Wilmer, a guy I like and would enjoy having a few beers with. You all know people like this in your lives. Some of them you sit in church with, some you buy coffee from and some we watch our children’s school activities with. I don’t want this happening to a friend named Amhed a father of four in Israel or a friend named Usman the father of 4 in Pakistan, guys I want to have a beer with. Our Governments aide comes with a price. I don’t want that price to be loyalty 1st; I don’t want countries and their people’s interests bowing to ours. Instead of being guardians of the free world let’s be guardians of all people and insist, no, demand Human Rights for the people of the world. We can demand this of our government; our government can demand this of allies. Deep down we need to decide if our caring for other people is superficial in nature so we can say “we care”. Or is it prompted by a spark of anger that our friends should nunca (never) suffer like this. We have friends all over the world; we just don’t know their names.
“You, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one” – John Lennon
Tom & Dianne